Some associate the word “discipline” with some form of punishment. The word, however, is derived from the Latin “discipulus,” meaning a pupil or a learner. Discipline implies loyalty, concentration, perseverance and continuous practice. The Olympic event always attracts international attention. Former records are broken, medals are won by different countries, there are amazing performances and of course disappointments. As we watch the games we realise we are watching the result of years of disciplined training and exacting preparation. In writing to the Corinthians Paul uses the metaphor of sport. He does not run aimlessly nor box as one beating the air. (l Cor. 9:25) He disciplines the body so that his preaching may correspond to his living. To the Galatians he speaks of not running in vain. He asks them about the obstacles on their path to obedience to the truth. “You were running well, what has happened” (Gal 5:7 ) Paul knows the great cost of running life’s race. In his letter to the Philippians he speaks of his life’s philosophy or motivation as “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philip. 3:13, 14)
We realise every occupation and skill require training and practice. Why then do we reduce a spiritually productive life to a matter of saying a few prayers, reading some Scripture passages or listening to some eloquent words?
Gandhi once said, “By a long process of prayerful discipline I have ceased for over 40 years to hate anybody.” Every sin that we find hard to overcome has dwelt comfortably within us for a long period. It has almost become our master. We nurse grudges, we develop a lust for money, we dismiss the urge or the voice to turn towards new directions, to follow “the path less travelled.” When Jesus told his disciples not to be worried about food or clothes he knew that was not a way of life they can readily adopt. Also, when he asked them, “Where is your faith?” he knew there will be always storms to challenge faith. What was necessary was for them to take up the cross and follow him. “Whoever does not take up his own cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” (Matt 10 v 38)
Faith, discipleship, the gift of eternal life come at a great cost and offer “pearls of great price” in exchange for the treasures we hoard. We know or read of persons who are very skilful at committing crimes. Some commit acts of violence or fraud for years without being caught or held accountable. Imagine if people were to devote that same proportion of time and attention to the practice of what is good, noble and beneficial to society, what a difference that would make to a community or to a family! We must be willing to fight the good fight of faith and run the straight race. Paul wrote to his young friend Timothy when he knew his own departure had come. “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Tim 4 :7) To Paul, Jesus Christ was his example, his goal, his prize, his Master, his Coach. “Run the straight race through God’s good grace; Lift up thine eyes, and seek His face, Life with its path before us lies, Christ is the way and Christ the prize.” (JS Monsell 1811-1875).