It is 7:13 AM on July 5, and in just a couple hours my family will be embarking on a new school year.
I’m pretty sure this is a thing crazy people do– go to the Fourth of July parade and fireworks one day, and bust out the new Math 6 book and a well-worn copy of First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind the very next day.
Next week one kid will be at camp and so will miss a week of school, right at the beginning. In three weeks Art and I will both be gone as camp counselors, and so all three kids will miss a week then. What is even the point?
The point is December and the desperate need to take that month off of school so that we can focus on Christmas programs and shopping and decorating and family fun without losing our minds entirely. The discipline now– waking up less than six hours after the neighbors finally quit shooting off fireworks– will pay off later.
Discipline is an ugly word, and one we believers who love grace sometimes struggle with. It can so quickly become a synonym for legalism in a Christian’s life. But as God has led me into a more disciplined life, He has shown me the rewards that come with it.
I’m not saying this to brag. It has taken me so long to get to this place, and I have so very far to go. I spent nearly thirty years dabbling in my faith before I finally started taking it seriously, and it grieves me a great deal to think of the time lost. I had to quit dipping my toes in the water whenever I had time or as in a desperate situation. I had to dive in, far from shore, and let God keep on drawing me deeper and further from my comfort zone. So often the things that have drawn me deeper into Him have been disciplines.
Here is what I have learned. If I don’t tie myself nearer to God– seek to bind myself to Him by means of worship, study of His Word, prayer, fellowship with other believers in my local church, and obedience to whatever He gives me to do (in other words, disciplines)– I will fall away from Him. I am so prone to wander. And God loves me too much to allow me to wander away from Him for very long. He will draw me up with another kind of discipline– with chastisement. Just as I discipline my own kids if they don’t have the self-discipline to obey, so my Father does with me.
When Pooka was a toddler, we were those parents who put her on a backpack leash when we went to the State Fair. She was a runner, and she could pull her little chubby hand out of my arthritic one faster than you can imagine. She didn’t have the self-discipline to stay near to me, so I kept her near by putting that backpack on her back and the other end of the tether around my wrist. And then I held her hand. But I knew that if she tried to run, she wouldn’t get far.
In my mind’s eye, this is what spiritual disciplines do for us. They tether us near to God. And we can look at them as chains that bind us and keep us from going our own way and having fun– or we can look at them as a means of drawing us nearer and nearer to the amazing God of the universe. I think that if we would quit straining against our tethers and turn around and truly look at the One to Whom we are tethered we would very quickly realize that we are missing out on absolutely nothing of value or worth.
Today, on this day when I am trusting that the discipline of starting school on July 5 will pay off on December 5, I invite you to trust that the disciplines of the Savior are worthwhile. I encourage you to come humbly near to the God of all creation and bind yourself near to Him, trusting His promise that if we draw near to God, He will draw near to us. Maybe you need to spend more time in His Word. Maybe your prayer life is lacking. Maybe you need to spend more time praising your Father. Maybe you need to be meeting together regularly with God’s people. Maybe you need to memorize Scripture, or fast, or share the Gospel, or serve others. I expect that if you think about it, you know exactly where you are lacking in obedience– exactly where God wants you to start.
Therefore, brothers,since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.
We are invited into the holy places that were once closed to us– if we will turn away from the shiny vanities of this world and discipline ourselves to turn instead toward the One who offers abundant life. He who promised is faithful.