‘What am I?’ is a basic question that Christians could answer in many ways: a believer, a saint, a disciple, a soldier, an athlete, a witness, a steward, to name but a few. How do I feel I am progressing in these areas? How is my faith developing? Am I living a sanctified life? How well am I following, fighting, running, witnessing, and administrating my stewardship? One key element to living a productive Christian life is self-discipline. Although a believer’s goal of pleasing the Lord is diametrically opposed to that of worldly businessmen, nonetheless, many of the habits required of Christians are currently employed by high achieving entrepreneurs. We notice, for example, that in the world truly successful people recognize that if they are going to reach the top they must take things seriously.1 In this paper we consider seven principles that can be applied to the Christian life, that are often seen in secular businesses. Let it never be said of us that ‘the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light’, Luke 16. 8.
Recently, at a school sports presentation, the guest speaker explained that to achieve sporting success we need to ‘find our passion’, ‘be willing to sacrifice’ and ‘have a will to work hard’; everything else in life needs to be measured in the light of our sporting dream. This same single-minded resolve is required in the Christian life. With evil being the ‘violation of purpose’ we must first of all grasp why we are here, and then, with dogged determination, pursue it. As Suzanna Wesley explained, ‘Whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, or takes off your relish of spiritual things … is sin’ and must be avoided.
The Apostle Paul was so devoted to Christ that he wrote, ‘For to me to live is Christ’, Phil. 1. 21. His writings are permeated with the language of self-sacrifice and total commitment.2 Unswervingly, he eyed the ultimate prize, ‘the glory which shall be revealed in us’, Rom 8. 19. All Christians should ask themselves how committed they are to the Lord.
Believers should, by keeping their bodies healthy, actively seek to optimize their life expectancy, and maximise their capacity to serve. This includes sensible eating, exercising regularly, and not smoking, or drinking alcohol excessively. Obesity (body mass index ≥30) increases the risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus, which can affect vision, mobility, kidney function, etc.3 Smoking causes around 29% of all cancer deaths. In the UK 15,000-22,000 deaths per year are associated with alcohol abuse. It is currently recommended that adults exercise more than thirty minutes daily for five or more days each week, which reduces the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer, etc.
The fact that ‘your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost’, 6. 19, also demands sexual purity, because ‘every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body’, 6. 18. As well as risking sexually transmitted infections, unwanted pregnancies, and emotional upset, sexual sin has a profound, immeasurable effect on the human body, see Job 20. 11.
While many believers are racked by pain and disease, or experience the activity limitations of old age, those who are able should strive to have holy bodies, free from sexual indiscretions, and healthy bodies, in which they can serve Christ.
Every day contains 1,440 minutes. In 5,256,000 minutes, you will be ten years older! Successful people know that every minute counts.
Scripture repeatedly tells us of the shortness and fragility of life: it is as a ‘tale that is told’, Ps. 90. 9; ‘a handbreadth,’ 39. 5; ‘a vapour’, Jas. 4. 14. Given that our lives are ‘soon cut off’, the psalmist prayed for God to ‘teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom’, Ps. 90. 10, 12. Conscious of the prevailing evil and sensing that unbelievers watch Christians, Paul exhorted the Ephesians and Colossians to buy up each opportunity, Eph. 5. 16; Col. 4. 5 Amplified.4 How can we expect the world to pay heed to our urgent message, that ‘now is the accepted time’, 2 Cor. 6. 2, if they see us frittering away our days? As Fredrick Bhaer warned Jo March in Little Women, ‘A writer once said that he would give the world the little things it wanted and then he would do his great work, but the world wanted more and more of the little things and so the great work never got done’.
Meetings can be a waste of time. Someone has said you should only have a meeting if someone is going to sign you a cheque at the end! While we would not be so mercenary, it is a challenge to us whether our meetings are ‘profitable’, or just part of a routine that we go through which fools us into thinking that we are busy in the Lord’s things.
True Christianity demands a measured balance between rigour and rest. Too much rigour, and sharp instruments are blunted through overuse. Too must rest, and nothing will be done. While the New Testament depicts Christians as courageous, unflinching soldiers, totally committed to their warfare, Eph. 6. 13; 2 Tim. 2. 4, and highly disciplined athletes, 1 Cor. 9. 24-27; 2 Tim. 2. 5, it balances this robust intensity with the need for rest. After busy public service, the Lord Jesus exhorted His disciples, ‘Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while’, Mark 6. 31. Having preached till midnight, and then resurrected Eutychus, Paul walked alone from Troas to Assos, while his companions took ship, Acts 20. 13. In the Old Testament, as a skilful shepherd, Jacob understood the disastrous consequences of overdriving a flock, Gen. 33. 13. Moses’ father-in-law counselled him to delegate; otherwise, ‘thou wilt surely wear away’, Exod. 18. 18. Following his dramatic showdown on Mount Carmel, threatened, exhausted and down-cast, Elijah needed sleep and food, 1 Kgs. 19. 5-8. Living for Christ is the Christian’s all-consuming passion. But intense labour without rest leads to burnout. The best athletes build rest periods into their intense training schedules. The most successful people take time out to sharpen their saw, cp. Eccles. 10. 10.5 Cultivating a wholesome, relaxing hobby, which is not overly time-consuming, may increase a believer’s efficiency.
