The Power of Discipline

Shane Woewoedin, winner of this year’s Brownlow medal (for the best AFL footballer), refused the offer of a glass of champagne to celebrate his victory. Why? Because he had decided at the beginning of the year that some things had to be sacrificed if he was to achieve certain goals as a footballer – one of those being alcohol.

I watched James Hird during the Grand Final, as he jumped, weaved, and ran his way through the pack in pursuit of the ball. The deft and creative way he imposed himself on the game certainly helped his team take hold of the game in the first half. One could only admire the skills of the man. I would later discover the Hird spent years as a ballet student, honing skills of balance and poise evident in the way he plays football.

In my mind I hear many christians criticising any notion of discipline when it comes to faith. “It will only stifle and restrict me,” I have heard many say. Why should I limit myself through such legalisms as prayer and Bible study? Or punish myself through attempting to share my faith, or through fasting?

And then I reflect on the sacrifice and discipline shown by Shane Woewoedin, and James Hird, and many other top athletes: has their discipline held them back, or has it enhanced their ability? has it ‘pressed them into a mould’ or cultivated their individual abilities?
Let’s admit that there can only be a handful of people who ever win Brownlow medals and Norm Smith medals. But let’s also admit that the practice of disciplines releases and enhances abilities which all carry. The difference between the elite sportsman and the social one is the level of discipline employed: the disciplines which enhance fitness, skills, temperament, and teamwork.

At the same level there are only a few christians who will ever have the breadth of impact of a Billy Graham, or a Charles Wesley, or a Martin Luther, but the practice of the spiritual disciplines will in no way have a damaging effect on our walk with Jesus, or on our personalities, or our skills as we seek to be the people that God has created us to be. Quite the contrary – they develop and free us in powerful ways by removing bad habits, and enhancing and developing new skills.

There is a training track for the christian: it begins on our knees in prayer; in the study where our Bible is opened, in the world as we practise what God is teaching us. All these things and more make us a better human being and a more effective member of God’s team.

September 10, 2000
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