Nobody plans to fail or give up but much of what we do before we are tested has a great deal to do with whether we’ll come through or not. The problem comes from thinking we’ll never fail or give up, but that is pride speaking and that is the beginning of trouble.
1 Corinthians 10:12 (ESV) — 12 Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.
That pride factor can come up in the way we neglect what needs to be done to keep ourselves moving forward, otherwise we slip back into complacency and become “soft.” That softness shows itself in all aspects of life – mental, physical, and spiritual.
I was recalling recently the number of men in the ministry just from my knowledge and acquaintance who have either given up or fallen and I was shocked. Some national statistics show that only 30 percent of ministers retire today. Granted that is because some ministers don’t believe in retirement but continue in the service of the Lord until they take their last breath, but the sad reality is most ministers give up long before retirement, or worse some have become a statistic in moral failure. If this is the statistic for men who have taken vows to serve God and care for His flock, what about others? The failure rate grows even larger. But why?
Perhaps we’re too soft. Softness physically comes upon a person from a combination of not keeping up with a workout plan while not being disciplined about what they take into their body. It’s well documented that today’s generations are “soft” in comparison to the when the WWII generation was at a comparable age. Generations become soft when they are more focused on a life of ease and comfort than they are on doing whatever it takes to get the job done no matter how difficult the task. Consider the monumental things that people did in sacrifice to their country during that WWII era and consider what great shape people were in from not being afraid of hard labor. Today, this same spirit is seen in very few as you look at the ratio of people who are obese to the number who aren’t. This is not meant to be a criticism of a person’s weight or outward appearance, rather of call to a lifestyle evaluation over complacency. In general, are you soft or disciplined? Granted, it takes more effort today in order to live a “harder” lifestyle because of all the time saving and effort saving conveniences. Giving into the “convenience lifestyle” however, will only make you soft and going long enough in that state will keep you from thriving when things get difficult in life.
In the same vein, it’s been said that Christians in general today are “softies,” almost ready to give in or give up at any inconvenience. Whether that is true or not, a challenge to wake-up and ask the question of “softness” about yourself is an important check. Christians become spiritually soft because they fail to keep up with consistent spiritual disciplines out of laziness or a focus on comfort and “self-gratification,” when they figure they have enough strength and fortitude to overcome temptations that come along in life. That is wrong! Consider the attitude of the apostle Paul:
1 Corinthians 9:24–27 (ESV) — 24 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. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
Paul was afraid of becoming a “spiritual softie” so he disciplined his body, which implies all disciplines – spiritual, mental, and physical. Driven by being afraid of becoming “soft” is not a bad thing if it motivates you. I have a rare lung disease that forces me to keep my airway clear by working out hard. Having lived for nearly 15 years at this point beyond my life expectancy, for which I am grateful to God, I just follow the doctor’s orders to be disciplined about working out. You’d think that would be enough motivation, but I know my inward tendency is to try to be lazy, so I sign up for races regularly. The race or event acts as another motivation because the fear of failure and embarrassment will keep me working out. Like a friend once reminded me as we prepared for a big event, “we race to train but we don’t train to race.” In other words, our motivation in training was not for any awards, rather the training was a reward and the race simply forced us to train.
Philippians 3:12–14 (ESV) — 12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Look at the two passages above, at how Paul is motivated by the race of life.
First, he’s motivated by the prize which is not a gold medal but the prize of finishing strong and hearing the words, “well done, good and faithful servant.” That prize is something he says should be driving all of us. Nevertheless, this race is something for which Paul considered himself as apprehended by the Lord Jesus Christ as he said, “I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me His own.” The race motivated him to train.
Secondly, Paul has a specific training plan as seen above in the passage from 1st Corinthians 9. He doesn’t run aimlessly or just beat the air. He keeps himself from getting soft by applying himself to daily disciplines. Paul is not haphazard in his daily disciplines; he has a plan and he works the plan.
Thirdly, Paul is aware of his capability of complete failure, so out of fear of failure from going “soft,” thereby giving in and giving up. Notice how he is driven even more to a life of daily discipline from the two passages above – his fear of failure drives him to live a life of “pressing forward” in the race.
Paul can’t stand the thought of being soft in the service of God. How about you? Are you getting soft in areas of personal discipline? When discipline is lacking in one area of your life, it will spill over to all areas of life. Likewise, when you apply yourself to spiritual disciplines watch how a disciplined life works into all aspects of life and you become a better person. Check out this example of a disciplined lifestyle and its reward:
Psalm 1:1–3 (ESV) — 1 Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; 2 but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. 3 He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.
Don’t be soft – be disciplined. Discipline makes the difference in all aspects of life.