The Danger of Discipline

As the middle of the year draws closer, I’ve been reflecting on my goals and my focus for the year. This year I decided to make goals with a focus on one “theme word” – discipline.

And it has turned out to be a highly relevant word for me this year.

When each of my babies have turned one, I’ve found life enters a new stage. A more predictable, rhythmic stage.

The other day I got house work done for about 20 minutes while T crawled around the house, finding things to play with.

That is quite a feat, let me tell you! And it’s quite different to the newborn stage, where you can’t really put them down and every minute is sucked into a vortex of activity.

I mean, a mobile baby brings a different kind of busy. I’m cleaning up more messes, for example.

The other day I sent my husband this picture (of his side of the bed), with the message “This was the cost of doing the dishes today”:

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Mmm, tasty bin tissues – good for the immune system, right?

(I did then clean it up, but I often like to share little things from my day with my husband while he is at work – the good, the bad and the hilarious!)

But as I enter this season of having a baby who is more able to entertain himself for little chunks of time, it is a season that requires greater discipline because there is a temptation to slack off.

And what I am finding as I work to apply discipline across the various areas of my life is that discipline breeds discipline. It is addictive.

I guess you could call it “habit-forming”, which in the early stages requires repetition and consistency.

I’m particularly enjoying the fruits of applying discipline to my eating habits and exercise. The result is that I have more energy, I feel good and I am actually looking forward to exercising.

Some days I have to push myself to make it happen, or pull myself away from bad food choices (that’s the discipline part). But most days, it’s not a hard choice. The more I eat healthy food, the more my body craves it. The more I exercise, the more my body wants to move.

I find this to be the case across the other areas of my life where I am becoming more disciplined as well.

But then the thoughts start to creep in… “Hey, I’m really nailing this!”, “Wow, I’m really good at this discipline thing!” or the more subtle, “My hard work is starting to pay off.”

The problem with these thoughts is that they are rooted in pride.

The more my thoughts turn towards how well I am doing, the more they turn away from how dependent I am on God’s grace.

You might think, “Well, if you’re doing well on your own, why can’t you acknowledge that? Maybe that means you aren’t dependent on God’s grace?”

And that might be true for a while. I might have a good run in being disciplined and making good choices, and seeing results, but ultimately my own strength and personal resolve will fail.

It would be like saying, “Wow, that’s a beautiful rose! It’s doing such a great job of growing and looking lovely!” while ignoring the whole bush, roots, soil and sun that all worked to make the rose beautiful.

My dependence on God is the reality. My personal discipline is the result.

To believe that I can get the result of discipline without the reality that I am dependent on God is to believe a lie.

Ultimately, this is the danger of discipline – that we set up good habits for ourselves and it fools us into thinking that we can achieve anything in our own strength, that we are pretty good people and we don’t really need God.

Colossians 2:20-23 warns about these dangers:

Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

 

I am speaking here about self-discipline, of course. But I think this also applies to disciplining our kids.

Of course kids need to be taught obedience and morals.

But we need to be so careful that in teaching them to do what is right and flee from what is wrong, we don’t set them up to pridefully think they are good people.

I was raised in a loving Christian family, and I was taught how to obey God from a very young age. But unfortunately, this also grew a heart of pride in me.

Even when I copped grief from other kids at school and I didn’t quite fit in, I held onto this attitude that at least I was doing the right thing.

And don’t get me wrong – it’s good to love doing what is right!

Psalm 119:97 says:

Oh how I love your law!
    It is my meditation all the day.

But following God’s law won’t save you.

And when I was a child, I never really had a sense that I needed to be saved. I knew the rules. I followed the rules. And I thought that made everything okay.

(I mean, I knew Jesus had saved me – I just didn’t think I really needed it.)

It wasn’t until some events in my late teens that I truly realised how much I needed grace, and that I really couldn’t make it to heaven on my own (I might tell you the long story of that another day!).

This is an ongoing struggle for me. The struggle of falling back into rule-following and a prideful heart.

So even as I pursue greater discipline in my life, I need to be ever-mindful that it is only through God’s grace that I can make lasting changes. And it is only through God’s grace that I am saved.

It’s a change in posture from a standing tall, “you go girl” kind of self-discipline to a kneeling down, “God, please change my heart” kind of self-discipline.

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Our olive harvest the other day.

 

 

 

Does God care about your parking spot?

I’ve often heard people scoffing about the kind of people who pray for God to provide them with a good parking spot.

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A clever ad for a car park company!

These people seem to see God as some kind of supernatural philanthropist, granting answers to prayer if they are “worthy ” enough. To them, the idea of God having the time or inclination to help people with something as frivolous as a parking spot is ridiculous. Don’t they know there are starving children in the world? Terrorists destroying homes and families? Surely God has better things to do…

Then there are those who feel quite comfortable asking God for a premium parking spot, or anything else that pops into their heads. To these people, God is a happy-go-lucky genie, passively staying in his magic lamp until you beckon him to shorten the queue at the cafe or put in a good word for you at the job interview.

But you know what – I’ve asked God for a good parking spot before, and even thanked him for providing one when I didn’t ask! And I’ve also asked him to bring comfort, relief and provision to those who are suffering horribly locally and around the world.

I don’t think these two kinds of prayer are in conflict. Here’s why:

God is a Good Father

Jesus tells us to pray to God as “Our Father in Heaven” and Paul tells us that if we are in Christ, we have been adopted into “sonship”. If we are Christians, then God is our father.

Here’s the thing about good fathers, they care about the big stuff and the trivial stuff. I’ve called my dad to ask him where would be the best spot to plant my tomatoes and to tell him I’m pregnant. He had no more “time” for one phone call than for the other. He loves to hear from me at all.

This is how it is with God. I talk to him about all kinds of stuff, the big things and the little things.

He delights to hear it all.

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My kids have a good father too.

God Gives Good Gifts

(Sorry, went a bit overboard on the alliteration there, lol!)

Not only does God care about the trivial things in our life, he delights to use them to bring us joy (if we are paying attention).

James 1:17 says that

 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

Got a great parking spot? You can thank God for that!

Beautiful sunrise? You can thank God for that!

A peaceful moment where all the kids are playing happily? You can thank God for that!

Lightbulb moment with that impossible problem at work? You can thank God for that!

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The older kids sitting together at sunset the other day.

God does not have Limited Resources

What about the idea that God is too busy to deal with our insignificant car park requests because there are many, many more pressing matters for him to attend to?

Well, this would make sense if God had limited capabilities like humans do.

As a mother, I’m very familiar with the need to prioritise.

If my daughter asks me to come look a fascinating blade of grass, but the baby just woke up screaming and my middle boy just walked into the table and bumped his head, then I’m not going to have time for that blade of grass. (I may even feel inwardly frustrated at the request!)

But it’s not like that for God. He doesn’t have a limited amount of time or energy to give out.

Helping someone find a parking spot does not take his attention away from other things!

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God doesn’t fit in a box, but my son does!

God Wants a Relationship with Us

It all comes down to relationship.

Because of my intimate relationship with God, it just makes sense to me to talk to Him, whether I am grieved by the latest horrible thing in the news or really hoping for a parking spot close to the doors. This is the way I “pray without ceasing” – I carry on a continuous conversation with God throughout my day, spanning many different topics.

Have you been saved by Jesus, do you call God your father?

If you do, then he has all the time in the world to hear from you about the big things and the small things.

If you don’t, then you have bigger issues than a parking spot to deal with.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 6:23

Come to God, confess that you need his forgiveness and be welcomed into the family.