The Goal of a Disciplined Life (4)
And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.1 Corinthians 9.25
Many kinds of behavior
Comparing the work of disciplining our bodies to what athletes do is most apt, as we have seen. We have to focus on the prizewe are trying to achieve – increasing Christ-likeness. We must subject our bodies to the decisions and dispositions of our mind, heart, and will. We cannot ignore a single member of our bodies, for, as surely as we do, that neglected member will be our undoing down the homestretch. And we expect to have to work hard and long at this process, in order to make daily progress in doing the good works which demonstrate that we are true disciples of the Lord.
And that’s a lot like what athletes do.
There is another way that the athletics metaphor is appropriate for thinking about the discipline of our bodies. That has to do with the fact that all athletic competition breaks down into repertoires of behaviorswhich must be mastered, little by little, for each situation the athlete or team might encounter.
For example, when I played college football, our practice sessions included such routine activities as blocking, learning defenses and offenses, running plays, and so forth. The ball carriers and pass catchers had particular skills to master, as did those who played the line or on defense. Those skills, in turn, were reinforced and improved by certain exercises with weights and daily drills. All these disciplines combined to help us perform at our best in games.
Football is a game of roles and the disciplines appropriate to each role. By breaking down the game into manageable repertoires of behavior, coaches can see precisely where players need to improve, and players can work on specific skill sets, seeking consistent improvement across the board.
Sent like Jesus
Being a follower of Christ is rather like this. Jesus said, “As the Father has sent Me, so I am sending you” (Jn. 20.21). Jesus was sent to a particular time and place with a mission of bringing near the Kingdom of God. Just so has He sent us. Our lives in this world are to be patterned after the example of Jesus, not only in the vision of His glory as we meditate on it day by day, but in the practical, down-to-earth details of how we live our lives – the disciplines that govern the ways we use our bodily members.
To follow Jesus like this, and to discipline our bodies to do the kinds of good works He did, it will help if we can identify just a few roles and repertoires of discipleship which reflect the way Jesus lived, and which can provide us with more concrete objectives for our daily “agonizing” in the work of disciplining our bodies.
This is actually easier than it sounds. Let me explain: We can identify five specific roles that Jesus consistently fulfilled during His earthly sojourn.
Jesus came in the role of a seeker: He sought the Lord, He sought always to do God’s will, and He sought the lost and those He called as disciples. He walked throughout the land of Judea, Samaria, and adjacent Gentile lands, looking for opportunities to teach, people to serve, and ways to bring near the Kingdom of God. He didn’t just go to Jerusalem, rent a space, and hang out a sign: “Religion at 11.” Jesus was a seeker.
Second, Jesus came in the role of a servant. He reminded His disciples of this on several occasions that He had come to serve, not to be served; and He modeled that role dramatically when He washed their feet. Jesus sought people so that He could serve them in one way or another.
In the third place, Jesus came as a shepherd, showing His disciples how to care for His flock so that it could be safe, well-fed, and strong. He declared Himself to be the Good Shepherd and, as such, set an example of how all His followers should relate to one another.
He was obviously, as well, a sower of the Word of God wherever He went.
And, finally, Jesus was a good steward of His time, abilities, and calling from the Lord. He insisted that He always did what the Father commanded, and always spoke what the Father gave Him to say. He didn’t waste time, squander resources, or diverge from His appointed path. He was a true steward.
Doesn’t it make sense for all the followers of Jesus to learn and master these same roles?
A repertoire of disciplines
Fulfilling these roles entails mastering a repertoire of disciplines. Just as athletes must learn to do many different skills and disciplines well, as the situation before them requires, so we as followers of Jesus should do the same.
We can identify five in particular: spiritual disciplines nurture our souls for loving God and our neighbors. Relational disciplines cultivate the specific words and deeds that allow us to show the love of Jesus to the people around us. Vocational disciplines fit us to do the work appointed to us with excellence and according to our calling to God’s Kingdom and glory. Communal disciplines enable us to worship, fellowship, and work together with other believers. And provisional disciplines, which we must always have at the ready, but may only occasionally put to use, aid us in times of trial and temptation to continue growing in the Lord.
Each of these various kinds of disciplines can be reduced to repeatable and improvable routines and protocols, which, taken together, help us to subdue the members of our bodies for obedience to Christ in every area of our lives and to fulfill the roles that define our calling as His followers.
These roles and repertoires obviously require more precise definition and development, which we can achieve as we study the life of Christ and search the Scriptures daily. By working hard at these disciplines, we can build up the necessary strength and skills – of mind, heart, conscience, and life – to enable us to fulfill our calling and do good works.
1. Can you see how the life of discipleship is like the life of an athlete? Explain.
2. Do you see each of those five discipleship roles in your own life? Can you identify ways you might improve in each of these roles?
3. Would you say that you are consistently practicing the kinds of disciplines that encompass all areas and aspects of your life, such as are outlined in this article? Where can you improve?
Next steps – Preparation: Share your answers to the three questions above with a fellow Christian. Ask your friend to pray for you as you begin to be more serious about leading a disciplined life.
T. M. Moore
This study, The Goal of a Disciplined Life, is part 1 of a 7-part series that supports the course, Introduction to Spiritual Theology at The Ailbe Seminary. To learn more about this free course,watch this brief video. Then enroll at the website and register for the course.
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.