Disciplineby Elisabeth Elliot
Length: Approximately 5 hours. To read (155 pages).
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Elliot’s Discipline grapples with the flesh’s desire for Laodicean lukewarm living and expounds a vital truth: to be Christ’s disciple means committing to discipline. In that “glad surrender” is true freedom and fellowship with the loving Savior, who also is our Lord and Master.
Who should read this?
This book is not intended as an academic treatise on Christian disciplines or as a stiffly accurate analysis of everything the Bible has to say on discipline. Rather, it is an informal devotional book to help Christians in the personal reflection and confession of undisciplined living. Any Christian who senses a greater need for discipline should read this book.
The path of trial and difficulty that the Lord chose for Elisabeth Elliot before her death in 2015 certainly gave her a rich personal experience from which to speak about discipline. The daughter of missionary parents, Elliot went on to be a missionary as well, first as a Bible translator in Ecuador, then as the wife of missionary Jim Elliot, who was martyred with four other men in the 1950s.
In the years between meeting each other and marrying, the couple stringently disciplined themselves to obey God’s calling first, rather than their own desires, as Elliot further expounds in The Shadow of the Almighty and Passion and Purity. Later, after Jim’s martyrdom, Elliot remained with the Auca tribe for two more years, evangelizing despite her grief.
She later lost another husband to cancer. Each of these difficulties brought fresh challenges to remain disciplined, to use time wisely, to be led by the Spirit rather than tumultuous emotion, and to rely on God for comfort, guidance, and strength. Elisabeth Elliot certainly can teach me something about discipline.
Given that Elliot learned spiritual discipline by personal experience, it’s no surprise that her book should have a reflective, devotional tone. It is organized not by exegetical exposition or rigid outline, but by an organic flow of thought that ranges from personal experience to Scriptural narrative to epistolary exhortation within one short chapter.
Wisely, Elliot begins not with the “how-to” of discipline, but by speaking about the call of God. Once she establishes that every Christian is divinely called to obedience, she moves on to the practical application of discipline.
The final two-thirds of the book are devoted to discipline in all areas of life. Elliot begins with “Discipline of the Body” (an important chapter for believers steeped in our hedonistic culture) and ends several chapters later with “Discipline of Feelings.” Although readers will benefit from each chapter, this topical organization makes it easy to reference one’s personal areas of weakness quickly and easily. The manageable length and approachable format made Discipline an inviting read, even after a long day of teaching.
In her later years, Elliot devoted her life to passing on the many important truths that she had learned while walking with the Lord. Many of her works ran contrary to the prevailing thought of her day, to put it mildly. Passion and Purity, which I read in high school, directly contradicts the emphasis on self-gratification and flimsy morality popularized during the Sexual Revolution.
Let Me Be a Woman, written to answer second wave feminism, defends the Biblical perspective on womanhood. Each of these books offers godly devotional thoughts to counter the glittering deceptions offered by the world.
Discipline: The Glad Surrender responds to another lie that the church has found it all too easy to believe: that we can know Jesus as Savior without accepting Him as Lord. In Elliot’s words, she is attacking the notion that “we might be a Christian without being disciples.” Christianity, Elliot insists, is not a two-level process between “Christian” and “committed Christian.” Elliot passionately defends the assertion that our faith is an all-or-nothing call to die, that we might truly live.
Elliot’s book divides neatly into two sections: the why of Christian discipline, and the how of Christian discipline. Wisely, she chooses most of her evidence from scripture. In the first section, she selects examples from both the Old and New Testaments to show that God’s call to discipline applies to all His people, not just a group of super-spiritual ascetics.
Then, she discusses what the “call of God” looks like in a believer’s life. In Elliot’s opinion, the call of God is profoundly simple: the natural answer of creation to its Creator. No mysterious voices or mystical experiences are necessary to hear and respond to the call of God, she argues. Rather, the Christian ought to hear Christ’s call just as clearly from the pages of Scripture as the disciples did by the Sea of Galilee.
Lest the reader be intimidated by the demands of discipline, Elliot then addresses the results of discipline, showing that God has designed the Christian life to be most fulfilling when we are disciplined and obedient to the Bible. Through discipline, we find true freedom.
After establishing that all Christians must respond to the call of God on their lives, Elliot methodically addresses seven distinct areas of life in which Christians ought to be disciplined. Beginning with the discipline of the body, she presents an argument comprising an eclectic blend of allusions to pop culture examples fresh from the 1970s, commands from Scripture, analogies, and personal experience and opinion.
How does a Christian discipline his or her body? Elliot argues that healthy eating, fasting, exercise, self-control, and sufficient sleep are all necessary parts of a properly disciplined body.
I intentionally chose Discipline as a supplement to my personal devotions because I struggle to be disciplined in several key areas of my life. I found Elliot’s work offered plenty of remonstrances from the word of God, a very helpful thematic organization style, and some personal exhortations that struck hard at some strongholds of sin in my life, such as the disciplines of time and the body.
Elliot’s book reminded me that true discipline focuses not on self-improvement or self-care, but on honoring my Lord and Savior by using His resources wisely. The motivation for discipline, I am reminded, is just as important as discipline itself.
Elliot certainly offers an excellent practical resource for discipline. When I finished, I had experienced the conviction of the Holy Spirit, who had in his wisdom applied specific pieces of Elliot’s eclectic text to my personal spiritual walk.
Practical Organization – By arranging the chapters according to the categories of discipline, Elliot allows readers to more readily understand how discipline should manifest itself in the Christian life. Often, we understand “Christian discipline” in a very strict sense, limiting it to prayer, ministry, and Bible reading. However, Elliot neatly and clearly outlines the broad borders of Christian discipline, which extend to every area of the Christian life.
Sound Advice – At the risk of sounding preachy, Elliot offers practical advice for practicing discipline in the Christian life. Although some of these comments may sound overly simplified or as if Elliot is elevating her own personal convictions to the level of a Christian discipline, I personally found the practical applications to be a good starting point for my own personal reflection on implementing disciplines in my own life. All too often, I find it easy to make good resolutions to be “more disciplined with my time” without practically defining what that looks like. I appreciat Elliot’s decision to include practical steps toward discipline for each of the areas.
Clarity – Since Discipline is a devotional book, not a systematic study, I did not expect a high degree of organization, but occasionally I got confused about the chapter’s topic in the middle of the text. Tangents are not uncommon, and sometimes the book lapses into a tone that almost seems like a stream of consciousness. While sometimes the informal, loosely organized internal structure of the chapters strengthened Elliot’s message, sometimes it obscured it instead.
Discipline: The Glad Surrender offers plenty of practical advice about implementing this Christian virtue. It puts the proverbial cookies on the lower shelf, with its informal tone, clear chapter structure, and impossible-to-miss recommendations for life changes.
Elliot presents a water-tight case that should convince any Christian of his or her need for discipline, and then lays out a relatively clear set of suggestions for becoming more disciplined. When combined with the power of Elliot’s personal testimony, Discipline certainly adds a compelling voice to the call for a disciplined Christian life.
“We need never ask the question, ‘How do I know I’m called?’ We ought rather to ask, ‘How do I know I am not called?’” (21).
“We cannot give our hearts to God and keep our bodies for ourselves” (45).
“Christianity teaches righteousness, not rights. It emphasizes honor, not equality. A Christian’s concern is what is owed to the other, not what is owed to himself” (85).
“Let us lift up our work as we lift up our hands, our hearts, our bodies—a sacrifice, acceptable because it is lifted up to Him who alone can purify” (128).