When he left his birthplace, called by the inhabitants, Lagener-land [Leinster], he betook himself to a holy man named Sinell, who at this time was distinguished among his countrymen for his unusual piety and knowledge of the Holy Scriptures. And when the holy man saw that St. Columban had great ability, he instructed him in the knowledge of all the Holy Scriptures.
- Jonas, Life of St. Columban (early 7thcentury)
For what sort of training is there that is without the sorrow of chastisement? How much grief or sorrow lies in the craftsmen’s trades? How much toil? How much labour awaits those that ply a craft or even build? With how many blows, with what pains are musicians’ pupils taught?... But if, then, such and so many pains are borne untiringly for temporal and unsure rewards, what ought we to endure for eternal, true and sure ones, whose conclusion is eternal?
- Columbanus, Sermon IV: On Discipline
But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore He says:
“When He ascended on high,
He led captivity captive,
And gave gifts to men.”
(Now this, “He ascended”—what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.)
- Ephesians 4.7-10
The Lord Jesus Christ ascended to the right hand of our heavenly Father with one overarching intention: To fill all things with Himself. The Father is putting all things under Jesus’ feet and filling all things in all things, so that in all things God might be known and glorified (Eph. 1.22, 23; Hab. 2.14).
If we’re honest, we’ll agree with the writer of Hebrews that, beginning with ourselves, we don’t yet see that happening (Heb. 2.5-9).
But since this is Jesus’ agenda, and the agenda of our heavenly Father – the coming of Whose Kingdom we seek on earth as it is in heaven – it must be our agenda as well. Our calling, as we go into our Personal Mission Field each day, is to serve as fit vessels through whom Jesus can fill the world with Himself, for His Kingdom and glory (2 Cor. 4.7, 15; 1 Thess. 2.12).
Obviously, such a flowering of God’s grace and truth doesn’t just happen. We have to work at it, developing and deploying the gifts and fruit of the Spirit, and making the most of all the time of our lives for Christ and His Kingdom.
And this means working hard at the disciplines that will make us fit channels of grace.
Columbanus understood this. As a young man, he studied with enthusiasm “the pursuit of grammar and the sciences…” concentrating in particular on “rhetoric, geometry, and the Holy Scriptures.”At the school of Sinell on Lough Erne, Columbanus focused his study on learning the Psalms, which he not only taught but versified for singing. When he finally joined the monastery of Comgall at Bangor, he readily took to the rigorous ascetic life practiced there.
Columbanus understood from early on in life that anyone who wants to achieve excellence has to submit to discipline. And if we willingly submit to discipline for temporal and material goods – schooling, learning a trade, making a marriage work, managing a household, keeping fit – how much more ought we to discipline our lives for godliness?
Jesus flows through us in channels of righteousness, cut by His Spirit, according to His Word. They are channels of thinking, affections, and values; channels of words and deeds; channels that flow from within the soul into all our relationships, roles, and responsibilities, in every niche and nook of our Personal Mission Field. Those channels must be diligently cut and kept clear of worldly debris, so that the grace and truth of the Lord can enrich and flow through them.
And this is the work of discipline, beginning with those disciplines that enable us to abide in Christ – Scripture, prayer, singing, meditation, solitude, fasting, and so forth – and involving all the disciplines by which we spend the time God gives us each day.
Every believer in Christ lives a disciplined life. Whether or not to embrace certain disciplines is not the issue. Which disciplines to embrace and practice, is. And for many of us, the time God gives us for filling our world with Jesus is not properly disciplined to accomplish that end.
Columbanus resolved to discipline his life in every aspect so that all his strength and time would go to seeking and advancing the rule of King Jesus. May his example inspire us to greater consistency in mastering those disciplines that will allow us to be fit vessels for our Lord.
Psalm 26.1-3, 8-12 (Aberystwyth: Jesus, Lover of My Soul)
Vindicate me, Lord on high; I have walked within Your Word.
Never wav’ring, though I sigh, I have trusted You, O Lord!
Prove me, Lord, prove even me! Test my heart and try my mind.
Let Your steadfast mercy be in the path for me to find.
Lord, I love Your dwelling-place, there where all Your glory shines,
Keep my soul before Your face, lest for sinful ways it pine.
As for me, in righteousness, I shall walk on level ground;
Save me, Lord, renew and bless! Let me with Your Church be found!
Help me, Lord, to make sure that all the disciplines of my life are such that…
The Disciplined Life
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All Psalms for singing from The Ailbe Psalter. Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.