The human mind is powerful and God intended for us to use it for His purposes. But in our high tech, instant everything, ADHD, IPhone society, we’re often too busy, distracted, and self-discipline is either fleeting or resisted. If this is the case, our spiritual lives are out of balance.
Remember: No discipline, no discipleship.
To pursue holiness, a believer must hear biblical preaching and teaching, and participate in corporate worship, the Lord’s Supper, Bible reading, meditation, prayer, and fellowship. Further, he must deny many legitimate pleasures if he is to win the prize.
It takes time, commitment, and discipline to train our flesh and mature in Christ, and one of the most important disciplines is investing in God’s Word. Growth in personal holiness is determined by our progress in self-discipline.
Watchman Nee once stated:
“If you would test the character of anything, you only need to inquire whether that thing leads you to God or away from God.”
We need to understand that one way or another, there will be discipline in our lives. We either choose to discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness or we will be disciplined by God.
JUST THE SCRIPTURES: GOD’S WORD IS ENOUGH
I want to begin by establishing a foundation of biblical truth and allow God to speak to our hearts from His Word. I think your spirit will appreciate just hearing these truths from God’s Word.
“This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. (Joshua 1:8) Blessed is the man [whose] …delight is in the law of the Lord, And in His law he meditates day and night. (Psalm 1:1-2)
Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, But he who hates reproof is stupid. (Proverbs 12:1) You will keep him in perfect peace, Whose mind is stayed on You, Because he trusts in You. (Isaiah 26:3) For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things. 36 But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the Day of Judgment. (Matthew 12:34-36)
For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. 6 For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, 7 because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Romans 8:5-8)
So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of God. (Rom. 10:17) And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. (Romans 12:2) For “who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct Him?” But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:16)
And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; (Ephesians 6:17) Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. 9 The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:8-9)
If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. 3 For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:1-3) For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and of discipline. (2 Timothy 1:7)
All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. (Hebrews 12:11) Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; 14 as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; (1 Peter 1:13-14)
Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent. (Revelation 3:19) But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen. (2 Peter 3:18)”
Discipline for the Mind and Devotion
After more than 25 years of being a born-again Christian, I still remember secular song lyrics from the 1970s and 80s, just from hearing and maybe singing along with them over and over. That’s how repetition works. It works for Scripture as well!
My challenge to us is to reevaluate our personal lives so we can focus on things that matter in terms of eternity. Without discipline, there can be little godliness and without dedication to God’s Word, there can be little fruit.
Discipline can be defined as education, instruction, correction, punishment; and comes from the Greek word, enkrateia, denoting power or lordship.
Self-discipline means to exercise power over one’s self; the ability to control or master inner desires, thoughts, actions, and words. Self-control is one fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22).
IDOLATRY is anything we love more than God or place above the Lord Jesus Christ in position, in practice or priority. Such as money, entertainment, relationships, the Green Bay Packers, Dallas Cowboys, etc. (ouch) Do you spend three hours watching football, but complain about a forty-five minute sermon?
Let me give you an example from my own life and a catalyst that led me to repentance for misplaced priorities. Ten years ago, I was at the point as a football fan of the Packers that I had to watch every game. Not only that I had to see every play. Long story short, football is no longer a god and an idol in my life but what I learned is how big of a culture it is in Wisconsin.
Your issue may be video games, social media or some other time-sucker, but mine was football. So one Sunday, we were watching a Packer’s game and during that time, our neighbor’s house was on the market. A real estate agent had the audacity to show the house during the game on a beautiful September day. But Aaron Rodgers threw an interception in a close game, and standing by on open window in the living room, I let out a profanity or two. As I turned and looked out the window, the real estate agent was outside walking a family around showing them the yard.
I was both embarrassed and humiliated. What a Christian witness. That was the last straw for me and I haven’t had to watch an entire game since. I have also changed my allegiance. There are probably Christian players on every team, but I root for players who are unashamed of the Gospel and speak up about their faith.
