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Being disciplined

Photograph by Prateek Katyal via Unsplash

This article was originally published on the Christian Citizen on February 15, 2024

I was once caught playing hooky from Chinese language school and when my father found out, he disciplined me with a spanking, using his floppy Chinese slippers. I will never forget that. I never played hooky from Chinese language school again — because I quit.

It is no wonder that growing up as a Christian and eventually entering seminary, I had a negative association with disciplines. It meant reprimand more than it meant being focused on spiritual practices. And being a Baptist reinforced for me that this is the faith tradition I wanted to be with no creeds, book of common prayer, or lectionary years. I was free to practice any way I want without the risk of being disciplined!

Baptist freedoms have a way to lead me to do what I want to do without any guard rails to stay on track. Evidence of this is that in all of my Bibles, the pages of the New Testament and especially the Gospels are tattered, while in the rest of the Bible, they look like they just came off the press. I became unfamiliar with the whole Bible without the discipline of suggested lectionary lessons.

Besides Bible Freedom, the Bible as the primary text of faith, the other freedoms that Baptists highlight would be Soul Freedom, everyone has the capacity to lead and serve; Church Freedom, the autonomy of the local church; and Religious Freedom, all religions have freedom to exist without infringement from government. Sometimes, when we have so much freedom, we could become untethered without any accountability.

Recently, I rediscovered on my bookshelf A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants by Reuben P. Job and Norman Shawchuck. It was published in 1983! I remembered reading a bit of it but honestly, it’s been on my shelf for forty-one years! None of these pages are tattered.

Beginning with the First Sunday in Advent in 2023, I have been reading the suggested Scriptures and a reflection every day. Before I open my laptop, I pick up this guide and my Bible to read a Scripture and a reflection. It is enriching my faith already! I read the Psalms, Old Testament Scriptures, and reflections by others even though these are from forty years ago. When I was working full-time in ministry, I was not disciplined enough to read Scriptures every day. Daily devotionals could never keep up with my busyness.

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Richard J. Foster wrote, “When we study a book of the Bible we are seeking to be controlled by the intent of the author. We are determined to hear what he is saying, not what we want him to say. We want life-transforming truth, not just good feelings. We are willing to pay the price of barren day after barren day until the meaning is clear. This process revolutionizes our lives.”[i]

The Lenten season prior to Easter calls for us to practice spiritual disciplines for 40 days to prepare ourselves for hearing the sacrifice Jesus made that granted us eternal life. Whether it’s daily Bible reading or fasting or even “giving up something for Lent,” these are all ways to affirm the significance of having a more disciplined life.

Today, in my retirement years, being disciplined enough to return to this Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants is being open to hearing what God is saying to me. After my reading, I step out the door and most times before sunrise, I begin my morning walk. By the time I get downtown, I’m prepared to watch the sun rise from the horizon to show me the way to lead my life for the rest of my day, if not for the rest of my life.

Like the monastic traditions or lectionary-based churches, I am becoming more and more disciplined in both my faith and actions. Walking the Camino de Santiago twice in recent years have taught me to pray for others on the pilgrimages by placing a stone on a marker as we walk toward the Cathedral of Santiago. When I do my morning walk, I stop in the bakery shop to greet local residents and share life interests and concerns. Chatting about politics and world problems is not off the table since by doing so, we are practicing the discipline of spoken prayer. I pray that my commitment to my daily disciplines would strengthen my faith as God’s servant. And if it’s God’s will, may my daily practices speak love and hope to those whom I meet on the way.

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The Lenten season prior to Easter calls for us to practice spiritual disciplines for forty days to prepare ourselves for remembering the sacrifice Jesus made that granted us eternal life. Whether it’s daily Bible reading or fasting or even “giving up something for Lent,” these are all ways to affirm the significance of having a more disciplined life. Inasmuch as Jesus was obedient and disciplined to God’s salvific plan, we may experience such sacrifices to understand our own place as witnesses of God’s grace and mercy in the world.

There’s been a few days that life interrupted my reading of the daily Scriptures and reflections. But it has not stopped me from catching up to get back on schedule. Since God is gracious to me, I can be gracious to myself too. With God’s help, I still have three quarters of the year to read Scriptures and reflections before I start again.

How I wish now that I had been more disciplined then, to stay in Chinese language school so that I could be more fluent. Today, I choose to be spiritually disciplined so that I may focus on God the Creator, God the Redeemer, and God the Comforter.

Rev. Donald Ng was president, American Baptist Churches, USA, 2014-15, the first Asian American to serve in this elected position. For 17 years, he was senior pastor of the historic First Chinese Baptist Church in San Francisco. He retired from full-time ministry in 2015.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.

[i] Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth. New York: HarperCollins, 1998, p. 69.

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