“If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into Gehenna.” – Matthew 5:29-30
This past spring, I was in a women’s bible study at my church. At the end of every meeting we would go around and share our prayer intentions. In early February, something interesting happened: prayers for discipline skyrocketed.
At first it was just one woman, but as the weeks went on, the desire for discipline became much more popular. At one point, at least half of our group was asking for prayers for discipline (including me).
I wanted more discipline in my prayer life – the fortitude to reach for my bible before my phone in the morning. The proactivity to pray a rosary before 10:45pm so I could actually go to sleep on time. The responsibility to be early to mass and adoration and bible study instead of running in at the buzzer, frazzled.
The desire for discipline became even more apparent during weekly calls I have with good friends, calls that typically end with us sharing our prayer intentions with one another. All of the sudden, and in a completely unrelated manner, the intention of discipline moved to the top of all of their lists. Soon I was praying for more than 12 people in my small circle of friends to have more discipline.
What is it about discipline that makes it so alluring, yet so elusive?
We can start by looking at a close cousin of the word: disciple. A disciple is a “pupil, student, follower.” We strive to be good disciples of Christ – and how are we to do that? We become good disciples of Christ when we receive His word with surrender, when we desire His will, and when we let Him teach us. The word “discipline,” therefore, was originally defined as “learning, receiving instruction and training.” The key word here: receiving.
Today, the word discipline has been distorted to mean something so different. Instead of “receiving” instruction and being cultivated by grace, discipline today is far more akin to “grasping.” To be disciplined today is to have a strict routine; to check things off the list and stay accountable to rigid rules and parameters that are too often set in a haphazard and frantic way.
When we grasp, we are relying on our own willpower to get what we want. When we receive, we are asking the Lord for the grace only He provides.
Digging into this desire for discipline reveals that so often what we actually want is the grace to pursue what we know to be true, good, and beautiful. Our weak wills are no match for the distractions and busyness of life. In praying for discipline, are we praying for the grace to desire to the good, or are we grasping for more control of our own willpower? When we come back, week after week after week, praying for discipline – could it be that there’s something else going on?
For me, my desire for discipline came from a place of pride. If I was more disciplined, I could do more and do it better. But, as I’ve learned, again and again, I can’t do it all. I definitely cannot do it all by sheer willpower. It’s God Himself who gives us the grace to fast, the grace to be obedient, and the desire for prayer and intimacy with Him. My efforts for discipline failed not because of God, but because my desire for self-sufficiency trumped my surrender to God’s will.
So yes, we should pray for discipline, but we should also pray for God’s grace. We should beg Him to increase our desire for prayer. We should implore Him to open our hearts to the scriptures so that we thirst for His word. We should ask for intimacy with the Holy Spirit in our daily lives. When we invite Jesus into our disciplines, we are able to humble ourselves and truly be what He wants of us: “students, followers,” – disciples.
He doesn’t want us to do everything. But He does want us to keep first things first. Each of us are different, and He calls each of us closer in a vast array of ways. Let’s go to Him and ask Him how He desires for us to be disciplined. We may be surprised by the ways in which He wants intimacy with us.
Pray for discipline. Pray for humility. And pray for the grace to receive His promptings and redirections with joy. He is a good, good teacher. Let us be good, good students.
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Jane Kennedy lives in Washington, DC. She is a graduate of UC Santa Barbara and works in criminal justice reform. When she’s not working or writing, she’s probably catching up with friends on FaceTime, getting lost in Rock Creek Park, quoting C.S. Lewis, or trying to recreate Salt and Straw ice cream at home.