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Discipline for Godliness
Sometime in the early summer before entering the seventh grade, I wandered over from the baseball field and picked up a tennis racket for the first time — and I was hooked! It was not long before I became a ten-year- old tennis bum. My passion for the sport became so intense, I would idly hold a tennis ball and just sniff it. The pssst and the rubbery fragrance upon opening a can of new tennis balls became intoxicating. The whop, whop and the lingering ring of a sweetly hit ball, especially in the quietness of early morning, was to me symphonic. My memories of that summer and the one that followed are of blistering black tennis courts, hot feet, salty sweat, long drafts of delicious rubbery, tepid water from an empty ball can, and the short shadows of midday heading slowly toward the east, followed by the stadium "daylight" of the court's lights and the ubiquitous eerie night bats dive-bombing our lobs.
That fall, I determined to become a tennis player. I spent my hoarded savings on one of those old beautifully laminated Davis Imperial tennis rackets — a treasure that I actually took to bed with me. I was disciplined! I played every day after school (except during basketball season) and every weekend. When spring came, I biked to the courts where the local high school team practiced and longingly watched until they finally gave in and let me play with them. The next two summers I took lessons, played some tournaments, and practiced about six to eight hours a day — coming home only when they turned off the lights.
And I became good. I was good enough, in fact, that as a twelve-and-a-half-year-old, 110-pound freshman, I was second man on the varsity tennis team of my large three thousand-student California high school.
Not only did I play at a high level, I learned that personal discipline is the indispensable key for accomplishing anything in this life. I have since come to understand even more that it is, in fact, the mother and handmaiden of what we call genius.
Those who watched Mike Singletary1 "play" football and observed his wide-eyed intensity and his churning, crunching samurai hits are usually surprised when they meet him. He is not an imposing hulk. He is barely six feet tall and weighs maybe 220. Whence the greatness? Discipline. Singletary was as disciplined a student of the game as any who have ever played it. In his autobiography, Calling the Shots, he says that in watching game films, he would often run a single play fifty to sixty times, and that it took him three hours to watch half a football game, which is only twenty to thirty plays! Because he watched every player, because he knew the opposition's tendencies — given the down, distance, hash mark, and time remaining — and because he read the opposition's minds through their stances, he was often moving toward the ball's preplanned destination before the play developed. Singletary's legendary success was a testimony to his remarkably disciplined life.
The legendary Jack Nicklaus, the most successful professional golfer of all time, once quipped, "The more I practice, the luckier I get." Michael Phelps's eight (yes, you read it correctly — eight!) gold medals at the 2009 Olympics in Beijing were the result of thousands of hours and miles in the pool of disciplined boredom. The glory of a Steph Curry three-point shot that wins a basketball game at the buzzer is the apex of a life of inglorious discipline! It is common knowledge that Curry practices in the offseason for three hours a day, six days a week in the summer. It is also well known that after elaborate preparation he will shoot between six hundred and seven hundred baskets, counting only the ones he makes. On intense shooting days, the number increases to at least a thousand.
Matthew Sayed, in his international bestseller Bounce: Mozart, Federer, Picasso, Beckham, and the Science of Success, observes that British soccer superstar David Beckham's trademark free kick — his "bend it like Beckham" trajectory — began when, as a boy, he would go to an East London park and kick his ball from the same spot for hours on end, perfecting the topspin that gave his kick its devastating dip. "My secret is practice. I have always believed that if you want to achieve anything special in life you have to work, work, and then work some more." Canadian icon Wayne Gretsky, regarded as the greatest ice hockey player ever, became what he was because early on he disciplined both his mind and his body for the rough-and-tumblegame. As a boy, he systematically charted the angles of the ricocheting puck so that he came to anticipate what was going to happen on the ice better than any player in the game. The "Great Gretsky" was there when the puck arrived. Listen to how Gretsky describes himself: "I wasn't naturally gifted in terms of size and speed; everything I did in hockey I worked for." And then later, "The highest compliment that you can pay me is to say that I worked hard every day.... That's how I came to know where the puck was going before it even got there.
We are accustomed to thinking of Ernest Hemingway as a boozy, undisciplined genius who got through a quart of whiskey a day for the last twenty years of his life but nevertheless had the muse upon him. He was indeed an alcoholic driven by complex passions. But when it came to writing, he was the quintessence of discipline! His early writing was characterized by obsessive literary perfectionism as he labored to develop his economy of style, spending hours polishing a sentence or searching for the mot juste — the right word. It is a well-known fact that he rewrote the conclusion to his novel A Farewell to Arms seventeen times in an effort to get it right. This Is characteristic of great writers. Dylan Thomas made over two hundred handwritten manuscript versions of his poem "Fern Hill." Even toward the end, when Hemingway was reaping the ravages of his lifestyle, while writing at his Finca Vigia in Cuba, he stood before an improvised desk in oversized loafers on yellow tiles from 6:30 a.m. until noon every day, carefully marking his production for the day on a chart. His average was only two pages — five hundred words. It was discipline, Hemingway's massive literary discipline, that transformed the way his fellow Americans, and people throughout the English- speaking world, expressed themselves.
Michelangelo's, Leonardo da Vinci's, and Tintoretto's multitudes of sketches, the quantitative discipline of their work, prepared the way for the cosmic qualitative value of their work. We wonder at the anatomical perfection of a da Vinci painting. But we forget that da Vinci on one occasion drew a thousand hands. In the last century, Henri Matisse explained his own mastery, remarking that the difficulty with many who wanted to be artists was that they spent their time chasing models rather than painting them. Again, the discipline factor!
Closer to our own time, Winston Churchill was rightly proclaimed the speaker of the twentieth century, and few who heard his eloquent speeches would have disagreed. Still fewer would have suspected that he was anything but a "natural." But the truth is, Churchill had a distracting lisp that made him the butt of many jokes and resulted in his inability to be spontaneous in public speaking. Yet he became famous for his speeches and his seemingly impromptu remarks.
Actually, Churchill wrote everything out and practiced it! He even choreographed his pauses and pretended fumblings for the right phrase. The margins of his manuscripts carried notes anticipating the "cheers," "hear, hears," "prolonged cheering," and even "standing ovation." This done, he practiced endlessly in front of mirrors, fashioning his retorts and facial expressions. F. E. Smith, a close friend of Churchill, said, "Winston has spent the best years of his life writing impromptu speeches." A natural? Perhaps. A naturally disciplined hard-working man!
And so it goes, whatever the area of life.
Thomas Edison came up with the incandescent light after a thousand failures. Samuel Beckett said,
Jascha Heifitz, the greatest violinist of the twentieth century, began playing the violin at the age of three and early began to practice four hours a day, a discipline he continued until his death at age seventy-five, when he had long been the greatest in the world — some 102,000 hours of practice. He no doubt gave his own "Hear, hear!" to pianist and composer Ignacy Jan Paderewski's response to a woman's fawning remarks about his genius: "Madame, before I was a genius, I was a drudge."
We will never get anywhere in life without discipline, be it the arts, the trades, business, athletics, or academics. Whatever your particular thing is, whether it is swimming, football, soccer, basketball, tennis, surfing, mountain climbing, bull riding, motocross, chess, math, computer science, the guitar, the sitar, writing, poetry, or painting — whatever it is — you will never get anywhere without discipline.
This is doubly so in spiritual matters. In other areas, we may be able to claim some innate advantage. An athlete may be born with a strong body, a musician with perfect pitch, or an artist with an eye for perspective. But none of us can claim an innate spiritual advantage. In reality, we are all equally disadvantaged. None of us naturally seeks after God, none is inherently righteous, none instinctively does good (read Rom. 3:9–18). Therefore, as children of grace, our spiritual discipline is everything — everything!
I repeat: discipline is everything!
Paul on Discipline
This being so, the statement from Paul to Timothy regarding spiritual discipline in 1 Timothy 4:7 — "train yourself for godliness" — takes on not only transcending importance, but personal urgency. There are other passages that teach discipline, but this is the great classic text of Scripture. The word train comes from the word gumnos, which means "naked" And is the word from which we derive our English word gymnasium. In traditional Greek athletic contests, the participants competed without clothing so as not to be encumbered. Therefore, the word train originally carried the literal meaning "to exercise naked." By New Testament times, it referred to exercise and training in general. But even then it was, as it remains, a word with the smell of the gym in it — the sweat of a good workout. "Train yourselves, exercise, work out(!) for the purpose of godliness" conveys the feel of what Paul is saying.
In a word, he is calling for some spiritual sweat! Just as the athletes discarded everything and competed gumnos — free from anything that could possibly burden them — so we must get rid of every encumbrance, every association, habit, and tendency that impedes godliness. If we are to excel, we must strip ourselves to a lean, spiritual nakedness. The writer of Hebrews explains it like this: "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us" (Heb. 12:1). Men, we will never get anywhere spiritually without a conscious divestment of the things that are holding us back. What things are weighing you down? The call to discipline demands that you throw it off. Are you man enough?
The call to train ourselves for godliness also suggests directing all of our energy toward that goal. Paul pictures this elsewhere: "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" (1 Cor. 9:25–27). Intense, energetic sweat! We should singularly note that a little after Paul's command to "train yourself for godliness," he comments on the command and the intervening words, saying "for to this end we toil and strive" (1 Tim.4:10). The word toil means "strenuous work," and strive comes from the Greek word from which we get "agonize." Toil and agony are called for if one is to be godly.
When one seriously trains, he willingly undergoes hours of discipline and even pain so as to win the prize — running ten thousand miles to run one hundred meters At one's best. The successful Christian life is a sweaty affair!
No manliness, no maturity! No discipline, no discipleship! No sweat, no sainthood!
Why the Disciplines?
Understanding this, we now get down to the reason for this book, which is that in today's world and church, Christian men who are disciplined are the exception, not the rule. Why? The answer is that the popular, politically correct culture of the new millennium suppresses manliness, and especially the manliness and leadership of men who attempt to follow Christ. The reasons are feminism, entertainment, and legalism, and together, they are daunting.
During the 1970s, certain feminist strategists initiated the so-called "Girlhood Project" with the intent of effectively blurring, and even erasing, the distinction between males and females. According to author and social critic Barbara Defoe Whitehead, feminists called for "a new sexual standard based on traditional boyhood. In their plays and pursuits, little girls were to be made more like boys. Among cultural elites, a traditionally feminine daughter became a mild social embarrassment, while a feisty tomboy daughter became a source of pride." Now, men are afraid to raise boys. The "copy the boys" approach was applied to all of life: to sexuality, to speech, and even to body type, with the tomboy ideal of a wiry, athletic body. Along with this, naturally active and competitive boys were penalized for their boyish behavior, while girls were lauded for ruggedness and athletic prowess.
The effect today is a culture that celebrates a woman who has a body that is sculpted, by exercise and diet, to look like that of a man, and who talks like a man and acts like a man. Amid this cultural inversion, a rugged, assertive, and disciplined man is deemed a threat. If a guy lifts his head to take charge in a mixed-gender situation, he is labeled as a chauvinist or a sexist pig. So a generation of men has been neutered and neutralized as to their natural ruggedness and willingness to undergo the disciplines that will turn them into real men. And Christian men are particularly susceptible to being cowed by the culture, because discipline for godliness demands a particular toughness and rugged individuality in a castrating, God- denyingculture.
The second culprit in the neutralizing of men is the addiction to entertainment. A face lit by a luminous screen is a study in passivity. Fleeting images, intermingled with the thousand commercials and banner ads of an average week's viewing, instill passiveness. There is no time for engagement or reflection, much less action. The viewer becomes a passive, munching, sipping drone(a male bee that has no sting and gathers no honey). There are guys, voyeurs, who have substituted viewing for doing and imagine that they have scored a touchdown or taken a hill by virtue of having watched it — passive living legends in their own inert minds.
Sexual voyeurism is a pathetic delusion because in it a man's God-given testosterone (which is meant to infuse manliness) becomes a medium of enslavement and impotence. Sexual voyeurism steals a man's virility and initiative. Godly discipline becomes a receding mirage for the voyeur. And this also applies to the millions in the thrall of the gaming world (addicted to games like World of Warcraft or Fortnite), which keeps men playing games into their thirties in their Star Wars pajamas — warriors in their imaginations. Those enslaved by the world of entertainment will never attain manliness, a life disciplined for godliness — a life overseen, instructed, and energized by the Man of all men, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Underlying much of the conscious rejection of spiritual discipline is the fear of legalism. For many, spiritual discipline means putting oneself back under the law with a series of Draconian rules that no one can live up to — and which spawn frustration and spiritual death.
But nothing could be further from the truth if you understand what discipline and legalism are. The difference is one of motivation: legalism is self- centered; discipline is God-centered. The legalistic heart says, "I will do this thing to gain merit with God." The disciplined heart says, "I will do this thing because I love God and want to please him." There is an infinite difference between the motivation of legalism and discipline! Paul knew this implicitly and fought the legalists bare-knuckled all the way across Asia Minor, never giving an inch. Now he shouts to us, "Train [discipline] yourself for godliness"! If we confuse legalism and discipline, we do so to our soul's peril.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Disciplines of a Godly Man"
Copyright © 2019 R. Kent Hughes.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
PART 1: INTRODUCTION,
1 Discipline for Godliness?,
PART 2: RELATIONSHIPS,
2 Discipline of Purity?,
3 Discipline of Marriage?,
4 Discipline of Fatherhood?,
5 Discipline of Friendship?,
PART 3: SOUL,
6 Discipline of Mind?,
7 Discipline of Devotion?,
8 Discipline of Prayer?,
9 Discipline of Worship?,
PART 4: CHARACTER,
10 Discipline of Integrity,
11 Discipline of Tongue,
12 Discipline of Work,
13 Discipline of Perseverance,
PART 5: MINISTRY,
14 Discipline of Church,
15 Discipline of Leadership,
16 Discipline of Giving,
17 Discipline of Witness,
18 Discipline of Ministry,
PART 6: DISCIPLINE,
19 Grace of Discipline,
A Resources for Spiritual Growth,
B James and Deby Fellowes's Witness to Their Faith,
C Personal Reading Survey,
D Selected Proverbs Regarding the Tongue,
E Hymns for Personal Adoration and Praise,
F Choruses and Scripture Songs for Personal Adoration and Praise,
G Praise Psalms Especially Appropriate for Personal Worship,
What People are Saying About This
“I am so weary of the peculiar therapeutic atmosphere in which we live today that is scared stiff to tell anybody to do anything or to warn anybody of dangerous consequences of failing to take responsibility for his or her life. So to find someone taking seriously the biblical call for ‘agonizing to enter the kingdom’ and striving like a gymnast to become godly and boxing and sweating like a champion to get victory over sin is the most refreshing thing I could have set my eyes on.”
John Piper, Founder and Teacher, desiringGod.org; Chancellor, Bethlehem College & Seminary; author, Desiring God
“Every Christian man, whether a new believer or a mature Christian, will be challenged again and again by this remarkably wise and fascinating book. Kent Hughes skillfully weaves together the teachings of Scripture with real-life examples as he powerfully teaches us what true Christian manhood looks like in the ordinary details of our lives. I highly recommend this update of a book that is becoming a Christian classic.”
Wayne Grudem, Distinguished Research Professor of Theology and Biblical Studies, Phoenix Seminary; author, Christian Ethics
“Discipline is a subject about which the Scriptures say muchbut contemporary authors have been peculiarly silent. Kent Hughes fills a gaping void with this superb volume. You’ll be challenged and encouraged as you read. And if there is a spark of spiritual desire in your soul, this book will surely kindle it into a blazing passion for godly discipline.”
John MacArthur, Pastor, Grace Community Church, Sun Valley, California; Chancellor Emeritus, The Master’s University and Seminary
“There are some books, though very few, that remain ‘evergreen’that through the years remain as useful and challenging as the day they were written. There’s little doubt that Disciplines of a Godly Man is one of these. For that reason, I’m delighted to see it just so slightly refreshed as it’s prepared to challenge a whole new generation of men with its biblical principles and timeless wisdom. I trust it will prove itself as edifying to them as it has to me and so many others.”
Tim Challies, blogger, Challies.com
“The best contemporary book of spiritual guidance I’ve read in a long time. Usually for this type of food I have to look for a book that is at least seventy-five years old. This book is a surprising exception. And it has the added advantage of being very relevant to specific needs in today’s world.”
Ajith Fernando, Teaching Director, Youth for Christ, Sri Lanka; author, Discipling in a Multicultural World
“This is one of the best books I’ve read. What an outstanding volume! I guarantee: Digest this book and you will bid the blahs farewell.”
Charles Swindoll, pastor; best-selling author