If you want to make a difference, you’ll need this
Some people are born to run. They love the feeling of wind in their hair, the blood pumping through their veins, the road before them and home behind them. They lose track of time and accidentally run 5 miles. Running comes so naturally, they move gracefully down the road like a gazelle running across the savannah.
I might be a runner, but I’m no gazelle. I have never forgotten how long I’ve been running. Instead, I’m watching the clock as I convince myself I can make it to the next stoplight. Even on my junior high track team, I was much happier in the field part of track and field.
So when I felt compelled to start running last year, I knew the desire wasn’t from me but something God was putting in me. Some lessons you can only learn by doing, and the benefits of discipline is one of them.
What Discipline Is
At 6am, the last thing I want to do is throw off the comforter and put on my running shoes. But I do it because I made the decision to run long before my feet hit the cold floor.
Discipline is the decision to follow through before we feel like it.
My decision to run happened the night before when I texted a friend to set the time and place. Likewise, the decision to follow Jesus happens long before temptation crosses our path.
Just like there are mornings when it’s easier to stay in bed, there are days when it would be easier not to follow Jesus. But faith is not a feeling; it’s a choice.
If we’re relying on our feelings to motivate us, we’ll never see progress on the track or in our spiritual lives. But the decisions we make today — to read the Bible, pray, and connect with other Christians — will carry us through when our spirit is willing but our flesh is weak (Matthew 26:41).
Three Realities About Discipline
1. Discipline is my responsibility.
If I sign-up for a 10K but sleep through the training runs, whose fault is it when I’m not ready for the race? Sure, I could blame my husband for not kicking me out of bed. But discipline is ultimately my responsibility.
Jesus is responsible for salvation. We are responsible for sanctification. Sanctification is simply becoming more like Jesus. The more disciplined we are about spending time with Jesus through reading the Bible and praying, the more likely we are to reflect His character in day-to-day life.
2. Discipline is the difference between trying and training.
For a long time when people asked if I ran, I would say, “I try.”
Trying takes minimal effort and is more about seeing if an activity sticks. Training takes consistent effort and pursues an activity with single-minded purpose.
You only need the interest to try, but you need the discipline to train. Discipline is the difference between people who finish and people who finish well.
Paul, an early church leader, described the role of discipline in his spiritual life like this:
“Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing. I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27, NLT).
3. Discipline is measured by setting specific goals.
Training for a 10K gives running in 35-degree temperatures renewed purpose. With each new mile or personal best time, I realize how far I’ve come.
And as important as it is for runners to celebrate running milestones, it’s just as important for us to celebrate milestones in our spiritual lives. Hebrews 12:11 says, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”
We often can’t see change as it happens. But when we finish a reading plan, see a prayer answered, or recall a verse during a difficult conversation, we experience the results of spiritual discipline.
Why Discipline Matters
The more I run, the more I’m learning a basic principle of running and of life — a steady pace will carry you further than several little sprints.
One of the best ways to avoid cramps while running is to breathe deeply and keep a consistent pace. Following Jesus isn’t that different. The Christian who follows Jesus for a little while then walks away, then picks up again is no less saved than the Christian who spends time with Jesus every day. But over time, the one who learns the benefits of discipline and spends time with Jesus consistently will be better prepared for the hills, the hard times of life, when they come.