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Meditation: The Danger of Self-Discipline

The best lies always use a bit of the truth. One of the weaknesses of giving ourselves seriously to spiritual formation is that after we understand the importance responding to God’s grace, it’s easy to get idea that God has done everything he’s going to do. The rest is up to me, we think. I must meditate, pray, serve, study, contemplate, isolate, and even celebrate on my own. Jesus showed me how it’s done, died on the cross, paid the price, and now it’s up to me to respond.

There’s a measure of truth to such thinking, but that’s where the lie takes hold. Truth is, the Father is willing to do still more on our behalf. God's grace is the disciple’s fuel for life.

James 4:6 reminds us: “But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’” More grace. Greater grace. All the more grace. James was speaking from experience, not theory. I think he discovered the multi-layered grace of God as he learned to humble himself again and again. When we humble ourselves we position ourselves for greater grace.

One sure indicator of a religiously closed mind is the firm conviction that we have this Jesus thing figured out. We can handle it. The religiously-closed mind is only interested in exporting its brand of spirituality, but it’s impossible to drink in God’s grace if we do nothing but tell others how to live. Self-discipline has great power, but it comes at the risk of locating the source of that power in ourselves instead of the grace of God. If will-power alone brings spiritual growth, we have no need for his daily presence. The distinguishing mark between grace-empowerment and fleshly self discipline is that self-discipline says to others, “If I do it, why can’t you?”

The grace-empowered disciple realizes the daily need for his presence. With that presence amazing things are possible. The Apostle Paul lived a disciplined and focused life before God, but he was a force of super-nature, not nature. The grace-empowered disciple says, along with the Apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 15:10), “By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect.” As we give ourselves this week to the spiritual disciplines laid out in scripture, let’s meditate as well on the source of our achievement in God.

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    Wonderful page, Continue the great work. Thanks!

Reader Comments (8)

He is my Father, Brother, Teacher, Counselor, Mentor and so much more holding the growing promise of eternal supporting relationship. It is when I can do no more that I find Him taking over. It is when I want to try anew that He steps back and says have at it. Our relationaship is like I am half way through kindergarten and He has already started in motion a living and working universe.

We are in continual prayer together which my Earthly nurturing family was incapable. At 40 I told Him I had it now and He could use me any way He needed. By 50 I had lost all that I thought I had; my family, my job, my church and my will to do any more than walk off into the sunset.

Eighteen years later I realize by the grace of God I am gifted opportunity and no discipline of mine could ever earn it. How much can I achieve in 120 years maximum compared to my Father in Heaven who knows no beginning and knows no end? How much less agile am I who needs the physical to relate when my God can occupy all space at the same time as sitting completely on the head of a needle?

I can only be responsible for four things; my heart, my mind, my strength and my soul. Three of those four things work because of the clay of the Earth and the fourth the breath of my Creator. My God is responsible for all things. Can any one of us maintain the discipline necessary to become perfect in our hearts, minds, strengths and soul? I think not but God I believe can and will that each of us is nurtured and loved throughout an eternity of maturing toward that perfection.

June 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterHerm Halbach

I like this line, Herm: "I can only be responsible for four things; my heart, my mind, my strength and my soul." I will think on that for some time. Thanks.

June 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRay Hollenbach

This is one of your top ten posts, Ray, maybe top five--rich, gentle, convicting.

June 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

Thanks so much, Rebecca. I like hearing it was rich & gentle: I hope the convicting part wasn't too onerous.

June 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRay Hollenbach

This is so thought provoking, Ray. It is classic "both and". Humility is always the key for me. Sometimes it feels like I need discipline to remain humble :). I'd like to recommend the introduction to Job in the Message version of the bible? E.P. writes an intro to each book of the bible and this one has enough to chew one a long time. Thanks again!

Thanks, Kelli: I'll check out Peterson's intro to Job. To your point, it's absolutely true that humility (like pride) becomes a habit of the mind--it is the sum of our daily conscious choices until eventually it becomes a pathway in our hearts.

June 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRay Hollenbach

Another thought came to me regarding discipline. If we know our self discipline is lacking why do we insist on other equal siblings to be more disciplined than us (the splinter and the plank?)?

June 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterHerm Halbach

Or, Herm, it's entirely impossible that our self-discipline is not lacking. It is simply a matter of the heart. "Self-Control" is, after all, a fruit of the Spirit. In my view, the Jesus-follower who is walking in a skilled and disciplined path still understands that his/her primary resource is grace: not only grace for dying, but grace for living. Peace to you!

June 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRay Hollenbach

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