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Discipline for Godliness
Train yourself to be godly.
1 TIMOTHY 4:7
I had been married barely two years when I came across my husband's prayer list. As I dusted his evertidy desk, my own name caught my attention — right at the top of his list. Next to my name were the letters D and O. I was instantly curious. What did the letters stand for? Delightful and openhearted? Darling and optimistic? Distinguished and outstanding?
I had no idea what he was thinking — and what he was praying for me. After several days, I drummed up the courage to ask him. Without hesitation, he replied, "Disciplined and organized, of course!"
My mouth fell open, my face reddened, and I cried out involuntarily. My husband was puzzled at my astonished response. He was thinking, Doesn't she know she needs help in these areas? Doesn't she want help to be disciplined and organized?
The truth? At the time I wasn't aware that these were difficult areas for me. More truth? After thirty-seven years — even though I've made a lot of progress — Kent is still praying for D and O for his wife!
Discipline for me and discipline for Kent are not exactly the same thing, we've discovered. Our personalities are different, for starters. My husband is a morning person, and I wake up with the evening news. He finds sanity in structure — a well-ordered calendar with no unexpected interruptions. I welcome interruptions and love the surprise of a drop-in visitor.
But I've found that while a spontaneous personality may cause me to adopt a more flexible schedule, spontaneity isn't an excuse for me to ignore the importance of discipline. And discipline is important for my spiritual life. In fact, it is the path by which the good news of Christ gives meaningful shape to all the days of my life.
Maybe discipline seems like a hard word to you now — one full of challenge and perhaps of duty. But be prepared to discover that discipline is your lifeline, something that you learn to embrace and thank God for as you grow in him.
The Godliness Workout
Years ago when I was in my early thirties and the busy, flabby mother of four, a friend and I made up our minds to get in shape and exercise a little physical discipline. We donned ratty old tennis shoes and weather-beaten T-shirts and shorts and set out to run around the block. To our dismay, we made it only as far as the first corner, nearly fainting with that much exertion. But we didn't give up. Every morning we tried again. The day we made it to the half-mile marker, we were so happy we celebrated with donuts! That morning workout eventually lengthened to three miles, then to five — always ending with the prize, a donut! We got fit, but we didn't take it too seriously. We understood that some disciplines are more important than others.
The apostle Paul links this idea of necessary training or discipline with the spiritual life. First Timothy 4:7 says, "Train yourself to be godly." That word train is derived from the very ancient Greek word from which we get the English word gymnasium. By New Testament times it referred to exercise and training in general. In a sense, Paul is saying, "Gymnasticize yourself for the purpose of godliness." He's calling for a spiritual workout.
It's this spiritual workout that Paul deems so much more important than a morning jog around town. He goes on to say, "For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come."
I'm nearly sixty now — a soft grandmother of sixteen youngsters. I don't jog anymore, though I regularly make the most of my occasional bursts of energy by using the few pieces of high-tech exercise equipment stashed in our basement. The older I get, the more I understand Paul's exercise priorities: "Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day" (2 Corinthians 4:16).
Like the Greek athletes who lay aside even their clothing to avoid encumbrances, we Christian women need to get rid of every association, habit, and tendency that impedes godliness. The writer of Hebrews talks about this shedding of hindrances: "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us" (Hebrews 12:1).
There have been habits and pastimes I've had to shed over the years. For example, I used to be unable to begin my day before I read the morning news. I finally noticed that I consistently headed for the front porch for the newspaper before I reached for God's Word. It seems like a simple thing, a newspaper, but I found I had to cancel my subscription in order to pursue a better habit. I have also had wrong ideas that have had to be altered or replaced by truth based in God's Word and in His character. I've had to dump lots of dead weight.
What is weighing you down today? Those things will have to go. Once you've removed obstacles and hindrances, your call to training also demands that you direct your energy toward godliness. "But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified," writes Paul (1 Corinthians 9:27NKJV). Remember Paul's instruction to "train" for godliness? Just a few sentences later he comments on this command, saying, "for this we labor and strive" (1 Timothy 4:9). In the Greek labor means "strenuous toil," and strive is the word that gives us "agonize" in English.
In other words, Paul isn't promising us a cushy, low-impact workout. Spiritual disciplines call for serious commitment and "no-pain, no-gain" effort. Athletes in serious training willingly undergo hours of discipline and pain — in order to meet the goal, to win the prize. Many women will understand this easily in physical terms, having already made a commitment to train their bodies, spending long hours at the gym for the outward prize of a trim figure. But even those women may be neglecting to bring that same discipline to a flabby soul.
Do We Have To?
Why should we Christian women turn our attention to the disciplines that will train us for godliness? First of all, because in today's world and in today's church, disciplined Christian lives are the exception, not the rule. Some people might like to find an excuse by saying, "Oh, but that's always been true." Actually it hasn't. Many periods of church history have been characterized by the amazing discipline of believers. We can come up with plenty of reasons why Christians today avoid the disciplines that lead to godliness. Maybe teaching has been poor. Maybe it's the laziness of individual believers. But one reason that stands out in our current culture is fear of legalism.
Let's face it: Many of us think of spiritual discipline in terms of "living the letter of the Law" or as a series of draconian rules that no one could possibly live up to. Such legalism seems to us a path to frustration and spiritual death.
But true discipline is a far cry from legalism — thank God! The difference lies in 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 because I love God and want to please Him." The true heart of discipline is relationship — a relationship with God. John Wesley's words express this relationship beautifully:
O God, fill my soul with so entire a love of Thee that I may love nothing but for Thy sake and in subordination to Thy love. Give me grace to study Thy knowledge daily that the more I know Thee, the more I may love Thee. Create in me a zealous obedience to all Thy commands, a cheerful patience under all Thy chastisements, and a thankful resignation to all Thy disposals. Let it be the one business of my life to glorify Thee by every word of my tongue, by every work of my hand, by professing Thy truth, and by engaging all men, so far as in me lies, to glorify and love Thee.
Paul knew the difference between the motivations of legalism and discipline, and he fought the legalists all the way across Asia Minor, never giving an inch. Now he shouts to us, "Train yourselves to be godly!"
What's another reason why Christian women need to turn their attention to the disciplines discussed in this book? Because we need to embrace a concept that is key to living a godly life authentically — a concept we stumble over and stumble hard. A Christian's life is about bringing the will under submission to God's will, and submission is an idea that has fallen on hard times. Confusion abounds about rights and boundaries, roles and authority. This confusion muddies our thinking about God and creates roadblocks to our spiritual growth. The only cure is a proper theology about God in order to bring every area of our lives under submission to His will. So each topic we touch on in this book is framed in terms of this surrender.
With the Word of God taking my measure, God has sometimes gently and sometimes brutally chiseled away at my life to make it one of substance. God is still at work on me. With each day that passes I am more aware that the time is short, and there remains so much to be done in me. I open my heart and thoughts to you with the hope that they will help you choose to train arduously in your pursuit of God and godliness and that you will submit to His plan for your life.
Renew Your Mind
What is spiritual discipline, and why is it so important? What usually prevents you from exercising spiritual discipline (see Romans 3:9-18)? What can a lack of spiritual discipline do to your life?
Reflect on 1 Timothy 4:7-8 ("Train yourself to be godly"). What is the literal meaning of train? What does this definition tell you about the way to approach spiritual discipline?
What does Hebrews 12:1 say about running the Christian race? What things are holding you back in your walk with God? What makes you hang on to them?
Is there a cost to spiritual discipline? Check out 1 Corinthians 9:25-27. What could greater discipline cost you? Are you prepared to pay the price?
How does the motivation in legalism differ from the motivation in discipline?CHAPTER 2
Discipline of the Gospel
The Source of Godliness
By this gospel you are saved. ... Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.
1 CORINTHIANS 15:2-3
I'm an evangelist at heart. I love interacting with people who haven't a clue about the Bible's message. It's incredible to watch the light dawn in the eyes of an unbeliever who suddenly begins to grasp the truth, and I'm disappointed if the person closes the door to discussion or debate. Why do I get so excited about the Gospel? Because it reveals God's loving plan for this world and for humanity — men, women, and children. It's good news — the best news anyone can ever receive. When a person understands God's love in Christ Jesus, life finally makes sense.
Do you remember the moment when you first understood the Gospel? Every day the good news of the Gospel is being revealed to someone around you. Seven years ago God was making His good news known to the young woman who regularly served Kent and me coffee at Starbucks. My husband and I enjoyed walking into the shop — not only because of the grande skim cappuccino, but because Stacey was behind the counter. She's a red-headed, perky Meg Ryan type who made buying a cup of coffee an experience. Even before the caffeine, you felt better because Stacey took your order.
Because she always appeared so cheerful, we would never have guessed that she was involved in a devastating divorce and child-custody battle. But someone knew — a former neighbor, a Christian, who now lived in a distant city. Concerned for Stacey, she encouraged her to visit our church.
