This was written in honor of our small group. I have enjoyed growing with each of you and learned so much from you in the way of praising God, accountability, self-discipline, and growth. Blessings to each of you!
*If you are approaching this as a devotional I suggest reading Hebrews 11-12:4 prior to reading this article.
Growing in the Lord is so much fun. It really is, even though all of the obstacles that spur this kind of growth are absolutely detestable. I heard someone preach a long, long time ago about embracing the journey just as much as the destination. While this will never be true for me when I’m earthly traveling, I think I do finally understand this in the sense of spiritual traveling. After all, my destination is heaven and 99.999% of my life will be traveling towards that! Being content here just as the Apostle Paul was is pretty critical to receiving joy.
“I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little.” Philippians 4:11-13 MSG
I have been keeping an open eye out for ways that my life is mediocre lately. I’ve been looking a lot at Hebrews 11, the great “Hall of Faith”, and recognizing that all of those mentioned in that chapter showed no hint of mediocrity in their life and faith. They were not “lukewarm” people of God. As I prayed about this and thought about these men and women of great faith the desire within me grew to become a woman of great faith. I’m not content just traveling through this life, tossing my baggage onto the claim turnstiles, and waiting in line to be checked at customs. Nah, that’s not what I want. I want to make waves, to travel in different ways and not the same way every time. Sometimes I want to lose my luggage and have an adventure with that. I want to be smiling and joyful every time I encounter a new part of the journey. Truly, I want to be God’s hands and feet on earth and allow Jesus to look down on me and say “that is a woman of faith”. I want to go deeper, be disciplined, and catch fire in a way that my passion soars and ignites everyone I encounter.
What is the antidote for mediocrity? I’m sure there are many but one of the main ones I have been looking at is self-control. I don’t mean the kind of shaming and condemning self-control like avoiding the cookie jars before dinner, though that could be a real part of it for some, I’m talking about the true fruit of the spirit. The kind of self-discipline that develops true spiritual warriors. God is our Father and teaches us how to self-discipline and live in a way that we do not feed our wants constantly but learn to endure.
“The worst thing we can do to our children—apart from not loving and believing them—is not to shape their lives in a disciplined manner. There is no greatness apart from self-control. Development that does not include personal government will only guarantee our mediocrity.” (Graham Cooke, Qualities of a Spiritual Warrior, p 29)
I have never thought of the Israelite’s wandering the desert as lacking self-control but in the same book, Qualities of a Spiritual Warrior, Graham Cooke points this out. He explains (paraphrased) that God had a few choices in dealing with them before they entered the Promised Land. God could: 1. let them continue into the promised land and become slaughtered because their faith was not in God, 2. allow them to return to Egypt where they more than likely would be slaughtered to set a precedent that Pharaoh doesn’t mess around with escaped slaves, or 3. Take them back to the desert where they could work on self-discipline and training their minds in the way of faith and their children’s minds as well before returning to conquer the land given to them. Embracing this viewpoint, we see that God wasn’t punishing or condemning the Israelites by having them walk through the desert for another forty years but rather he was saving them! He was growing them and their children. It was allowing the older generation to change their minds and die in freedom while pushing their children to possess and receive the fullness of God’s goodness. It was training for reigning at its best!
Our attitudes when we face obstacles and difficult circumstances reveal a lot about our own self-discipline. Are we at peace? Do we rest in God? Do we step back and wait to hear what God says about the situation or do we allow our emotions to wreak havoc in our lives and use our words to speak death instead of life?
“Do not be quick with your mouth;do not be hasty in your heartto utter anything before God. God is in heavenand you are on earth,so let your words be few.” Ecclesiastes 5:2
How do we become great men and women of faith? It starts with self-discipline I believe. It takes discipline to rein in our thoughts. Discipline to study, truly study, the word of God on a deep level. We operate in discipline to align our thoughts with who God is for us in our situation rather than allow negativity to be enthroned. Disciplining and exhibiting self-control in our own lives to be stewards of the things God has given to us (our bodies and health, our relationships, our words, our careers, our finances) allows us to fully worship God without interference. Our faith can be properly placed in the great I AM when we are equipped to endure all things.
In Hebrews 11 we read that none of those listed received the promises they were living for. Yet their faith never wavered and they endured. Noah, when being mocked and laughed at, required self-discipline to continue building an ark that no one had even heard of and he continued in this for 120 years! Most people give up on a project after a month or two; can you imagine sticking to something for 120 years? Moses was raised and lived in the palace of Pharaoh his entire life and refused to be identified as anything other than one of God’s people. From a young age he made a choice and through self-control and faith stood in it. How about the verse (Heb 11:37) where some were actually sawed in half and never lost their faith? Now that is faith and endurance! It is not possible to have endured those things without a strong sense of self-control and discipline!
“David won and established the kingdom because he had warriors around him, men who knew how to endure. Living in caves, moving around the wilderness, constantly being hounded and pursued by a megalomaniac and his army. Living rough, eating rations, going hungry, never sleeping in the same place for too long—it toughened them up. They learned how to persevere, how to persist in a cause. They were faithful men—loyal to the king, dangerous against the enemy. Many Christians cannot tell the difference between warfare, adversity, the work of the Cross, and training for reigning. They don’t persist; they crumble. An instant society depletes our strength. People are in huge amounts of debt because they cannot wait; they have no patience to save money, then purchase. They mortgage their future to buy trinkets in the present and then declare that god is providing, which may be true. I mean, MasterCard sound spiritual. A Visa gives you permission to enter, I suppose. Servicing the debt denies us true flexibility to serve the Lord. We are trapped in the model home that we didn’t really need, surrounded by remotes, but with no control over our destiny. To say yes to Jesus we must also say no to something else. A YES is always accompanied by a NO.” (Graham Cooke, Qualities of a Spiritual Warrior, p.73)
If this isn’t convicting, my friend, what is? We are so used to putting it all on God and saying “let it go and let God deal with it” that we forget to use the brains that God gave us to use! We forget that He gave us talents and we are not to bury them! (Don’t Bury Your Talent – Verses and Article Here)
I don’t want to be a mediocre or lukewarm Christian, do you? Do you want to stand there on judgment day and know that every bit of what Christ died for was put to use in your own life? I want to stand there in humility and honesty, knowing that I myself am worth nothing, and tell my Savior that what He did give me I loved him for and invested into the kingdom. I want to tell him that I did the best I could with my finances, my health, my words, and my marriage. Not because I am ashamed or condemned but because He died for me to live a better life than the condemned and shamed.
“ God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” Ephesians 2:8-10 MSG
Self-control isn’t about taking credit or earning our way into heaven. It isn’t about living guilt free or even keeping a clean slate before heaven (our sins were covered once and for all at the cross). (Hebrews 10) It is about the process of enjoying our life here on earth in the fullest. It is about doing the “good things he planned for us long ago” that we may fulfill our true purposes. We enjoy self-control because of the fruit that produces alongside of it: kindness, peace, patience, joy, love, goodness, gentleness. (Galatians 5:22-23)
Go deeper, be disciplined, and catch fire in a way that ignites all those you encounter. Allow your journey to be one that prepares you for greatness. Take each day in stride to know your choice of self-control and standing in faith are setting you up for greatness. Step back in each difficult circumstance and find out what provision God has placed there for you to help you endure and eventually overcome. It is there, I promise. God will not abandon us to find our way alone. But being at peace and listening for what He gives us in each circumstance, then praying that into place in faith, will grow you and stretch you beyond your wildest dreams.
“So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.” Hebrews 10:35-36 NIV