When it comes to personal effectiveness and exercising good stewardship with my life, I find that most of my successes and failures point back in some way to personal discipline…or a lack of it. There are countless other joys that come as a result of the kindness of someone else or just some blessing of God, but I wouldn’t categorize being on the receiving end of a blessing good stewardship. You may disagree, but what I’m talking about are the things we can control. What do we do that results – directly or indirectly – in success or failure? My times of greatest effectiveness and fruitfulness are my times of greatest happiness. I’m convinced that you cannot be effective – as God would measure it – without being happy. Everyone experiences the troubles of life, but not everyone can be happy in the midst of it. Without that happiness (or joy) Christians tend to look like the world.
And I believe that personal discipline is one key to this happiness and effectiveness. While God grants us strength and ability and even motivation, our own desire for happiness and effectiveness ought to spring from a desire to represent Him well in the world. It brings God glory when His people are happy in Him.
But as is the case with all general biblical principles, they have application even for those who reject the gospel. At a minimum, you can view these principles as ways to avoid an unfruitful and miserable life. But just know that that sort of thinking comes from a desire to live for yourself when you were created for so much more than that.
Regardless, I give you a list that I use and find helpful for categorizing my own personal discipline. They’re not necessarily in order of priority or importance, but neither are they random. Maybe you’ll find them helpful, too.
I have placed this one first because I have found more and more that if I am not getting enough sleep at night, it has a direct impact on just about everything else. I try to get seven-plus hours of sleep every night. And when I do, I find that I am more alert and energized for the other things that follow below. I’m not drowsy in my Bible reading or praying, I’ve got greater energy to play with my kids and exercise, I’m less-inclined to be grumpy, I can better stay focused in work, and I allow my muscles to recover from exercise. This is a short list, but you get the picture.
But it’s worth noting too, that this is also a great struggle for me, too. I’m a night-owl. I rarely have any trouble staying up past 1:00AM. But I also love the early hours before my family is awake for reading and writing. I can’t have both without seriously compromising sleep. So I have to be disciplined to go to bed. Going to bed on time helps me to get up on time and the whole thing snowballs in a good way. But if I don’t go to be on time, the whole mess starts over.
I’ve intentionally separated prayer and Bible reading, though many people do them together. Your system may be different from mine, but I use a couple of strategies to make my prayer time happen, and make it more than a checked box on my task list. Two things: I write my prayers, and I go for prayer walks. Don’t get me wrong, I still just sit (or kneel) and pray privately, but I like to introduce variety and find ways to redeem the time. For some, it’s turning off the radio on the commute. For others, like me, there’s nothing like clearing my head and taking in the air on a brisk or leisurely prayer walk. (Sonja is really good about doing this with our kids. She will pray with ladies when she walks with them, but even if it’s just her and the kids, she’ll pray out loud with them, and the kids think it’s totally normal. But I digress.)
Writing my prayers was inspired years ago by reading The Valley of Vision. I’m really glad that all those Puritans wrote out their prayers, and I thought I should do the same thing, even if nobody else ever reads them. Sometimes I write the whole thing, sometimes I don’t. I often use my journal to list names of individuals I’m praying for today. I have a prayer list I use too, and I keep it on my phone and computer.
This is distinct from prayer and even from Bible study. Studying the Bible is great, and it allows me to be more deeply impacted by a concentrated section of Scripture, but I’m talking here about the more broad exposure to the Word that comes in Bible reading.
For some people, the Bible is like coffee. If they don’t get it in them early, the day is pretty shot before it starts. Their attitude is ugly and they can’t do anything right afterward. It’s not necessarily that way for me. Rather than coffee, it’s more like a medicinal IV drip: regular nourishment that has subtle benefit that varies in how noticeable it is. But it keeps me alive and healthy.
Of course, one important difference is that, unlike the tasteless and neutral IV drip, I actually enjoy reading my Bible, but it’s not like I’m going to decapitate one of my family members if I don’t read it one morning.
For me, with occasional exceptions, I read four to eight chapters of the Bible every day but Thursdays (when I have meetings most of the day, starting at 5:30AM), so I am a believer in getting that intake, but it is because I really want to know more about God and be more like Him. The greater exercise of discipline here is to read imaginatively and with a view to application rather than out of habit, or for sake of checking a box.
That’s enough for now. In the next post I’ll share about discipline in exercise, diet, family time and work time.
You can read part 2 here.