At the end of every season in every sport comes what is commonly called postseason awards season. Even if you’ve never watched a second of ESPN in your life, you can probably guess what it entails- so called “experts” declaring which players, coaches, and teams are worthy of recognition and celebration in this area and that.
Common awards include the Most Valuable Player (usually, this should be more appropriately named “The Best Player On The Best Team” Award), Best Rookie or Newcomer, Most Improved Player, and the like. While this makes for spirited debate amongst fans and commentators, at the end of the day it doesn’t mean all that much- and even for someone like me who is an avid sports fan, I’m not all that interested in who wins what.
That is, with one exception. I’m an absolute sucker for the stories of those deemed the “Comeback Players Of The Year.” These are usually players that have undergone some trauma- perhaps a serious injury, or some off the field troubles, or maybe even just a long period of gross under-performance- who rise up unexpectedly to new heights of excellence in their field. I, for one, think that these stories are absolutely riveting.
So with that bit of background in mind, I want to submit to you as we kick off 2017 what I am affectionally terming the “Comeback Word Of The Year,” a concept and practice that is going to rise from the cultural ashes to retake its proper place of prominence in our lives. Ready for it……….?
Yes, you read that right- discipline. Underwhelmed? A little disappointed? I thought you might be. But stick with me here!
Unfortunately, discipline- especially as it relates to one’s relationship with God- has really gotten a bad rap over the years. It probably conjures up images of crusty, cranky authority figures- parents, teaches, coaches, maybe even pastors- doing everything within their power to squeeze the excitement and enjoyment out of life and instead make you miserably burdened with seemingly arbitrary rules and regulations. If that’s been your primary experience of discipline- especially spiritual discipline- in the past, I’m sorry. Because the reality is, discipline- when it is understood and embraced properly- is a tremendous gift for growth, maturity, and flourishing in Jesus Christ.
I love how the now deceased Christian philosopher Dallas Willard defined discipline- “it is something I can do that, when practiced consistently, enables me to do something I cannot do.” These are the kind of real life practices that the biblical writers have in mind when they command us, as they do in 1 Timothy 4:7, to “train ourselves for godliness.” A few examples…
- You may find yourself unable to effectively battle one or more areas of temptation in your life. The discipline of memorizing and meditating on Scripture can arm you with divinely inspired and empowered truth to call to mind when the tempter comes to lure you away.
- You may find yourself unable to break free from an idolatrous, unhealthy practice like gluttony, unwise and impulsive spending, or over-indulging in technology or entertainment. The discipline of fasting can become a pathway to experience God’s grace and freedom from that snare.
- You may find yourself growing in greed and what one author appropriately calls “possession obsession,” finding it exceedingly painful to part with “your stuff,” even in the face of others’ need. The discipline of generosity can become the key that unlocks for you the powerful joy of investing yourself in a Kingdom beyond your own- the Kingdom of God Himself!
I could go on, but I think the point it well made. Fact is, discipline opens a door to the freedom and joy of living like God intended when He created us for a relationship with Himself. Godly, Christ centered discipline and freedom aren’t opposites at all; the latter is what Elisabeth Eliot called the “final reward” of the former!
It is critical to note here that discipline must always be understand through the lens of Gospel grace. Discipline that is divorced from God’s saving work through Jesus leads to oppressive legalism- quite the opposite of freedom. But the answer to this pitfall can’t be a laissez-faire life lacking in any order, structure, or accountability. Instead, we must learn to build our practice of discipline on the foundation of the Gospel- rightly understanding that everything we do is a humble, grateful, obedient response to God’s gracious invitation to come to Him through Jesus.
We read Scripture because Jesus has saved us and invited us to know Him better.
We pray because Jesus has saved us and invited us to interact with Him intimately.
We serve because Jesus has saved us and provided for us the perfect picture of servanthood.
We give because Jesus has saved us and demonstrated that there is no greater treasure than following Him- and helping others to do the same.
So as we begin 2017, let me lob you a “softball,” a practical way to get started with giving discipline the “comeback status” it deserves in your life- We have put together two great resources that anyone at Fellowship Church can pick up and put into practice right away…
- The first is our Bible Reading Plan, available in the Connection Center at either location or online here. This is a daily tool designed to help you get into God’s Word personally and apply it to your life.
- The second is found within the first document, and is specifically in conjunction with our 15 Year Celebration and our Beyond Ordinary series on the Four Core Actions of life at Fellowship Church. It’s appropriately called the 15 Year Challenge, and provides you with eight specific practical challenges connected to our Four Core Actions.
My hope and prayer is that you’ll check these out today, and allow God to work by His grace and power within you to take you to a place of Christlikeness that you never thought possible. Will you give spiritual discipline the opportunity to be the “comeback practice of the year” in 2017?