Please examine your faith and commitment if you sense a struggle in this area of sports and entertainment. We are not to be mastered by anything!
All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything. 1 Corinthians 6:12
By self-rule, we bring every thought, word, and deed under control in order to obey teachings in Scripture. Any progress in personal holiness demands self-control. Disciplining the mind is a great place to start!
For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, 5 casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, 2 Corinthians 10:5
Our brains are amazing flesh machines, creations of an intelligent Designer. But a simple old analogy still applies:
Garbage In, Garbage Out.
God doesn’t program our minds for us! It’s only by the work of Christ and the Spirit of God that we can train ourselves to fill our minds with truth while resisting worldly things. We must do both!
I found some helpful notes from the 2006 book by Kent Hughes, Disciplines of a Godly Man. Pastor Ron Johnson of the Village Bible Church did a great job summing up discipline of mind in chapter 8.
HOURS OF INFLUENCE
Did you know the average youth today spends about 17 hours a day on some form of media, often overlapping?
What about us? How much time to you and I spend on the computer, watching TV, on our IPhone or other forms of technology?
A recent study showed most people can’t go longer than 1 hour and 43 minutes without touching their phones during the day.
How much time are we investing daily in God’s Word?
There’s no denying IPhones are incredible tools. They are great for emergencies, they help us navigate an unfamiliar city, talk to our family and friends from across the planet, or give us up to the minute information or instructions to help us with a problem around the house. (WebMD!)
Unfortunately, you don’t get the great features without the bad ones as well. Frequent distractions, interruptions, social media alerts and notifications, messages from strangers, ads, and entertainment at our fingertips 24-7!
In Philippians 4:8-9, we are instructed specifically about what to purposely meditate and focus on: “Think about these things… Practice these things.”
If we truly obeyed this verse, many things that are part of our normal routine would be gone! “A Christian mind is impossible without the discipline of refusal.”
So what are we to reject? Author, Kent Hughes rephrases the verse in the negative; check this out:
“Finally, brothers, whatever is untrue, whatever is ignoble, whatever is wrong, whatever is impure, whatever is unlovely, whatever is not admirable – if there is anything shoddy or unworthy of praise – do not think about these things.”
A biblical mental program cannot coexist with worldly programming.
It is impossible to feed and nurture a Christian worldview without consistent time in God’s Word. Not legalism here, just fact.
“You can never have a Christian mind without reading the Scriptures regularly because you cannot be profoundly influenced by that which you do not know.”
George Muller put it this way:
“The vigor of your spiritual life will be in exact proportion to the place held by the Bible in our life and thoughts.”
HOW’S YOUR DEVOTIONAL LIFE?
This discipline is the process of deeply reading, listening to, and processing God’s Word. Ask the Holy Spirit to open up the Scriptures to you like Jesus explained them to His disciples in private. His Spirit guides us into all truth.
Part of our devotions can include prayer. If you don’t know what to pray, the Holy Spirit often helps us but we can also pray the Scriptures. Paul writes to the Colossians:
For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; 10 that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; Colossians 1:9-10
And to the Ephesians, he writes:
…that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, 18 the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling… Ephesians 1:17-18
It is far too easy to read some verses, or read an entire chapter and come away unchanged and unchallenged. A daily quiet time is a vital discipline, and you have to find what works for you.
We could respond to the following question by being defensive. Or we can receive this challenge as a discipline we can work out in the gym of devotion.
Do you feed your flesh daily but neglect your spirit?
Do you love breakfast? So does Jesus! (John 21:12) One of my pastors in southern California was a disciplined, former police officer and lived by the rule: No Bible, No Breakfast.
This is a clear challenge to men especially, to be stronger spiritual leaders, to stand up and be men. One reason many Christians don’t have an effective devotional life is simple: they never plan for it. They don’t know what it is because they have not taken the time to find out. And you thought it was more complicated than that.
We also don’t pray because we don’t set aside the time.
