“God's blessed me with a wonderful wife and four kids...”
“God's blessed me with a great job...”
“God's blessed me with a new car...”
“God's blessed me with good health...”“
God is so good... look at what He's given to us”!
It's enough to make you stand up and sing "and now I am happy all the day!" Ugg.
You see, I grew up in a church culture that equated peace and comfort with God's blessing. It was home of the “Gospel of the Big Offer”: Jesus wants you happy, Jesus wants you fulfilled. Don’t you want the good life? Come to Jesus, and everything will be all right!
How unsettling, then, are the words of the Holy Spirit through the writer of the letter to the Hebrews!
For me at least, life isn’t what my little sub-culture promised. Frankly, it’s a lot harder than I ever thought, and for some people I love, it’s even harder for them. In my family’s life, the last month has been especially hard, with more difficulty than we ever anticipated around us… the kind of time where you don’t want to tell anyone just exactly how bad it really is, because no one really wants to know anyway. Anyway, in light of all that, I've been thinking a lot about Hebrews 12:5-11:
“... And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?"My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.
It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 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.”
This passage has really hit me, and there are so many things that are helpful to me here. I thought I’d post on them one at a time, but here's the first thought that was really refreshing to me:
The Lord disciplines.
I know that's not too profound, but it hit me. The Lord? The God of the Universe? HE actually disciplines?? Well, I guess He does!
It’s this whole topic of discipline that I’m wrestling with. Now I have some understanding of discipline – I have kids (hey, I even was a kid once!) Thayer’s and Smith define the word, in part, to mean:
“…the whole training and education of children (which relates to the cultivation of mind and morals, and employs for this purpose now commands and admonitions, now reproof and punishment)… and whatever in adults also cultivates the soul, esp. by correcting mistakes and curbing passions…instruction which aims at increasing virtue and chastisement, chastening, (of the evils with which God visits men for their amendment)” (emphasis added)
I’m ok with instruction, and even commands and admonitions. But reproof? Punishment? Chastisement? Chastening? Evils – “which God visits [on] men”?
With my kids, I understand that discipline may take the form of be correcting mistakes (punishment, consequences, etc.), and it may be building on strengths (chores, additional responsibilities, teaching, etc.). The kids may or may not like it or even get it at the time. But the goal is to train them up to maturity. And the methods God uses in my life may also be something I understand or beyond anything I like or want at the moment.
I don't know what you think, but this isn't exactly good news at first blush. I wasn't too fond of discipline as a child, and my taste for pain hasn't exactly grown. But the more that I think about it, the more powerful - the more life-changing this thought seems to me - and also, by the way, the more completely foreign to my thinking and practice. You see, even as an evangelical Christian, I've spent most of my life trying to avoid the Lord's discipline and, when I've thought about it at all, I've generally thought wrongly about it… for example, I’ll say:
- “Is God in control?”
- “What’s gone wrong in my life?”
- “Why is this happening to me?
Like a lot of other truth, of course I know this. But when difficulty comes, I've got to admit that my first emotional reaction is that the trouble is outside of God's plan - maybe even outside of His control. "Where are you God? Can you help me now?" My heart reaction is that something is desperately wrong - that the trouble experienced is outside of God's plan and purpose.
But what if it isn't?
What if the difficulty I or my loved ones are experiencing is exactly what our loving, gracious, consistent, beneficial, all-knowing heavenly Father actually intended to happen?
I know that “all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose.” I'm not saying that God is the author of evil, and I’m not up for the argument about the origin of evil, pain and suffering. I’m confident in the nature of God and His character to not be wrestling with that – I know that He’s good, loving, kind and compassionate to His children. But it seems clear that none of the circumstances in the life of a believer escape the notice - and control - of the Lord. What else could a beleaguered Paul mean, for example, when in the midst of talking about "the sufferings of this present time" he says that "...all things work together for good" for those who are love God and are called according to His purpose (Romans 12)?
So when bad things happen to me or to those around me, is it possible in 21st century America to think that God may be using, or even causing the circumstance for my good – as discipline?
James MacDonald said once that “God’s discipline is painful circumstance brought or allowed into the life of a believer by God to change their character and their conduct.” As I get my mind around this, I’m beginning to feel more of the purpose – and the goodness of God - in life’s difficulties.
So, in the midst of a tough time of life, when I don’t know what I’m supposed to learn or the precise cause of all of the difficulty, I’m looking for the Lord’s hand and His purpose. I’m actually beginning to feel that it’s ok that The Lord Disciplines. Life isn’t out of control, and the pain I experience has not escaped His notice. Far from that, it’s all from Him, part of His plan for me, and even for my benefit. So the very things that humanly should bring me a heavy heart are becoming the things I rejoice over, because they are useful – helpful… yeah, even good, because I know that God’s discipline is an indication of my son-ship, and a tangible evidence of God’s mercy and perfecting love in my life.
So if it’s God I’m dealing with, who am I to regard lightly anything coming from Him – even discipline?