Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Heart of Self-Discipline

It's October already, and I find myself looking back over 2015.  What have I accomplished so far this year?

Gretchen Rubin's wonderful book The Happiness Project inspired me to live more intentionally.  She researched what makes people happy, then chose one Big Idea per month to work on.  I'm far less disciplined than she is, but I like the idea of Big Ideas, and I on Jan. 3, 2015, I chose a Big Idea to work on for 2015:  "Be disciplined."

Teresa Robinson "Right Brain Planning {elements}" flickr, Creative Commons.

Here's some of what I've learned this year:

On January 3, in my journal, I wrote that I needed to be self-disciplined because "I am rather ADHD, easily derailed, and discouraged by my lack of progress" in all areas of my life from writing to losing the weight that I gained since Thanksgiving.   As I contemplated diet and exercise, I groaned, "Oh, God, what a misery that will be!” and steeled myself for a year of iron-willed self-control.

Then, that very evening, I stayed up late to finish reading a book and woke up feeling terrible.  In my journal, I recorded my insights:  “God reminded me that there’s a reason this is a big idea for the entire year.  Being disciplined is tough; it takes a lot of learning and some failures too.”

Here's what I realized that morning:  At the heart of self-discipline is a strong sense of purpose.

If you think about the most purposeful being in the universe, that would be God, right, because He started the whole thing and is going to stay with it to the end.  So what kind of things does God plan to do?

Eph. 1:1-14 gives us an interesting window into God’s intentions.  The whole book starts out with Paul identifying himself as “an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God” - which affirms that God chooses us, and (as Bill Bright so family said) “has a plan for your life.”  None of us are here by chance.

Paul goes on to tell the believers in Ephesus that God “chose us in Him [i.e., in Jesus Christ] before the foundation of the world.”  That’s what I call planning ahead!

Why would God bother?  So “we should be holy and blameless before Him” which sounds kind of boring, but if you were standing before a jury, “not guilty” is the verdict you’d want to hear, and that’s pretty much what God is saying to us.  His intention is for us to have a fresh start.

“In love He predestined us to adoption as sons… according to the kind intention of His will” - we’re not going to be treated like indentured servants, as were so many of those unfortunate children in the Orphan Trains of American history; instead, God’s intention is to make us member of His family.

Yeah, members of His family.  That’s kind of weird, and it get weirder: God does this “to the praise of the glory of His grace."  So we will praise Him.

That seems so selfish of God, doesn't it?  Really, I can’t explain why God wants people to praise His glory.  But I do know that human beings really like recognition and being thanked for all the work they do, so why not God, right?  If we’re like God, in many ways, He has to be like us; if we have traits in common, maybe it’s not weird that God is as strongly motivated by recognition as we are.  People will do a lot for extrinsic rewards; despite being the LORD of heaven and earth, God apparently also has both intrinsic and external motivations.

Paul also talks about how God created “an administration suitable to the fullness of the times” - a new religious structure based on faith and grace: no more being Jewish by birth, or born to the priesthood, or even being required to travel to Jerusalem to worship.  This “new covenant” had a more global, less centralized and more flexible structure which could be adapted to many cultures as it spread throughout the Roman empire and which changed over time.  God knew beforehand the challenges the church would face, and He planned for them.

Paul saw himself as part of that larger purpose, and that sense of purpose gave him courage to persevere.  He thought about how he, and other Christians, fit into God’s plan for all time and for eternity.

Me, I lack an enduring sense of almost everything. I make plans and abandon them all the time.  My modus operandi is to do whatever seems to be a good idea at the time.  If it doesn't work out, instead of reflecting and adjusting my behavior, I often give up.  If possible, I blame someone else for my failure instead of accepting responsibility for my own actions. 

If I, like the apostle Paul (who was writing to the Ephesians from prison), thought more about my purpose - why I’m doing things - instead of my feelings, I would be so much better off!