Category Archives: discipline

Rule for Life


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As New Year’s approaches, many of us will be establishing New Year’s resolutions.  These often help us to direct our lives in a more positive direction.  Sometimes, they come from a healthy desire to grow, and sometimes they come from guilt and shame over how we have managed our lives up to this point.  Oftentimes, we abandon our resolutions after a short time, adding to the guilt and shame that might have motivated them in the first place.  Maybe a better approach to this practice would be to establish Rules for Life.

A Rule for Life establishes a rhythm in your life.  (In fact, you could call it a “Rhythm for Life” if the word “rule” seems too legalistic.)  It is a spiritual discipline that invites the Holy Spirit to partner with you as you practice Romans 12:1-2.  A Rule for Life “[offers] your [body] as a living sacrifice” so that you can “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” It puts you in the right place at the right time with the right heart for God to do transformation work.  Your part of the partnership is showing up with the right heart.  God does the rest.

Sometimes, we try to rush God into the few minutes that we have available for Him in our busy schedules, but my experience is that God rarely shows up when I summon Him.  He is unlikely to give in to my need for Him to be present just when I have the time.  He is a jealous God who won’t compete with the idols of work and entertainment that I choose to worship with my time.  Instead, He requires that I make Him a priority both in my time and in my behaviors.  He wants me to schedule Him into my calendar and show up ready to spend time with Him.  He wants me to choose Him in moments when I’m tempted to choose my sinful nature. God wants me to prioritize Him even when I don’t see the benefit. I am often impatient for the proof that my behaviors are making things better, but much of God’s work in my life is way below the surface.  It’s inner transformation.  If I show up regularly and choose God over evil when I am tempted, God will be faithful to reorient my soul towards Him.

Some examples of Rules for Life are:

  • Begin every day with prayer.
  • Meet with my accountability partner each week.
  • Practice a Sabbath rest.
  • Tell God thank you.
  • Stop eating before I’m full.
  • Let each person be my teacher.
  • Visit God’s creation.
  • Bounce my eyes when I feel tempted to look.
  • Spend time journaling each day.
  • Demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit with each person I meet.
  • Keep Christ on the throne of my heart.

Notice that these are not SMART goals.  Making them Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Bound can lead to legalistic observance.  Instead of worrying about whether you met the specific criteria of a Rule for Life, allow God to speak to you about them.  Practice the spiritual discipline of Examen at the end of each day by asking, “How did I do with my Rules for Life today?  What pleased you?  What would you have me do differently tomorrow?”  God won’t beat you up over what you didn’t do, but He will redirect where necessary and encourage you so that you have the strength and motivation to keep going.

Rules for Life can sound a lot like New Year’s resolutions, but they shouldn’t come with emotional baggage.  A Rule for Life should help you love God more.  If it makes you feel guilty because you aren’t doing it, let it go.  It shouldn’t be a legalistic practice to “earn God’s love.”  If it becomes one, you know that Satan has gotten ahold of your Rule for Life and twisted it for his purposes.  As long as you cling to it, Satan will have the power to accuse you for not living up to your commitment.  Just release it, and try to find a different Rule for Life that gives life to you. When you think about your Rule for Life, it should bring peace into your soul.  It should be time that you long for or practices that resonate with you.  Keep experimenting with different Rules for Life until you find ones that uniquely fit who you are and where you are in life.

Instead of New Year’s resolutions this year, try establishing some new rhythms.  Make yourself more accessible to God’s good work of transformation in you.

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Filed under Daily walk, discipline, habits, sanctification, Sharpening the Saw, spiritual disciplines, Substitution

Desire – Discipline – Delight


HabitsGood habits are difficult to form.  (The bad ones just seem to leap into existence!)  When we are working on incorporating a new habit, we often struggle mightily to get started.  We do well for a few days, and then our inspiration leaves us.  Guilt ensues.  We begin again.  We fail again.  More guilt.  We wrestle with our own best intentions, but so often, Newton’s first law of motion wins out – things at rest really do stay at rest.

It doesn’t have to be that way.  Understand the universal process for implementing good habits, and you will recognize that victory is simply a matter of time and persistent effort.  According to Dr. Larry Lea in his book, Could You Not Tarry One Hour, the process involves three stages – Desire, Discipline and Delight.

