The Secret to Maintaining Discipline

How are you doing with regard to the so-called ‘disciplines’ of the Christian life? Are you in your Bible every day? If so, is it with a desire to learn? To grow? To learn more of the marvelous character of our Savior? Or is it mostly drudgery . . . duty? Do you pray daily, and if so, with fervency . . . or by rote? Are you eager for weekly fellowship with other believers? Or is ‘going to church’ merely a scheduled activity? Worse, are you content with a passive pew-based church experience because your life is fairly detached from the daily passions and trials of other followers of Christ? How about your daily interactions with husband, wife, children, relatives, co-workers, store clerks, neighbors . . . ? Do you relate to others with deliberate grace or does it depend on your mood?

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the disciplines of the Christian life were easy? Natural? Joyful? Isn’t that the type of Christian that you want to be? It’s easy to imagine that there are some Christians out there who love to read their Bibles, who pray because they must plead with God to bless those around them, and who consistently see others as eternal souls to bless. But it’s not so easy to find such Christians, at least in America. Have you noticed that most of the sermons from fundamentalist pulpits tend to beat up the listeners, using guilt trips to promote Bible reading, prayer, etc? The evangelical pulpiteers, on the other hand . . . well, they don’t even try. Most evangelical church members can’t spell the word ‘discipline.’ So the pastors don’t dare to offend with such exhortations . . . or suggest ACCOUNTABILITY . . . horrors!

Frankly, these disciplines are intended to be natural, intended to be the fruit of a Spirit-filled life available to every born again child of God. We shouldn’t have to ‘suck it up’ to live daily as a follower of Christ. Yes, there are times when, like the apostle Paul, we must determinedly fight to bring our bodies into subjection (1 Cor 9:24-27), and as Paul exhorted Timothy, we must endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ, striving for spiritual victory (2 Tim 2:1-5). But the life template of a disciple of the Lord Jesus, walking with Him, loving Him, and agreeing with Him in what we do, say, and think, is such that ‘disciplines’ are transformed into basic character.

Sounds theoretical, right? How do you actually do that? I can’t just grimace and groan and will myself into becoming a prayer-lover and a Bible-addict. I got a call recently from a Christian fellow I last heard from several years ago. He has been struggling against the Devil . . . namely, fighting to resist sin. I advised him that there is one sure-fired method to use to consistently resist the Devil. Let me give you a hint . . .

George Whitefield, an 18th century evangelist, had no issues regarding prayer, Bible reading, and any other Christian discipline you can think of. For decades he traveled relentlessly by horseback to preach to the lost. He revealed the motivations of his heart as he wrote:

“The more we do, the more we may do for Jesus. I sleep and eat but little, and am constantly employed from morning to midnight; and yet my strength is daily renewed. Oh, free grace! It fires my soul and makes me long to do something for Jesus. I want more tongues, more bodies, more souls for the Lord Jesus. Had I ten thousand, He should have them all.”

Matthew Henry wrote perhaps history’s most poignant devotional Bible commentary at the turn of the 18th century. His deep practical insight into Christian living is exemplified by his famous quote:

“The woman was made of a rib out of the side of Adam; not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved.”

How was he able to understand Scripture so thoroughly, and in such practical ways? He bared his soul when he wrote:

“I would think it a greater happiness to gain one soul to Christ than mountains of silver and gold to myself. If I do not gain souls, I shall enjoy all my other gains with very little satisfaction.”

Philip Doddridge was an early 18th century pastor, writer, and theologian, who also wrote over 400 hymns. One of his books was read by William Wilberforce, converting him and propelling him on his great life’s quest to abolish slavery throughout the British empire. What motivated Doddridge? In his own words:

“I long for the conversion of souls more sensibly than for anything besides. Methinks I could not only labor, but die for it with pleasure.”

What about the Lord Jesus, “the Author and Finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb 12:2) What joy? The joy of completed redemption, the finished work of the cross and the resurrection, purchasing salvation for multitudes of those who would become His children. Why did Jesus come to this Earth and go to the cross? “For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:10)

I’ve written much on this web site about Biblical evangelism, including both why and how every believer must preach the Gospel. Please face up to the primary reason you are here on this Earth once you have become a child of God. It is simply to follow Jesus in His great work to seek and to save the lost.

