The Way Forward is Through the Doorway of Discipline

Today’s blog is not the feel-good, syrupy, sentimentalism that we often like to read. I’m just letting you know, in case you want to stop reading and watch a cat video on YouTube.


Since you’re still reading, I want you to think with me for a few minutes about character. 


Thirty years ago, I had a quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer framed, and I’ve kept it in my line of sight in every office I’ve had since then. Bonhoeffer wrote, 


If you set out to seek freedom, then learn above all things to govern your soul and your senses, for fear and longings may lead you away from the path you should follow. Chaste be your mind and your body, and both in subjection, obediently, steadfastly seeking the aim set before them. Only through discipline may a man learn to be free.


It’s no mere coincidence that the words discipline and disciple stem from the same root. To be a student, follower, learner requires discipline, but not discipline cloaked in severity and devoid of joy. No, discipline as a Jesus follower flows from grace, is empowered by the Spirit, and leads to joy.  


Like discipline and disciple, charis (grace), charisma (gift of the Spirit), and chara (joy) share the same root and flow from the same source. God’s grace manifesting through God’s Spirit results in godly joy. Being a “disciplined disciple” of Jesus is joy-filled.


But here’s where the rubber meets the road. Being a disciple of Jesus still requires discipline. We work out what God has worked in through His grace, by His Spirit, resulting in His joy. We develop necessary habits to “govern our souls and our senses” while we “steadfastly seek the aim set before them.”


Augustine wrote that habit defines us. Before we have quality of character, we have habit. Character is forged on the crucible of daily routines, small tasks, and healthy rhythms that may seem insignificant in and of themselves, but collectively produce a harvest in due season, if we do not give up (Galatians 6:9).


On my desk I have a sticky note with these words from Robert Louis Stephenson: “Don’t judge a day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds you sow.” Just because reading the Bible fifteen minutes a day, or writing three lines in a journal, or keeping a prayer list may seem like small things, it doesn’t mean they’re insignificant. The prophet Zechariah reminds us not to despise the day of small things (Zechariah 4:10).


If you look at your life and are unhappy with what you see, the way forward is through the doorway of discipline. Improve your habits, and you will improve your character. Improve your character, and you will expand your joy.  


Discipline in following Jesus is not a drudgery but a delight. So, take delight this week in doing small things that lead to big results.