Discipline and Grace

Discipline and Grace

Last week was a mile-marker in my life. I finally had to give in and get contact lenses. I’ve known it was coming for some time now. It began when I started holding books further and further from my face as I read. Eventually, I realized I either had to grow longer arms or else stop reading, so I broke down and bought reading glasses at The Dollar Store. I wouldn’t use them in public when I spoke. I’d just lay my Bible and outline notes down on the pulpit and back away until I got far enough to read what I had. When I found myself practically standing with the choir in one church where I spoke, I knew it was time to do something.

So, I did what nearly all men in their forties end up doing – I went to the optometrist. There I learned that not only was my vision unclear up close, but it wasn’t so good for distance either. I thought of all the times my wife, Melanie, had “preached to me” with the tone of an angry prophet about how I would have been killed in the car if she hadn’t strongly urged me to stop just before I ran into the car at the red light in front of me. I had always thought she just found some sort of fleshly pride in thinking she was my mobile guardian angel. Now I knew she had probably been right all along.

The optometrist experimented with different prescription strengths until she found the one that fit me. It has only been a little more than a week now that I’ve been wearing contacts. It has been a good week. I’m noticing individual leaves on trees again. I’ve reduced the font size on my computer screen from 125% back to 100%. I’m even training myself not to hold the things I read as far from my head as possible.

I realize now that I should have gotten these contacts at least a year ago. Life has been harder than necessary because I was too proud or stubborn to give in to my age. The right lenses are allowing me to see life more clearly and enjoy it more fully.

That’s how it is in our spiritual lives. As human beings we tend to be short-sighted. We focus on the things right in our face and often have trouble gaining a clear perspective on things eternal. We’re caught up in our careers, church activities, family responsibilities, and countless other things that demand our constant attention. Gradually, we may lose sight of the most important element of life – our relationship to God through Christ.

It’s not that we forget God, but our vision of Him in our daily lives may become blurry. It’s possible to become so focused on those things which demand our time and energy that eventually we realize that we are neglecting the One whom, although never demanding, loves us more than anybody else ever will or ever could. As time passes, we may practically lose the ability to see the face of God anymore.

Your heavenly Father wants to reveal Himself to you every day, right where you live. He doesn’t want your relationship to Him to simply be a devotional or doctrinal matter. He wants to interact with you, passionately expressing His love to you. He longs for a practical and personal relationship with you.

How can we see the face of God in our daily lives? The answer rests in looking toward Him in faith. The ongoing relationship a Christian has with our heavenly Father isn’t based on works, but neither is it a passive lifestyle. As we walk with Him, the Holy Spirit develops within us, what Eugene Peterson calls in The Message, “the rhythms of grace.”

Do you hunger to know a deeper sense of intimacy with your Father? If so, there are some practical aspects of applied grace which can transform your life. These rhythms of grace, operating in our lives are biblical practices which, when motived by love and practiced in faith, help to create an environment in which we may experience a deeper sense of intimacy with God than we could otherwise know.

When a believer is walking in grace, he wants to do anything that might help facilitate spiritual growth or a deeper sense of intimacy with Christ. The Bible encourages one who loves the Lord to “discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness” (See 1 Timothy 4:7). How does this discipline fit consistently alongside a lifestyle of grace?

Some people are turned off by the word “discipline.” It carries a negative connotation in their minds. Discipline is what one does to a misbehaving child. Discipline may conjure up mental images of gritting your teeth and resolving to do something that you know needs to be done, no matter how much you hate it. One may discipline himself to say no to cheesecake and yes to exercise. When you hear the word “discipline,” you may associate it with something that you ought to do as opposed to something that you want to do.

However, when we understand discipline within the context of grace, we realize that to speak of the disciplines of the Christian life is like talking about the disciplines of marriage. The disciplines of marriage? Let’s see – there is kissing, communication, sharing the same goals, rearing children together and many other aspects of married life that are important to a healthy marriage. But while these aspects of behavior in marriage don’t happen without effort, neither would they be considered discipline in the negative sense of the word. They are all part of the rhythms of marriage.

Don’t think of the rhythms of grace as something that you ought to do, a duty which must be fulfilled by sheer self-discipline. Instead, consider them as gifts from God given to draw you into a great awareness of His love for you. Take off the reading glasses of legalism and view spiritual disciplines through the lens of grace.

Disciplining ourselves for the purpose of godliness is the result of actions we take in response to an invitation from the Divine Lover. It is the rhythms of grace being expressed from a heart filled with love. These rhythms of grace are definitive acts of faith, motivated by a hunger to know Him more intimately.

Does walking in grace imply a state of passivity? Absolutely not! Is it a lifestyle of self-determination, of sheer will power? Not at all. To walk in grace is to move forward with the motivation of love and the impetus of faith, knowing that as we seek to know the Divine Lover more intimately, He is drawing us to Himself.

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