No pain, no gain
When Polish pianist Ignace Jan Paderewsky played before Queen Victoria, he won her enthusiastic approval. "Mr. Paderewsky," she exclaimed, "you are a genius." Paderewsky shook his head. "Perhaps, Your Majesty, but before that I was a drudge," he replied, alluding to the number of hours he had spent practising every day.
Any musician must practice, any actor must rehearse, any sportsman must train. Much of it is dreary, repetitive and monotonous, but all need to be disciplined if they are to succeed. If we were to pray, ‘Lord, make me a better person’, without ourselves making any efforts at self-improvement, that would be like an actor hoping to win an Oscar without rehearsing, a sportsman wanting to win an Olympic gold medal without training, a musician aspiring to play at the Proms without practicing. The Lord does not wave a magic wand.
To be a better person, we need discipline.
St Paul in the First Letter to the Corinthians remarked on how all athletes underwent strict training for the games in order to compete for the prize. St Paul said that he himself beat his body and made it his slave, in order to win the prize of heaven.
Lent is the time of Christian discipline and penitence, when we seek to make up what is lacking and correct what is wrong. On Sunday, the Lent group will be looking at St Benedict, and prayer. In Benedictine monasteries, there is a confession of faults at chapter meetings, where monks confess to one another infringements of the rule. We are not accountable to one another in this church, though all should seriously consider making a confession to a priest; to admit and confess our faults helps to establish self-control and true penitence and a real desire to do better.
The nature of modern Christianity is such that we have autonomy in our faith and discipleship; we each decide how we live our Christian lives, and what we give up or take on in Lent. This season is therefore primarily a time for self-discipline. But first we need some introspection, to look honestly at ourselves and see which desires need to be curbed, which aspects of our behaviour need to be corrected, for as the Book of Proverbs says, 'anyone without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls'.
Discipline is necessary for a true follower of Christ, we must be prepared to be corrected when our faults are exposed in the light of Christ light. In the Book of Revelation Christ says, 'Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.'
Now is the time to work out that one thing which is needful. Jesus saw it in the rich young man, he could see that he loved his possessions more than anything else in life. He told him to sell them all and come and follow him. The rich young man had asked Jesus, 'what must I do?’ to be better a better disciple. Lent is the time for us to ask the Lord, 'What must I do?’ It may be that which is costly to us.
Whatever efforts we make in Lent, being self-disciplined and accepting the discipline of the Master we follow will bring benefits. We can be better Christians, by the grace of God and through our own efforts. It will be worth it.
The Letter to the Hebrews says, 'For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.'
In other words: no pain, no gain.