You will know the name Jimmy Doolittle.
He flew bi-planes in World War I for the United States, and then barn-stormed throughout the 1920s, thrilling audiences by taking risks you would not believe. He led the retaliatory bombing of Tokyo in early 1942, a few months after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor.
He played a major role in the Allied victory over the Axis, eventually becoming a general. His autobiography is titled, I Could Never Be So Lucky Again. It's well worth reading.
Doolittle and his wife Joe (that's how they spelled her name) had two sons, Jim and John, both of whom served in World War II.
The general wrote about the younger son:
"John was in his plebe year at West Point and the upperclassmen were harassing him no end... While the value of demeaning first-year cadets is debatable, I was sure 'Peanut' could survive whatever they dreamed up" (p. 284).
Later, General Doolittle analyzes his own strengths and weaknesses and makes a fascinating observation:
"[I] have finally come to realize what a good thing the plebe year at West Point is. The principle is that a man must learn to accept discipline before he can dish it out. I have never been properly disciplined. Would have gotten along better with my superiors if I had" (p. 339).
"I have never been properly disciplined." What an admission. It takes a mature person to say that.
From all I've read, Doolittle was not exaggerating. He was a man with a thousand strengths, but a few glaring weaknesses that kept creeping up and blindsiding him. Even after he became a national hero, his superiors would sometimes ground him because of crazy stunts like buzzing airfields upside down and flying under bridges and endangering his passengers.
Prior to the Allied invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944, the actual place and time were the biggest secrets on the planet. Everyone was sworn to silence. Doolittle tells of a general who shot his mouth off in a bar, talking freely about the invasion, speculating on when and where, even though he personally had not been briefed.
General Eisenhower, the supreme commander of this invasion, had no patience with such foolishness.
The next day, that general was on a plane back to the States and demoted to a colonel.
He learned self-discipline the hard way.
What Lack of Discipline Looks Like
Doolittle observed that had he ever been properly disciplined, he would have related to his superiors better.
That's one way you can tell the lack of discipline—how one relates to the authority over him.
Those who teach these things say that in checking out prospective ministers for your church staff, you will want to look into the relationship of that individual with his father. If he is improperly related to his father, look for trouble with you, his supervisor.
Lack of discipline shows up in so many ways:
—In sloppy workmanship.
—In a rebellious, rule-breaking attitude.
—In an immature resentment of authority.
—In being unable to say "no" to oneself.
Two Instances From Scripture
The story of Eli and his sons Hophni and Phinehas from 1 Samuel 2:22-25 illustrates the kind of lawless behavior that a lack of discipline produces:
Now Eli was very old, and he heard all that his sons were doing to all Israel [referring to their sinful behavior as priests in the Tabernacle]. ... He said to them, "Why are you doing these things? For I am hearing of your evil dealings from all these people. No, my sons! Truly, it is not a good report that I hear the people of the Lord spreading. If one man sins against another, God will judge him, but if a man sins against the Lord, who will intercede for him?" But they did not listen to the voice of their father.
We read that and wonder, "Eli, you are the high priest, their superior officer. You are their father, their authority. These sons are accountable to you. You can fire them, demote them and send them home. Instead, all you can say is, 'What I hear is not good' and 'God will judge you.' Is that it?"
In one sense, the sons paid dearly for the father's failure to discipline them from an early age.
Then, there is the story of Absalom, son of King David. Second Samuel 13-18 portrays the sad story of this gifted, intelligent, beautiful young man who broke David's heart. After his death, we have David's mournful cry: "O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! If only I could have given my death in your stead, Absalom, my son, my son!" (18:33). Even reading it is painful.
But Absalom's wretched behavior can all be marked down to one huge cause: David was an absentee father. He should have disciplined Absalom numerous times and didn't. He and the nation paid dearly for his negligence.
Whose Job Is It to Teach Discipline?
Answer: The parents, teachers, coaches, scoutmasters, choir leaders, pastors, grandparents and bosses. Anyone in authority.
Those to whom we looked for guidance growing up did us a great injustice if they did not hold us accountable for our work and make an honest effort to teach us self-discipline.
In the absence of being taught discipline in childhood, we have to do it the hard way: Teach ourselves. We work to become our own teacher, learn to say "no" when tempted to take the easy way out and "Yes, you will stay and do your job" when to quit and go home looks so attractive.
It's not called "self-discipline" without reason.
The Bible puts a high prize on this kind of discipline.
Joe McKeever is retired from the pastorate but still active in preaching, writing and cartooning for Christian publications. He lives in Ridgeland, Mississippi.
For the rest of the article, visit joemckeever.com.
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