Disciplined Obedience

            “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.” – Theodore Roosevelt

            After years of knowing that I needed to lose some weight and live a healthier lifestyle, I finally decided to begin a gym membership in January.  But just having a membership wasn’t going to be enough to change the reading on my bathroom scale.  It was going to require discipline to initiate and maintain a habit of regular workouts.  I thought back to my days in basic training when once the commitment was made to enter the military; I completely dove into the lifestyle habit of exercise, willingly or unwillingly.

            When we have committed to something, there is a responsibility of discipline and obedience.  If we have committed to a relationship, we are going to experience both good times and bad.  It goes against the grain of society that would suggest throwing away something that isn’t working the way you’d like it to.  Patience, rare in this perception of society, is required.

If we feel called to a mission or cause, there is necessary preparation and planning.  That takes time and patience.  It also requires discipline and obedience.  My desire to get back into good health isn’t going to happen overnight.  Getting ‘out of shape’ didn’t happen overnight and turning that habit around will take time.  I will need to be accountable for my routine and obedient to my diet.

After Jesus was baptized, Scripture says that the Holy Spirit ‘drove’ Jesus into the wilderness.  The word ‘drove’ comes from the Greek word ‘ekballo’ meaning, 1) to cast out, drive out, or send, 2) to expel or banish from society or family, 3) to compel one to depart in stern but non-violent language.  The Spirit was stretching Jesus comfort zone by forcing him into the wilderness for 40 days of fasting and temptations by Satan.

Listening to that now, going to the gym sounds like the easier option.  But for this ministry that Jesus was called to do, he needed discipline and obedience.  That meant exercising his faith through fasting, prayer, and discernment.  And then after 40 days, hungry and physically weak, then came the real test, the temptations of Satan.  He passed the tests, and was waited on by angels.  Jesus was ready to face his difficult journey.

Discipline and obedience to God are not the popular choices in this world.  It is so easy to make excuses, justifying our disobedience to God’s will.  We are all guilty.  We’d prefer to do things our own way and when things turn bad, we pray a “911 prayer” asking God to get us out of this mess.  When we don’t receive our easy way out, we get mad at God.  And when things do turn out ok, we quickly say thanks and go back to doing things the way we always did.  As one colleague said, sometimes we think of God as some sort of genie that should prevent unwanted consequences.

But our Christian faith, as Christ followers calls us to be Christ-like.  That isn’t something that comes without discipline and obedience and it certainly isn’t easy.  Like any other relationship, it requires proactive effort. 

To identify ourselves as Christians is a huge responsibility.  “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:10).”  “If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you (1 Peter 4:14).”  “Then Jesus said to them all: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me (Luke 9:23).” 

Physical training is not only healthy, but it prepares us for life challenges.  Going to the gym for an hour on Sunday isn’t going to do me much good if I’m eating fast food all week.  The same discipline and obedience is necessary for our faith lives.  To seek God’s will for our lives, to experience Christ’s forgiveness, and to trust the presence of the Spirit requires a spiritual training program.  How can we see God’s presence in our lives or recognize his will for us if we aren’t training with daily prayer, discernment, and Bible Study? 

In order to grow in faith, we have to make our spiritual muscles sweat.  It begins when we live with an attitude of gratitude building a foundation of life on thankfulness to God for all that he gives us.  When we have reasons to give God thanks each day, discipline and obedience will follow close behind.  Amen.