In his bestselling book Outliers: The Story of Success, author Malcolm Gladwell explains how extraordinary people achieve their success. His examples include the Beatles, Bill Gates, star hockey players, successful pilots, and Silicon Valley billionaires. After studying how they reached the pinnacles of their professions, here’s what Gladwell learned: Successful people practice. A lot. In fact, he believes there’s a magic number of ten thousand hours of practice that moves you from the rank-and-file to outranking almost everyone else.
Think about it. Ten thousand hours of practice devoted to improving yourself. Sounds overwhelming, doesn’t it? Who commits to such a thing?
You do! Remember, you’re embarking on a journey to a new life. Each step of that journey brings blessings, personal growth, and spiritual rewards that will manifest in your life and in your heart. This practice isn’t boring repetition; it’s strategic. It’s for you to live the fullness of life in Christ, for the glory of God.
Now think about doing that for one year, one month, and three weeks—which is what ten thousand hours is. Suddenly, ten thousand hours is nothing, because the journey you’ve embarked on is for the rest of your life.
In this chapter we consider the final gift God has given you to make that journey: self-discipline. I believe self-discipline is the “outlier” that explains why some Christians seem to soar and others barely get off the ground.
Remember Katie Ledecky’s self-disciplined practice that made her an enduring world champion swimmer? Remember Pablo Casals’s humble conviction that he could always improve through the self-discipline of daily practice—even in his nineties? Remember the relentless training and self-control that allowed Lt. Michael Murphy to show his love for his men by surviving until he completed a call for help?
Self-discipline is the secret ingredient to achieving a life beyond amazing. Each trait in this book requires your commitment to achieve it. That commitment is expressed through your stated prayerful desire for it, by asking the Holy Spirit to help you attain it, and then . . . (yes, you know by now what comes next) through your own actions.
Personal discipline—inspired, sustained, and encouraged by the greatest help of all, the indwelling Holy Spirit—is the motivation and force behind the right actions you take to produce the fruit of the Spirit and enjoy a life beyond amazing.
In Paul’s description of the fruit of the Spirit, he lists “self-control” last. This placement is no mistake. “By occupying this final position, self-discipline assumes a place of strategic importance. . . . self-discipline is the summation of the previous eight qualities that the Spirit produces. The work of the Spirit reaches its consummation in self-control. This virtue enables us to realize every other aspect of spiritual fruit.”
Like all the other traits, this one isn’t always easy. Yet from my experience as a pastor, as a fellow traveler on the same journey, and from my studies of those who journeyed this path before us, there are insights that help us understand how to build it into our lives.
But first, let’s be clear about one important thing. In this chapter we talk about developing your self-discipline so you can achieve a life beyond amazing. The journey you take to reach that goal is yours, and it will be different from anyone else’s. When you allow the Holy Spirit to guide your heart on this journey, the opportunities, choices, and priorities He presents are uniquely for you.
So don’t fall into the trap of comparing yourself to others. Don’t be discouraged if these traits don’t seem to show up right away or don’t seem as well expressed in your life as in someone else’s. Instead, be kind to yourself, persevere, and lean on God when you need support.
David Jeremiah, A Life beyond Amazing: 9 Decisions That Will Transform Your Life Today (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2017).
I have just completed a series of lessons based on David Jeremiah’s book, A Life Beyond Amazing. They are available on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions, as well as part of my Good Questions Have Groups Talking Subscription service. For a medium-sized church, lesson subscriptions are only $10 per teacher per year.