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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Discipline Matters

By Glen D. Cole
June 3, 2012

An interview with Raymond Berry, the NFL Hall of Famer who played for the Baltimore Colts from 1955 to 1967, appeared in the Jan. 27, 2002, Super Bowl Outreach Edition of this magazine. One of the questions asked, “Were there challenges in living a Christian life while you were in the NFL?” Berry’s response is a great introduction to the spiritual disciplines.

“I found the challenge in the Christian life was letting Jesus be Lord. As I began to study the New Testament, I began to see that man without God’s help is unable to live a life that pleases God. God sent Christ to the cross to pay for our sins and satisfy His justice. But His plan included giving us power to live a Christian life through the indwelling Christ. Christ really comes to live in the Christian. He gives the power to love people, to forgive people, to carry out God’s will and plan for us. It is power we don’t have. We are not designed to have the power in ourselves; we are designed to have Christ’s power in us and to submit and yield to Him. That’s a daily, step-by-step process.”

Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 4:7,8: “Exercise yourself toward godliness. For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things” (NKJV). Bodily grace and vigor were promoted in the Greek gymnasium. Paul was saying, “You as a Christian, Timothy, must exercise your soul as carefully, as regularly and as rigorously as the worldly Greeks exercise their bodies.”

Their motto = body culture.

Your motto = soul culture.

Their motto = physical exercise.

Your motto = spiritual exercise.

The objective here is simple. Keep your soul fit and develop it into godliness. The Message New Testament by Eugene Peterson renders 1 Timothy 4:7 this way: “Exercise daily in God — no spiritual flabbiness, please!” This passage by Paul to his young son in the faith highlights three things about spiritual discipline.

1. It is a personal matter — “exercise yourself ... take heed to yourself” (vv. 7,16, NKJV).

2. It is a profitable matter — “toward godliness” (v. 7) and “profitable for all things” (v. 8) and it is for the “life that now is” and for the life “which is to come” (v. 8).

3. It is a progressive matter — “exercise yourself toward godliness” (v. 7). Spiritual maturity is not achieved all at once. Peter encouraged us in his second letter to “grow in … grace” (2 Peter 3:18).

Now the big question: How is this to be done?

There are three disciplines that would go a long way to aid our spiritual development. There are others, obviously, but we will concentrate on these three.

Bible reading

It is food for the hungry soul. God speaks through the Bible. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Timothy 3:16). The statement in 2 Peter 1:21 further illustrates the power of this Book when the apostle says, “Holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” What does it do for us in our daily discipline?

1. It cleanses us. “How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your word” (Psalm 119:9).

2. It keeps us from sin. “Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You” (Psalm 119:11).

3. It creates faith. “These are written that you may believe” (John 20:31).

4. It becomes a weapon. “Take ... the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17).

A man once asked a woman how she could prove the Bible is the Word of God. The woman replied, “How can you prove there is a sun in the sky?” He said, “Because I can feel its heat and see its light.” She said to him, “It is the same with me. I know the Bible is true because it warms my soul and gives light to my pathway.”

Raymond Berry was also asked about the importance of the Word of God. His response was as follows.

“As a professional football player I had a rhythm of six months on the job and six months’ off-season. It gave me a tremendous opportunity for in-depth Scripture study. For the first five or six years that I was a Christian, I studied a lot of New Testament Scriptures. I wrote a lot of Scriptures out on index cards. I would take them with me in the car and review. I really wasn’t consciously memorizing them, but I was ingraining the Word of God into my mind and beginning to actually commit many of them to memory. Today when I study Scripture, I really like to write my studies down. I walk two or three miles several times a week, and I take those Scriptures with me while I’m walking and look at them and meditate on them. I have experienced the power of the Word of God.”

I know personally that Scripture I read and learned as a boy in Sunday School and Vacation Bible School still comes to my mind today. Entire passages can be quoted that were studied in the past that discipline the life and sanctify the soul. Are you reading the Word? Some have said, “God never speaks to me.” Oh, yes He does. Pick up His Word and read.


Edward Payson once said, “Prayer is the first thing, the second thing, the third thing necessary [to the life of a Christian]. Pray, then, my dear friend; pray, pray, pray.”

What did Jesus say? “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” (Matthew 7:7,8). Obviously, if a person is going to be a successful Christian, he must utilize the means that God has provided for the purpose. It is amazing what can be accomplished in a life that establishes the discipline of prayer.

George Mueller in his youth sought daily gratification in a wine cup or at a dance. He later gave himself to God and, in a lifetime of prayer and faith, raised an estimated $7.5 million for orphanages and missions — without asking for it.

