A while back, my wife Susan put something into my hands that was a game-changer for me.  Here it is:

 “Ask your daughter to use five words to describe herself. Then ask her to use five words to describe you. Then you do the same. Back your five words up with examples.” 

 I did this with one of my daughters and it was unbelievably helpful and relationship-building. Here was the list I wrote for myself. (My daughter had similar traits for me on her list.)

  • Dependable
  • Organized
  • Committed
  • Purposeful
  • Articulate
  • Disciplined

I underlined the last one because I began to think that discipline is the key to all the rest of the things on my list. Here is my favorite verse on discipline: Yep, you guessed it (The Message): Proverbs 10:17 

 “The road to life is a disciplined life; ignore correction and you’re lost for good.” 

As I’ve thought about this, I’m increasingly confident that it’s so, so true. The road to life is a disciplined life.

There are, however, two distinct kinds of discipline:

The kind I exercise in my own strength–wisdom and personality–and the kind that is “Grace Driven,” as D.A. Carson puts it. They could look the same on the outside but are hugely different on the inside. And it is the inside–the heart, the motive–that God is looking for.

“But the Lord said to Samuel, do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7 ESV.)

There is no question that the Bible encourages discipline, or self-control, as it’s often called.  We are challenged in 2 Peter 1:5 to “Make every effort to supplement your faith with…” and then there is a whole list of things.

It was the late Dallas Willard who said that, “God and grace are not opposed to effort but to earning.” Wow! Understand and apply this and you will experience new growth for yourself that has, up till now, perhaps escaped you.

That “effort” and that discipline needs to be grounded in God’s grace; driven by God’s grace; lived out by God’s grace–not by our own perceived strengths and abilities. Paul says this well:

“For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace God.” 2 Corinthians 1:12 (ESV) Underlining mine.

I don’t know about you, but when it comes to effort/discipline/self-control in various areas of my life, I easily slip into earthly wisdom and tend to rely on my:

  • Experience
  • Passion
  • Gifting
  • Expertise
  • Personality

My personal journey in learning how to be more disciplined has too often been based on the above things rather than being based on the power of the Holy Spirit.

In my flesh discipline will lead (and has led) to self-righteousness, self-congratulations and, eventually, a holier-than-thou attitude accompanied by pompous pride and hubris.

Now, if you are expecting some silver bullet or some magic formula, I have none to offer. I regularly cast myself on his mercy, asking the Holy Spirit to open my mind and heart to what biblical discipline looks like for me and how I can travel there. It’s a process that can take years, if not decades. Some get there sooner than others.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.” Proverb 3:5 (ESV)

We probably all know this one and maybe have even memorized it. To me this verse is not saying, don’t use my understanding, my gifts, my experience, etc.–but to not LEAN on them. Little by little, I’m learning how to use without leaning. This is a hard and painful lesson for me.

Paul expresses the combination well,

For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.” Colossians 1:29 (ESV)

I have understood that the word “toil” literally means to work one’s self into exhaustion. What a happy and joyous exhaustion moving in Grace-Driven work and discipline.

I close with the thought that in many Bible-believing evangelical churches, discipline has gotten a bad rap and is frowned upon as works of the flesh to earn God’s love, favor, acceptance and friendship, which is a lie of the Devil if there ever was one.

The biblical Grace-Driven discipline is a precious gift of the Holy Spirit.  I give a two-thumbs up, five stars and a high five to Grace-Driven Discipline as the lost art of Christian maturity.