For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
The third statement on the survey we’ve been discussing asked respondents to evaluate this sentence: I struggle to do the things we say we believe in—I understand what we believe in and I believe in it. I’m struggling to DO the things we believe in, i.e. my beliefs and my actions do not match.
There was not as much struggle on understanding what we believe or believing what we believe. The more intense struggle was DOING what we believe. One person candidly said “I have a hard time practicing what I preach.” And if we are honest, probably many of us do. I know I do.
The word that comes to mind here is the word “discipline.” The word “discipline” comes from the Latin word “discipulus” which means “pupil.” The word “discipline” also provides the root of the word “disciple”. Of course the modern definition of the word “discipline” usually refers to self-control or punishment or a field of study. All of these definitions are helpful in reflecting on the word “discipline”, why it is necessary in the life of a Christian and how to apply it to your Christians life.
Christians are lifelong students, or pupils. Good students are disciplined. They regularly attend class, study at a steady pace, and look to what’s coming ahead in the semester. There are some students who cut class and who cram at the last minute. These are generally not good students. And there are students who don’t study at all, and many times, it is these students that are failing or at the very least not living up to their potential. Students eventually end their formal education and enter the work force. They are no longer considered students. However, the most astute workers continue their education, so that they can improve on their craft, and to some degree are lifelong students.
Comparing Christians to students, disciples to “discipuli” is a fair comparison. Good Christians regularly attend church, pray, study Scripture, and look ahead to feasts and fasts so that they can take ample opportunities to grow in faith in the different seasons of the church year. Those who rarely attend church or pray or read Scripture, or follow the commandments, those who try to cram it all in on Christmas and Easter, these generally are not the committed Christians. And those who never go to church or who never give Christianity a thought, these are the ones most likely to fail to enter the Kingdom of God, or at very least not live up to the potential that Christ has called them to, something they will answer for at His judgment seat.
A Christian is expected to do more than just finish Sunday school with some working knowledge of Christianity (or more like a bunch of Christian trivia rather than a relationship with Christ). We are expected to join the “work force” of Christianity, being teachers in our own families, helpers in our communities, and recruiters (yes, we are supposed to spread the Gospel to others). Christians ideally do not stop learning about Christ and how to be a more committed Christian. Long after Sunday school ends (or for clergy, long after they finish seminary), Christians should continue being students. By definition, a disciple is a pupil, a student of Christ, throughout their lives. One way to be more disciplined, to better practice what we preach, is to continue to immerse ourselves in study.
A good disciple will practice discipline, in the sense of trying to maintain self-control over passions and temptations. Self-control is achieved through purposefully watching our thoughts and our actions. It involves coming up with coping skills that will keep us away from temptation and point us toward righteousness.
Today’s verse from Hebrews 12:1 is perfect summarizes Christian discipline perfectly: “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” Perhaps this is a little bit of an exaggeration. Not ALL discipline seems painful, at least not all the time. No good student thinks ALL learning is painful, though some of it probably is. Yes, there are part of Christianity that perhaps are not pleasant. I’ve never found an aspect of Christianity personally that is unpleasant. Some aspects are boring at times, if I’m honest. The repetition of things, steadfastness in prayer when everything is going wrong, faith is God when it seems like He is silent, these are trying, but not unpleasant.
The good student recognizes that studying today yields something better later. That’s what gets a student through a tough class, or a long book chapter, or a difficult project—the hope that something greater is coming later. And this is what should keep the good Christian going through a tough season, a crushing temptation, or a difficult life—the hope and the faith that something greater is coming later. Notice how St. Paul says “later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” Not merely those who existed for a while, but those who have been good students, good disciples. Remember that beliefs and actions have to match.
Lord, thank You for everyone who has taught me in my life—parents, teachers, friends, priests, everyone who has been a good influence in any area of my life. Thank You for those who have helped teach me about You. Help me to be a good student of Christianity, so that I can be a good disciple. Help me to have discipline and in the times when discipline is hard, or when life is painful, or when I’m disappointed even in You, help me to remember that there will be a later yield, which will be eternal life. Give me the strength and the wisdom to be a good disciple today. Amen.
Discipline is part of being a good disciple!