I spent most of my twenties in a very large UK church in the North of England. It was a great church in some ways but, in many others it was deeply flawed.
One of the primary ways that it failed to be disciple-making community of Christian faith (rather than a crowd-drawing performance of excellence) was by its attitude towards devotion.
One of the primary schemes of Satan in the midst of the body of Christ today is the lie that any form of self-discipline is legalism; he does this because he knows that it is spiritual discipline that actually ushers us increasingly into the freedom and power of God.
During my twenties in this UK megachurch, what was consistently taught from the platform is that it doesn’t matter when you have a “quiet time”: if you’re a morning person, do it then; if you’re an evening person, go for that instead.
What this narrative actually taught the young people is that, when it came to prayer and studying Scripture, there was no biblical precedent for self-discipline beyond just doing what came “naturally.” The inference was that some people are wired to be up at the crack of dawn whereas others were wired towards late evenings. It was an exceptionally popular message!
But the notion that one can fight or compete or reap a harvest without a “beating of our bodies” is an utterly ridiculous notion for the soldier and the athlete and the farmer. Growing in Christian maturity and fruitfulness, by default, is a chilled vibe that might wash with the loafers but it’s not one that will do for oil-carrying virgins.
In 1 Corinthians 9:25-27, Paul, who knew that it was for freedom that Christ has set us free (Galatians 5:1), said this:
Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
And in 2 Timothy 2, Paul also wrote,
You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also. Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops.
It is overwhelmingly clear that New Testament, non-legalistic, joyful Christian living is directly linked with the blood, sweat and tears of discipline. What prophetic soldier really wants to put their head above the parapet? What messianic athlete really enjoys winter morning training? What kingdom farmer really is wired for long, all-consuming seasonal rhythms? And yet, you and I are called by Jesus into the warfare and endurance and ground-breaking of Kingdom citizenship.
Christ is coming and the Church must get ready.
Two Specific Disciplines that Will Help You Prepare
Two specific ways that will enable us all to be prepared for the return of Christ, and fruitfulness in the meantime, is the joy of a lifestyle that revolves around early mornings and the filter of care against inappropriate TV, film and social media.
My wife, Mairi, and I get up at 5:55 a.m. For a lot of people this is really early but for others it’s more like mid-morning! We get up at this time so that we have time for prayer and the Bible before the working day starts. In all honesty, this is the bare minimum. My wife leaves the house for her work at 7 a.m. so she only has about 30 minutes; I have slightly longer because I have a home-based freelance role. The point is though, as Mairi will tell you, prioritizing Jesus in the early hours literally makes a life-changing difference. (You should check her Instagram page out: My Heart Notes.)
If we didn’t get up early we wouldn’t have time with God; if we didn’t have time with God, we would be woefully unprepared for the day ahead; if we were willing to be woefully unprepared for the day ahead, we would be confessing that we don’t really believe that there’s a roaring lion seeking those whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8) or that Jesus was worth our very best.
Getting up early in the morning to be with Jesus, to be in His Word, is the preparation of a soldier, the fine-tuning of an athlete and the hardiness of a farmer. This is the truth for all human beings! Yes, there is also some truth in our body clocks being different in some ways because of our personalities and ages, but, fundamentally, no-one easily or comfortably gets out of bed before their bodies naturally wake up ‒ an alarm is a grating reality for anyone. But we don’t like alarms; we prefer gentrified, popular spirituality and refuse to go to bed earlier.
However, you and I are not called to coast through this Christian life as though our modus operandi was a walk in the park; we’ll have all eternity to “dwell well.” But we are called to take every single day seriously as we fight for our joy in Jesus and as we resist every wicked scheme of the devil. The days that we are living in are indeed anti-Christ more than we know.
When you start to hear His voice in the early mornings, throwing your duvet off will become much less of a problem.
What You Absorb
One of my favorite programs on TV is a reality show called SAS: He Who Dares Wins. It’s about the British Special Forces fitness challenges for recruits who want to see if they have what it takes to be a member of the British SAS. It’s full of brutal physical training and mental challenge that ultimately lead all to breaking point.
But I’ve had to recently refuse to watch it any longer. I can handle some swearing in some contexts but the language in this particular show was way over the top. I found that some episodes weren’t as bad as others whereas some were literally affecting my physical state of mind, such was the level of expletive. Bizarrely, I found myself wanting to swear more after watching it.
Despite the enjoyment I got out of the type of show that it was, despite the motivation to my own fitness training, I knew that the Spirit dwelling within me was grieved.
So, I don’t watch it anymore.
This reality of our bodies being the very temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19) actually applies to both of these major principles of healthy Christian living.
- Because He lives in us, we must draw aside to abide in Him: to listen to His voice and to know with conviction that He has really heard ours. This discipline not only proves our love for Him but it actually protects us against the enemy as well.
- Because He lives in us, we must protect both our eyes and our ears: preserving the honor and holiness of the Spirit that lives within us will keep us “in step” with wherever He leads throughout the day rather than grieving Him and refusing to do anything about it.
Could you prayerfully go to Jesus this week, and, with joy, review your prayer life and what you absorb via recreation?
Self-discipline is for power and freedom and fruitfulness not, as the devil would accuse, “for those legalistic types.” Self-discipline is for all who would be followers of the Lamb.
May He bless you!