But, Do You Really Want It? Self-Discipline Shows You Do!

Discipline is the foundation upon which all success is built. Lack of discipline inevitably leads to failure.
~Jim Rohn, business philosopher, (1930-2009)

I was pondering a verse in the Bible that always seemed peculiar to me, but it seems that a certain question that Jesus asked a certain man was very appropriate.  The answer would have seemed obvious, so what was His purpose in doing so?  Is there something to be gleaned from His question?

One requires self-discipline in order to obtain certain goals in life.  That should not be a shocker, although in practice it sometimes seems that very few are willing to apply this in a practical manner.

Yet, it is important.  Self-discipline, aka self-control, is listed as one of the Fruits of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23).  Cain was told to master himself or sin would dominate him.  It’s that important!

Wikipedia has some interesting points on discipline:

In its original sense, discipline is systematic instruction intended to train a person, sometimes literally called a disciple, in a craft, trade or other activity, or to follow a particular code of conduct or “order”. …
Discipline is the assertion of willpower over more base desires, and is usually understood to be synonymous with self control. Self-discipline is to some extent a substitute for motivation, when one uses reason to determine the best course of action that opposes one’s desires. Virtuous behavior is when one’s motivations are aligned with one’s reasoned aims: to do what one knows is best and to do it gladly. Continent behavior, on the other hand, is when one does what one knows is best, but must do it by opposing one’s motivations. Moving from continent to virtuous behavior requires training and some self-discipline.
~ “Discipline“, Wikipedia

So far, we have seen a lot about putting aside what one enjoys or what one desires, but I’m not convinced these points really hit the nail squarely on the head.  Rather, they seem to glance off to the side a bit, and that can result in hitting your thumb with that particular hammer.

Why?  Because these definitions ignore the most basic of questions: Why put yourself through this?  What is your motivation?

Rather, I would like to modify the definition given at Dictionary.com for discipline and give this rough definition for self-disipline:

Undergoing or putting one’s self through rigorous training, exercise or regimen for a particular skill, craft or ability according to a set of rules in order to modify behavior and understanding within the confines of a specific code of conduct in order to acheive a certain midterm or long term outcome, often by sacrificing short term desires or pleasures that might deflect from the desired outcome.

OK, perhaps it needs some work, but I think it will work as a “stake in the ground”.  The main point I am trying to get across is that you are not ignoring desires or even pleasures, but you are trading things that bring short term enjoyment for something more valuable and longer term.  You are being goal oriented and working towards a goal or objective rather than spur of the moment short term lusts.

We do this all the time.  We put aside certain desires once a week and go to church, hopefully to trade them for the longer term desire of developing a relationship with our Creator and our brethren.  We exercise self-control whenever we give a tithe to the church by set aside our lusts and desires for the longer term result of helping out others and donating to put out the Gospel message.

It always boils down to what we really want.  It boils down to what is in our hearts.  Our actions, speech and even thoughts are a consequence of what is in our hearts.

It always comes back to the heart, doesn’t it?  The world says to follow our hearts.  The Bible tells us our hearts are desperately wicked (Jer 17:9) and need to be changed (Ep 4:22Heb 8:10).  Can we change?  We must if we want to live forever!  We must want that longer term goal so much that we not only change but become transformed!

It is sad that we have a large portion of the population that has become dependent upon the government for literally everything in many of our western nations.  Instead of being a stopgap measure and prodding people to become independent, instead of training them to work within their limitations and enabling them to give back to society, and instead of making it easy to integrate back into society, very often our social programs are bent on keeping people on the dole in order to justify bureaucratic jobs.  There are exceptions good and bad, of course, but there still is a sizeable portion of the population that have become so dependent upon handouts that they would be unable to cope without them.

I’m being serious.  Why vote for certain candidates?  Because you get handouts!  Remember the Obama phone lady?  It doesn’t matter that Barak Obama had little to nothing to do with the Safelink phones; all that mattered to her was the perception that he did.  Some people vote for people who promise an increase in social welfare programs, with little to no regard to what happens to society.  Rome fell while people were demanding more bread in the circuses.

Disability pays.  The National Bureau of Economic Research says Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI, or DI) was 2.2% for ages 25 – 64 in 1985.  In 2005, it was 4.1%.  Are there really more disabled, or has the definitions changed?  If there are not really more, then what did they do in prior years?  However, it gets worse.  USA Today wrote in February 2012 that there was an increase in those on SSDI of “20% jump in just five years.”

Mental health is always a sticky issue.  There are various mental health issues, some major and some minor, and some more controllable than others.  However, I’ve always been fascinated by the story of John Nash, the mathematician whose story was featured in “A Brilliant Mind”.  He was actually able to think his way back to sanity!  You want to talk about self-discipline and self-control?  There is a model hard to beat.  While I doubt his methods will work even for the majority of mental illnesses, the point is that he wanted to get well.

And, therein lies the key.

One of the best pieces of advice I got once was that mental problems are often caused by a lack of self-control.  One can control their mind as well as their body.  Some mental issues are simply caused by not evaluating whether or not something is right or wrong, or even by giving in to desire or emotion even when you know something is wrong.

Obviously, not everyone will fit into that camp, but there are parallels even in physical health.  The person who wants to get well will work with occupational therapists and even continue training their bodies after physical therapy has ended in order to keep themselves fit.

No, not everyone can be healed by sheer will or strong desire.  However, many disabled people go on to  do great things in spite of their disabilities, don’t they?  Helen Keller was an exceptional case of a woman who overcame great obstacles.  CBS recentlyl ran the story about a “Teen’s big voice shatters obstacles” about a 17 year old who was born blind and with cerebral palsy, yet she is a wonderful singer who loves to sing to uplift other people:

“I like to give people hope and strength to live,” said Marlana. “From singing and from encouraging people.”

So, have you figured out the question Jesus asked yet?  Have you figured out the incident I’m referring to?

By the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem there is a pool, called Bethesda in Hebrew, which has five colonnades. Within these lay a large number of the sick—blind, lame, and paralyzed [—waiting for the moving of the water, because an angel would go down into the pool from time to time and stir up the water. Then the first one who got in after the water was stirred up recovered from whatever ailment he had].
One man was there who had been sick for 38 years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew he had already been there a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to get well?
Jn 5:2-6 (HCSB)

Why did Jesus ask him that?  He had been there for 38 years.  Was this due to lack of opportunity or lack of desire?  After all, begging can be an income in some societies.  Jerusalem would have seen pilgrims come and go, and not just during the fesitivals, I’m sure.  Perhaps the man really didn’t want to get well.  Of course, Jesus knew the answer.  Perhaps He just wanted to hear the man say it, which would add conviction to his desire.  Perhaps it was for our benefit.  Probably both.

Sometimes, we talk about how people don’t get well because of lack of faith.  However, this man did not even know who Jesus was (v 13)!  How could he have faith when he didn’t even know who he was talking to?

However, he did have a desire to get well.  Jesus gave him the avenue.  The man still had to pick up his mat and walk.

Are any of us well?  We are familiar with that passage in Jeremiah that says the heart is desperately wicked, but have you looked at it in another translation?

“The heart is more deceitful than all else
And is desperately sick;
Who can understand it?
~ Jer 17:9 (NASB)

So, do you want to get well?