Spiritual Discipline: Duty or Desire?
As a Denver Broncos fan, I can’t believe I am going to admit this—Tom Brady is unquestionably one of the best quarterbacks that has ever played in the NFL.
The truth is in the statistics. Tom has performed at a high level throughout his career. And now as he gets toward the supposed end of it, he is not declining at the same rate as some of the other greats that have played his position—ahem, Peyton Manning. What is his secret?
A 2014 Sports Illustrated article dug into the habits that made Tom successful and found that every aspect of his life is scheduled. What time he wakes up; what he eats in every season of the year; when, where, and how he works out. His vacations are even scheduled. Now, I’m not just saying that they are blocked out on his calendar. What he does on vacation is scheduled—even to what he eats, when he sleeps, and what activities he participates in.
And it’s not just some weeks or months that are scheduled. Tom’s years are scheduled. In a more recent interview, he was asked about his reasoning behind a reported 8:30pm bedtime. Here is his response.
"I do go to bed very early because I'm up very early. I think that the decisions that I make always center around performance enhancement, if that makes sense. So whether that's what I eat or what decisions I make or whether I drink or don't drink, it's always football-centric. I want to be the best I can be every day. I want to be the best I can be every week. I want to be the best I can be for my teammates. I love the game, and I want to do it for a long time. But I also know that if I want to do it for a long time, I have to do things differently than the way guys have always done it.
I have to take a different approach. Strength training and conditioning and how I really treat my body is important to me, because there's really nothing else that I enjoy like playing football. I want to do it as long as I can.” (http://www.businessinsider.com/tom-brady-sleep-2014-11)
Habits, schedule, discipline. These can be yucky words. Some think of habits as dry, dull, and repetitive tasks that grow out of duty rather than desire. And this can be true. Habits can be characterized in that way, but they don’t have to be.
Tom’s evident competitive spirit and passion for the game of football drives his habits. His habits are born out of a passion for the game. It doesn’t sound like his habits are dry and dull. In fact, his habits make him successful.
Spiritual disciplines are life habits that help us grow our relationship with God. These habits instruct our minds with truth that transforms our thinking. They grow our heart’s capacity to love both God and others. Although some are intangible, these habits also take practical and tangible forms, too. They encourage godly spiritual responses and help us to practically live every day in ways that show that we are loving God with every part of who we are and what we do.
If we have a distorted view of spiritual disciplines, we may be tempted to avoid them. But spiritual disciplines are extremely important. Paul instructs Timothy to train himself for godliness because godliness is valuable (1Timothy 4:7-8). He further encourages the Corinthian believers to exercise self-control in a similar fashion to athletes—and even more so because we are living for something eternal rather than temporal (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).
If we get this concept when it comes to sports and business, and if we admire those who make the sacrifices and exhibit the self-control necessary to accomplish great things, then why do we shun that same discipline when it comes to our spirituality? What would Christianity look like if, when asked about our dedication to Christ, we responded something like this?
“The decisions that I make always center around my love for God. So whether that’s what I eat or what decisions I make or whether I drink or don’t drink, it is always God-centric. I want to be the best reflection of Christ that I can be every day. I want to love Christ in the best way I can every week. I want to do this for my brothers and sisters in Christ. I love God, and I love doing the stuff that He wants me to do. And I want to do it for a long time. But I also know that if I want to do it for a long time, I have to do things that will help me keep growing and progressing. I have to take a different approach. How I prepare to live each day is really important to me because there is nothing else that I enjoy like Jesus."
It’s one thing to want spiritual success, but it’s a completely different thing to do what is necessary to be spiritually successful. We need more believers who will channel their passion for Jesus Christ into spiritually disciplined lives that lead them to greater love for God and others. Let your passion for Christ drive your spiritual discipline.
In the next couple of articles, we will examine some core spiritual disciplines and suggest some tools to help you “work out.”
What do you think about spiritual discipline? Have your views changed over time? What habits have you changed?