Week of Monday, September 18 – Sunday, September 24
Discipline – Man as Provider

"Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified." - 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 ESV

Every summer I enjoy going to Alaska to fish on the Kenai River with my brother, sons, and now grandsons. In chapter 4 of Man to Man, I recall a time sitting around the campfire with my sons a few years back after a great day of catching salmon.  At some point the conversation shifted to the U.S. Army Ranger School, one of the toughest and most demanding courses in the military. My son completed the course over 25 years ago, at that time it was 25 years after I graduated from the same course. Aaron was in a class that started with over 220 but only graduated about 48. The weather was miserable during their training, with heavy snow in the mountain phase and cold rain and winds in the other phases. Most of those who failed simply quit. They were not disciplined to handle the conditions they encountered on what was already a difficult course. 

While I was complementing Aaron for completing that especially challenging course, he looked at me in the firelight and asked, “Dad, do you know why I made it?” I replied: “Well, yeah. You’re a tough guy.” He smiled and began to explain what he was leading up to: “You remember all those mornings when you got me out of bed at 5 AM, took me out into the woods, and put me in a tree stand where I sat all day hoping a deer would come by? Boy was it chilly! Or how about when you took me to a duck blind where my feet would nearly freeze? And there were those hikes of several days on the Appalachian Trail when you made Randy and me carry what seemed like incredibly heavy rucksacks?”

I acknowledged that I remembered with a nod and may have mumbled, “Sorry, son.” But then Aaron gave me the punch line: “Dad, I made it through Ranger School because I knew I could! I endured hardship before. Most of these guys had never been challenged and they were just not mentally tough enough to keep going when things got miserable.” Obviously, I am proud that my son learned how to discipline his body and mind through those early life experiences and followed in my footsteps as a Ranger.

Speaking of a man who was disciplined, mentally tough, and competitive - that was the Apostle Paul. Like most of us guys, Paul loved sports. So did the Corinthians, since they hosted the Isthmian Games, second only to the Olympics. Here in these verses, Paul basically gives us a view from the training room as to his spiritual, mental and physical preparation before competing to win. Like an athlete training for a race, he tells us in v 25 that he denied himself, honed himself until he became a “lean, mean machine,” and pushed himself to the limit. All of this was with a goal in mind: to be successful in his mission to reach people for Christ and plant more churches. Paul had his eyes on the prize!

In fact, he was not only disciplined, he also refused to be distracted. He said in v 26: “So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air.” In other words, “I don’t run around like a chicken with my head cut off, I make a beeline to the finish line.”  He adds, “I don't shadowbox.  I punch the enemy in the jaw.” I’ve got a target and refuse to be distracted.  Then he gets back to discipline in v 27: “But I discipline my body and keep it under control.”  Literally that Greek word for discipline means: "I hit under the eye.” In other words, “I beat or pummel my body and make it a slave." He’s not being literal here. He’s talking about being disciplined.

Just as it was for Paul, it will take every bit of self-denial, laying aside all distractions, and focused discipline God can help us muster if we are going to advance God’s kingdom. See Paul’s point? He is simply saying to us that we ought to have that same kind of spiritual, mental, and physical intensity in following the Lord Jesus as an athlete who is competing to win. Consequently, Paul is providing an example for us and we need to provide an example for others under our charge that it takes serious discipline to overcome challenges, excel in the faith and advance God’s kingdom.

What kind of training can you do to get and stay spiritually, mentally and physically fit?
- What kind of example of disciplined intensity in following Christ are you providing those in your charge?
- Ask God to help you with your discipline and to provide that needed example for your family and friends.