I love writing. Yet as much as I love it, I get picky about the process. Everything must be just right: right mood, right circumstance, right idea. If it doesn’t feel exactly right, I get distracted and let my mind wander. The truth is, unless I have a deadline (real not imagined), I will find half a dozen other things to distract myself with. Though I love writing and telling stories, I have trouble finishing anything longer than a sermon, a short article, or a very short story. I have often wondered why this is. I would guess it is a fear of winding up in the bargain bin with other authors whose stories didn’t strike a chord.
Enter NaNoWriMo. Nana what?
NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. The organization behind it is a non-profit organization that has nearly eight hundred thousand participants who have finished nearly four hundred thousand novels. Mind you they don’t all get published, but more than half get finished. The idea is that you should just get the story down on paper. Don’t edit, don’t plan, don’t worry about all the minute little details.
So, Last November 1st, I sat down and joined thousands of people across the US and the world by starting a story. I managed a couple of chapters over the course of a few weeks but never really got that far with it. I couldn’t let go of the idea that I needed to edit everything or plan the story or any of several excuses¾and they were excuses.
My friend Stoney does NaNoWriMo, too. So, far this year, in just the first three days, Stoney has around five percent of his book finished. I imagine once he gets to this weekend, Stoney will have close to fifteen or twenty percent finished. He gets up an hour earlier than usual, which as a schoolteacher, that means around five or five thirty, and writes as much as he can before getting ready. During the summer, he uses whatever free time he can find to write while still spending time with his wife and family. The result: four novels, two books of short stories, and more than a few short story contributions to various anthologies.
The difference: Stoney is disciplined, I am not. He wills himself to put words on the page and edit them. He struggles through the times when he can’t get the plot to follow right or can’t get a character to develop the way he wants to. I go get a cup of coffee and read someone else’s work for ‘inspiration.’ That willingness to work, to struggle through the difficulty, is the difference between succeeding and failing at writing or for that matter anything else we do in life.
If you happen to look the word discipline up in the dictionary, you get a definition like, “the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behavior” or “activity that provides mental or physical training.” You also get things like, “a branch of knowledge, typically one studied in higher education.” In the Bible, the word for discipline often speaks of punishment, especially in the Old Testament¾but it also talks about the idea of discipline as “mastering or exercising control.”
In the beginning of our passage this morning, the writer of 2 Peter says, “make every effort to respond to God’s promises.” This could also be said as “do everything you can” or “trying as hard as possible.” The writer goes on to talk about the development of certain character traits that allow us to make this effort: faith, moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, endurance, godliness, brotherly affection, and finally, love. The self-control in our passage is translated in other places as discipline in the Bible, though they come from the same Greek word.
When we talk about discipline, biblical discipline, what are we talking about? We are talking about being able to make the conscious decision to do something and stick with it. Practically every verse in the Bible that references discipline as being a matter of self-control talks about the idea of mastering your emotions in order to do what needs to be done.
Discipline is not something God wants from us but for us. It is something that God knows will help us to better live into the Way of Jesus. Verse 8 of 2 Peter 1 says, “The more you grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
But discipline is more than that. The disciplines, as in the spiritual disciplines, are a way for us to encounter and help others to encounter God. John Wesley referred to them as means of grace or ways that God shared grace with us. John Wesley wrote in his sermon Means of Grace,
By “means of grace” I understand outward signs, words, or actions, ordained of God, and appointed for this end, to be the ordinary channels whereby he might convey to men, preventing, justifying, or sanctifying grace.
Wesley went on from there to say that the means of grace were things like “prayer, whether in secret or with the great congregation; searching the Scriptures; (which implies reading, hearing, and meditating thereon;) and receiving the Lord’s Supper…” In the United Methodist Church we follow the example of Wesley and look at these means or disciplines as works of piety and works of mercy.
Works of Piety
Individual Practices – reading, meditating and studying the scriptures, prayer, fasting, regularly attending worship, healthy living, and sharing our faith with others.
Communal Practices – regularly share in the sacraments, Christian conferencing (accountability to one another), and Bible study.
Works of Mercy
Individual Practices – doing good works, visiting the sick, visiting those in prison, feeding the hungry, and giving generously to the needs of others.
Communal Practices – seeking justice, ending oppression and discrimination (for instance Wesley challenged Methodists to end slavery), and addressing the needs of the poor.
Whether we are speaking of developing personal discipline (the ability to master or exercising control over ourselves) or the spiritual disciplines (the actions that we do when exercising this self-control), we are called as followers of Jesus to live into both.
So, how do you live into these things?
Perkins, P. (2012). First and Second Peter, James, and Jude: Interpretation, A Bible Commentary for Preaching and Teaching. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.
Wright, N. (2011). The Early Christian Letters: James, Peter, John, and Judah. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.