August 9, 2016

John MacArthur’s 9 Tips on Self-Discipline

by Jordan Standridge

Discipline is without a doubt one of the hardest things to master. As a young guy in ministry, I’m always looking for advice from men and women who live very disciplined lives. Recently as I was looking through my seminary papers I found a short article written by John Macarthur in response to this question:

Practically speaking, how can a person develop self-discipline in his or her life?

jmHere is John Macarthur’s response,

Here are some things that have helped me through the years:

  • Get yourself organized

Make a schedule, however detailed or general you are comfortable with, and stick to it. Have a to-do list of things you need to accomplish. Using a daily planning book or a personal information manager program on your computer would be helpful. But get organized, even if all you do is jot down appointments and to-do items on a piece of scrap paper. The simple reality is that if you don’t control your time, everything (and everyone) else will.

  • Don’t constantly seek to be entertained

When you have free time, do things that are productive instead of merely entertaining. Read a good book, listen to classical music, take a walk, or have a conversation with someone. In other words, learn to entertain yourself with things that are challenging, stimulating, and creative. Things that are of no value except to entertain you make a very small contribution to your well-being.

  • Be on time

If you’re supposed to be somewhere at a specific time, be there on time. The apostle Paul listed proper use of time as a mark of true spiritual wisdom: “Be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16). Being punctual marks a life that is organized. It reveals a person whose desires, activities, and responsibilities are under control. Being on time also acknowledges the importance of other people and the value of their time.

  • Keep your word

“Undertake not what you cannot perform,” a young George Washington exhorted himself, “but be careful to keep your promise.” If you say you’re going to do something, do it—when you said you would do it and how you said you would do it. When you make commitments, see them through. That calls for the discipline to properly evaluate whether you have the time and capability to do something. And once you’ve made the commitment, self-discipline will enable you to keep it.

  • Do the most difficult tasks first

Most people do just the opposite, spending their time doing the easier, low priority tasks. But when they run out of time (and energy), the difficult, high-priority tasks are left undone.

  • Finish what you start

Some people’s lives are a sad litany of unfinished projects. In the words of poet John Greenleaf Whittier, For of all sad words of tongue or pen, The saddest are these: “It might have been!”

If you start something, finish it. Therein lies an important key to developing self-discipline.

  • Accept correction

Correction helps you develop self-discipline by showing you what you need to avoid. Thus, it should not be rejected, but accepted gladly. Solomon wrote “Listen to counsel and accept discipline, that you may be wise the rest of your days” (Proverbs 19:20); and “He whose ear listens to the life giving reproof will dwell among the wise. He who neglects discipline despises himself, but he who listens to reproof acquires understanding” (Proverbs 15:31-32).

  • Practice self-denial

Learn to say no to your feelings and impulses. Occasionally deny yourself pleasures that are perfectly legitimate for you to enjoy. Skip dessert after a meal. Drink a glass of iced tea instead of having that banana split that you love. Don’t eat that doughnut that caught your eye. Refraining from those things will remind your body who is in charge.

  • Welcome responsibility

Volunteer to do things that need to be done. That will force you to have your life organized enough to have the time for such projects.

Even though we may not be as busy as John Macarthur we should all strive to live disciplined lives. I believe these nine tips will help us in our mission to please Christ with our time.

Jordan Standridge

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Jordan is a pastoral associate at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, VA, where he leads the college ministry. He is also the founder of The Foundry Bible Immersion. You can find his personal blog at surrender.us.