Each month, you’ll hear from one of us on what we’re reading and a little bit about the book. Enjoy!
Admittedly, the title of this book made me uncomfortable when I first saw it. Perhaps we’re in the same boat. The word discipline may produce in us, collectively, a wide swath of emotions and thoughts depending upon our past experiences—positive memories, maybe those of an athlete or student whose focus and discipline allowed her to achieve a goal, or negative remembrances of harsh (perhaps unjust) discipline as a child or a situation where we felt someone stifled our freedom.
Hang in there with me for just a minute. Let’s not judge this book solely by its title.
Over the past months, God has been working on my understanding of the ideas of obedience and discipline. Honestly, I used to shrink from those terms—I felt obligated to do them, and I felt uncomfortably bound by them. But, by God’s grace, I’m coming to understand discipline as His loving provision and guidance. He’s been teaching me that, for me, obedience to His Word can be boiled down to something like this: God made us. He knows what we need and how we will best function and even flourish. If we trust Him and do the things He says, we’ll not only lead more fulfilling lives that honor Him, but He’ll save us significant hurt and frustration (and bless us with joy and fulfillment), now and in the long run.
Sometimes it helps me to think of obedience as I would an owner’s manual. In those types of manuals, the manufacturer includes instructions as to how best to care for and maintain your new product. The logic goes, if you follow instructions, the product will not only function in the way it was intended, but it will last longer and work to its highest potential. Things like: don’t fully immerse your waffle iron in water when cleaning it, or use only unleaded gasoline (always mixed with ½ of some obscure solution—still baffling to me) in your weed eater. I “religiously” follow these types of instructions because I understand the cause-and-effect relationships—you don’t want to fry the electrical components of your waffle iron or gunk up the weed eater’s engine with fuel it wasn’t intended to use—and I don’t want to break anything. But, when it comes to things that God has said to me about my soul and spiritual, emotional, physical health—things that I think we can all agree are much more important—I seem to think the Manufacturer’s instructions are bunk. That I can go my own way and somehow arrive at the spiritual life and health that only God can provide.
In her book, Discipline, Elisabeth Elliot cuts right to the heart of my unbelief, “If deep in our hearts we suspect that God does not love us and cannot manage our affairs as well as we can, we certainly will not submit to His discipline.”
She gives us a clear, godly way to see obedience: “Willing obedience is a very different thing from coercion. … God does not coerce us to follow Him. He invites us. He wills that we should will—that is, He wills our freedom to decline or to accept.”
She goes on to say, “He [God] tells us what to do, and we find our happiness in doing it. We will not find it anywhere else. We will not find it by doing only what we want to do and not doing what we don’t want to do. That is the popular idea of what freedom is, but it does not work.”
Framing our perspective of glad submission, she suggests: “It is a great relief when somebody else is in charge. He [God] knows what he’s doing, and all you need to do is follow directions. You do not rebel at his telling you what to do. You are glad to be told. He knows more than you do, knows the best way to accomplish what you want to accomplish, and you are sure you will be better off with him than without him, happier by obeying than disobeying.”
Our obedience has to be anchored in a righteous perspective on God. Elisabeth says, “God will never disappoint us. He loves us and has only one purpose for us: holiness, which in His kingdom equals joy.”
After Elisabeth lays a theological foundation for obedience and discipline, the remainder of the book is spent practically discussing the areas of our lives in which discipline gives us godly freedom: body, mind, place (honoring others), time, possessions, work, and feelings. She stepped on lots of my toes, but in a good way.
I’m sure you’re familiar with Elisabeth Elliot’s work. To me, she is one of the female titans of faith —her story and ministry serve as a testimony to God’s goodness. She’s not one to mince words, and sometimes she’s tough. But, I would read anything she’s written. If you’re looking for specific recommendations, I have read and been taught by the books Let Me Be a Woman and The Path of Loneliness. I’d love for you to join me in reading Discipline—I trust God will use it to shape your view of His goodness the way He’s changing mine.
Sarah Doss is a Production Editor with Lifeway. She loves a quirky sitcom, baking as therapy, and travel (international or otherwise). As a recovering Lisa Frank enthusiast, she maintains a healthy affinity for school supplies and all things letterpress. Keep up with her on Twitter (she loves Twitter friends) at @sarahdossy.