Discipline or Desire?

woman doing sports outdoors
“I wish I had your discipline.”

Over the years I’ve heard that comment more times than I can count. Sometimes it comes after a speaking engagement, voiced by someone in my audience. Sometimes it comes from friends and acquaintances. I never seemed to have the right words to respond. I would usually shrug my shoulders, shake my head and sigh at their predicament.

One evening in 2009 I took a different approach when a friend bemoaned her lack of discipline in comparison with mine. I believe she trusted me, so in love I replied,

“Ok, I hear you, but what if I said to you, ‘You have so much discipline. It’s just incredible how you find time every single day to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner; you hardly ever miss. You are so disciplined.’ You would then say to me, ‘It’s not discipline—I’m hungry.’ Now, I will say to you, ‘Your problem is not a lack of discipline. Your problem is that you’re not hungry.’”

Sometimes the truth stings, but let’s not confuse a lack of discipline with a lack of desire.

People discipline themselves when they perceive the outcome to far exceed the effort. You turn on the news and watch people camping out at stores for days in order to buy the newest iPhone, $100 wedding dresses, or playoff tickets. When interviewed, their enthusiasm outweighs any sleep deprivation or inconvenience. They don’t think of it as discipline; they consider it a worthy trade-off. And what about hunters, fishermen, and nature enthusiasts whose pre-dawn thrills are part of their sport? An expected reward drives them.

Others deny themselves every nonessential purchase in order to save for an anniversary cruise or a house or graduate school. And what about the grapefruit and cottage cheese diet? (I don’t recommend it.) The prize in the distance spurs on the hopeful.

The flip side involves discipline to avoid a negative consequence. Waking up every two hours to give medicine to a sick infant, grueling physical therapy after a knee replacement, and studying for exams—all involve discipline.

Compare memorizing Scripture to a daily regimen of walking. My husband gets up early and walks 4 miles every morning. It’s not difficult, complicated or expensive, and there’s no athletic skill required. We’re all impressed with his routine but not because of his ability. We could all do this if we chose to. And that’s the point. We admire him because he chooses to exercise. Why does he do it? His desire exceeds his discipline. He chooses to discipline himself because of a greater desire—time alone with God and good health.

The apostle Paul exhorts his protégé Timothy, and all of us, to discipline ourselves for a higher purpose: “Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:7-8).

Do not look at me or someone else and wish you had their discipline. Instead, pray for an appetite so intense that any discipline will be worth it.

7 comments to Discipline or Desire?

  • sheila payne

    Excellent. I tried to email you and tell you I got my book that you suggested and to thank you. The email kept bouncing back. I just wanted you to know how much I appreciate that you thought of me and suggested it to me. I am reading it now. This really is an excellent , no excuses post today.

  • Susan Jakelsky

    Janet, I love this post, Great Thoughts! We all needed to hear this! Thanks Susan

  • Ginger

    Janet, Thank you for this insight! A great reminder for us to evaluate what we are hungry for. And to know our desire will result in discipline. We will always make time for what we hunger for.

  • Vickie

    I was listening to Kari Jobe on my morning worship walk/run, she sang “I need You, I can’t get enough of You, I come alive when I’m in Your presence, oh God of my salvation…” As I listened, I worshipped in agreement, thinking – that is how I feel. It is not how disciplined I am, it’s my heart craving more of Him; I’m needy for God and His Word. Besides, what discipline that is required to memorize is rewarded many times over with blessings that satisfy what my heart is hungry for. More of Him. Thank you Janet, for causing us to see discipline with that insight.

  • Glenda

    We all have the same amount of hours in the day: it’s a matter of prioritizing! You said it so well, it’s what we hunger for. Jeremiah 15:16 says “When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight…..” I pray to be hungry for HIS words.

  • Tony

    A friend of mine once said in a lecture he was giving, “nobody has ever done anything that they didn’t want to do.” So my response to “discipline or desire” is…hopefully, both. I am not anywhere near where you (probably plural) are in my memorization. Am presently working on Romans 8, (have it about half way.) I will say that memorizing large chunks (at least to me) is a difficult task, to say the least, but I am getting it, by doing it. I so agree with you, just how “hungry” are we? Will we finish the steak and have room for desert, or give up right after the salad? How badly do we want it.? Maybe, we need to be hungrier.

    • Tony, thanks for your input. Some days we are hungrier than others but I think consistency pays off in the long run. And it really doesn’t matter how long it takes to memorize a passage. The important thing is to think about God’s Word throughout the day, meditate on it, and enjoy the communion with God. That is a reward in itself. And it also keeps us coming back for more, like you said for the dessert.