For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. 2 Timothy 1:7
I like rules. I like them because they clearly define the boundaries and give me a target to aim at in my behavior. More honestly, I like rules because they help me fulfill the desire of every human - to look good and to be right. When there are rules, I can check the boxes next to the ones I have followed well, and then point to them and say, “See, I measure up; I am worthy.” And in my darkest moments of humanity, I can also say, “I measure up, and you do not.” The reason I mention this is because, in my experience, this is the way that many of us approach self-discipline, and it is entirely wrong-footed.
This passage lists self-discipline as something that flows from the Spirit of God within us, not as something we must strive for. It’s speaking of reaching inward and drawing closer to Holy Spirit, not stretching outward to grasp a list of do’s and don'ts. Another way to say this would be that we are changed by our relationship with God, and as we draw near to Him, the change moves outward from our core and affects our behavior, our self-discipline.
Application: It’s like the guy who decides that he’s going to lose weight and get in shape. He buys all the equipment, gets a solid workout plan and puts it on a calendar where he’ll see it every day. He even consults a nutritionist and buys all the ingredients he’ll need to make the food that is healthier for his body. A few days pass, maybe a week and he’s doing ok, but then something happens. He snaps and suddenly cannot take it anymore. He presses speed dial from muscle memory and in 30 minutes or less, the pizza has already been delivered and mostly devoured. Shortly thereafter follows the guilt and anger that always comes when his idea of self-discipline fails him. The struggle here is real, and though yours may be with finances, or a temper, or with relationships, I am willing to bet that this sounds very familiar.
Question: So what, then, is the answer? If self-discipline cannot be obtained by striving for it, then how is it fostered?
Challenge: Let’s look back to the scripture at hand and the neon arrow at its heart that points us back to the source of this elusive character trait. Put in the simplest terms, we must draw near to the heart of God, and in that heart, we find our heart changed. Our man sitting on the couch with pizza in hand finds his true journey towards change begins, not with a strong plan or exercise equipment, nor even with a healthy meal chart, but it begins with consistent time in the presence of Holy Spirit. Simply asking God to step into this moment and walk the journey with you is the part that so many of us bypass in our rush to see results, and yet nothing of substance can happen until we invite Him into our mess and ask Him to lead us out into His expansiveness. Give it a try and see if God doesn’t come through for you. Let Him change your heart and show you the way of discipline that is light and easy.
Prayer: Holy Spirit, I invite you into the middle of my mess today. Shed the light of your grace on my brokenness. I stand in faith today, knowing that as you heal my heart, together we will discover the power of self-discipline.