Christian Living

13 Practical Steps to Improve Self-Discipline

It seems to me that self-discipline is the forgotten fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23). Yet all the great men and women of God seem to be marked by it. On that point, I am often reminded of the importance of discipline by this quote from Dr. Martyn-Lloyd Jones:

I defy you to read the life of any saint that has ever adorned the life of the Church without seeing at once that the greatest characteristic in the life of that saint was discipline and order. Invariably it is the universal characteristic of all the outstanding men and women of God…. Obviously it is something that is thoroughly scriptural and absolutely essential (Spiritual Depression, 210).

kettlebell and dumbbellSelf-discipline is such an essential part of the Christian life that Paul’s specifically instructs older men (Titus 2:2), older and younger women (Titus 2:5), and younger men (Titus 2:6) all to be “sensible” (“self-controlled” in the ESV). Just in case someone felt left out (even though he covered every age group), Paul summarizes by saying the grace of God trains all of us to live sensibly (Titus 2:11-12, same word). Clearly this is something important enough to Paul that he instructed everyone in the church to be working at it.

I have collected a list of helpful ways to work on self-discipline which I have found particularly helpful in my own life, and I would encourage you to give some (or all) of them a try.

1) Pray for Self-Discipline

Self-discipline is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, and the means by which God has ordained the believer to grow in righteousness. It is a great place to start by asking God for growth in self-discipline.

2) Start With Small Things

It is easy to get carried away and set high and lofty goals for being discipline. It is a growing process. Start with small things like cleaning up a room, a desk, a car, or even making sure the dishes are always done. One cannot climb a mountain without training on some hills.

3) Become Organized

The more organized a believer is, the more he can handle. Easy ways to be organized are to get a calendar, use a notebook, an Ipod, or a computer. Write things down so that they will not be forgotten.

4) Beware of Entertainment

The culture is now forcing itself into every corner of one’s life. The temptation during downtime is to watch the news, watch a movie, listen to music, play video games or engage in many other forms of entertainment. Although these things are not bad in and of themselves, they are usually a form of mindless entertainment. It is a scary thing when anyone (especially the believer) trains himself to be entertained by mindless activity. Instead, one should endeavor to train themselves to find entertainment in productive things.

5) Speak Truthfully

Long gone is the day that people actually mean what they say. As a believer, all that is said or promised is said or promised on behalf of Christ. Nothing is worse than someone who says one thing, but vacillates and never fulfills what he promised.

6) Be On Time

As a practical follow-up from the last point, one way in which people particularly struggle in being disciplined is showing up on time. Showing up late is telling the other people that they are not important enough to make punctuality a priority.

7) Seize Small Units of Time

The 5-15 minute chunks of time that are otherwise wasted, can be very beneficial. The wise Christian will seize the 5 minutes of down time and perform small tasks or smaller parts of big tasks. In 5 minutes it is possible to pray for another’s encouragement or salvation, to meditate on Scripture, clean, write a thank you, and many other things. The Christian is responsible with all his or her time.

8) Do the Most Difficult Task First

Procrastination is the killer of many well-meaning Christians. It is good practice to do the most difficult task of the day first. That is when one has the most energy and best clarity of mind. This also ensures that it gets done. The bad habit of always doing the easy things first often leads to harder things never getting started.

9) Work Until a Task is Completed

Once a task is started, it should be completed. The Christian needs to develop the discipline of working hard through completion. There is a time for breaks, but they should be a scheduled part of the completion process.

10) Accept Correction With Meekness

The reason this point is in a list of practical ways to improve discipline is because it takes tremendous self-control to accept correction and rebuke. Although it is hard to accept correction, the wise man will realize that it is a source of wisdom (Prov. 19:20).

11) Practice Self-denial throughout the Day

There is tremendous benefit to simply denying self from legitimate pleasures. The Christian has just as much a right as anyone to that long-awaited apple pie or bowl of ice cream. But, one way in which the flesh is trained to be subject to the Christ-controlled mind is to practice saying no to things that are desired.


12) Wake Up

I remember reading an appropriate quote: “The Christian leader will work while others waste time, study while others snooze, pray while others daydream.”

13) Welcome Responsibility

Volunteering for things helps to inspire discipline and organization. The disciplined Christian is able to offer his assistance to others who need it. It is ironic that it is often only the busiest of people who have time to give to others.

Do you have any other tips for working on being self-disciplined?  

1st photo: One Way Stock via photopin cc

2nd photo: symphony of love via photopin cc

This post was adapted from a previous post on April 14, 2014.

Peter serves at Shepherd's Theological Seminary in Cary, NC as the professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages. He loves studying the Bible and helping others understand it. He also runs the Bible Sojourner podcast.