Some people have a New Year tradition of choosing a word of the year. If you are not one of these people, the way it works is you pick a word to focus on and guide your decisions throughout your coming year. It’s best to keep it simple. A few suggestions could be “family,” “joy,” or “confidence.” Your word should be something you can apply in daily life.
Honestly, I’ve never participated in this tradition. But 2019 is a new year, and it is never too late to start a new habit, right? I didn’t exactly choose my word of the year so much as it was given to me. I was reading a book recently when the word jumped out and made its home on some avenue of my brain.
My word for 2019 is discipline.
The book was The Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges. It’s a little book and really shouldn’t have taken me months to finish. But I got distracted, misplaced it somewhere, packed it in a box of books when I moved, and finally rediscovered it when I unpacked it later. I could have read it in one week if I had better discipline.
Well, anyway, I eventually read a chapter about developing positive habits. In it, Bridges explains that we can’t make ourselves more diligent in one area of life while being lazy in other areas. He writes:
¨We may feel that a particular habit ‘isn’t too bad,’ but continually giving in to that habit weakens our wills against the onslaughts of temptation from other directions. This is the reason, for example, that it is so important for us to develop habits of self-control over our physical appetites. We may think indulging these appetites isn’t so bad, but such indulgences weaken our wills in every other respect of our lives.”
In my own case, I knew I needed a more consistent time of personal devotions every morning. I had tried several things to do this, but one of the biggest barriers was my seeming inability to wake up early enough. I would sleep longer than I told myself I would, and then I wouldn’t have time for the Bible and prayer before the other responsibilities of the day. I knew this was a problem, but nothing helped. Why couldn’t I wake up?
After reading this passage in Bridges’ book, I looked at more areas of my life and discovered other ways I could learn better discipline. They may seem like small things, but these habits (or lack of) are all tied to my will and self-control. They use the same mental muscles, and the less that I exercise these muscles, the weaker they become. Then how can I expect to be disciplined every morning to wake up on time if, in other areas of my life, I don’t exercise discipline?
The only way to have discipline is to demand it of yourself in everything you do. In waking up. In exercising your body. In eating healthy. In working or studying. In maintaining good relationships. Everything is connected.
At first, discipline may sound daunting. American culture has eroded the value of discipline so that we have an unhealthy relationship with the word. It draws up images of military boot camp commanders barking orders and parents spanking their misbehaving children. Instead of discipline, everyone wants the luxury of laziness. Who wants to go to the 9-to-5 job when you can relax on a sunny beach?
This perspective is the opposite of the Bible’s message. Proverbs has no shortage of verses about the consequences for lazy people and the rewards for the hardworking. It adds that God disciplines those he loves as a father does for a cherished son (Prov. 3:11-12). Hebrews 12:7-8 describes discipline as the proof of a legitimate child. The loving parent will discipline their child. Therefore discipline and love go hand-in-hand. The fruit of the Holy Spirit in God’s children includes self-control, not indulgence (Gal. 5:22-23). The apostle Paul describes worthy overseers of God’s Church as being self-controlled and disciplined (Titus 1:8). Paul also wrote:
“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 9:25-27
Discipline is for our own good. It is a treasure to seek after and guard diligently. We should not fear it. Besides, it is what God wants for us too.
There is much more that could be said about discipline, and I will probably learn more throughout 2019. If you haven’t already, I encourage you to read The Pursuit of Holiness. I already want to read it again. This time it won’t take me months to finish.
Have you chosen a “word of the year” before? What is your word for 2019?