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Reflection April 7, 2019
"A Spirit of Discipline" - by Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
“For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of self-discipline” (2nd Timothy 1:7) This verse teaches us that we’ve been given by God a spirit of self-discipline, a desire for self-discipline, a longing for self-discipline. Lent is always a good time to look at discipline, especially in light of our Lenten theme: “Avoid what damages your soul. Do what nourishes your soul.“
We know that being a disciple of Christ requires discipline. The two words go together. Look at this passage from the apocryphal Book of Wisdom, chapter 1, verses 4 – 5: “Wisdom will not enter a shifty soul.” Self-discipline helps us from harboring a shifty soul. Let me make it clear that a shifty soul is not something we want to claim as our own!
Without some semblance of self-discipline, we must invariably go astray. Without some semblance of self-discipline, I don’t believe we can fully embrace the spirit of power and the spirit of love promised in 2nd Timothy.
Another way of understanding self-discipline is by paying attention to what nourishes us – what strengthens us – what heals us. In a sense, self-discipline can be seen as attending to those people and things that nourish us – strengthen us – heal us. And self-discipline is also about avoiding those people and things that wear us down – that debilitate us – that make us ill.
Lent is a good time to spend more time with the people who heal you and less time with the people who make you ill. This may be easier said than done but I believe that with some effort we can do this.
The writer M. Scott Peck in his first book, The Road Less Traveled, writes: “self-discipline is …. love, translated into action…” Peck teaches that self-discipline is the basic set of tools we need to be able to solve life’s problems. Without discipline we can solve nothing. He argues: “When we teach ourselves…discipline, we are teaching ourselves how to suffer and also how to grow.”
Peck notes four tools necessary for self-discipline: 1) delaying of gratification, 2) acceptance of responsibility, 3) dedication to truth, and 4) balancing. He states: “Delaying gratification is a process of scheduling the pain and pleasure of life in such a way as to enhance the pleasure by meeting and experiencing the pain first and getting it over with…It is the only decent way to live.”
The acceptance of responsibility entails doing what we must in any given situation – not blaming others for what we have done – and accepting our own life. A life of total dedication to the truth…means a life of willingness to be personally challenged.
Be challenged by these words from Jan Hus, the Czech reformer and priest who was burned at the stake in Constance, Germany in 1415 for heresy: “Seek the truth, listen to the truth, love the truth, abide by the truth, and defend the truth unto death.” We must be dedicated to the truth. It is – after all – the truth that makes us free.
Balancing is the discipline that gives us flexibility. This is both a physical trait and a psychological/spiritual trait. We must stretch ourselves – often! This flexibility was very important in my martial arts studies. Becoming a third degree black belt in the Korean martial art of Tae Kwon Do was not an easy thing to accomplish. I worked very hard on being able to increase the flexibility of my legs so I might kick higher than before.
As the author of the 3rd Letter of John admonishes: “Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, just as it is well with your soul.” A healthy body needs to be joined with a healthy soul; a healthy soul needs to be harbored in a healthy body.
Let me now add what I believe is the most important self-discipline that we can ever achieve: allowing oneself to be loved. This is much harder than it sounds. Many of us may imagine it’s easy to let oneself be loved by God and by others. This isn’t so.
There seems to be a difficulty many of us encounter when someone seeks to love us. We may feel unworthy of the love being offered. We may feel ourselves unwilling to allow ourselves to be loved because it feels like a debt is being piled up that we might not be able to pay.
Many, if not most, of us are better at giving love than in receiving love. I’d like to suggest that many of us have trouble allowing ourselves to be loved because we find it difficult to trust the love being offered to us. Do we really believe in our hearts and souls that God loves us without conditions? Or do we need to win God’s approval before God will love us? Do we really trust in the promise and the power of God’s love?
I know that even with my many flaws – even with my many failings – I am lovable. But the real trick of faith is to receive that love – to let it wash over me like a great geyser of grace. Our task is not to debate the love – our task is to receive the love – to let ourselves be loved.
I believe this is the task we all face – allowing love to enter our hearts and our souls and do with us whatever Love wishes to do with us. But to allow this – we must practice the difficult self-discipline of letting ourselves be loved. We must learn to trust again in a world we all know is not very trustworthy. We must cleanse our souls of the sickness of cynicism. We must heal the self-rejection that shuts and barricades the doors to our hearts and our souls.
This healing will not be easy to do! But together with God’s infinite power we can do it! We can let God love us. We can let others love us. We can become masters at receiving love. And the more love we receive, the more love we have to share with others. Then we can truly be disciples of the Lord of Love!
Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor