Today’s Reading: 1 Timothy 4
How long does it take to become an expert in something? In the Development of Talent Project, Dr. Benjamin Bloom of Northwestern University studied the careers of world-class sculptors, pianists, chess masters, tennis players, swimmers, mathematicians, and neurologists. Across the board, he discovered that it takes between ten to eighteen years before someone can reach world-class competency. The point of the study was that it takes time to be the best at whatever chosen career or path you aspire to.
In Outliers, author and researcher Malcolm Gladwell calls “becoming an expert” the ten-thousand-hour rule. How do you become the greatest band of all time? An expert in rock and roll? You work at it for ten thousand hours. Gladwell speaks about the Beatles seemingly instant success that many think happened on the Ed Sullivan show in one night. Gladwell says that’s not the case. Before landing in America, they’d already been playing together for seven years. It was the band’s ten-thousand hours of playing that made them who they were, not a night on American television.
They’d started out doing one-hour sessions, in which they performed their best numbers, the same ones, at every one. But then they were invited to play in Hamburg, Germany. While there, they played eight hours, seven days a week. Gladwell explains much of their ten-thousand hours:
The Beatles ended up traveling to Hamburg five times between 1960 and the end of 1962. On the first trip, they played 106 nights, five or more hours a night. On their second trip, they played 92 times. On their third trip, they played 48 times, for a total of 172 hours on stage. The last two Hamburg gigs, in November and December of 1962, involved another 90 hours of performing. All told, they performed for 270 nights in just over a year and a half. By the time they had their first burst of success in 1964, in fact, they had performed live an estimated twelve hundred times. . . . Most bands today don’t perform twelve hundred times in their entire careers. The Hamburg crucible is what set the Beatles apart.
Gladwell considers that the key to success in any field is simply a matter of practicing a specific task that can be accomplished with twenty hours of work a week for ten years.
Paul gave this challenge to Timothy in one word:
Have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. (1 Timothy 4:7-8)
The grandmaster level chess player, a concert pianist, a high-level athlete all have the word discipline in common. The saying goes, “The distance from your dreams to reality is called discipline.” This is why most people miss their dreams. The other side of an undisciplined life is disappointment.
Paul was telling Timothy that the goal in discipline is godliness. Or putting it another way: “godliness” is not automatic. We have to work toward it. Getting born again? Christ did the work for us. Getting godly? We have to discipline ourselves. Listen to the passage from The Message: “Exercise daily in God—no spiritual flabbiness, please! Workouts in the gymnasium are useful, but a disciplined life in God is far more so, making you fit both today and forever.”
I had a friend tell me one time that he was speaking to the boxing welterweight champion, who told him that he would set his alarm for 1 a.m. every night so he could get up and do one hundred sit-ups and one hundred push-ups. When my friend asked him why he would do that, he said, “I knew I was working while my opponent was sleeping, and I wanted the edge on him.”
That’s where ten-thousand hours comes from. Discipline and effectiveness, discipline and success travel together.
Theologian Henri Nouwen spoke about discipline for our spiritual lives: “Discipline means to prevent everything in our life from being filled up. Discipline means that somewhere we’re not occupied, and certainly not preoccupied. In the spiritual life, discipline means to create that space in which something can happen that we hadn’t planned or counted on.”
Jim Elliot was a modern-day missionary and martyr, who practiced ten-thousand-hour devotional living. He wrote these powerful words: “I may no longer depend on pleasant impulses to bring me before the Lord. I must rather respond to principles I know to be right, whether I feel them to be enjoyable or not.”
Discipline is focus. Discipline is work. Discipline puts blinders to things that are crying for our time and attention. Because Timothy joined Paul before AD 50 and Paul was writing in the early sixties, Timothy was at least in his mid-twenties and could well be in his early or mid-thirties. This term for “youth” (in verse 12) could apply up to the age of forty in that culture, although it usually applied especially to someone under twenty-nine. And the challenge to young Timothy was that he would have a lot of distractions in life, so it was important to get focused on the right thing.
Paul challenged Timothy to make his discipline not simply about going to Planet Fitness; reminding him that disciplining ourselves physically isn’t wrong or bad—it’s just that there’s a better discipline, and that is about pursuing eternal things. Listen to Paul’s admonishment again: “Workouts in the gymnasium are useful, but a disciplined life in God is far more so, making you fit both today and forever” (verse 8, MSG).
No life ever grows great until it is focused, dedicated, and disciplined. Gary Player, one of the greatest golfers in the world, was known for his discipline. When he was 80 years old, he still got up every morning at 5 a.m. and did 1,300 sit-ups. One day while hitting off the practice tees, he heard someone say, “I wish I could hit a ball like that.” He turned around and said to the onlooker, “No, you don’t. You know what it takes to hit a golf ball like [I do]? It takes getting up at 5:00 a.m. every morning to hit 1,000 balls until my hand bleeds, then I go to the clubhouse to bandage my hand, then go back and hit another 1,000 balls.”
We want the results but not the discipline. Godliness is the goal for us, says Paul, and discipline is the key.