A few weeks later Stacey, alone and uncertain, came to College Church for the first time. When the pastoral staff walked onto the platform at the start of the service, Stacey did a double take. What was that "nice man" who comes into Starbucks with his wife doing on the platform? When that "nice man" stood to pray and preach, she listened as she had never listened before.
The following morning, Stacey greeted us with even greater energy than usual. She told us about her surprise at discovering that my husband is a pastor. She asked if I could meet with her because she had questions about the Bible. We were overjoyed.
Stacey's former neighbor called to tell us that she would be praying for us. Long before we met Stacey, God had been at work in her life preparing her. She was ready to hear the good news of the Gospel and receive Christ as her Savior. And she did.
With her conversion, Stacey began a new way of life. Her belief in the Gospel's good news has become the center of her life. She is a devoted student of God's Word. Her skill in parenting reflects her desire to help her children grow in godliness. After her commitment to her family, Stacey prizes most her ministry to junior high students. In the Gospel she found life itself!
But not every person who professes to be a Christian treasures the Gospel with this same enthusiasm and tenacity. For some Christianity is just one part of their busy lives. They've got work, their Tuesday morning self-help group at the YMCA, their workout schedule — oh, and their spiritual life, too. Others see their Christian experience as something to look back on — "the day I said 'the' prayer" or "walked the aisle" or "joined the church."
For many Christianity is a ticket to heaven. They want the assurance that everything will be okay when they die, but they don't want to get too serious about it today.
Many families fit Christianity in as part of their lifestyle package. They enjoy the wholesome atmosphere the church provides, good moral teaching for the kids, potluck suppers, and women's meetings.
Not one of these last few views of the Gospel is the real deal; none of them sees the Gospel as the Bible reveals it. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is unrelenting in seeking to convert every area of our hearts and lives. The Gospel is all-encompassing. It is in fact the only source of godliness. Search anywhere else, and you have nothing more than self-reform at best and idolatry at its worst.
Do you want to be a godly woman? Since we intend to discuss the many, many areas of a woman's life that are shaped and informed by the Gospel, we must know what this Gospel is and believe it! Then, like our friend Stacey, we must be prepared to make it the center of our lives.
What Is the Gospel?
Recently, a diverse group of women from our church (young and old, married and single, widowed and divorced) came together to study how faith in the Gospel impacts the way we live. At the first session, I asked each to write down a clear answer to the question, "What is the Gospel?"
Easy, right? The answer should fall from our lips like the ABCs. Wrong! All these born-again, godly women found it difficult to compose a clearly stated, succinct definition of the Gospel. We were humbled! Some women wrote pages describing how to become a Christian. Others laid out witnessing techniques. Some listed the Gospel's benefits. The Gospel itself got lost in that fog of words.
When asked how they know they are Christians, people often answer with "Because I accepted" or "I prayed" or "I went forward." Notice the "I"? All of these answers give prominence to what the person has done. This is the root of the general confusion about the Gospel. The Gospel is about what God has done!
Christianity is the only religion in which salvation cannot be earned. Christians know our salvation has been accomplished by what God alone has done, not by what we have done. This is the truth that Jesus shouted from the cross: "It is finished!" (John 19:30).
The Gospel belongs to God. It is His Gospel. From cover to cover the Bible is about God's Gospel. It was His idea and His plan: "The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: 'All nations will be blessed through you'" (Galatians 3:8).
The Bible, beginning in Genesis, reveals God's plan to restore us to what we were created to be — people made in His image, joyfully living under His loving rule and blessing. But while it saves us, "the Gospel is not primarily about man and his needs, although these are not unimportant nor are they unrelated." As good as it may sound, a man-centered gospel is not God's Gospel. A gospel that primarily focuses on man's needs or guilt or feelings or wants or ambitions is not God's Gospel. God's Gospel is amazing news about what His son Jesus Christ accomplished on the cross. It is about what God has done.
