The Habit of Discipline


The older I am allowed to grow, the more I like having an unvarying daily routine. My kids may attribute that to me getting “crusty” as they have taken to calling me lately. I would like to give it a more positive spin, though I probably am, in part, just showing my age.

Whatever you would make habitual, practice it; and if you would not make a thing habitual, do not practice it, but habituate yourself to something else.

Epicetus (1st c. AD)

Having a deliberate daily rhythm, for me, is the key to productivity. When schedules are maligned I feel like I have fallen off the boat and am floundering in the water. I have complete sympathy for people older than me who are “set in their ways.” I think that is a good thing, as long as their ways are godly. Consider the alternative—someone not set in their ways. That implies a person who drifts about, who cannot settle on a habit or rule of life, and who restlessly darts from novelty to novelty. Given the two choices, I’ll be set, thank you.

Our culture’s obsession with professional athletes bears out the fruitfulness of routine. Pick any esteemed athletes and they all have one thing in common: routine. You don’t have to dig very far to find out that they consistently get up at a certain time and head to the gym, track, or field. They watch their diet and their sleep. They are a paragon of being “set in their ways.” Our culture seems to have no problem with this, yet few are willing to imitate this single-minded devotion.

On the other end of the spectrum are the religious, at least from a cultural standpoint—those who have vowed to live as monks and nuns. I say they’re on the other end of the spectrum because they are often viewed as irrelevant and unhealthy even though they have dedicated their lives every bit as much as the professional athlete. I would say they have even more so, for there is no retirement for them. Theirs is a lifelong vow. They structure their lives to minimize distractions from their pursuit of God. They have regimented patterns of sleep and prayer. They are, without exaggeration, spiritual athletes.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (ESV)

Paul also points out a significant distinction between the physical and the spiritual athlete. “They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.” While both the saint and the superstar fade from the memory of the living, one is recalled to a higher esteem in the life to come. This is not to say that athletes cannot be believers. It is to point out that we ought to use the powers of discipline and habit toward sanctification above all else.


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