Monday, February 20, 2017

Straining forward and Pressing On Toward the Goal

Self-discipline.  These words can just suck the motivation right out of me.  Why is such a positive concept cast in my mind in such a negative hue?  Discipline which comes from outside one’s self can be painful and unwelcome, but even that sort of discipline is usually aiming for a good end.  So it is with self-discipline.  When I must employ self-discipline, it is for a desirable goal. 

Take running, for example.  My goal in running is ultimately to maintain a healthy heart and cholesterol levels, to be healthy and have energy for other pursuits, to be free to eat what I like, and to keep my jeans fitting just the way I like them: loosely.  To reach these goals I must set lesser goals for myself, like getting out the door several mornings a week for (usually) half an hour of exercise, which will then require many minutes of stretching followed by a shower and finally getting dressed for the day. 

Now, many mornings I might prefer to sleep in a bit, lying in bed and listening to the chorus of birds in the yard greeting the morning sun.  I then enjoy the privilege of staying in my bathrobe for a while as my morning slowly percolates up to regular speed.  Getting straight into my running gear and out the door isn’t always comfortable, so I must use self-discipline to push myself into doing what is the healthier and therefore better option.

Along the way, once I’m pounding the pavement, my reluctance melts away and I do enjoy myself, in a way.  I have the time to myself and away from the phone, computer, television, and other means of distraction and I can simply allow my thoughts to wander.  These wandering thoughts often lead to productive thoughts, or perhaps simply thoughts that I need to think which would elude me in the more distractible environment of the house.  There are people to greet, folks at the bus stops, or out for a walk, and a morning “hello” is uplifting. 

I used to live in an area which was beautiful to run through, the enticements of the neighborhood were a benefit to morning runs.  That is no longer the case, so one of my favorite things about running has been eliminated.  I no longer look forward to what I will see and smell as I run near my home.  (sigh.)

Even still, I have never, no matter how reluctant I was to begin, regretted a run once I have finished.  Every single run I have pushed myself out the door to do, I have been glad to have run when I got back home.  Every single time (well, there was that ONE time…).  Even if I finish sore, snotty, sweaty, rained-on, mud-splashed, lungs screaming, or with new blisters on my feet, I am glad to have gone for the run.  Even if the best part of the run was finishing it, I’ll have no regrets. There are days when this knowledge alone has gotten me out the door.

(Full disclosure: I wrote the preceding paragraphs above in my bathrobe.  It took typing that last sentence to get me into my shoes and shorts and out the door this morning.)

The same holds true with memorizing Scripture.  The goal is high; the benefits are many.  But it takes time, it is repetitive, and some days it’s a struggle.  If I don’t get to it early in the morning, chances are I won’t get to it at all.  And yet, as I said, the self-discipline required to memorize Scripture is worth it.  The benefits are not only precious for this life, they will carry over into eternity.

‘I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.’ Psalm 119:11

‘The law of the Lord is perfect,
    reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure,
    making wise the simple;

the precepts of the Lord are right,
    rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure,
    enlightening the eyes;

the fear of the Lord is clean,
    enduring forever;
the rules of the Lord are true,
    and righteous altogether.

More to be desired are they than gold,
    even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
    and drippings of the honeycomb.

Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
    in keeping them there is great reward.’ Psalm 19:7-11

‘But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man (and woman) of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.’ 2 Timothy 3:14-17

I want these benefits!  I do desire to sin less, to have my soul revived, to have my heart rejoice and my eyes enlightened, to know truth and righteousness, to savor the sweetness of God’s Word, to be warned and rewarded greatly, to be wise for salvation, to be taught, reproved, corrected, trained in righteousness, complete and equipped for every good work!

These are blessings of which I have tasted merely a morsel, and the taste is intoxicating.  Last year I memorized the book of Philippians and my prayers were enriched, my desire to know my Savior deepened, and my understanding of Scripture throughout the Bible enlivened. 

I am now several months into memorizing the book of Ephesians and though I am “behind schedule” I am still experiencing the benefits of following Paul's train of thought through the multitude of blessings we share in Christ, which lead naturally to how we ought to live in light of those blessings.  Instead of lifting a “favorite verse” out of context, I can see where his exhortation to holy living fits with the gospel by which I am saved.  When I pray for others I realize that issues of health and employment may be the most obvious needs, but to pray that ‘the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give (them) a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of their hearts  enlightened, that they may know what is the hope to which he has called them, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe’ (Eph. 1:17-19) is even more vital.

The further into the book I get, the more time I need to recite the portion that I know.  Memorizing each new bit only takes about ten minutes a day.  Once I have parts of it down, however, I can repeat from memory as I go about my day, whether I am driving, washing dishes, or folding laundry.  When I had finished the book of Philippians I found that I could recite the entire thing while driving from my house to church. 

It does take an ample dose of self-discipline to keep my running routine going, just as it does to keep memorizing Scripture.  Both endeavors are well worth my time, and I need to remind myself of this on a regular basis.  Like Paul, ‘I press on… because Christ Jesus has made me his own.’  Therefore, ‘forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus’ (Phil. 3:12-14).

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