The Four Disciplines of the Heart

Recently, I met with a leader who was in the process of losing heart. I have seen the look in his eyes a hundred times before. (I had seen it in my own mirror on more than one occasion.)

A Man Sitting on a Bench Reading His Bible - Photo courtesy of ©, Image #4950788

Photo courtesy of ©

My friend was under attack. He had just discovered that one of his board members was campaigning to unseat him. Worse, one of his children had just been diagnosed with a chronic disease. As a result of these issues, he was struggling with the typical symptoms of stress—insomnia, indigestion, and back pain.

He was ready to throw in the towel. And, who could blame him? Life is hard.

This is why leaders must understand the importance of their heart and why they must guard it. In times of adversity and temptation, a healthy heart is essential to survival.

How can leaders cultivate a healthy heart? I would suggest four disciplines:

  1. The Discipline of Reflection. We live in a busy and noisy world that will suck the life out of us if we let it. This is why it is essential that we intentionally pull away to a quiet place, pause, and reflect. If Jesus did this (see, for example, Mark 1:35), how much more important is it for us?

    I believe this is best done by reading the Bible and praying. I have also found it helpful to read other spiritual writings, especially those of the desert fathers. Anything outside of our own time gives us much-needed perspective, as C.S. Lewis notes in his Introduction to On the Incarnation by St. Athanasius.

  2. The Discipline of Rest. God has built rest into our very physiology. We are made to shut down for a third of the daily cycle. One of the quickest ways to lose perspective is to cheat ourselves out of this God-given “off switch.”

    But practicing the discipline of rest requires more than a biologically-induced pause. It requires deliberate choices: deciding to rest one day in seven and choosing to take our allotted vacations. I believe it even involves fasting—giving our bodies a break from the tyranny of our appetites.

  3. The Discipline of Recreation. There is a difference between amusement and recreation. The former leaves us more tired than we started. (Ever taken a trip to Disney World and come back more exhausted than you left?) Yet the latter refreshes us and grounds us.

    Recreation involves any activity that gives us the opportunity to express our creativity. For some, it might involve painting, writing, or playing a musical instrument. For others, it might even involve rebuilding an engine or baking a cake. These activities never seem urgent, but they are vitally important.

  4. The Discipline of Relationships. Arguably, this is the most important. You and I were made to live in relationship to others. In fact, the very foundation of reality is relational. Before the world was created, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, lived together in perfect love and unity.

    But in a world of social media and faux connections, we must be intentional about building authentic relationships and real community. This means making time—quality time—for our family members and friends. It means taking the initiative to invest in those we love.

I realize that I have only scratched the surface. This topic is worthy of an entire book. My hope in writing this short post is simply to put your heart on your radar, so that you will nurture it and find it to be a resource in the challenging times ahead.

Question: Which of these disciplines is most important to you in nurturing your heart? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • Scoti Springfield Domeij

    The Discipline of Exercise. When my son, an Army Ranger, was killed on his 14th deployment, his death gutted my heart. I retreated to a quiet place and snuggled under my thick, down comforter. Any noise, conversation or phone call shattered any remaining strand mooring my frazzled emotions. The sleep of depression failed to offer rest. I resigned my leadership positions at church and dug deeper into the Word and reflected on the Hebrew names of God. And then the Bible was simply not enough to buoy my heavy heart. I realized, “I’m sinking. If I don’t make some kind of change, I’ll lose the key to escape this downward spiral.” I started CrossFit, the same brutal training required of my son. CrossFit even named a hard-driving Hero workout in honor of him. After the first week, the trainer gave me a rousing commitment talk. I told the trainer, “I’m broken. I have no push. All I can do is show up. You’ll have to push me.” He said, “I can do that.” And he did. The first month I slept for the first time in two years, due to physical exhaustion, not due to depression. I’ve found an amazing group of people who mirror relationship in a way I wish the church did. People welcome every new face and introduce themselves. They don’t judge, they’re just glad you showed up and that you ‘try.’ When the workout of the day (WOD) is a killer, hard-body CrossFitters cheer me, and others, on as we struggle. The common bond of commitment, sweat, knotted muscles, lactic acid build up, and fatigue forges relationships. Even though I still struggle with the pain of loss, I feel better emotionally as a result of the intense exercise. And I’m awed by the doors God is opening to share Him with people outside the church bubble, because I’m knocked down and broken, but not knocked out.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Wonderful testimony, Scoti. I love hearing about your story. Thank you for taking time to share it.

  • Paul S

    The discipline of relationships is one of growing importance to me. Not just any relationship, it’s the relationship with my wife and brand new baby boy.

    I am trying to grow in my career, build a platform, start a business, and be present at home when I am at home.

    I have found that putting my cell phone in my office at home and leaving it there for a few hours helps me to disconnect from all that other stuff and focus on the two most important people to me. It is so refreshing.

  • Ryan Gaskill

    I enjoy reflection, quite times when I get to be home alone or in the car and shutting everything off and being still and quiet. There is also nothing like a good day of surfing.

  • Heather Filipowicz

    This one hit home. Last year I was in the throws of this. It took a while to come back, but I did. It’s a hard time to go through for leaders and there is hope at the end. Thanks, Michael, for addressing it.

  • Angry Angie

    Very enlightening. Thanks…Reflection. Rest. Recreation and Relationships..Easy to remember.