I advised my struggling friend that it is a losing game to sit still and struggle against sin. The only viable strategy to remove wickedness from your life is to fill up your days, your hours, and your minutes with righteousness. Then you will have no time to dabble with the Devil, no time for foolishness, no time to waste in this ever-so-short life. Specifically, focus on the Great Commission. Set out each week, indeed each day, to try to reach out to someone with the Gospel, including and especially people you don’t know at all. Share the Gospel 121. Pass out tracts to people you walk by in a parking lot. Hide tracts on benches and in restrooms and . . . use your creativity for good instead of evil! Every other aspect of your Christian life will be energized. Specifically . . .

1. You will want to learn from God’s word how the Lord Jesus and His prophets and apostles reached out to the lost world.

2. In your Bible study you will more deeply understand the heart of God and the methods that the Lord invented to provoke men to repentance.

3. You will far better learn and embrace Biblical doctrines such as . . .
a. the doctrine of creation, to help the evolutionist to repent from idiocy.
b. eternal security, to help the lost Pentecostal / Campbellite / JW / Mormon / Roman Catholic to repent from his works-based salvation heresies.
c. the pitfalls of Nicolaitinism, to help other believers separate from man-centered counterfeit churches.
d. “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved,” to rebuke Calvinists for their blasphemous doctrine of unconditional damnation.
e. repentance as necessary for salvation, to challenge the religious lost who have once prayed a “sinner’s prayer,” yet live ungodly lives.
f. the inerrancy and preservation of Scripture, to help immature believers give up their corrupt modern versions, based on corrupt texts such as Aleph and B.
. . . and many others . . .

4. Your days will be suffused with prayer for the lost around you.

5. Your heart will cry out with prayers for other believers, begging for God’s blessings and strength in their lives as they work the harvest field with you.

6. You will abhor the sins of this world. Fleshly sins seem more and more vile and ridiculous as you walk with the Lord.

7. You begin to walk with the Lord daily, as He promised in His Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), wherein He promised to be always with us in this work.

8. You naturally work to treat the lost graciously so that you do not hinder them from coming to Christ. (1 Peter 3:1)

9. You are motivated to treat other believers graciously so that your prayers are not hindered. (1 Peter 3:7)

10. You fervently desire fellowship with other believers, particularly those who share the same burden you have for the lost, exhorting one another, and provoking one another unto love and to good works. (Heb 10:23-25) Thus your ‘church life’ is prioritized on evangelism and discipleship instead of evangelical entertainment or fundamentalist sermonizing every week.

11. You raise your children to understand the vanity of the world’s philosophies as they learn to share the Gospel. You teach them to contend for the faith and reach out to the lost while still young. Thus, they avoid false conversion, and don’t get blown away by some academic con artist when they leave your nest.

12. Your daily walk is suffused with the blessed hope, the ever present expectation of the Lord’s imminent return, motivating you toward both personal holiness and love for others. (Titus 2:11-14)

Evangelism thus becomes an ‘integrating factor’, a ‘focus’, a ‘center of gravity’ around which the disciplines of the Christian life naturally revolve. If you start thinking of others instead of yourself, life changes dramatically. Homework: Read carefully chapter 2 of Philippians to see the ‘mind of Christ’, explicitly set forth as an example for every one of His followers. What is the shortest path to experiencing and even sharing God’s glory? It is to do the will of God, as God does His will through you (Phil 2:12-13). When the Lord Jesus returns to this Earth, He will bring His rewards for His servants. (Rev 22:12)

Rewards for what? The entire message of the Bible centers on redemption . . . on salvation. The responsibility of believers is to preach the Good News. In this generation it falls to you and to me to get the Gospel out. Matthew Henry’s time is over. John Wesley has gone home. Charles Finney has finished his course. D. L. Moody has retired to his home up above. Amy Carmichael has no more Indian children to rescue. Gladys Aylward can no longer walk the mountain trails of China. Florence Young has no more access to the Solomon Islands. Sundar Singh’s feet no longer bleed on the mountain trails of Tibet.

