You don’t hear much about discipline these days. Most people only want to talk about what’s fun and what feels good.
But discipline is critical for ministry leadership. To be effective in serving Jesus, we need to learn to master our moods, watch our words, restrain our reactions, stick to a schedule, manage our money, and maintain our health.
Successful leaders are often people who will do things that unsuccessful people are unwilling to do.
So how do you develop the habit of discipline in your life?
- Admit your lack of discipline.
Even Paul, who was incredibly disciplined, struggled at times. But when he did struggle, the Bible says he admitted it: “I do not understand what I do; for I don’t do what I would like to do, but instead I do what I hate. … For even though the desire to do good is in me, I am not able to do it” (Romans 7:15-18 GNT).
Paul couldn’t rationalize his lack of discipline. He recognized his willpower wasn’t enough. No quick fixes were around the corner.
Like Paul, we must admit we need help if we want to be more disciplined.
- Believe God will help you.
You need to stop saying you can’t change. Faith is critical in learning self-control, so trust that God can help, no matter how many times you’ve failed in the past.
The Bible tells us God can and will do what you can’t do: “God is working in you to make you willing and able to obey him” (Philippians 2:13 CEV).
We always act according to our beliefs. Our convictions control our conduct. Instead of working on the symptoms (the actions), focus on changing how you think. Believe that God will help.
- Claim a promise from God’s Word.
Eliminate the negative (the belief that you can’t do it) and claim the positive (a promise from God’s Word). We move toward the things we focus on.
If someone puts a plate of freshly baked cookies in front of you, just saying, “I’m not going to eat one,” won’t help. Instead, focus on what you want to do: “I will eat the salad instead!” In the same way, you need to get your mind off what you’re not doing and on to what you should be doing.
Consider starting with one of these verses:
- “Don’t be afraid. I am with you. Don’t tremble with fear. I am your God. I will make you strong, as I protect you with my arm and give you victories” (Isaiah 41:10 CEV).
- “God’s Spirit doesn’t make cowards out of us. The Spirit gives us power, love, and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7 CEV).
- “Christ gives me the strength to face anything” (Philippians 4:13 CEV).
God’s Word is absolutely true. Get truth into your mind, and it will set you free.
- Decide in advance.
Self-control is a choice you must make in advance. Ephesians 6:13 says, “So put on God’s armor now! Then when the evil day comes, you will be able to resist the enemy’s attacks; and after fighting to the end, you will still hold your ground” (Ephesians 6:13 GNT). The time to put on armor isn’t when the battle starts—it’s long before. Commit to making the right choice before temptation strikes.
You likely already understand this concept if you’ve ever tried to develop a morning exercise routine. Every morning when you get out of bed, your body will say to you, “You don’t need to exercise today. You don’t feel well. You stayed up late last night. You’re busy. People are waiting on you.” You find aches and pains you didn’t even know you had. That’s why you make the decision to exercise the night before.
The same is true when you are struggling with self-control. Make the decision ahead of time to be disciplined.
- Enlist some support.
You need someone who can encourage you and check up on you. We don’t always like accountability, but we need it. The Bible tells us, “Two are better off than one, because together they can work more effectively. If one of them falls down, the other can help him up. . . . Two people can resist an attack that would defeat one person alone” (Ecclesiastes 4:9–12 GNT).
Pastor, you need support to build self-discipline into your life. You need accountability just as much as your congregation does. Find another pastor or a retired pastor who can ask you tough questions and pray for you regularly.
- Focus on the reward.
Hebrews 11:24-26 tells us Moses focused on the reward as he endured tough choices. As second in command of one of the wealthiest, most famous empires in the world in that day, Moses gave up much to follow God’s call on his life. Why was he able to do that?
“When Moses grew up, faith led him to refuse to be known as a son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to suffer with God’s people rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a little while. He thought that being insulted for Christ would be better than having the treasures of Egypt. He was looking ahead to his reward” (Hebrews 11:24-26 GW).
Sin is fun for a short period of time. Whatever discipline you’re trying to develop in your life, you’re either trying to stop doing something you find enjoyable or do something you don’t find enjoyable. You can do that by focusing on the reward in the future.
Pastor, you can learn to be more disciplined—no matter what personality you have. As you develop a more disciplined approach to life, you’ll impact not only your life for years to come but also the lives of the people you lead.