Discipline and Discipleship

Discipline is in the category of words that don’t necessarily sound great to (at least some of) us. It is one of those words like obedience or renunciation that, at first blush, make us worry we’re about to face some unpleasantness.

Although I can’t remember where I first came across this quote from Henri Nouwen, it is, I think one of the best things I’ve ever read that both defines discipline in a helpful way and helps explain why discipline is so important to the spiritual life. Nouwen writes:

Discipline is the other side of discipleship. Discipleship without discipline is like waiting to run in the marathon without ever practicing. Discipline without discipleship is like always practicing for the marathon but never participating. It is important, however, to realize that discipline in the spiritual life is not the same as discipline in sports. Discipline in sports is the concentrated effort to master the body so that it can obey the mind better. Discipline in the spiritual life is the concentrated effort to create the space and time where God can become our master and where we can respond freely to God’s guidance.

Thus, discipline is the creation of boundaries that keep time and space open for God. Solitude requires discipline, worship requires discipline, caring for others requires discipline. They all ask us to set apart a time and a place where God’s gracious presence can be acknowledged and responded to.

I read this quote and I think, if that’s discipline, I’ll take more of it. Actually, I suspect most of us can use more discipline.


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