We shall be likely to accomplish most when we are in the best spiritual condition; or in other words, we shall usually do our Lord’s work best when our gifts and graces are in good order, and we shall do worst when they are most out of trim. – Charles Spurgeon
Sloppy practice means a sloppy game,” seemed to be the regular banner cry of my high school soccer coach. We were half-way through the season and 7-0 and were already the top pick to win the District Championship. Arrogance began to infiltrate our heads, compounded by the fact that our school’s football team had lost every single game that season. We were in our glory and the limelight was ours as we walked onto the field to play the worst team in the league. Freshmen warmed up expecting to get varsity game-time after we’d score a few quick goals and establish a secure lead.
But we lost.
And we lost the next game.
In hindsight, it was obvious what had happened. As we warmed up, we did so half-heartedly. We were undisciplined and as the whistle blew to start the game, we stood flat on our heels and more or less walked from pass to pass. The opposing team aggressively seized the opportunity and scored quickly. By the time we realized what had happened it was too late. Each sloppy mistake only increased our agitation and we couldn’t seem to put the ball on target. The game was already lost in the past week’s practice.
Our coach was right.
Sloppy practice means a sloppy game, but there is more than a mere secular lesson to be learned for the overconfident high-school athlete. The same principle applies to our spiritual condition, and I am deeply concerned that there is an extreme lack of discipline in the lives of too many Christians. Our theology is sloppy because our minds are sloppy, and a sloppy mind means a sloppy life. What’s worse is that we aren’t always aware that there’s a problem, or perhaps we can discern that something’s adrift, though we can’t figure out exactly what it is. We might be able to recognize that our lives–or maybe our churches–are in chaos, but we have no idea why. The issue is a matter of discipline.
Perhaps the greatest hindrance to contemporary spiritual vitality is the lack of discipline, and discipline is crucial to our spiritual growth. Discipline is what gives us the ability to focus, prioritize, and concentrate, all of which are necessary in Kingdom work. Unfortunately, many wrongly assume that they are disciplined, simply because they are busy. The problem is they are busy doing nothing, or at best, busy doing the wrong things. Like running on a treadmill, they consume huge amounts of energy but never get anywhere spiritually. Because they never get anywhere spiritually, their lives are never in order.
It’s a vicious cycle, but this is not the way the Christian life is supposed to be. We are called to be disciplined, and as Christians, in this we should be exemplary.
Discipline is a spiritual issue, but do not make the mistake of thinking that just because you work hard and don’t go on TV and video game binges that you are disciplined. Discipline is much more than that; it is the ability to say “no” to the flesh. It’s an inward reality that manifests itself in timeliness, organization, and even good theology! Very often, people’s lives are in complete chaos because their theology is sloppy. Their study of Scripture is haphazard and, as a result, they draw the wrong meaning or conclusion from a text and consequently make wrong applications or haphazard applications… or they miss the application all together.
In 1 Peter 1:13, Peter says, “prepare your minds for action.”
The word “prepare” literally means to “gird up” or “bind.” In other words, Peter makes an assumption that maintaining a disciplined mind requires effort, work, and preparation. It is not a passive activity, and we must bind up all the loose ends of our thinking. We must think tightly in order to live tightly, much like the steering column in your car. I remember years ago having an old beat-up pickup truck. It didn’t have power steering and there was a tremendous amount of play in the steering column. As a result, the truck was imprecise and unresponsive.
Our Christian living is much the same. If we have a lot of loose play in our minds because our minds are undisciplined, that will result in an imprecise theology. And if we have an imprecise theology, we will live in accordance with God’s Word imprecisely. Like Paul said in 1 Thess. 5:6, we are called to “be alert, and be sober.” We do not walk around in a haphazard, reckless stupor. We live precisely as we are steered by the truth of God’s Word.
As faithful Christians, consumed with the glory of God, we must put our graces and gifts in good order! We must maintain the best of all spiritual conditions in order to accomplish most for His kingdom.
A man in all other respects fitted to be useful, may by some small defect be exceedingly hindered, or even rendered utterly useless… Remember you are God’s sword, His instrument—I trust, a chosen vessel unto Him to bear His name. In great measure, according to the purity and perfection of the instrument, will be the success. – Charles Spurgeon