By Erik Reed
I served as a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division. My time in the Army was incredible. If the Lord hadn’t changed my plans, I’d still be in it today (and near retiring).
One thing the military instilled in me was discipline. Everything in the military revolves around discipline. When I was a young man, I didn’t grasp discipline’s importance. It seemed arbitrary.
But as I’ve grown older, and hopefully wiser, the value of discipline has become clear: discipline brings freedom.
Basic training disciplines you in the ways of being a soldier. They teach you to respect authority and follow commands. They train you on weapons, tactics, navigation, and army decorum. You don’t learn everything there is to know in basic training, but it prepares you for being a soldier and going to a unit.
After basic training, I went to Airborne School which meant more discipline. The purpose of discipline was to learn how to properly don your parachute, exit the airplane, and land on the ground. A lack of discipline in any of the aspects of airborne operations could cost you your life or the lives of others.
One of the crucial lessons I learned in the Army was the more disciplined you were, the more freedom you had. Your preparation gave you the freedom to make decisions and adjustments when things didn’t go according to plan.
Discipline Begets Freedom
Discipline is not always comfortable, but it produces freedom. This is also true for pastors and ministry leaders. I’ve pastored for thirteen years and have learned the more disciplined I am in my life, schedule, and work, the more freedom I have.
My productivity and fruitfulness skyrocket when I’m disciplined, which reminds me of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27:
“Don’t you know that the runners in a stadium all race, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way to win the prize. Now everyone who competes exercises self-control in everything. They do it to receive a perishable crown, but we an imperishable crown. So I do not run like one who runs aimlessly or box like one beating the air. Instead, I discipline my body and bring it under strict control, so that after preaching to others, I myself will not be disqualified.”
Paul uses the common knowledge his readers had about athletic competitions of their day. He talked about competitive runners who run to win a prize.
Their prize? A perishable crown. A wreath. The Christian’s prize? An imperishable crown. And we should run to win.
Paul is so determined to win the race and finish well, he disciplines his body, bringing it under strict control. He doesn’t run aimlessly. There’s no chance he’ll waste his time.
He disciplines himself to be effective. Discipline keeps him running the race so he doesn’t disqualify himself. Paul finds the freedom to run the race through discipline.
Paul wasn’t alone. Christian leaders, we need to discipline our bodies as well. We need to find freedom through discipline. There are three major health benefits in our lives when we discipline ourselves.
1. Physical health
Physical discipline is important. If our bodies are healthy, we can be more productive. Fatigue that stems from an unhealthy diet impedes on productivity.
Discipline is hard. But pastors, we don’t gut things out from our own strength and flesh. We have the Holy Spirit. Ask Him to supply power to help you with discipline in your life.
Put your diet and eating habits before the Lord and ask if these things are honoring to Him and helping you be physically healthy. You need not adopt a peanuts and broccoli only diet. But it would help not to eat like a four-year-old every meal.
Consider your exercise habits. Do something every day. Go for a walk or run. Do pushups. Take care of your body.
There are many people incapable of exercising—like my son—because of major health issues. But unless that’s you, take care of your body.
Go to sleep at a consistent hour and wake up early. Get up, start your day, and glorify God with your life. There’s work to do.
2. Spiritual health
Our physical health is important. It contributes to our spiritual health. If you don’t eat healthy, exercise, or get up early, how will you resist lustful thoughts or other temptations to sin?
The more we incorporate discipline into our lives, the more we’ll see fruit in our spiritual lives. It takes discipline to fight sin.
Through the power of the Holy Spirit, you must deny the fleshly desires that daily emerge in life. It takes discipline to take every thought captive and to not look at inappropriate images.
James 4:8 has a command and a promise. “Draw near to God.” That’s the command. “And he will draw near to you.” There’s the promise.
If we draw near to God through reading the Scriptures, prayer, and fasting, He will draw near to us. That’s spiritual health.
3. Leadership health
Pastors are leaders. We don’t emphasize this enough. Yes, we feed the sheep, but we lead the sheep also.
Leadership is an inescapable facet of pastoring. And disciplined leaders are the best leaders. When we discipline ourselves as Paul described above, it has a positive impact on our leadership.
- Use time wisely
- Get the right work accomplished
- Stay humble and confident
- Want to see team members thrive
- Create appropriate boundaries
- Take responsibility and ownership
- Communicate effectively
The list isn’t exhaustive, but it’s a sampling of traits that describe a healthy leader. Healthy leaders are rare, and disciplined leaders are the healthiest leaders.
A paradox about discipline is that it appears—at first glance—to restrict or restrain, and it does. But freedom comes through discipline. It empowers you. The lack of discipline is not freedom; it’s slavery.
We must join Paul and not run aimlessly or beat the air. Let’s discipline our bodies and bring them under strict control so we stay qualified for the race. We run for a prize that never perishes or fades. Let’s run to win.
Erik Reed is the lead pastor of The Journey Church in Lebanon, TN. He also founded Knowing Jesus Ministries, a non-profit organization that exists to proclaim timeless truth for everyday life. He is married to Katrina and has three children: Kaleb (who went to be with the Lord), Kaleigh Grace, and Kyra Piper. Click here to sign up for Erik’s pastor and ministry leader newsletter.