Discipline is the other side of discipleship. Discipleship without discipline is like waiting to run in the marathon without ever practising. Discipline without discipleship is like always practising for the marathon but never participating. It is important, however, to realize that discipline in the spiritual life is not the same as discipline in sports. Discipline in sports is the concentrated effort to master the body so that it can obey the mind better. Discipline in the spiritual life is the concentrated effort to create the space and time where God can become our master and where we can respond freely to God's guidance.
Thus, discipline is the creation of boundaries that keep time and space open for God. Solitude requires discipline, worship requires discipline, caring for others requires discipline. They all ask us to set apart a time and a place where God's gracious presence can be acknowledged and responded to.
Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey
Lent is often described as a discipline. The word turns people's minds towards the externals of Lent, fasting particularly. There is so much talk about “giving up chocolate for Lent” (or something else, but usually chocolate among the Christians I know) that you’d think that was all there was to it.
Fasting is good, though I personally think it needs to be about something more than merely going without a treat that’s not especially good for one’s health, but it is only part of what Lent is about. Discipline is not a word many of us are terribly fond of. It has overtones of Victorian schools: cold showers, the cane, and hundreds of lines.
The Principles of the Third Order Society of St Francis include this sentence, “The Third Order of the Society consists of those who, while following the ordinary professions of life, feel called to dedicate their lives under a definite discipline and vows.” Without discipline, the spiritual life cannot go anywhere. Discipline is freedom, strangely enough. When we no longer open the doors of our perception to what the world offers that is not of God then our hearts are free. Jesus himself said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8.31b-32 NIV) That is the sweet heart of discipline.