The same goes for time in God’s Word. Pastor Jeff Sowald, Calvary Chapel of Madison, WI told me he reads through the entire Bible a couple times – in the same year. (what?!) How does he do it? He simply commits an hour a day to reading through the Bible. Think about it; that’s one hour out of 24.
How badly do you want it?
When we meditate, keeping the Word on our lips all day, we are being men of the sword; the Word of God is living and active (Heb. 4:12) and is the only offensive weapon mentioned in the armor of God (Eph. 6:17)!
Joshua 1:8 says, “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, [why?] so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it;”
So, Bible reading, prayer, and also, confession and repentance are important when necessary. Adoration, exalting Christ can be part of our quiet times; and thanksgiving should be a huge part of our overall worship of God.
We need to emphasize praying or reading God’s Word is not a task to be accomplished, but are spiritual disciplines to transform our minds. How can we obey the Bible to not conform to this world, and yet be transformed by renewing our minds (Rom. 12:2) if we don’t use God’s Word? Great question!
Paul instructs Timothy, “study to show yourself approved by God as one who handles the truth accurately.” And,
“…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” (Phil. 2:12b-13)
We do the work, but God gives us the ability as He does His work in us!
…being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ; (Philippians 1:6)
Every Christian is responsible to pursue holiness, and yet God must work within us by His grace to produce personal godliness. Christ makes us righteous; we work on holiness and sanctification.
Since every believer is indwelt by the Holy Spirit, God often uses you and me to sharpen others and vice versa. Being around mature Christians that you can talk with about God’s Word is another good discipline to have. Discussing biblical worldview issues helps encourage and refine one other.
Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron so one man sharpens another.”
Do you really want to learn God’s Word and be challenged to grow? Study as if you are going to teach others. By teaching biblical truths in context we grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.
I thought I understood many portions of Scripture, but when I led a Bible study or prepared a sermon to teach someone else, I realized how little I knew. Even though faith comes from hearing the word of God (Rom. 10:17), it is absolutely true that oftentimes the teacher gets more out of a lesson than the hearer.
When we take the time to prepare, understand, and then present God’s truths, we are also training our minds to be godly. Men, we need more teachers and more disciples! Aspire to know God’s Word so you can teach God’s Word and defend the faith (1 Pet. 3:15).
One more thing. Are you hearing sound, biblical teachings at your church? Is the whole counsel of Gbeing preached and controversial issues of today addressed? Do you listen to worship music with lyrics that are edifying and scriptural like the classic hymns?
*Christian music is good – at least it’s an alternative – but is it beneficial, faith-building, and edifying? Not all of it. Music is entertainment and even the Christian music industry has become a business. Let’s be biblical and discerning when selecting worship songs!
Let’s also be open to being refreshed by the Holy Spirit, challenged in His truth, and renewed by discipline of our minds.
Here are a few questions to consider:
- What excuses do we sometimes use for not taking our spiritual lives seriously – and will God understand?
- Do we have a worldview that reflects Christ and His character, or are we okay with status quo, floating along in the current of worldly culture, ignorant of the roaring falls just ahead?
- Are we too often content with just being Christians, putting on the show of praying and worshiping like we think we are supposed to?
The great preacher, George Whitfield stated,
“If we cease making the written word of God our sole rule both as to faith and practice, we shall soon lie open to all manner of delusion, and be in great danger of making shipwreck of faith and a good conscience. Our blessed Lord, though He had the Spirit of God without measure, yet always was governed by, and fought the devil with, it is written.”
Victory always comes at a price. The effective Christian life demands we exercise self-discipline in areas like food, drink, sleep, our speech, family priorities, work, leisure, time management, and money. We must exercise self-control and restrict our liberties in whatever would hinder us from winning the prize.
Wouldn’t it be great to be able to hear Jesus say. “well done” when we stand before Him? Like Paul, at the end of my life here I’d love to be able to say:
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing. 2 Tim. 4:7-8