“If it feels good, do it.” This is the credo of 21st century consumerist, entertainment driven Western culture in its pursuit of saccharine pleasures and decadent self-indulgence. The evidence of our obsession with pleasure is everywhere, if you take a moment to just stop and look. The effort put into ensuring easy access to entertainment, the ability to have just about any goods delivered to your doorstep, and a culture of ‘the customer is always right’ all showcase our dedication to living lives of ease; free of boredom, avoidable labor, or minor inconveniences. Probably most revealing, however, is the phenomenon of Nomophobia, the fear of being without a working cellphone. People become addicted to their smartphones for the simple reason that there is so much pleasurable activity readily available in a convenient little package, and they lack the discipline to just say no. Our whole society is oriented towards making everything easy and convenient, removing obstacles and difficulty at every turn.
At first this doesn’t sound like a bad thing, making goods and services more readily available to more people, but our approach to difficulty has changed from what it has been historically. Instead of overcoming difficulties, like those who colonized the New World, built the Transcontinental Railroad, stormed the beaches of Normandy, or landed men on the Moon, our culture encourages us to avoid difficulties. Don’t want to put on pants and go to the store? There’s an app for that. Bored with nothing to do? Fire up Netflix. Want a relationship with the opposite sex? Cheap, ubiquitous porn lets you scratch that itch and avoid all the difficulties of relationships for the low low price of your dignity, money, and humanity. We have become a culture of people who can do anything we set our minds to, as long as it isn’t, like, hard or something.
As bad as it is to see it in the world, this mindset has seeped into the church as well. People today, even in the church, have a frankly terrifying lack of knowledge of the Bible and of theology, not because there are no bibles or because we can’t find solid preaching, but because reading the Bible is hard and sitting still and focusing for forty-five minutes to an hour is hard. This is part of the reason that Critical Race Theory and social justice have taken much of the church by storm, even though their ideas blatantly contradict the clear teaching of Scripture, and have the internal consistency of a thin soup. Many Christians didn’t do the hard work of reading the Bible and developing a Biblical worldview, and now have little to nothing with which to oppose CRT.
Such widespread decadence and weakness can seem insurmountable, not because the culture tries to beat us into submission with force, but because it seduces us with ease and convenience, to the point that we barely do anything we don’t feel like doing and, let’s face it, we don’t always feel like reading and meditating on the Bible. The Puritans put great effort into not only studying the Bible and applying it to life, but in family worship, something that has all but disappeared from the church because, again, it’s hard to corral kids to teach them about the Bible. It sounds like an impossibility in today’s modern world. How can we carve out that kind of time? How do we put in that kind of effort? What about when we don’t want to?
The answer is simple: discipline. In the words of former Navy SEAL Jocko Willink, ‘Discipline equals freedom.’ Discipline helps you to get more out of the time you’re given because you’re spending time on-task, rather than frittering it away mindlessly scrolling through social media, or focusing on a thousand other little distractions. This was the Apostle Paul’s secret as well, as he explains in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27:
Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. So they do it to obtain a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way as not to run aimlessly; I box in such a way, as to avoid hitting air; but I strictly discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.
The Christian life is much more important than any race. If Olympic athletes exercise strict discipline in their training, when all they’re going to do is run in a big circle for a shiny piece of metal, how much more should Christians exercise discipline in our lives as we endeavor to live lives pleasing to God?
That all sounds great, but we all know the trope about New Years’ resolutions: they don’t even last to the end of January. Why? Because being disciplined is not easy. We’ve all had projects that we were super enthusiastic about that we abandoned partway through because we lost interest. This has been the fate of countless Bible-reading plans, usually when the reader hits Leviticus. This is where discipline has to kick in, when you have to push yourself to do what you don’t really feel like doing.
At this point, the question usually arises ‘How do I be more disciplined?’ Jocko Willink answers it most succinctly: “Be more disciplined.” At first this sounds like a cop-out, but it really isn’t. Discipline is such a simple thing that it can’t be broken down into its component parts; it is simply self-control. Like a muscle, discipline must be exercised to grow stronger. There are tools and strategies that you can use to help in gaining discipline, but they all require commitment and, you guessed it, discipline in order to work.
What does that look like in regular life? Quite simply, it looks like not procrastinating. You certainly have tasks you don’t really want to do, that are hard, or boring, or that you forget about. Just do them; it’s that simple. It may be something as small as washing dishes, taking out the trash, or vacuuming the carpet. Stop putting it off and do it. Sure, it doesn’t feel like you’re being super disciplined, but this is how you can build discipline; by putting aside the objections of your flesh and forcing it to do what you want. So, if you want to read the Bible regularly don’t make excuses, even the really good ones, just do it.
In the Christian life, as in most areas of life, discipline is key to growth. The ability to stick with it even when it gets tough, or boring, is a skill very few people have today, and people who have that skill can not only benefit themselves, but can bless others as well. In my next post, I’ll talk about some ways I’ve found to help foster discipline in daily life, that have helped me in developing this lost skill.
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