What do you think of when you hear the word discipline? Does it conjure up images of punishment, as in being disciplined? Or does it mean being strong-willed and focused?

The Typical Meaning of Discipline

Both images are true, at least according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:

Discipline means to punish or penalize for the sake of enforcing obedience and perfecting moral character. Synonyms: punishment, penalty, correction, chastening

To train or develop by instruction and exercise, especially in self-control. Synonyms: control, self-control, restraint

Certainly, no one seeks out to be punished, but don’t you sometimes punish yourself for not being disciplined enough. It’s one more of the litany of self-criticisms in not feeling you do enough.

Case in point. I was at an event put on by the Tapestry Network, a Christ-centered women’s business group, where I had the opportunity to share about my book The Freedom to Eat – 10 Secrets for Lasting Weight Loss and Inner Peace.

One of my friends came up to me and said, (regarding keeping my weight off), “I’m just not disciplined like you are.” I could hear the sadness in her voice and the self-chastising way that she said it.

I understand. I had spent decades beating myself up for whatever area in my life that I lacked “discipline.”

The Spiritual Meaning of Discipline

But I discovered a positive meaning of discipline, a spiritual meaning.

The root word for discipline comes from the Latin, discipulus which means pupil. From that word comes disciple.

When you see the word disciple, it usually implies someone that followed Jesus. But a disciple is someone who follows and practices the teachings of his or her teacher or mentor.

I’ve even heard it said that being a disciple is following something you love. So, being disciplined in adopting whatever behavior you wish to exude means loving yourself. Doesn’t that inspire you to be disciplined?

A Story of Discipline

I came across an article in the Moody Bible Institute Alumni Magazine on former President, Dr. George Sweeting. He turned 95 and was giving a speech to students. He emphasized “single-mindedness for a lifetime.”

“The pursuit of excellence is impossible apart from the single mind.” He then quoted founder D.L. Moody who said, “Give me a man or woman who says: This one thing I do, and not these fifty things I dabble in.”

That discipline of one thing he grappled with because he loved art and attended an art academy. Then he attended Moody. He struggled with choosing to be an artist or to be a preacher.

But then he read about Michelangelo who was an artist and recognized God in his life. Sweeting got excited and combined his artistry with preaching, traveling around the world drawing pictures on a large easel while he also sang and preached.

When he was approached by a young, overwhelmed student inquiring about his capacity to accomplish so much as then President of Moody, Sweeting replied, “Discipline, not desire, determines destiny.”

Discipline not Desire Determines Destiny
Desire all you want, but if you are not disciplined to take small steps each day, you won’t fulfill your destiny.

Sweeting was disciplined. He followed what he loved: God, art, and preaching.

The small actions you take each day will determine your destiny. You can’t just desire it, you must have the discipline to act on that desire consistently. Discipline is no longer punishment but the reward. 

Has this positive meaning of disciplined inspired you to follow something you love? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

If weight is something that you struggle with, these chapters from The Freedom to Eat – 10 Secrets for Lasting Weight Loss and Inner Peace may help you practice loving yourself more by embracing this new meaning of discipline.


Read the Secrets We Keep and Goodbye Diets Hello Freedom from The Freedom to EAT