A Discipline Disaster

I had a birthday recently – not a particularly significant one but it’s been well celebrated and I’ve appreciated the warm wishes coming from friends and family that we’ve connected with over the years. I have a facebook policy where I don’t tend to post birthday greetings on other folks’ walls because I’d only miss people out and don’t want to appear unthoughtful. But that makes it all the nicer (my P7 teacher would shudder at the use of that word) that people have taken the time to write on my wall, knowing it won’t be reciprocated!

It takes a certain discipline to look every day at your facebook birthdays page and then to greet the birthday boys and girls in your circle of influence. It’s a discipline I don’t have – I have enough difficulty remembering to buy a Valentine’s card for the lovely Kathryn! – but this birthday has prompted me to think about the disciplines I do practice or would like to, perhaps even for the rest of my life.

Twenty years ago I was a member of the Methodist Team On Mission for what was perhaps the most formative year of my life – maybe it’s because the balance between worship, witness and wholeness was better than at any other point, or maybe because I was part of a close-knit group of four people on mission together, or perhaps even because people around the island were praying for us. But that year was one where prayer was particularly vital, grace was evident in difficult relationships, and joy overflowed.

Ten years ago I was preparing to go to Edgehill College to train as a minister. The disciplines of study and prayer, eating together as a community, and taking breaks to play table tennis meant my body, mind and soul were being renewed and enlivened. I was filled with hope for the church to whom Kathryn and I have been called, and delighted in our son who was born during that time.

And now another ten years have passed, a birthday with a zero approaches: we’re living in our second circuit appointment, we have three kids full of energy, and I find some of my former disciplines have slipped. I look at some retired colleagues and friends and hope that when I’m at their stage I’ll have the same love for people, passion for Jesus and delight in their grandchildren as they do now. But equally I see people who have been worn down by life, their hope has waned and perhaps even their faith has grown cold. That could happen to me. Maybe it already has.

So during Lent, that season of self-denial and soul-preparation for the events of Holy Week, Good Friday and Easter Sunday, I started to compile a list of habits and practices that I think might help me to be/become the person in Christ that I want to be. I’m putting the list here on my blog so you can keep me accountable – if you’ve taken the trouble to read this, either on facebook or the blog website, you have my permission to ask me about these things. At appropriate times of course – not during a sermon, for instance (as one son in particular tends to do!)…

  1. Devotion – because a closer walk with God empowers any other activity and gives God his place:
    • one trap for a preacher is to read the Bible only in preparation for the next study or sermon. To help me continue reading it daily for my own edification and guidance, I’ll tweet a verse every day as an image using the YouVersion Bible App and the hashtag #toknowthislove (that comes from Ephesians 3:14-21). And I’ll attempt to use a journal morning and evening to follow a pattern of bible reading and note significant insights.
    • I intend to follow the Wesleyan Pattern for Prayer and Fasting (more about that here).
    • plan a day every seven weeks for prayer and reflection
  2. Worship – Kathryn and I love to sing in worship, but it can be a bit weird when we do that on our own at home. So we’re going to open our house to anyone who’d like to join in, usually on the last Sunday evening of the month (check first in case you hit a holiday!).
  3. Justice – I won’t ignore e-mails and mailings from agencies calling for action to help them in their advocacy for the poor, the oppressed, those in slavery or tragedy. I’ll sign the petition, post the card, e-mail my political representatives. In particular, I’ll support JMA’s Children in Cambodia project for 2015.
  4. Compassion – I’m going to downgrade for mosquito nets. Instead of getting a large latte, a normal-sized filter coffee will do. When it comes to ‘upgrading’ my phone – I won’t if the current one still works. And I’ll take any other opportunity to stamp on the lure of ‘more’ and ‘better’. Any money I save will go to buy mosquito nets for people whose lives can be ruined by one little bite. Read more and donate if you like, at www.bit.ly/40nets.
  5. Family – I’m going to pray with Kathryn more, and give her a 20-second hug every day. And I’m going to stop yelling at my children. Those of you with perfect family lives may find it hard to believe, but we find raising kids is tough work. They can wind us up something shocking, and do things that could hurt or annoy themselves and others, but we love them with an undying, unquenchable love. So I’m going to pray for patience and grace, and stop yelling. I’m inspired by The Orange Rhino (look it up!).
  6. Health – my job involves a lot of sitting: sitting on people’s sofas, sitting in committees, sitting in the car, sitting in the study. So I need to exercise more and lose a little bit of weight. I’ll walk where possible to meetings, and exercise in some way every day – I’d like to get to the middle of my normal BMI by next year. I’ll turn off screens by eleven every night to ensure good sleep. I’ll read a book every month.

The title of this post is ‘A Discipline Disaster’ – and for good reason. There’s no way I’m going to manage all of these things! I accept failure now. And I won’t feel guilty about that. But I want to try. Success won’t be a chart full of ticks for tasks completed, but a warmer relationship with Jesus, a calmer response to children being children, some kids in Africa saved from malaria, and a life lived with more purpose, hope and health – a blessing to others and bringing glory to God.

[If you’ve read this on facebook, you won’t see the links to different resources on this post – just click through to the blog to get them if you’re interested]

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