Why Discipline Leads to Delight
"Discipline" is a word no one really likes to hear. It's uncomfortable and weighty, carrying all the semantic heft of correction, punishment, endurance, and difficulty. All our favourite words, right?
Funnily enough, we use the same word to describe our self-control at the dessert table on Christmas Eve, or our dedication to working out every day at four a.m. (just kidding, what maniac does that?). We also use the word to describe the time we set aside each day to seek God's face seriously and intentionally.
Spiritual disciplines like prayer, reading the Word, belonging to a church community, and worshipping God are not optional, nor are they particularly easy. I'm often envious of Christian thinkers and writers who talk about the delight they find in prayer, for example, when I find it difficult to stay focused long enough to string together a coherent conversation with God. Sometimes, I think we can get caught up in our emotions—how we feel about prayer, reading, or attending church at a given moment—and lose sight of the fact that our feelings have nothing to do with it. God calls us to these things. We must obey. End of story.
Discipline kicks in at that crucial moment when emotion deviates from will—when I know that I should make time for God and my will is to do what is right, but my emotions tell me that I'm too stressed or tired. I wouldn't be able to focus anyway, and God doesn't really mind if I miss one day, does He?
The answer is, of course, that God will not punish us for missing a morning Bible reading. But that doesn't mean we should get comfy in a habit of pushing God to the sidelines, de-emphasizing the importance of spending time with Him little by little until it becomes the norm. Like it or not, spending time in prayer or reading the Bible shouldn't represent "a good day." If we're being honest with ourselves, that should be the average day. And since we know our emotions, energy levels, and mood swings don't always agree, we need spiritual discipline to keep us grounded in the kind of habits God wants for us.
Now, I want to be clear. Legalism can crop up in the tiniest cracks and the tightest spaces, especially in conversations like this. I'm not saying that everyone should be reading eight chapters of Leviticus a day or spending three hours on their knees or only listening to worship music if they listen to anything. Maybe that's exactly what you do, and hey, kudos to you! But for someone else, discipline might mean starting the day on your knees, asking God to guide you through it, and staying in touch with Him throughout the day. It might mean reading a psalm and reflecting on it during the day. It might mean taking time to pray and worship on your lunch break. But it should mean setting aside distractions and seeking God where He may be found—in prayer, in worship, and in the Word. Not in one or two, but in all three.
Prayer is where we commune with God. The Word is where we find Him revealed. Worship is where we practice delighting in God and keeping our hearts calibrated to Him. Church is where we learn from the Word and from each other, worship together, and cultivate the body of Christ. Through all of these disciplines, we can come to know God more clearly. And when we know God more clearly, we love Him more deeply. That's where the delight kicks in.
I don't claim to be an expert or to understand all the nuances of how this works, but I do know that I have tasted delight in God, and it's never at times when my spiritual life is slacking. When I'm slipping in my habits, barely scraping together enough time for God, the results are . . . well, despondent. But when I put in the effort to push through the "feels" because it's right and God requires it of me? That is when awesome things happen. That is when I catch a glimpse of what it means to enjoy God in true worship, and those glimpses call me onward and upward to greater discipline and a more intentional pursuit of the King.
In summary, "discipline" doesn't need to be a scary word for us in our walk with God. Weighty? Yes. Demanding? Sure. Required? Absolutely. But also worthwhile.
God wants us to know and enjoy Him deeply, and what He demands of us, He demands for that purpose. That is the good news, the beyond beautiful news. The more intentional we are about seeking God with the tools He gives us to do so, the more joy we will find in the seeking. In Christ, discipline leads to delight.