Christ Crucified ... According to the Scriptures
Jesus Christ is the central figure of God's Gospel. Our study group concluded that Paul's explanation of the Gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 is the foundational text: "I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures" (emphasis mine).(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Disciplines of a Godly Woman"
Copyright © 2001 Barbara 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
1 Discipline for Godliness,
2 Discipline of the Gospel The Source of Godliness,
3 Discipline of Submission The Posture of Godliness,
4 Discipline of Prayer Submission's Lifeline,
5 Discipline of Worship Submission's Celebration,
6 Discipline of Mind Submission's Education,
7 Discipline of Contentment Submission's Rest,
8 Discipline of Propriety Submission's Behavior,
9 Discipline of Perseverance Submission's Challenge,
10 Discipline of the Church Submission's Framework — God's Family,
11 Discipline of Singleness Submission's Framework — Singleness,
12 Discipline of Marriage Submission's Framework — Marriage,
13 Discipline of Nurturing Submission's Caress,
14 Discipline of Good Deeds Submission's Industry,
15 Discipline of Witness Submission's Commission,
16 Discipline of Giving Submission's Generosity,
17 Grace of Discipline,
Hymns for Your Devotional Time,
Praise Psalms for Your Devotional Time,
M'Cheyne's Calendar for Daily Readings,
Recommended Reading List,
What I Do with the Hard Things in My Life,
Additional Scriptures on Good Deeds,
Opportunities for Good Deeds,
James and Deby Fellowes's Witness to Their Faith,
Domestic Gospel Women,
What People are Saying About This
“Barbara Hughes shares both God’s Word and the joy of living it. In her own warm voice, she invites women to believe and to adorn the gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s an invitation not to a list of abstract disciplines, but to the grace of God that trains us in all the layers of real life.”—Kathleen Nielson, author; speaker; Senior Adviser, The Gospel Coalition
“This book is a treasure chest of Biblical wisdom. As Barbara urges us to fight the flab in our Christian lives, she generously shares the ways in which God has chiseled away at her life to make her the disciplined woman of faith that she is today. Her writing is thought provoking, stimulating, moving, encouraging, and deeply challenging. Every Christian woman who longs to be more like Jesus should read this book.”—Lindsay Benn, wife to the Former Bishop of Lewes, The Church of England
“Disciplines of a Godly Woman is not a legalistic ten-step plan or checklist. Rather it is Titus 2:3–5 in action, as Barbara Hughes becomes our sister, mother and grandmother in the Lord, challenging us to trust and honor God in the whole of life. After a lifetime in pastoral ministry and family life, Barbara knows the challenges we face as sinners living in a world crowded with ideas and pressures. She also knows that God’s Word provides the wisdom we need and the cross of Christ provides the grace we need. At a time when many younger women are seeking mentors, and many older women feel ill-equipped for the task, this book is a wise and loving answer to both.”—Claire Smith, Bible teacher; author, God’s Good Design: What the Bible Really Says about Men and Women
“As Christian women we long to have our lives give glory to God. This wise book walks us through the practical disciplines of being a woman who lives under God’s authority. I highly recommend it.”—Margaret Grudem, Scottsdale, Arizona
“The word ‘discipline’ often carries with it notions of rigidity and structure. Thankfully, Barbara Hughes is not here to give a heavy-handed list of rules and regulations for the woman who simply cannot find time to do any more than she already does. In this helpful, classic book Barbara walks us through the right kind of discipline, one that serves eternal purposes. She shows us that the way towards godliness is not through our own efforts, but the efforts of Another—our Christ.”—Courtney Reissig, author, Teach Me to Feel and Glory in the Ordinary
“This book captures Barbara Hughes’ deep Biblical insight and practical wisdom. Whether read on your own or in a group, Disciplines of a Godly Woman is helpful for women of any age or circumstance. It is a reminder that life change doesn’t happen by accident or overnight, and that godly living is not a mystery.”—Ainsley Poulos, Chair, EQUIP ministry wives
“Through Disciplines of a Godly Woman, Barbara Hughes has been a cherished mentor to me. She has taught me what it means to be a gospel-centered woman, and the Holy Spirit used the book to ignite in me a greater desire to know God through his Word. Not a ‘white-knuckle’ do-better book on spiritual disciplines, it addresses the heart and gives deeply thoughtful advice on how a woman can center her life on Christ. This book is my first choice to read with other women, and we recommend it regularly at our church. Read this book; let it change your life; and, then, share it with others.”—Keri Folmar, Director of Women’s Ministries, United Christian Church of Dubai; author, The Good Portion: Scripture
“As I look back on my own life as a woman and mother, I am aware of how much I would have benefited from this book. This book is helpful in liberating women from cultural misconceptions about the role of discipline and submission in the Christian life. Barbara Hughes is superbly qualified to write from the heart on the subjects that she takes up by her lifetime of ministry to women, leadership in women’s Bible studies, and service as a pastor's wife.”—Mary Ryken, retired counselor; homemaker
“Barbara’s warm, clear, and engaging style combined with challenges, ideas for further reading, and a firm grasp of the gospel’s power to transform our lives makes this of great help for Christian women everywhere.”—Shiona Rees, pastor’s wife, Edinburgh, Scotland