The ‘D’ word

Published 12:27 pm Saturday, August 16, 2014

by Andrew Book

We have a number of words in our word today that have taken on a negative meaning. Some of these words are simply cruel, crude or hateful, but others have gotten a bad reputation simply because they fly in the face of the priorities that have bubbled to the surface of society. Today’s “D” word is one of those words that struggle to find a place in today’s world: Discipline.

Now I expect that we all have different pictures that come to mind when we think of the word discipline. Some of us may think about a parent “disciplining” a child. Others may think about the struggles that schools are having today with student “discipline.” Those are both challenging questions which need their own attention, but the discipline I want to talk about today is self-discipline, and the importance of disciplining ourselves in order to grow in any area of our lives.

I am reading a great book entitled “Soul Feast” by Marjorie Thompson (published by Westminster John Knox Press). We will be using this book at Courtland United Methodist Church in the fall for our “Encounter” small groups as a guide for helping us encounter God in our lives, but today I simply want to pull a quote from this book. Thompson is talking about spiritual disciplines (practices such as prayer, spiritual reading of scripture, and fasting, which help us grow in our lives of faith) but her quote is equally true for discipline in any area of our lives. She writes:

We will choose (spiritual) disciplines only if we have a strong desire to grow. If our desire to grow (spiritually) is not deep enough to overcome our resistances, we will find ourselves unable to maintain any discipline, however good our intentions…Yet even a little desire can be encouraged to grow stronger through the practice of discipline, like a spark fanned into full flame or a seedling cultivated into full growth (10).

Any area of life that we want to grow in requires self-discipline, so whether we are talking about learning to pray or playing the guitar, truly growing will take place when we make the decision that growing in ______ is worth the effort and the time of being disciplined, because growing in that area matters!

As part of our ongoing series, “Life = Balance” we focused on the challenge of balancing work and life last week. I reminded the church of our call to work with God in bringing order out of chaos goes all the way back to God’s first instruction to us in Genesis 1:28. Self-discipline and work are similar in that, at their best, they are both looking forward to a goal — hopefully a good, Godly goal — that we can reach through commitment and hard work. They both must be balanced with the other components of our lives like rest, relationships, and enjoyment of life, but if we are to reach the goals we have set for ourselves in work and the rest of life, disciplined living is necessary. No one is going to do it for us!

I read recently that 10,000 hours of disciplined work in any field is what is necessary for us to become an “expert” (This idea is based on a 1993 study by Anders Ericsson). Ten thousand hours is a lot. It is 5 years of full-time work at 40-hours a week or innumerable weekends and evenings for something that is not a full-time job. Ten thousand hours requires a lot of self-discipline, but if you are passionate about becoming an expert, it is simply the time it takes to do it.

Personally, I have a long-term goal of becoming an expert carver/woodworker. It is not my job, and weeks go by when I do not touch a saw, knife or gouge. But, I know that growing in this skill is going to take a long-term commitment and discipline, even in the skills I do not particularly enjoy. I hate sharpening knives, but carving with a dull knife is dangerous, frustrating and creates poor quality work, so the discipline is to sharpen my knives every time I use them, even if that means less time working with them!

My hope for you is that you will set some goals for yourself. If your goals involve spiritual disciplines and the pursuit of God, you might want to consider joining one of our “Encounter” groups at Courtland United Methodist Church. For goals in other parts of life, find some people who can support you, recognize that reaching those goals is going to require discipline, and then get to work sharpening your knives!

ANDREW BOOK is the pastor of Courtland United Methodist Church. He can be contacted at 653-2240 or