Self-discipline is a skill that must be learned early. It is listed by Paul as one of the fruit that the Holy Spirit is trying to develop in our lives (Galatians 5:25-6). When self-discipline is underdeveloped it results in an entire host of social and psychological problems. Not only is a lack of self-discipline related to overt behavioral problems like sexual acting out and interpersonal violence, it also affects our cognitive and emotional worlds. When you are unable to control your impulses you find it difficult to delay gratification. At school children who cannot focus on the difficult tasks of reading, mathematic problem solving and studying for an examination will fail to make the grades that they are intellectually capable of attaining. Teenagers who pass through puberty and into adolescence will find it difficult to harness their sexual urges. Persons without self-discipline will find it impossible to control urges to buy things they do not need, or to resist the temptation to engage in behaviors that bring immediate pleasure but have significant social, moral or medical consequences later. Adults without self-control are prone to sexual misconduct, interpersonal conflict, financial stress, health issues and anxiety.
In the late 1960s and early 70s Stanford University psychologist Walter Mischel did some experiments on the capacity of children to delay gratification. His experiments have become classics in the study of human behavior. In his research a child was offered a choice of having a marshmallow immediately or, if they could wait, when the researcher returned they would receive TWO marshmallows. Watching the videos of how these children reacted while the researcher was out of the room is hilarious! You can see it on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QX_oy9614HQ I’m sure you would be able to identify with many of these children as they squirmed under the pressure of trying to delay their gratification! Some of them licking the marshmallow, sniffing it, touching it, ignoring it…but oh the joy of the little boy who waited till the end and when he got his reward stuffed BOTH marshmallows gleefully into his mouth!
But what is even more interesting, Michshel and his colleagues have found that those children who were able to delay their gratification, waiting for the better reward also tended to have better educational achievement, better body mass indices and generally better life outcomes. When the Holy Spirit urges us to postpone gratification He is not trying to punish us, He has a much better future in store for us. Psychologists are only discovering this now!
Practicing the spiritual disciplines, learning to wait, postponing gratification and teaching our children to do the same is not only financially, psychologically and educationally wise, it holds great reward in the Kingdom of God!
So, don’t eat those marshmallows!
…and don’t forget to take your own Discipleship Assessment!
Boko Haram, al Shabaab and ISIS are frightening new words that are being added to our political vocabulary. The vitriolic hatred of these radicals and the violence that they’ve perpetrated against Christians are revolting! A friend of mine has just returned from Egypt where the Coptic Christians are mourning the martyrdom of the 21 Libyan Christians after ISIS publicly beheaded them in February. This week, as our Holy Week draws to a climax, al Shabaab terrorists from Somalia crossed the border and killed 147 Christian students in northeast Kenya on Thursday.
Of course there are various ways to respond to such atrocities. The military option would be to send in drones armed with missiles and destroy their bases, if we could find them. The development option would be to preventatively work with the poorest of the poor in those regions and destroy poverty, hunger, disease and joblessness that render these people vulnerable to the lies of terrorist organizations. The economic option would be to cut off their economic ties with the rest of the world and to starve them of capital to fund their war of hatred. The legal option would be to indict them before the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
But what is our Christian option?
This sounds completely out of touch with reality! Jesus said, “Love your enemies”! Eugene Peterson has a gift for putting the Bible into very understandable, modern-day language. Here’s his translation of Matthew 5:43-48:
You’re familiar with the old written law, “Love your friend,” and its unwritten companion, “Hate your enemy.” I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves….If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that. In a word, what I’m saying is, GROW UP. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.
Responding to these terrorists in a Christian manner is where the discipleship rubber meets the road! I’m not suggesting that the other peaceful options to respond to these tragedies are not valid, but I have to admit it’s taking me a lot of effort to formulate an appropriate reaction to this commandment to love these enemies! So here are my attempts during this Easter Weekend to respond in the way that a kingdom subject is supposed to respond…and, I’ll readily admit, it’s HARD and I’m struggling with it!
“Lord, forgive these men for their atrocities, they really don’t know what they’re doing”
“Lord, don’t hold their ignorance and violence against them…”
“Lord, may the truth of your ways penetrate into their hearts so that they would turn from their violence and discover the Way of peace”
“Lord, (this one was the most difficult for me!) bless them. Don’t let the folly of their ways backfire onto them or onto their loved ones. Protect their wives, their children and their families from harm. May they find peace. May they flourish. May they discover the joys of your presence. May they prosper!
When two of my best friends had to flee from the violence in central Nigeria after their pastor friend was hacked to death in front of his family by Muslim extremists, this was (and still remains) the most difficult demand of discipleship for them! How do you pray God’s blessing on the people who publically mutilated your friend because he was a follower of Christ? How do you forgive those who despise and hate you? How do you LOVE these people???
This is what Easter is all about! Don’t hate. Don’t retaliate. Don’t hold it against them.
Discipleship is clearly not for sissies!