Christians face many dangers. Some spring up unexpectedly; others may be mitigated through careful planning and circumspect living, Eph. 5. 15. By horizon scanning for potential pitfalls, with a firm grasp of the principles of godly living, believers can seek to avoid prospective temptations. The total abstinence from alcohol prevents drunkenness, which is a sin, Eph. 5. 18. Christians should think carefully about their career path: will it demand so much that nothing will be left for Christ? Might it eventually call for the disregard of biblical standards? The history of the Old Testament kings proves that a man’s wife can make or break him spiritually. Young Christian men and women should choose spouses who will support them spiritually, and be committed to the upbringing of children in the fear of God. As ‘godliness with contentment is great gain’, 1 Tim. 6. 6, go with little, rather than accruing debt, which can lead to personal stress, placing tension on relationships and distracting from the things of God. ‘Owe no man any thing’, Rom. 13. 8. If married, shun being away from home overnight, which increases the risk of marital infidelity, 1 Cor. 7. 3-5.
Temptation cannot be eliminated. As a ‘fifth column’, the fleshly nature is ever active in a believer’s heart. But, if at all possible, ‘a prudent man foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself’, Prov. 22. 3.
After interpreting his dream, Joseph asked the butler to ‘make mention of … [him] unto Pharaoh’, Gen. 40. 14. But once restored to his position, the butler did not ‘remember Joseph, but forgat him’, Gen. 40. 23. What a poignant example of human forgetfulness! Knowing how quickly men forget, after Joshua’s victory over Amalek, ‘the Lord said unto Moses, Write this for a memorial in a book’, Exod. 17. 14. On entering the Promised Land, and settling in houses, Israel was expected to write God’s words ‘upon the door posts of thine house, and upon thy gates’, Deut. 11. 20. When the nation finally had a king, he was to ‘write him a copy of this law in a book … that he may learn to fear the Lord his God’, Deut. 17. 18, 19. Imprisoned, and awaiting execution, the apostle Paul requested Timothy to ‘bring … the books, but especially the parchments’, 2 Tim. 4. 13. Here are a few things believers might find helpful to write down. Record the names of people we meet, and have detailed prayer lists. When preparing for the Lord’s Supper, write out, in a structured way, thoughts about Christ. And, when preaching, construct accurate sermon notes, filing them carefully afterwards for future enlargement and development.
Self-discipline is tough, but, in the world, if the prize is big enough, or the expectation great enough, it is practised.
The Lord Jesus taught radical self-discipline with the words, ‘if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out’, Matt. 5. 29. Paul was no less severe when he wrote, ‘Mortify [put to death] therefore your members that are upon the earth’, Col. 3. 5. We can take some simple steps to protect ourselves from many temptations. For example, turning telephones off to prevent distraction during our quiet times, or putting in place some form of accountability for our internet browsing. The expectation of the steward is that he will be faithful, 1 Cor. 4. 2, the disciple that he will follow, Luke 14. 27, the soldier that he will endure hardness and be separate from the things of this life, 2 Tim. 2. 4, the athlete that he be temperate, 1 Cor. 9. 25. But for what? An incorruptible crown, 1 Cor. 9. 25, the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus, Phil. 3. 14, a crown of righteousness, 2 Tim. 4. 8, and, quite simply, that we might please Him who has chosen us, 2. 4. With ‘so great a cloud of witnesses’, Heb. 12. 1, surrounding us and cheering us home, may we ‘lay aside every weight, and the sin that doth so easily beset us’, and ‘run with patience the race that is set before us’.
See Travis Bradberry, Critical Things Ridiculously Successful People Do Every Day.
Rom. 12. 2; 2 Cor. 4. 8-9; 11. 23-27; Phil. 3. 8; 2 Tim. 4. 6.
Figures taken from Oxford Handbook of General Practice Fourth Edition, Oxford University Press, 2014.
See Strong’s Number G1805, The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible
S. Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Simon & Schuster UK, Reprinted 2004.