Stage 1 – Desire

The essential first ingredient in a habit is desire.  You can have all the knowledge, skills and resources you need to get started (remember that treadmill that’s gathering dust in your living room?), but if you don’t have desire, it ain’t happening.  Sure, other people can coerce you into starting a habit through authority, nagging or guilting you into it, but without your own personal desire to make a change, you’ll dump the habit as soon as they take the pressure off.  Desire is the gas in your engine.  Use it to help you push through Stage 2.

 

Stage 2 – Discipline

Once you have the desire (yours – not someone else’s) to make a change, you have to discipline yourself to follow through.  Yes, it’s hard.  Yes, it’s painful.  Yes, it takes you out of your comfort zone, but it’s also temporary.  Studies have shown that it takes twenty-one consecutive days to form a habit.  There have been no studies that say you have to enjoy the process.  You just have to stick with it.  Keep your eyes on the larger goal that fuels your desire, and keep plugging.

 

Stage 3 – Delight

Here’s the secret.  If you push your way through the wall of discomfort during the discipline stage, you make it to the third stage.  This is where the habit that was such a chore before becomes a delight.  You long to accomplish it each day.  You can’t wait to get started, and if you neglect the habit for some reason, you feel a tangible gap in your day – like something is missing.  When you get to the Delight Stage, benefits of the habit that you never knew existed suddenly materialize.  You’ve developed momentum that makes the habit easy to continue.

So many times, we give up too soon.  We allow our feelings to dictate our actions.  If we’re tired, we make excuses for not practicing our habit.  If we feel unmotivated, we let ourselves off the hook.  If someone dangles an option before us that is even slightly more appealing, we give in to temptation.  That’s backward thinking.  Feelings follow actions, not the other way around.  When you discipline yourself to take action, you push through to delight.

It’s just a matter of time and persistent effort.  Do it even when you don’t feel like it.  Fake it until you make it.  Resist the temptation to do nothing, and you can take advantage of the second half of Newton’s first law: things in motion tend to stay in motion.  Be a thing in motion!

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Filed under Change, character, development, discipline, growth, habits

Inside-Out


My youngest son often puts his shirts on inside-out. Not a big deal. I’ve done it when I was in a rush to get somewhere. But even when I tell him he is inside-out, he doesn’t care. He’s content to go around all day with his shirt tag announcing that he can’t dress himself.

I was thinking about my son as I read Matthew 23 this morning, because Jesus also liked to turn things inside-out. In the passage, He is dealing out the “seven woes” to the teachers of the law and the Pharisees, and He criticizes them for “cleaning the outside of the cup or dish” while the inside is full of nastiness. To drive home His point, He compares them to freshly painted tombs filled with dead men’s bones. They look good on the outside, but they reek of death inside.

He challenges them to clean up their insides first, because when the inside is clean, the outside will become clean, too. Jesus is saying that if they will change their character, their behavior will follow. If they change their WHO, their DO will soon match.

I’m guilty of making the same mistakes as the Pharisees sometimes. I clean up my behaviors, because I want to be seen as a godly Christian. I want people to think highly of me for the way I follow God. But the problem is that it’s difficult to keep the act going when I’m not on stage. Behind the curtains with my family and even more in private moments or times of stress, I step out of character, and I find myself leading two lives. A “hypocrite” (the Greek word for “actor” that Jesus used to label false spiritual leaders) like the Pharisees.

I’ve tried outside-in for years, and it doesn’t work. Who I am has to change first, and this means changing my heart. It’s got to happen from the inside-out.

I find this clean-up project to be exhausting, but the great news is that I don’t have to do it alone. Jesus is ready to roll-up His sleeves if I invite Him to join me. And honestly, I can’t do it without Him. Jesus is the Project Manager. He plans the work and works the plan. I’m just the assistant, and I have two main roles: invite Him onto the worksite each day and follow His directions.

Inside-out work is exceedingly slow and exceedingly difficult. It never goes as fast as I want it to, and it always requires lots of challenging situations that Jesus uses as a tool to shape my character and a test to reveal the quality of my heart. It’s a project that won’t be done until I join the Project Manager in heaven, but I’m encouraged by this Scripture:

“Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)

Maybe my son is the one who has got it right. Pay less attention to how you look on the outside and more attention to being the right person on the inside. Wear your shirt inside-out every once in awhile, and you will find that life is a lot more fun when you don’t pretend to be someone you are not.

