Optional page text here. The Beast's Lair: Commitment and Discipline

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Commitment and Discipline

A commitment without discipline is worthless.

I have been working with teenagers in the local church for 10 years. During that time I have prayed with countless teenagers who have made strong commitments for Christ in various ways; some commit to sharing their faith, some commit to a changed attitude, some commit to simply being faithful in church attendance. Most nights when my head hits the pillow, I wonder what part I had to play in most of those commitments falling woefully short. It is the great struggle of youth ministry - teenagers who get pumped up, make incredible statements of commitment, and go right back to their old ways in a matter of days or weeks.

Of course, this frustrating cycle is not unique to youth ministry. It affects us all. I would be over the edge of hypocrisy if I failed to mentioned how many times I have discussed with Andi a commitment I was making in my spiritual life only to find it long forgotten within a few weeks.

Just a few weeks ago the teenagers and I returned from Mission Fuge, a week long missions camp experience. As far as camps go, M-Fuge is among the best. It combines the traditional elements of a camp experience with daily service tracks in the host city and dynamic worship in the evening. I have yet to take a group to Mission Fuge where by the end of the week many students were making strong commitments to God. I am thankful for those times of renewed passion for God and His ministry. However, most of those same commitments soon disappear in the business of school starting, the influence of friends, and the fading emotionalism that accompanies a camp experience. Emotionalism, or "camp highs," is one reason why I tend to avoid an excessive amount of conference and camp trips. I am fully aware that emotion is a vital part of our faith. Our good friend Jonathan Edwards reminds us of that fact as he found himself defending the Great Awakening from those who considered it to be emotional nonsense. Still, when we gage our spiritual life and make our commitments based solely on a foundation of emotion, then we are destined to fail.

The question I raise to my students every once and a while is this: Instead of gaging your commitment to Christ on the last day of M-Fuge, ask yourself how you are doing on a Thursday afternoon around 4:00 pm when nothing major is happening and life is just rolling along. Are you being disciplined? Have you talked with God that day? Is Scripture a part of your life that day?

The simple truth is that most of us leap frog in our spiritual life from one major event or commitment to another without giving too much thought to the day in and day out work of running the race. The only lasting way to firmly root our commitments to God is by becoming disciplined in our walk with Him. Dr. Donald Whitney in his book "The Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life" observes that "I've never known a man or woman who came to spiritual maturity except through discipline. Godliness comes through discipline." The longer I serve in the local church, the more I understand where he is coming from. We need to replace the anxious awaiting of the next great revival preacher with the daily struggle to be a disciplined people.

In Robert De Niro's directorial debut "A Bronx Tale," the story describes a boy named Calogero who has two influential men in his life; his father, named Lorenzo played by De Niro, and a mob boss named Sonny played by Chazz Palminteri. In one particular scene when Lorenzo forbids his son from hanging around Sonny, Calogero protests by telling his dad that Sonny has it all figured out and that the working man is a "sucker." Calogero is impressed that Sonny just snaps his fingers and things get done. Lorenzo grabs his son and explains that the real heroes in life are not the ones who have the fame or the power but are instead the ones who work hard, take care of their family, and do what is right. Calogero doesn't completely understand but knows his dad is on to something.

The reason a disciplined spiritual life is so difficult for adults and all but a losing battle for teenagers is that we are Calogero. We know there is something important about this day in and day out discipline, but we are more impressed with a quick, noticeable "high" that takes us to a spiritual peak and has us rededicating our lives to God once again. Maybe we should become impressed with the hard working Christians who are disciplining themselves. Maybe we should become amazed that God has given us His Word to read and study. Maybe we should pay attention to our pastor who has been faithfully saying the same thing that great revival preacher said. Maybe we should be living for God.

That's my commitment.


Blogger Barry said...

Well said, Phil. I remember experiencing several of those "camp highs" myself when I was a kid (I think I even, in my exuberance, declared my love for my lovely young Youth Minister in the throes of an emotional high - she didn't quite understand what I meant, I hope).

August 22, 2008 12:58 PM  

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