By Dr. Harold Sala

I can do all things through him who strengthens me.  Philippians 4:13

Robert E. Lee was the greatest general to take command on either side of the terrible Civil War that divided Americans against each other and took the lives of more than a half-million men. He was also a godly man who was equally respected and esteemed by both his troops and his enemies. After the war, General Lee was approached by a young mother who held a baby in her arms and asked the silver-haired, self-effacing general what advice he had for the child. Pausing for a moment, he replied, “Teach him to deny himself!”

Lee, of course, understood the importance of discipline in the military. A century before Lee, General George Washington said, “Discipline is the soul of an army. It makes small numbers formidable; procures success to the weak, and esteem to all.” (“Letters of Instruction to the Virginia Regiments, 29 July 1759, as quoted by George Sweeting, Who Said That?, p.163).

Discipline in the military is one thing, but is it equally important in other areas of life?  The reality is that no one stumbles across success. The golf pro drives 1000 balls a day before he learns to hit the ball 300 yards down the middle of the fairway time after time. The violinist who walks out on center stage and plays “The Flight of the Bumblebee” perfectly does so because of the thousands of hours of tireless practice.  The scientist who is recognized by receiving a Nobel Prize in his field didn’t happen to stumble across the winning formula. He has spent years, day after day, hour after hour, pursuing his goal, often working long hours with low pay, not yielding to discouragement when he was tempted to quit and pursue something less difficult.

The reality is that nobody really succeeds in any endeavor who has not learned to discipline himself.  People who reach the top have the discipline not only to get up in the morning and work late at night but also to keep their mouths shut instead of giving their colleagues a “piece of their mind” when they don’t like something.  They have learned the discipline to save money, time, and energy instead of seeing it dribble through their fingers. They have the discipline to push back from the table instead of having another piece of pie or another helping of the lobster bisque. They master their moods, they restrain their actions, they stick to their schedules, they learn when to say no and when to say yes.

Question: What drives people and teaches them discipline? In the military it is fear of the consequences—a stay in the brig is motivation to say, “Yes, sir!” and get moving. In your doctor’s office, hearing the words, “If you want to see your grandchildren grow up, you had better stop smoking and eat a fat-free diet” is motivation for change.

Greed can do the same thing for you. I’ve been amazed, at times, how undisciplined young men and women, motivated by the riches that will be theirs if they can write that computer program which Microsoft will buy, will work long, long hours, ordering in fast foods and consuming gallons of caffeine-laden beverages. These were the same “sleep to noon” and play in the afternoon kids who loafed through college.

There’s another factor that produces discipline—the pursuit of what you feel God wants you to do. Paul was disciplined. He said, “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14, NIV).

How do you learn discipline in an undisciplined world?  That’s the topic on our next edition of Guidelines.

Resource reading: Philippians 3