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Filed under Attitude, Authenticity, Change, character, Christ, christianity, comfort zone, comparison, deception, discipleship, discipline, growth, heart, Jesus, modeling, obedience, performance, Religion, righteousness, rules, sanctification, spiritual disciplines, Spiritual Growth

Thermopylae


Thermopylae is a narrow pass (about 50 feet wide) in ancient Greece, between Mount Oeta and the Malian Gulf.  It leads from Thessaly (Thessalia) into Locris.  In ancient times, it was the main route by which an invading army could penetrate from the north into southern Greece.

It is best known for being the site where King Leonidas I died with his 1400 men (of whom 300 were Spartans) during the Persian Wars as they attempted to stop Xerxes and the Persian invasion of Greece in 480 BC. When Xerxes arrived with his enormous contingent of soldiers (Herodotus estimated it at 2.6 million, but it probably wasn’t nearly that high), he expected the small group of Greeks to retreat in light of his superior numbers, but Leonidas and his men refused to move.  In fact, they appeared confident, even calm, in the face of certain death.  Xerxes tried to wait them out for four days, but they wouldn’t leave.

When fighting finally began, it took three days for Xerxes to defeat the Spartans.  The Greeks easily repelled the initial attacks on their position, for what they lacked in numbers, they made up in determination and strategy.  The Spartans believed in a code of courage and discipline.  Retreat and surrender were not options.  They made their stand at Thermopylae, because the narrow pass nullified the threat of Xerxes’ overwhelming numbers.  Further, Leonidas knew that the Persians’ shorter spears made them unable to engage the Greeks at close quarters.

Had it not been for betrayal by a fellow Greek, Leonidas and his men might have held off the Persians indefinitely, but Ephialtes, a Thessalonian, showed the Persians how to use a path over the mountain to attack the Greeks from behind.  Once betrayed, it was all but over for the Greeks.  Leonidas was killed as he helped defend the pass.  Xerxes then dispatched his 10,000 Immortals, an elite fighting group.  The remaining Greeks retreated to a small hillock, where they formed a circle around the body of Leonidas.

Xerxes asked for the body of Leonidas in return for sparing the lives of the remaining Spartans, but the brave warriors refused.  Xerxes didn’t want to command his men to close in on the Spartans, because it was clear that the Persian armies were afraid of the Spartans.  They had never seen such determination and reckless abandon.  The Spartans didn’t care about preserving their lives.  They only wished to die honorably and protect the body of their leader.  Faced with his soldiers’ reluctance to fight, Xerxes ordered his archers to shoot arrows into the dense circle of Spartans until the sky was blackened and every Spartan dead.

Why did Leonidas and the Spartans fight so hard even after the battle was clearly lost?  Leonidas took counsel of an oracle before the battle, who foretold that either Sparta would perish or one of her kings would perish. By his death, Leonidas hoped to sacrifice himself to save his city.  And as it turns out, he did.  While the Persians went on to take Athens, they had been delayed long enough at Thermopylae to allow the Greeks to regroup and reinforce.  Later in 480 BC, the Greek navy defeated the Persians at the Battle of Salamis, halting Xerxes’ advance on Greece and putting an end to his imperial ambitions.  Had the Greeks not be able to repel the Persians, the later contributions of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and other Greeks would never have been possible.

The Spartans had cohesion.  They stuck together no matter what the threat.  They didn’t do it because it was their job as soldiers.  They didn’t do it because of the paycheck.  They didn’t even do it just for their love and respect they had for their leader.  They did it, because they had a common purpose that was larger than all of them.  They had a unifying vision and a common enemy to that vision.

If you want the commitment of your team members, you’ve got to give them something worthy to fight for….a common purpose, a common enemy, something larger than the fading motivation of a paycheck.

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Filed under Challenges, commitment, conflict, determination, discipline, Engagement, failure, focus, leadership, management, motivation, overcoming obstacles, ownership, passion, performance, Persistence, pressure, priorities, purpose, sacrifice, team, teambuilding

Prime Your Pump


There’s an old story about a thirsty traveler who came across a pump in the desert. An attached note explained that there was a jar of water buried nearby to prime the pump.

“You’ve got to give before you get,” the note said.

