Archives For discipline

By Milton Bost

birthday cake

Last month, I hoped my birthday would pass with little notice. It’s not that I don’t enjoy my birthdays. I used to anticipate them, but they just don’t hold the same level of excitement. They make me count and remind me that I am, to some people, an old person. I’m learning that too many birthdays can kill you.

Birthdays are milestones. They are mute reminders that more sand has passed through the hourglass. Birthdays give us a handle on the measurement of time, which, when broken into minutes, moves quickly. There are 60 minutes in an hour, 1,440 minutes in a day, 10,080 minutes in a week, and 525,600 minutes in a year. That means I experienced over 34,164,000 minutes by my birthday. My 65th birthday.

No wonder I need more naps.

The minutes often pass by so quietly, so consistently, that they can fool us. In C. S. Lewis’s “The Screwtape Letters,” the senior demon advises his protégé of the strategy of monotony: “The safest road to hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without any sudden turns, without milestones, without signposts….The gradual decay of youthful loves and youthful hopes, the quiet despair of ever overcoming chronic temptations…the drabness which we create in their lives…all this provides admirable opportunities of wearing out a soul by attrition.”

So, we mark our calendars and phones with deadlines, dates that set limits for the completion of objectives. If we ignore these deadlines, it brings unwanted consequences. Therefore, to live without deadlines is to live an inefficient, unorganized life, drifting with the breeze of impulse on the fickle way of our moods. We set deadlines because they discipline our use of time.

God is the one who brings about our birthdays, not as deadlines, but as lifelines. He builds them into our calendar once every year to enable us to make an annual appraisal, not merely of the length of life, but the depth of life. Birthdays are not observed simply to tell us we’re growing older, but to help us determine if we are also growing deeper.

Obviously if God has given you another year to live for him, then he has some things in mind. I have this strong suspicion that it includes much more than merely existing 1,440 minutes a day.

In a Psalm attributed to Moses, he prays, “Teach us to number our days carefully so that we may develop wisdom in our hearts” (90:12). Is that not a perfect prayer for us to pray every year our lifeline rolls around?

There is, however, a warning: Don’t expect wisdom to come into your life wrapped up like a birthday present. It doesn’t come with song, candles, party favors, and fanfare. Wisdom comes privately from the Lord as a by-product of wise and right decisions, godly reactions, humble lessons, and application of his principles in daily circumstances. “Gray hair is a glorious crown; it is found in the ways of righteousness” (Proverbs 16:31).

Wisdom comes not from seeking after a ministry, but from anticipating the fruit of a disciplined life. It comes not from trying to do great things for God, but from being faithful to the small and often obscure tasks few people ever see.

James R. Sizoo said, “Let it never be forgotten that glamour is not greatness; applause is not fame; prominence is not eminence. The man of the hour is not apt to be the man of the ages. A stone may sparkle, but that does not make it a diamond; people may have money, but that does not make them a success.”

As we number our days, do we count the years as the grinding measurement of minutes, or can we find the marks of wisdom—character traits that were not there when we were younger?

As I look back over my life, I recall some of the things I did, that I said, that I believed. If I think long enough on them, I have regrets. But I thank the Lord that he was able to soften the hardness of my heart to help me become a better learner, a clearer thinker, and a corrected believer. If he should decide that April 18 was my last birthday, he has made my life full. He has forgiven me of my sin. He has blessed me beyond words. I pray that I have pleased him.

– Milton Bost is pastor of Chatham Baptist Church.

Dr. Doug Munton, Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church of O’Fallon, IllinoisHaving practiced daily devotions for many years, I spend some time each day (mornings usually work best for me) reading my Bible and praying. I read a certain number of chapters of the Bible, underlining as I go. And I spend time praying by praising and thanking God, confessing sin, asking for my needs and praying for the needs of others.

I will tell you that sometimes I don’t feel much like doing that. But feelings are terribly fickle.

I rarely feel like exercising or eating healthy or all kinds of things that need to be done. I like the phrase “spiritual disciplines.” I am to discipline myself in my devotional life.

But I will also tell you that feelings often follow discipline. I am glad I exercise and eat right when I do. And I feel especially glad that I regularly spend time in God’s Word and in prayer.

The longer I’ve practiced daily devotionals the more I’ve recognized its value, including:

1. It reorders priorities.

It is easy for me to prioritize the wrong things. Getting my relationship with God at the top of my list helps the rest of my list fall into proper alignment. We need to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). Spending time with the Lord in His Word and in prayer is a reminder of what matters most and helps all the rest of my life to realign.

