Seventeen pounds!! I couldn’t believe it when I stood on the scales. I’m up seventeen pounds since last summer. I shake the scales and try again, this time I’ve gained a little over seventeen pounds. I take off my socks and try again—nothing. I thought, as you grow older your weight gain is about a pound a year, not seventeen!

What happened? The short answer is we had a terrible winter weather wise and I couldn’t get out and exercise as much as I needed. But, the truth of the matter is I ate more than I burned off, and now standing on the scales I realize I ate a lot more.

In the back of my mind I had wondered why my clothes were fitting much tighter than last summer but I just chalked it up to the new washing machine. It was shrinking my clothes while miraculously leaving Ruth’s clothes alone. Now I’m not so sure.

Now I have to start dieting and exercising and in order to do that I have to develop, yes wait for it, discipline.  As a verb the dictionary states discipline is “to make yourself do something regularly.” That’s a problem for me because I am not use to making myself do things consistently and on a regular basis. I’ll be talking to someone and then in the middle of the sentence I’ll change the subject and go off in a totally new direction. By the way, that’s not recommended if you want to keep friends, your wife happy or preach a sermon.

The Christian life, however, is based upon discipline. The whole idea of discipleship is based on being a fully dedicated follower of Christ. That doesn’t happen by wishing or by chance. It takes discipline. Our spiritual journey is not a one-time event that centers on our acceptance of Christ and baptism. Our spiritual journey is just that, a journey. And in order for that journey to be successful we need discipline.

Remember, Jesus told a parable about seeds. “As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he does not root in himself, but endures for a while and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away.” Matthew 13:20, 21

We all know people like this. They hear the good news of salvation and immediately fall in love with Jesus. They are filled with joy and run all over the place sharing their newfound faith with friends and anyone else who will listen. But that joy can only carry them so far if it isn’t being renewed through reading the Bible, prayer, fellowship and being open to the guidance and leading of the Holy Spirit. Without kindling, a fire is difficult to start. And without the Word of God planted firmly in the heart, it is hard to keep revival in our life flowing.

When trouble and persecution comes along, without a deep relationship with Jesus we will drift away and give up. Notice Jesus says these people, “immediately fall away,” they leave with the same intensity that they once accepted Jesus, “immediately receives it with joy.” These brothers and sisters in Christ allow experience to rule at the expense of discipline. They believe their emotions and feelings will carry them through rough times but when rough times come they quickly turn away.

The Christian life is discipline. If we are going to grow our spiritual life has to be based on more than a feel good philosophy of Christianity. We need to dig deep into the Bible to discover the wonders of grace, love, salvation, hope and assurance. It takes building habits to pray and study the Bible. At first it may seem difficult to set time aside for Bible study, but the more we do so the more we look forward to it.

Every morning in my emails I receive updates from Open Doors International on what we should pray about that day regarding the persecution of Christians in North Korea. I have learned a great deal, not only about the many forms of persecution believers face in that nation, but also I’ve been overwhelmed by the discipline and dedication of those believers.

Facing long prison terms for just owning a Bible, they count it one of their greatest privileges to own one. For many Christians all they have as far as a Bible is concerned are verses they have memorized. In prison they meet secretly to share these verses with each other and memorize verses they receive from other prisoners. In this way they build up knowledge of Scripture that is personal and meaningful to them in the storms of their lives.  How many of us, in the comfort of our own homes, take time to memorize scripture? During this time when there is no real persecution of Christians in our western nations, how many of us are preparing our hearts through study for the storms ahead? If the word of God isn’t going to fall on the rocky ground of our hearts, we need commitment in our study and prayer life.

The good news about this dedication of growing closer to Jesus is that it is fun and is one of the most encouraging things we could ever do with our time. I know for me that each day after I’ve read and studied in the Bible I have new insights and thoughts about God and His love for me. Those insights delight me and lift me up and encourage me throughout the days ahead. I find myself talking about what I’ve learned and sharing new thoughts and insights with friends and am anxious for them to share what they have learned in their studies with me.

If we had to face the horrendous persecution that our North Korean fellow believers must deal with, would we be able to stand firm for Christ? We’d love to think we would but we really don’t know till it happens. We can fortify ourselves, however, through trust in God and finding assurance in His promises and grace.