The traveler was faced with a dilemma.  If he poured the water into the pump, he couldn’t get it back.  Worse, he was going to have to work hard to pump out the water from the well with no guarantee of success.  However, if he drank the stale water in the jar, he would never get to taste the sweet, cool water from the well.  He would also ruin any chance for other travelers to get any water from the well, since there would be no way to prime it.

So, with a sigh, the traveler poured the water into the pump to prime it.  Then he began pumping the lever as fast as he could.  He pumped, and he pumped, but no water came out.  There wasn’t even the sound of water coming up the pipes.  But he pumped and pumped some more….and then some more….and then some more.  Even though he was becoming increasingly frustrated, he knew he couldn’t stop.  As soon as he stopped pumping, the water would go back down into the well.

Just when he didn’t think he could pump even one more time, he heard a gurgle of water….then another….and then, to his joy and amazement, out poured a flood of cool, clear water!!  Everything changed at that point. He no longer had to pump and pump to get the water out.  The slightest pressure sent water gushing from the spout. Slow, easy strokes were all he needed to keep the water flowing.

So it is with success in just about any worthwhile endeavor you undertake.  You’ve got to give before you get.   You’ve got to work hard, and you’ll have no guarantee of success.  If you stop working hard, your success will slip away from you, but if you persist even beyond what you think you can do, your reward will often come.

Don’t drink the stale waters of instant gratification; put in the work to prime your pump!

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Filed under Challenges, Change, Convenience, delayed gratification, determination, discipline, faith, growth, habits, Inconvenience, Instant Gratification, Preparation, sacrifice, Sowing and reaping, Spiritual Growth, stewardship, temptation, waiting on the Lord

Find Your Cadence


I once met a friend at a park for a lesson on how to get into cycling as a way of keeping healthy.  It was my one and only lesson (because exercise is a synonym for pain in my dictionary), but I learned something important that I have totally failed to apply during the many years since.  Seeing my lack of experience right off, he gave me a piece of advice:

“Find your cadence.”

He went on to explain that I was jerking the pedals in a very inconsistent pattern.  They key to burning calories efficiently and without injury is having a smooth, consistent motion at a relatively swift pace (more than 50-60 revolutions per minute).

Honestly, I haven’t thought about his advice much since then.  I rarely get on a bike.  (Who has the time?)  But I thought about it this morning as I was walking back from taking the kids to school.

My life is often an off-balance, inconsistent, jerking-the-pedals kind of mess.  I’ve always prided myself in being a spontaneous, hands-off-the-handlebars kind of person (INFP for those of you who are familiar with Myers-Briggs).  I hate to be scheduled; I hate routine; I like to stay up to all hours of the night…I just love the enormous possibility of a day free from obligations.

But as the years have gone by (I’m 39), living la vida loca is starting to take its toll in repetitive stress injuries.  My body now pays triple what it used to cost me to stay up past midnight.  I never feel like exercising.  I’m always tired.  I’m hopelessly behind on my to-do list, and my spiritual disciplines are somewhat undisciplined.

I find that I’m always trying to play catch-up….in my finances, in my relationships, in my work, in my spiritual life…so I take the turns of life at breakneck speeds and load my bicycle down with all kinds of good intentions.  Then every once in a while, I crash with an illness that lays me out until my body can repair the damage I’ve done.  This is no way for a mature, father of three and husband of one to live.

So, what occurred to me as I walked home this morning is that I need to find my cadence.  In other words, I need to find the rhythm and the pace that I can sustain long-term, and I need to stick to it.  I’ve been making half-hearted efforts at this for years, but I’ve lacked the discipline to keep it up and I’m pretty sure that Satan has been doing his best to interrupt my cadence whenever possible by throwing hazards on the road right before I get there.

The key to this working, I’ve realized, is that I need to select a lower gear.  I’m wearing myself out trying to pedal at top speed in a gear that’s too hard for me.  I need to stop trying to do so much that I’m always behind.  I need to forgive myself for what I didn’t accomplish yesterday.  I need to stop trying to catch up and just start fresh wherever I’m at.  Most of all, I need to listen to the messages my body is sending me and get more sleep so that I’ll have the energy to handle whatever challenges the day brings.  Rhythm and rest.

This is more journal than blog.  My apologies.  Hope that maybe it helps you find your own cadence.

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Filed under commitment, Daily walk, discipline, habits, health, Sharpening the Saw, spiritual disciplines