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A Bicycler’s Guide to Discipleship: Discipline

August 2nd, 2012

Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness.

1 Timothy 4:7

Bicycling is a time-honored mode of transportation in Western Europe – not so much in America, but you still find spots even there where pedal-power retains its proper sphere of influence, especially some of the major cities. But, honestly, hardly the most bicycle crazy city in North America compares to Europe where bicycles and bicycle trails and paths and traffic lanes cover the major cities, even many rural sports. The mild temperatures help significantly – you can actually ride your bicycle into work in the summer without being overwhelmed by heat and humidity.

I began riding in earnest when we moved to Europe several years ago. For most of that time I had only a short commute to the office – less than 7 kilometers, roughly 5 miles, mostly flat. Last year we moved out to a suburb of Stuttgart where now I traverse the hilly terrain a distance of 14 kilometers or 10 miles, a significant difference. Now I shower and change at the office, and have learned the benefit of wearing padded bicycle pants. With almost a one-hour one-way commute, mostly through forest, I have had time to reflect and think – realize the benefit of slowing down to take in the scenery, meditate on Scripture, pray, and philosophize about spiritual growth. Granted on the hills, I am mostly just thinking about getting up the hill, but other times have led me to consider the parallels between bicycling and discipleship.

The first similarity between discipleship and bicycling relates simply to the discipline of the exercise – you build strength as you do it. A cycler rides, pushing himself along as he goes. His muscles develop more strength by the exercise. He cannot sit by the wayside and expect that something is going to happen to his legs, his core, his back, his lungs and heart to give him the strength he needs – he has to get busy himself with the matter and the strength will develop as he does. He cannot even go to the gym and ride a stationary bike and expect to gain the strength he needs. It won’t hurt any, and may even help a bit, but riding an exer-cycle is much like trying to learn to swim on dry ground.

The beauty of the bicycle is that virtually anyone can do it, provided you know how to ride one, and that only takes a few minutes. After that initial push and the few crashes you are riding, learning as you go, but riding. Some riders are stronger and faster than others, but none of them would belittle someone who was out there trying, because you will get stronger as you go along. The secret is to do it!

Discipleship is like this – we must do it! We must develop the disciplines that develop godliness in us. If we do them, God will use them to increase our maturity and strengthen our faith. Donald Whitney identified ten disciplines that God teaches us to do in His Word:

Study of the Bible

Prayer

Worship

Evangelism

Serving

Stewardship

Fasting

Silence and Solitude

Journaling

Learning

These ten do not by themselves mature us. God matures us – the work is His from first to last. “He who began a good work in you will carry it through to completion” (Phil. 1:6), yet He engages us to join Him in this effort, to work out what He is working in. Spiritual growth is by grace through our faith, and we need to accept that disciplines are joyous things to have and to learn. Our faith is seen not in doing them merely, but in doing them gladly with the expectation that God will do something good for us through them, that “he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). These disciplines serve as catalysts for the blessings that God gives us. Whitney wrote:

Godly people are disciplined people. It has always been so. Call to mind some heroes of church history – Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Bunyan, Susanna Wesley, George Whitefield, Lady Huntingdon, Jonathan and Sarah ‘Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, George Muller – they were all disciplined people. In my own pastoral and personal Christian experience, I can say that I’ve never known a man or woman who came to spiritual maturity except through discipline. Godliness comes through discipline…

Think of Spiritual disciplines as ways we can place ourselves in the path of God’s grace and seek Him much as Bartimaeus and Zacchaeus placed themselves in Jesus’ path and sought Him. As with these two seekers, we will find Him willing to have mercy on us and to have communion with us. And in the course of time we will be transformed by Him from one level of Christlikeness to another (2 Corinthians 3:18).[1]

More than once I found myself going up a hill that I wondered if I had the strength to climb. But each time, even those times I got out and walked, I became stronger. Riding builds more strength for riding. Walking with God builds more strength for walking with God. To learn to ride a bike, you need to ride a bike, and to learn more of Jesus Christ and become more disciplined we need to place ourselves in the path of blessing and be more disciplined.

Questions:

On a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the most disciplined Christian, where would you place yourself? Where would others place you?

Do you enjoy reading the Scriptures and meditating on His word? If so, why? If not, then why not? What does a lack of enjoyment say about our faith?

Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness.” How hungry and thirsty are you today for the righteousness of God?

What is the next step you should take in order to grow more in discipline? Are you willing to take that step today?


[1] Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (Colorado Springs: Navpress, 1991), pp 16-17.

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