2. It promotes truth.

God’s Word is true and it leads us in the way of truth. Listen to enough commercials and you can begin to think the truth is that the world is to revolve around what you want or think you need. The lies of the world are everywhere. We need the truth of what God says. Our time with God helps us to know and remember what is true and real and lasting.

3. It teaches lessons.

By reading the Bible for yourself you begin to take personal responsibility for your spiritual growth. By all means, learn in a Bible-believing church and get in a small group Bible study. But read for yourself. Time alone with God in prayer allows you to learn lessons of faith and thankfulness and dependence upon God.

4. It changes perspectives.

A devotional life helps you to begin to think like Jesus thinks and see life from God’s perspective. It encourages you to see the big picture of faith and to deal with adversity in a proper manner. It discourages self-centered living and promotes greater dependence on the Lord’s strength for life.

5. It deepens our relationship with God.

The more I read God’s Word given to me, the more I see the kind of relationship God wants me to have with Him. I see the beauty of His grace and the riches of the Christian life. The more I pray, the more I connect with the heart of God. We talk to those we love. God talks with us through His Word and the Holy Spirit. We talk with God through prayer.

I want to encourage you to begin or expand a devotional life. Spend some time reading God’s Word. If you haven’t yet read the entire New Testament, start there. Keep a pen and paper handy to underline or note things that especially stand out to you. And then spend some time in prayer. Praise and thank God. Confess sin. Pray for your needs and the needs of others. Consider keeping a prayer list of specific people you are praying for.

Spending time with God makes all the difference in the depth and joy of our spiritual lives.

Doug Munton, online at dougmunton.com, is senior pastor of First Baptist Church in O’Fallon, Ill., and a former first vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

This article appeared at BPnews.net.

COMMENTARY | Heath Tibbetts

Looking down at the scale, I was shocked. I knew I wasn’t making healthy choices when it came to exercise or eating, but I never expected to see my 5’11’’ frame register at 50 pounds over my ideal weight!

Heath_Tibbetts_June3For years I had attempted short excursions into exercise or healthier eating, but never with any results or real dedication. And as I contemplated my situation, I realized for the first time that my weight problem wasn’t a physical issue…it was a spiritual one.

“So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

My life habits weren’t glorifying God. Food was often a comfort for me when I was stressed or just wanted to forget everything around me. It became clear to me that if I was looking for comfort or peace, I needed to start going to God.

So I did.

I began allowing more opportunities for prayer and found God growing that time both in length and in depth. Scripture became my food in times of trouble, and I worked more diligently on applying the Bible and not just reading it. But I also realized I needed to be more physically active.

“For while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way…” (1 Timothy 4:8).

Paul wasn’t telling young Timothy to pursue spiritual health and deny physical health. Bodily training is of “some value,” and our spiritual life should influence our physical life. I was determined to do exactly that, because I had known far too many
pastors with self-imposed health problems that were a result of unhealthy choices. I decided I wasn’t going to be one of those men. The choice had to be made now if I wanted to be physically able to serve God, my family, and my church.

So, I began to exercise regularly. It wasn’t intense, but it was something. Lunch choices became more than just “regular” or “super-sized.” Fried foods and soda didn’t go away for me, but the quantities did. When someone would ask about my weight loss, my common response was, “I stopped going back for thirds.”

Eventually I took up running, and 2011 was spent running several times a week, anywhere from three miles to a personal best of nine. Before every run and every workout I reminded myself of this: “Quitting is easier than completing.” I prayed before my workouts and my runs that God would give me the physical strength, as well as the mental strength, to become a more effective tool for his service. And sure enough, God answered my prayer.

It took a while, but by the end of 2011, I was down to my target weight. And other than some occasional fluctuations (hello, Christmas candy!) that’s right where I’m at today. A knee injury last year claimed my running career, so now I’m at the gym early in the mornings four times a week. And through all this, I’m stronger and healthier today than at any point in my life, including Basic Training!

Through this, I’ve learned some valuable lessons:

1. Stop making excuses about your eating. Claiming your Baptist heritage (potlucks, fried chicken, fried everything) just isn’t funny anymore.

2. Not feeling full is not the same as feeling hungry.

3. Be patient! Change takes time, especially when you’re changing your life and not just your body.

4. Set goals! My first run was sad. So I set a goal of one mile and worked up to it. Then three. Then five.

If you struggle with weight, stop thinking of it solely as a physical issue. Admit that it’s a spiritual issue. Repent of gluttony and idolatry of food. Pray for the resolve to complete instead of quit. And remember that God desires the glory even as you eat and drink.

Heath Tibbetts is pastor of First Baptist Church, Machesney Park.