This is part four of a seven-part series on discipleship.
In my last article, we discussed the importance of making decisions to say “no” to the things of the world so that we could say “yes” to Jesus Christ. Closely related to the key of decision-making for Christ is the key of discipline, which reminds me of a story about when I first immigrated to the United States.
A couple of months after my arrival and overindulging in too much rich and sweet food, I found that I could no longer fit into my regular jeans. I was shocked to realize just how out of shape I was and that I had not noticed the weight creeping on pound by pound. From that point on, I knew that I had to become more serious about my health, and so I began the journey of eating healthy, coupled with regular and consistent activity. This led me to work as a personal trainer and fitness teacher so that I could help others be as strong and healthy as they wanted to be. I discovered that the key to helping people achieve their fitness goals lay in discipline and making small decisions every day to choose healthier options.
Just as discipline is one of the central keys to our physical, mental, and emotional health, it is also critical to our spiritual health. Here are three characteristics of Biblical discipline.
1. Discipline leads to fruit.
Discipline does not always feel good in the moment, as Scripture reminds us. In fact, discipline “always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:11)
It is not easy to be intentional about carving out time for prayer or making a priority of attending Mass, especially when we might be on vacation or traveling. But the discipline of keeping our faith at the heart of our lives always bears rich dividends. Note that we are not talking about modifying our behavior; we are striving for a true conversion of heart, and that is what discipline helps us with. Discipline is a path to becoming more fruitful, peaceful, and loving.
2. Discipline trains us to be holy.
Discipline is always at the service of becoming a holy person. Discipline transforms and strengthens us: God “disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness.” (Hebrews 12:10) If you think of your faith as a river with the world on one side and the Kingdom of God on the other, discipline can be thought of as large stones in the river that we can step across to cross to the other side. Discipline is the series of small decisions that we make to grow closer to God.
3. Discipline is an expression of love.
Just as children need guidance to make healthy and appropriate choices, discipline is an expression of love and encouragement. “The Lord disciplines those whom he loves, / and chastises every child whom he accepts.” (Hebrews 12:6) Discipline is always at the service of love. In a world that often eschews authority and obedience, the value of discipline is often rejected. Yet it is a key that helps the Lord train us so we can grow as his beloved children.
In your ministry, have you found it difficult to talk about discipline? Do you have any insights on how to talk about discipline in a way that is life-giving rather than draining? Share your insights with us.
Take a moment and ask yourself: does every activity in my parish point more deeply to Jesus? Julianne Stanz wants to help you and your parish community make sure the answer to this question is a resounding, “Yes!” Order Julianne’s new book, Start with Jesus: How Everyday Disciples Will Renew the Church, available now.