How does discipline relate to the Christian life?

Last updated on February 23, 2021

How does discipline relate to the Christian life?

Have you ever felt overwhelmed by something that just felt too difficult? Learning an instrument, or a language? Perhaps tackling a particular sin? Have you ever felt dejected because something felt too hard?

I used to hate piano lessons, and especially practising. To make my misery even worse, every few months my teacher put on these class performances where it was obvious to everyone that I was her worst student. I just couldn’t seem to make both my hands do different things at the same time. Several years later, while training to be an actor at Drama School, I was cast in a role where I needed to play an accordion on stage. The accordion is even more complicated than the piano: one hand plays the tune, another the chords, and your arms move in sync to force the instrument to make a sound. On top of this, I needed to ACT! I had to deliver lines, hit my marks, and react to the other performers. How was I supposed to do this?

In God’s grace, I had a wise and kind friend, who did two things. First, she told me to relax and that no matter how things went God still loved me! Secondly, she showed me how to practice.

Meaning of discipline in the Bible

These two things are a picture of what the Bible means by ‘discipline.’ In one sense the whole Bible talks about discipline, but at the same time there is one particular place which offers some very, very helpful lessons about what discipline is: the Sabbath commandment (Exodus 20:8-11; Deuteronomy 5:12-15).

There are two aspects to the Sabbath commandment: ‘rest’ and ‘regularity’, or ‘trust’ and ‘template’. In a nutshell these are the two aspects of Christian discipline.

People’s worth doesn’t depend on their work

The Sabbath commandment was introduced to the Israelites in Exodus 16. The people needed food to eat, and so they grumbled against Moses (Exodus 16:1-3). God gave them bread every day called Manna, this meant the people had to trust God every day, because they couldn’t store the bread overnight otherwise it would go mouldy (Exodus 16:19-20). On the sixth day they collected enough Manna for two days, this meant they could rest every seventh day (Exodus 16:23-26). Contrast this to Pharaoh, who gave the Israelites no time off, made their work harder, and accused them of being lazy (Exodus 5)! Pharaoh treated the Israelites as only worth the work they could do, but God gave them rest to teach them their worth comes by trusting in him.

Rest and regularity

The Sabbath commandment teaches us two important things about Christian discipline:

  1. Discipline begins by ‘trusting’ God and finding our worth in him. We don’t work for our worth, this is why we can ‘rest’.
  2. Discipline is living an ordered, regular lifestyle. There is a ‘template’ to our lives.

Back at Drama School, I learned one new scale at a time, slowly at first, and practiced it for 5 minute stints during coffee breaks. Amazingly, on the first day alone I learnt 2 new scales. The next day I practiced more often, and for slightly longer. By the end of the week I could play every Major scale on the piano. Suddenly, music I had only dreamed of being able to play became easy and I even discovered I could now improvise and play by ear. Through regular practice every day, by the time I went on stage, I could play the accordion flawlessly.

Christian discipline is not legalistic

Christian discipline is not like my old piano lessons, practicing, and performances! Being legalistic, by finding my worth in what I do, will just make the pressure mount up, and I’ll find things increasingly harder and overwhelming. Christian discipline is learning to relax and rest by trusting God for my worth, and then having a regular pattern to my life.

The Sabbath command shows me I am designed to be at my best through rest and regularity, by trusting God and having a template to life. That is Christian discipline, and whatever it is you find overwhelming, from tackling a sin to learning a skill, learn these lessons from the Sabbath commandment and you’ll be amazed at the person God can help you become.

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