Sunday, May 13, 2007

Chosen Hardship

The greatest challenge for any person is self-control. Take any subject: work, study, prayer, personal health, time management, family relationships, etc., you name the area of concern and self-control is probably a key component of success or failure. Those who can “rein in” themselves, their appetites, their lust, their tendencies for idleness, will succeed. Those who fail in self-control are doomed to, at best, meritocracy, or, at worse, poverty.

I recognize that the issue of discipline/self-control is not a profound revelation. I’ve been reading the Proverbs all my life and often hear Solomon’s words of admonishment ringing in my ears -- “Take note of the ant, thou sluggard…” or “A little folding of the hands, a little slumber and your fields will grow over with weeds.” Coupled with the fact that I grew up in a family where “work” is defined as a physical activity, I can hardly sit down and read a book, write, study for future training without the feeling that I’m not worthy to eat. Though guilt should not be a motivator, the issue of self-control is still an issue that every person should give heed.

Mission mobilizer Paul Borthwhick defines discipline as chosen hardship. One chooses the hardship of not having a second helping of mashed potatoes, to turn off the computer and quit surfing the net, to get up early to study God’s Word, to keeping your mouth shut when you have a good piece of gossip or advice you’d like to pass on. The hardship one chooses varies, but it all falls under the category of discipline.

In the day we live, if one is not self-controlled they are probably a victim. In India one is a victim of dharma (born into the wrong caste determined by the works of a former life). In America the obese are victims of skewed thyroids, criminals are victims of a bad childhood, the divorced are victims of not being loved, the poor are victims of an unjust government system. To be sure there are social inequities, physiological and physical deficiencies, but, for the most part, the lack of self-control is the major culprit. The ant cannot make an appeal for his marginal insectness…it’s still a bug that, notwithstanding, must gather food for the winter. Insects instinctively are disciplined to work or they will die. It’s only the higher form of animal that must notice the lesser to gain lessons on the importance of chosen hardships.

The challenge for me, and I suspect anyone who takes time to read this blog, is identifying the discipline needed and then be active in that chosen hardship? It’s not always the upfront work is that is most needed, but usually the mundane tasks that determine success or failure. In the book, “The Shaping Of Things To Come,” the author’s write about the importance of the task before the task.

“If we think about fishing during Jesus’ time the key to successful fishing wasn’t in the technical details of tides and weather patterns, but in the strength of the nets. For this reason, Jesus’ fishing disciples spent most of their working day, not out on the lakes’ surface, but on shore, mending nets.”

Mending nets is a chosen hardship. So, too, may be sitting with your child or spouse and listening to their stories. Writing three hours a day, walking around the track for an hour, or trying to figure out a computer program. I often hear new missionaries talk about how they aren’t doing ministry yet, but are just learning language. I remind that language learning is ministry and it falls in the category of mending nets, which is the task before the task.

The chosen hardship is valid when it points to a goal, but the goal can be subtle and surely cannot be judged by others. Whatever our chosen hardships are, without discipline or self-control the goal will never be realized and most certainly the weeds of an undisciplined life will one day take over.