If you've ever read a motivational book, one common point that many of them make is the difference between an average person and a great person is discipline. Let me say that again:
The difference between an average person and a great person is discipline.
Having a very disciplined life causes us to have a vision for why we are to be disciplined. Being disciplined about our life causes us to have focus and a purpose. Discipline helps us set up our priorities and boundaries. But, still, most people cringe when they hear the word!
Why is that? It's usually because they consider the words "punishment" and "discipline" to be interchangeable, and because of that, we see discipline as something we have to do because we have been bad in some way or see it as something negative we don't want to do. In the Merriam-Webster dictionary, while all the definitions of the word "punishment" are variants on the definition, "suffering, pain, or loss that serves as retribution," the word "discipline" is defined in a number of different ways. One of them does mean punishment, but the discipline we are talking about is the kind defined as "training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character".
So what does discipline have to do with Advent and Christmas? If we see Advent as a time of preparing for the coming of Christ and we see Christmas as a celebration of Christ's coming, both into the world as a baby and His coming at the end of times, then discipline is the tool that we need to use to prepare.
Proverbs 5:23 states, "For lack of discipline they will die, led astray by their own great folly." If we are preparing for Christ's return, that sounds like a bad way to do it!
Proverbs 15:32 states, "Those who disregard discipline despise themselves, but the one who heeds correction gains understanding." This is certainly true! How many people hate their bodies because they are not disciplined in eating and exercise? How many people are frustrated with themselves because they don't follow through on things like regular prayer time or bible reading? How many people feel stupid and unlikable because they can't keep their mouth from spouting whatever it is thinking at the minute? The more we focus on despising ourselves, the less we focus on others and helping them to prepare for Christ's coming.
Proverbs 19:18 admonishes parents to, "Discipline your children, for in that there is hope; do not be a willing party to their death." Your example and your discipline will help your children stay on the path toward Christ and prepare themselves for His coming.
So how do we develop discipline in our lives? First, we need to draw close to God. In 2 Timothy 1:7, Paul writes, "For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline." If we are to truly achieve any sort of discipline in our lives, we need to rely on the power that God gives us and not on our own willfulness. Self-discipline should seem overwhelming and almost impossible to do, because you can't do it without the help of Almighty God.
Second, decide what it is specifically you are trying to achieve through discipline. Some people that lack discipline in their life decide they are going to "get things under control" and try to discipline themselves in every area of their life at once. The results are almost always disastrous. If there is more than one area of your life, take one thing a month and build it into your life. You might start by waking up 30 minutes early to incorporate daily prayer and Bible reading into your day. Do that for a month. Then you want to get your spending under control. Set a limit or create a budget and add that to the daily prayer and Bible reading discipline.
Next, clarify what you want the end result to look like. So you want to begin reading the Bible daily. Do you want the end result to be that you feel more connected to God? That you know your scripture better? That you hear what God is telling you clearer? You need a specific end result. It isn't good enough to say you want to read the Bible everyday because that is the right thing to do. You will give up on it, guaranteed A clear picture of the end result keeps you motivated to follow through.
The next step is to decide what steps you are going to take in order to achieve this discipline. If you are trying to incorporate more fruits and vegetables in your diet, does that mean you are going to have an extra serving of vegetables at dinner? Are you going to replace your afternoon pretzel snack with a piece of fruit? Are you going to give up meat and become vegan? When you know what area you want to discipline and what you want the end result to look like, you are better able to decide what measures to take to achieve the discipline you are looking for. It is also good to ask for help, if you need to. Talk to your doctor, pastor, someone who has been successful in disciplining themselves in that area or anyone else who may know how to help you to your goal.
Lastly, have someone to keep you accountable. Have someone to check in and ask you how you are doing. This needs to be someone who can deliver the hard word to you if you need it and who is interested in your well being enough to check in on you without needing reminders. Personal relationships are the biggest motivators there are.
So pick one area of your life, and get to work! Prepare yourself for Christmas and Christ's second coming.
Activity: Write down the top three areas of your life where you wish you were more disciplined. Spend some time praying about which one to tackle first and begin your plan on how to make it happen.
Prayer: Thank God for His blessing of self-control. Ask Him for help in staying strong and motivated through the trial of disciplining ourselves. Pray for the discernment and for the Holy Spirit's guiding when it comes to staying on track with our plans and staying disciplined.