“…discipline yourselves for the purpose of godliness” (1 Tim. 4:7b).
The word pictures a gymnasium filled with exercise equipment designed to conform the body to fitness. Physical wellness is the result of regular, continual exercise. The same is true of the soul. Spiritual wellness is the result of regular, continual spiritual exercise. But since the fall of man, this has rarely been easy or simple, as one writer notes:
Spiritual disciplines are those things that — more than likely — most of us would rather not do. Discipline is that act of inducing pain and stress into one’s life in order to grow into greater toughness, capacity, endurance, or strength. So spiritual discipline is that effort pressing the soul into greater effort so that it will enlarge its capacity to hear God speak and, as a result, to generate inner force (spiritual energy) that will guide and empower one’s mind and outer life.
The fact that we use a word like discipline in spiritual matters is probably an admission that life has a tendency to pursue disorderliness and laziness. Thus, we discipline ourselves to avoid this.
…But discipline is something we can choose to embrace on a daily basis. The choice lies in the decision to set aside the necessary time, embrace the habits of the masters, and engage with a waiting God who seeks our communion.” [Gordon MacDonald, The Life God Blesses.]
Exercise, be it in a gym on a stair-stepper or with a Bible on your knees, always has a goal. In the gym, the goal is to shed poundage and tone muscles to their maximum potential. In the prayer closet it is just as basic — to develop godly character.
Don’t miss this simple truth. We read and study Scripture, we pray, we fast, we disciple, we testify, we meditate, and we give not to simply amass more truth about God, but to become like God. Maybe that is why the disciplines become so arduous. We forget why we are exercising. Appointments with God become inconsistent and brief because we arrive only to fulfill a duty. He arrives to make us like Him. If we practice the disciplines for any other reason, we are missing God’s intention.
So exercise your heart. Discipline yourself. Buffet your body (1 Cor. 9:27). But always remember the goal while you practice the disciplines. We labor and strive and serve Christ so that we might demonstrate more of the glory of Christ and enjoy all the rich blessings that come from being like Him and being in fellowship with Him.