It’s our time now!

I marvel at the multitudes of churchgoers, many of which must certainly be born again, who can engage in Bible study and not see what it is all about. How can you read the Gospel accounts and not see the Lord’s evangelistic fervor burning in every page? How can you read the book of Acts and be oblivious to the pattern deliberately established to provoke us even two thousand years later? How can you read the Pauline epistles and not tremble before God’s aching desire to teach us everything we need to know about our salvation and the need to build up others for the same great work? And the book of Revelation!?! The time is short!

Don’t imagine that I speak from a position of ‘having arrived.’ Oh my. I do, however, speak from a spectrum of life experience . . . from ghastly at one extreme to glorious at the other . . . that affirms the truth of what I write. I’m telling you it works. Put the love for souls at the top of your priority list, and the burden of discipline dissolves.

A caveat . . . This isn’t a contract. There is no unconstrained guarantee. I know of some who have imagined that an abundance of personal (or public) evangelism can be used to excuse carnality. In other words, immorality can be ‘paid for’ by sharing the Gospel. God forbid. You may as well subscribe to Roman Catholic indulgences. No. The principle here is for the heart that wants to grow close to the Lord, who genuinely cares for others, and who is in agreement with the Lord about what is important, about what counts, and about what constitutes righteousness.

When my focus is right, my thoughts crystallize, my speech approaches coherence, and my feet tend to stay near the center of the road. When my focus slips, everything starts to wobble, stumble, slip, fall . . . it hurts!

Maybe you don’t have this problem? Hey, your conscience is clear, you’re doing just fine, thank you, and you just live the Christian life by being nice to everyone, confrontational evangelism is a cuss-phrase in your vocabulary, you’re just showing the love of God by ‘living the life’. Ok, I get it. I simply refer you to 2 Corinthians 13:5.

Final thoughts for those who do have a Spirit-constrained conscience . . . If this ‘center of gravity’ principle is new to you, don’t just consider it. Try it for one lousy week. Come on, surely my argument is reasonable enough for you – a genuine born again believer – to invest one miserable week to see if anything happens to make your heart thump a bit livelier.

A week is a good, albeit minimal investment. We live essentially one week at a time. We can’t do everything we need to do in life in any given day. But in the course of a week, you can design what’s important into your schedule.

Here’s how simple it is. As I write this draft on New Year’s Eve, I find myself in the middle of a collegiate Christmas break. I wait anxiously for the beginning of Spring semester on the local campuses so I can get back to my principal evangelistic efforts among college students. But I dare not drift for these several weeks. So today I went out for lunch to an outdoor mall. (Arizona doesn’t need indoor malls.) After eating at a fast food joint, I placed several card tracts on seats, gave Chick tracts to each of three ladies sitting together, placed two more in the restroom, and then walked around the mall. I placed tracts both outside and inside stores, deploying about 60 in total. (You’ll have to talk with me personally about my techniques. I won’t publish everything.) I also shared the Gospel with two different people today. One young man insisted he was a Christian already, but gave me evidence otherwise. So I challenged him. A young lady admitted readily that she had been raised in church, but is an agnostic now. We had a great discussion and she readily accepted several tracts, thanking me for taking the time to care for her soul.

It wasn’t difficult. I didn’t suffer persecution. Outside of eating lunch, I invested about 30 minutes to do a bit of personal evangelism. Looking back, I can see that I was in focus, walking with the Lord every moment. Which kick-started me into writing this blog today, listen to spiritual music, and get right back into my Bible.

A few years ago I put off writing on such subjects because I felt I was too weak a Christian to dare to speak authoritatively. I got over that, recognizing that I’ll never be righteous enough to deserve to teach on spiritual matters. So I write for you (if anyone is out there) and especially for me. Hey, learn from my mistakes. Don’t waste the short years of your life. If it works for me, as weak and pitiful as I am, it will work for you. Let me know if you give it a shot.


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