For a man’s ways are before the eyes of the LORD, and he ponders all his paths. The iniquities of the wicked ensnare him, and he is held fast in the cords of his sin. He dies for lack of discipline, and because of his great folly he is led astray. – Proverbs 5:21-23
Years ago, I ran long distance races in high school. I wasn’t fast enough for the half mile and was pretty average in the 1 mile, but the 2 mile race (yes back in my day we ran “miles” not meters!) was my best race. I had a very good track coach who beyond just raw technique, coached us from a mental standpoint. The 2 mile race was eight times around the track and he claimed the 2 mile wasn’t won in the beginning or the end of the race. It was in those middle four laps where the race was won. At the beginning, all the runners are fresh. Often those in the stands are cheering and it’s rather exciting. Those first 2 laps go quickly. The final 2 laps, the crowd might be cheering again and the runners know their agony of tired muscles will soon end.
But the middle four laps, that is where the successful runner will often determine the final outcome. To win, the wise runner must be disciplined to not run too fast and wear themselves out for the final push. Nor must he or she allow themselves to go too slow and not be able to make up the distance between themselves and the front of the pack. These middle four laps required a large degree of discipline. You’re often on your own. The crowd usually is bored in these laps and heads to the concession stand. Few people are cheering you on. This is when discipline rules the day. During the tough middle four laps I became thankful that our coach pushed us hard in practice. When I was disciplined in practice, I found I had success when it really counted – the race.
Discipline isn’t something we often desire in our life. We might claim we wish to be more disciplined in our reading or our diet or physical activity, but I know for me, I tend to just want the final result – not the daily chore of disciple. Those on-going daily choices I have to make are often not easy. To walk away from the donuts or to set the alarm early enough that I have time in the Word, those daily acts eventually lead to a disciplined life.
This entire chapter of Proverbs seems devoted to the warning of committing adultery. Much like the previous chapter, there is a call for one to refrain from a life of sin. This chapter in particular, makes a point of staying away from the “forbidden woman” of verse 3. While obviously, that is a direct admonition in this chapter, I think there is a broader application to verses 21-23.
As the writer of Hebrews tells us, sin so easily ensnares us (Hebrews 12:1). Without discipline, we can quickly become caught in sin in such a way that escape is nearly impossible. Depending on the situation, one may not ever recover from the consequences of poor decisions made because of sin.
As followers of Christ, we must adhere to His teachings which we find this command, “Take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). There are many ways to interpret the “take up his cross” statement, but for sure one way is to live a disciplined life. I believe, much like the preceding chapter of Proverbs, here in chapter 5, we are admonished by the fact that we must decide on a course of action before we ever encounter that crossroads of needing to make a decision. By being disciplined we learn how to strengthen ourselves to make correct decisions concerning our personal conduct. In the heat of the moment (pun intended) we usually make very poor decisions.
Now, before the situation becomes out of control, exercise discipline. It takes practice, determination and accountability. But in the end, the writer of Proverbs says that without this discipline in our life, we can easily become lead away by our great folly.
So, get out there and run those laps!