Elite athletes dedicate their lives to their sport. Consider the marathoner. He does not wake up some Saturday morning and decide he will run 26.2 miles. He spends months, even years, training for the event. Yes, his training involves running lots and lots of miles. The elite runner, however, is not satisfied with just running. He knows that to truly excel at his sport, he must attend to many other things as well. He studies the form of great runners. He receives coaching from someone who can not only encourage him, but offer critical feedback to make him a better runner. He studies nutrition so that he knows how to eat and refuel properly. He understands how his sleep patterns affect him. Perhaps he chooses to run with others to push him on to higher levels of greatness. He awakens early, goes to bed early and may forgo some of the indulgences of his friends. Why does he do this? Because he loves to run and he wants to be the best runner he can be.
First Corinthians 9:24-27 reads, "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. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified."
The athlete exercises self-control in all things. In other words, the athlete's life is geared around his success as an athlete. How often do you exercise self-control in all things? Perhaps you are pretty good at having a quiet time so you check it off of your list for the day. Maybe scripture memorization is your thing. But how often do you think about pursuing discipline in everything that you do? Eating, sleeping, media consumption? Do you pursue godly relationships where you may be challenged and encouraged? Do you sit under the preaching of a faithful Bible teacher and try to reflect on the teaching during the week? Do you ever stop to consider that how you discipline yourself in these areas may improve your Christian discipleship?
I want to be clear. Practicing discipline in these areas is not a call to "do more/try harder" for your salvation. You cannot earn your salvation. It is a free gift. But do you want to grow in discipleship? Do you want to grow in Christlikeness? The way to grow in Christlikeness is continue to continue to practice self-discipline in all areas so that while the Spirit is working in you, you are working out. This practice, as it does for the disciplined athlete, will ultimately result in blessing (Paul says so in verse 23).
His commands are not burdensome. When we discipline ourselves, our growth in godliness and fruitfulness will prove to be a light burden indeed.
(These thoughts of mine are influenced by a book I just began reading, The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives )