The world is filled with people doing things they don’t like because they have to do them.

We paint the house, mow the lawn, perhaps even repair our car because if we don’t, the house will decay and begin to fall down, the grass will be up around our ears before we know it, and the car will break down when we need it most.

Our garbage is collected by people who probably don’t like their job, but to pay their bills they are driven to do it. It doesn’t matter whether they enjoy their work. They are disciplined by circumstances.

But external discipline is no substitute for self-discipline. A soldier learns that under the external pressure of military discipline he can achieve certain goals. Yet when the training is over and he’s no longer guided by his superior officers, he will continue to run his life with such control only if he is convinced in his mind that this is the way to act. Self-discipline starts in the mind.

Moses doggedly stuck to his commission to lead that carping straggle of humanity, Israel, toward its destination in the Promised Land. Through it all, Moses was sustained by his earlier encounter with God in the burning bush. He was convinced of his task and committed to it.

Good athletes, too, are convinced of and committed to their course of action. They put up with the daily pain of training to develop their mental and physical endurance.

Christians especially need self-discipline because they have a God to know and a world to reach with the gospel of salvation, but only limited time. We have Bible study to do, prayer to engage in, and people to speak to.

But we have no sergeant standing over us making us perform. Being a Christian is a very individual matter. All we have is the encouragement of the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit, plus the exhortation of a pastor and a few friends. Not many friends, however, will feel free to tell us, “You’re an undisciplined person—you are self-indulgent, you’re moody, you take short cuts, you don’t pay attention, you live in a mess, and you have a shallow mind.”

If you’re convinced you need greater self-discipline to memorize Scripture, for example, or to witness to a neighbor or to prepare to teach a Sunday school class, decide now to put your shoulder to the wheel and make a firm effort. That’s the beginning of the task.

Be strong, but not alone: Rely on the grace that is yours in Jesus Christ.

Focus at first on just one need you have identified. After achieving success in meeting it take the next problem and work on it until you’ve beaten it. Continue the process, looking back on past achievements to help you gain momentum.

Enlist the help of another Christian. Ask him or her to join you in praying for your need. You can base your requests on the prayer beginning in Ephesians 1:17, asking God to grant you an intimate understanding of himself (verse 17), a better knowledge of your salvation and future hope (verse 18), and an understanding of God’s power available to you in Christ (verse 19).

Today could be for you the beginning of a new life of achievement and significance for the glory of God, if you recognize that “the corrections of discipline are the way to life” (Proverbs 6:23). The world belongs to the self-disciplined.

Sandy Fairservice