Discipline is nothing less than a radical reorientation of my direction.
Before this, I was only concerned with what felt good in the moment. But now I see diminishing returns on my immediate gratification; the longer I pursue it, the less time I have it for when I succeed. And then I must pursue longer for an even shorter glimpse of gratification. No wonder we turn so quickly from God to our own silly pleasures; we only see the extra step involved this time. We don’t see the gulf between last year’s pursuit and this year’s.
The Gospel is the light that shows us how far we have gone in our pursuits of other things; we must turn and run back to where we came from. It’s not fun. The best idea is to not leave the pursuit of God at all; but we as men cannot sustain it. Oh God, help us to follow you with our living hearts in spite of our dead selves clinging.
Joy is a nebulous thing that often resists definition. A lot boils down to joy, but joy barely can be boiled into anything else. You either have it, or you want it.
But right now I’m working on growing it.
I have been learning much (and resisting much) about how God works; we are not saved by our works, but without our works God doesn’t do much. God can do anything he pleases; but we don’t see talking donkeys very often these days. We are the bearers of his word. We are his plan. This is a baffling and frustrating concept for a recovering legalist: I have spent all this time trying to figure out how to rest, and now you’re telling me I have to get out there and do stuff for the kingdom? How am I supposed to resist falling right back into legalism?
The answer is joy. Legalism is not a response to love; it is a matter of duty. The impetus and completion of legalism (if it could ever be completed) would be self-centered satisfaction. A life lived in response to what has been done in my soul is joy.
I am not good at cultivating the bits of joy that well up. I transform them into pats on the back instead of glances at the Son. But I need to cultivate them. I need to have Christ as my greatest joy. And it doesn’t just happen, much to my sadness. We have to try to do this. I must remember to pray. I must be disciplined in the study of the Bible. But I must do all these things, hopefully, will turn into want to; and that want to means that I will receive delight (joy!) from doing these things.
There is no way to want to other than to start doing; there is no way to fall in love with a girl unless you go talk to her; there is no way to be in a band unless you start playing an instrument. These are inherently obvious to us. But I falter at the connection between doing the things of God leading to loving God. It seems that it should just well up in me, like familial affection or love of music – you know, things I just seem to have been born with. But it is not that way. I don’t know why.
I am seeking to cultivate joy. I want to do this so that I take joy in the things of God, not in crossing them off the list. Sometimes the hairs we split are the difference between life and death. And I seek life, now and in the future.
The true measure of discipline is not how many times in a row I have succeeded, but how many times I have restarted after failure. A hard-earned string of seven means much more to me than an easily gained 40. It feels much better to be at 40 than seven (and miles better than being back at zero from seven when I wish I were at 40), but as we witnessed in the NBA Finals, it’s not just what you do that is remembered: it’s how you do it. And cruising to an easy string of victories is not as triumphant as hard-earned, gritty, there’s-no-way-he’s-gonna-make-it draws or the victories that come after those losses and stalemates because of the lessons learned in the fire.
I always want to give my best; but given that I write daily, this isn’t possible. Today, I am far from at my best; I’ve had a difficult day, and I know that I’m not going to work out or write a CD review, even though these are both things I want to do. Discipline, I suppose, is the art of working through and past these struggles and doing it anyway. Considered in that light, I’m having a crisis of my newfound desire to be disciplined.
But it is a very superficial desire to be disciplined. It is a good desire (better than desiring to be slothful, at an economic level if none other), but if not motivated by the love of Christ, it becomes an idol like any other. And today its idol qualities are more on display than usual, because I’m looking for an excuse to not be disciplined. It’s a neat trick I can pull on myself: I can make myself do things or not do things by appealing to my love of Christ.
Is that actually a love of Christ at all? Or merely self-motivational tactics? Do the feelings I have on an exhausted day more closely mirror the reality of my heart, or do the feelings I have on a “normal,” even-keeled day better match? It seems very difficult to know, because you’re always looking at one situation while not in it. (Unless I discover a way to be even-keeled and overwrought at the same time, which would be an even more impressive trick than the one I just noted.)
I want to seek Christ best. I want to have pure motives. Today is not that day, apparently. Thankfully, the grace of God is large, and God himself is forgiving. Oy. What a day.