I love the story of Charles G. Finney, the prince of evangelists. The preaching of this powerful man of God literally changed whole communities. What is little known is the fact that a man by the name of Father Nash followed Finney to every meeting. He would seek a quiet place in the woods or some secluded spot and there wrestle with God for souls while Finney preached.

You might ask, “What is prayer?” My answer would be simply, “Talking to God.” This would include thanking God for what He has done. It would include worship, honoring God for who He is. It would include confession, seeking forgiveness for sin. It would include petition, the “asking” part of prayer. It would include supplication, a plea for immediate help. “He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him and honor him” (Psalm 91:15). And, it would include intercession, praying for others.

When I was pastoring in Olympia, Wash., years ago, my senior associate, Al Hulten, was stricken with a severe virus. When I arrived at the hospital, the doctor would only give me 30 seconds with my fellow worker due to his grave condition. I pleaded with God for divine intervention. That night was midweek service. As we gathered in the sanctuary, I led the people in a time of intercessory prayer.

After about an hour of agonizing and heartfelt prayer, I knew we had touched God on behalf of our staff member. It was in that hour that God broke that virus and Pastor Al began healing. He went on to serve as a successful pastor in the Spokane, Wash., area.

One of the great keys to prayer is faith. Another important ingredient to prayer is to always pray in God’s will. “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). For example, you would not pray for God to open the door for you to marry someone else’s spouse.

The final key on this discipline is that of praying in Jesus’ name. Here is the promise from God’s Word. “Whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you” (John 16:23). One suggested discipline of prayer is to spend five minutes in praise and worship, five minutes in requests and five minutes listening. Prayer is not a substitute for working, thinking, watching, suffering or giving; prayer is a support for all other efforts.

Taming the tongue

“An unusual discipline,” you may say. However, it is one of the major tests of spiritual maturity. God gave to man the power of speech. It should be a tool for building, but often becomes a tool for destruction.

In Proverbs 6:16-19, God lists seven things that He “hates.” Three of them are about the use of the tongue. He hates “a lying tongue” (v. 17), “a false witness who speaks lies” (v. 19), and “one who sows discord among brethren” (v. 19).

Other passages in Proverbs speak eloquently to this subject.

Proverbs 13:3 paints the picture of the double use of the tongue. “He who guards his mouth preserves his life, but he who opens wide his lips shall have destruction.”

And in Proverbs 18:21, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.”

Perhaps the most powerful verse on the discipline of using the tongue is from the pen of James. He noted for those early followers of Jesus, “If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless” (James 1:26).

The Japanese have a proverb that says, “A tongue 3 inches long can kill a man 6 feet tall.”

Konrad Adenauer, the great statesman, once said: “Sometimes I doubt whether there is divine justice. All parts of the human body get tired eventually — except the tongue. And I feel this is unjust.”

When examining the instruction of James in his powerful New Testament book, there are three obvious possibilities for the tongue.

First, there is the power to direct. “We put bits in horses’ mouths that they may obey us, and we turn their whole body” (James 3:3). A word can direct a person into the wrong path, into a life of destruction. Or, a word can lift someone out of the pit. The horse with the bit needs someone to guide it. If you have the Lord in your life, this should be totally understood.

James then points out that a very large ship is controlled by a comparatively small rudder, yet the fate of the whole ship depends on it (James 3:4). What a great influence exercised by so small a thing.

Second, there is the power to destroy. James 3:5,6 reminds us that “the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity.” Many thousands of acres of timber are lost because of careless campers or smokers in our forests.

Think of what an undisciplined tongue can do in a church, in a family, in our relationships one with another. In fact, in 2 Timothy 3:3, where the list of evils in the end times is found, “slanderers” or “gossipers” is listed among the most rebellious and destructive sins.

Third, there is the power to delight. James does not end this discourse without pointing out the blessing of the tongue when disciplined. “With it we bless our God and Father. … Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing” (James 3:9,10).

The passage shows the tongue’s capability of praising the Eternal, or of abuse toward men. It can be loud in praises to God and equally ready to pour hot words upon those around us. The tongue can be a fountain to produce both fresh water and salt water. How amazing. Now you understand why this matter of the use of the tongue is in this list of disciplines. Read the Word. Talk to God. And discipline the tongue.

I want to encourage all of us to take seriously the admonition of Paul: “Exercise yourself rather to godliness. For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things.” May each of us discover anew the value of practicing spiritual disciplines.

GLEN D. COLE, Assemblies of God pastor, district superintendent and executive presbyter, entered the Lord’s presence Feb. 14. This article originally appeared in the June 23, 2002, Pentecostal Evangel.

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