What Happened to Christian Discipline?

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The Great Commission of Matthew 28:20 is the call for every believer to lead a life of spiritual productivity. We are not called to merely consume the things of God; we are mandated to produce disciples. Because the Christian life is holistic – affecting every part of our created being – spiritual productivity should result in physical, mental, and emotional productivity as well.

Though our culture is one of busyness, it is largely unproductive. Most of the “busy” in which we’re immersed is a cluttered, rushed, perception of busyness. We live under the pressure of urgency, unable to discern what is most important. And because we never stop to assess our priorities, our lives become a race to put out fires rather than an intentional fanning of God’s flame in our hearts.

This week’s miniseries will concentrate on productivity for the Christian student, career woman, and wife/mom. But before we launch into the specifics of productivity, we need to know why it’s worth pursuing as followers of Christ. I’ve already given some convincing reasons. But because your goals will only be achieved if you know why you’re pursuing them, here are a few more reasons to cultivate a productive Christian life.

The Christian Life Requires Discipline

In his book Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster captures the necessity of discipline for an effective Christian life:

If all human strivings end in moral bankruptcy (and having tried it, we know it is so), and if righteousness is a gracious gift from God (we the Bible clearly states), then is it not logical to conclude that we must wait for God to come and transform us? Strangely enough, the answer is no… God has given us the Disciplines of the spiritual life as a means of receiving His grace. The Disciplines allow us to place ourselves before God so that He can transform us.

In other words, nothing we do – no habits we form or willpower we enact – can justify us before God. Only Christ can do that. But as Oswald Chambers rightly said:

We are in danger of forgetting that we cannot do what God does, and that God will not do what we can do. We cannot save nor sanctify ourselves— God does that. But God will not give us good habits or character, and He will not force us to walk correctly before Him. We have to do all that ourselves.

What Foster and Chambers describe is something many Christians have abandoned: a life of Christian discipline. Foster’s book goes into detail on the disciplines of meditation and fasting, simplicity and submission, confession and worship. Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest continually calls believers to “get in the habit of doing things that… in the initial stages, are difficult”. The idea that the Christian life should be easy, or should come naturally, is certainly not a biblical one. Following Christ has a cost – a daily “giving up” of comfort to draw closer to the heart of God.

The Opposite of Discipline is Negligence

As I talked about in my post last week, many Christians have a negative view of discipline. They don’t like the term, the idea, or what their lives might look like if they pursued a disciplined lifestyle. Pursuing a productive Christian life sounds like too much work. Citing God’s example of rest, undisciplined believers propose that pursuing spiritual productivity flies in the face of God’s intentions.

While it’s definitely true that God wants us to lead restful lives, but the opposite of productivity is laziness, not rest. Furthermore, the opposite of discipline is a life of spiritual, emotional, and physical negligence.

The question that arises here is usually something along the lines of: “Is negligence a sin?” This the wrong question to ask. When we start asking whether or not something is a sin, we’re really looking for any reason NOT to lead a disciplined life. We want an excuse to do the bare minimum in our walk with God and every other aspect of Christian living.

Disciplining our thoughts, words, and actions isn’t done to earn God’s favor. It’s done out of gratitude for God’s favor. By disciplining our lives, we put ourselves into the daily position to be transformed by the Holy Spirit. As Richard Foster puts it:

When we travel this path, the blessing of God will come upon us [in greater measure] and reconstruct us into the image of Christ.

Productivity and Rest Are Not at Odds

For many years I pursued productivity, but not rest. I felt that rest was not productive, that I didn’t need it as much as the next girl. Now I know better.

If rest is good enough for God, it’s good enough for us. And not just “good enough” – our human limitations make rest that much more essential to an effective Christian life. Productivity and rest are not at odds; the most productive thing you can do is to incorporate true, soul-fulfilling rest into your life.

It was when I realized I could not do it all and do it well that I developed a disciplined life. Christian discipline enables us to be both supernaturally productive for Christ and physically capable of accomplishing our calling. When we lead undisciplined lives, we’re telling God we know better than He does how to run our lives. When we refuse to be silent, to pray, to submit, to worship, to rest, to say “no” – we’re telling God we don’t have time for Him OR His design for our lives.

And if we don’t have time for either of those things, what we’re really saying is this: I don’t have time to live the Abundant Life.

Christian discipline – ordering our lives appropriately before God – is the very core of following Christ. Let’s bring it back into our days, back into our world, and back into our hearts.

Join me the next three days as I discuss how to create a structured day as a Christian student, career woman, and mom.

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