The role of suffering and hardship is one of the most neglected issues in life, because we do not arrange for it to happen. Instead, life inevitably arranges it for us.
Have you ever considered that the tests, trials, and sufferings that you are facing may be for your benefit to help you grow and become stronger?
The writer of Hebrews stated, “Endure it as discipline” (Heb. 12:7 HCSB). In this case, discipline is not the spiritual practices like scripture memorization, prayer, solitude, simplicity, or fasting; rather, the discipline is hardship or spiritual conditioning that comes in the form of testing, suffering, trails, and affliction.
Discipline means training. The word is used in reference to a father training his children, or training in righteousness, or God training his children. The writer of Hebrews is saying that God lovingly disciplines his children to train them to become spiritual champions. It is meant to draw us away from what will cause us harm and lead us into the likeness of Jesus. It is a spiritual maturing process that God allows us to experience to become like Christ. It is God’s effort to realign our will to his.
Discipline is not punishment. Sometimes when hardships and calamity fall upon us we think that these sufferings are the punishments for our sinfulness. Hardship and suffering are not God’s way of getting even. Neither is it his means of retaliating for the wrongs we have committed. God’s discipline is not the sentence for our sin. The punishment for our sin was laid on Jesus at the cross, once and forever.
When God disciplines us he is not getting us back; he is drawing us back. He seeks to bring us back to his will, from that which will destroy us, and toward his likeness.
God filters the events of life through his sovereign fingers so that we might become more and more like his Son, Jesus Christ.
A novice once asked the great Michelangelo how he sculptured such beautiful statutes. Pointing to an angel he had just chiseled out of marble, he said, “I saw the angel in the marble, I chiseled until I set it free.”
In a similar vein, yet not as eloquent, a southern artisan had completed sculpting a horse out of rock. Bewildered by the transformation, a spectator said, “How in the world did you do it?” The artist replied, “I knock everything off that don’t look like a horse.”
Likewise, God wants to free us to be all that we can be. He has to knock off the rough edges of our sinfulness, chisel away the wrongful attitudes, and sandpaper our character flaws. For that to happen he disciplines us.
Here are five truths to remember about God’s discipline.
1. God is a disciplinarian.
He is like a coach who practices, drills, instructs, and corrects his players so that they can be in top shape for a game or a race.
2. God’s discipline is a sign of a personal relationship.
God’s discipline is compared to a parent’s discipline of a child. A parent only has jurisdiction over his or her own children. Because of the relationship, the parent has an intimate concern and understanding of that child. As a result, a loving parent administers the discipline with an eye on helping the child become all that they can become.
God’s discipline flows out of his love for us. We are his children. Unlike human parents, he never disciplines in anger. If he did he would destroy us, reducing us to nothing (Jeremiah 10:24). He may have to discipline us severely at times, but he would never kill us (Psalm 118:18).
When faced with the hardship of God’s discipline, we should accept it as God’s method of training and as a token that we are beloved children of God.
I remember scuffling home from a basketball practice one day, defeated and discouraged.
“What’s the matter?” my older brother, Jerry, asked.
“The coached yelled at me the entire practice. It seemed that I couldn’t do anything right.”
Then, Jerry gave me an insight that I had never thought of before. “Rick, don’t worry when a coach yells at you, worry if he stops. As long as he is correcting and instructing you he sees hope and potential. When he stops offering advice and is silent toward you he has given up on you.”
God loves us just the way we are, but he refuses to let us stay that way. He wants us to be just like Jesus. Don’t take his discipline as anger toward you, take it as affirmation that you are his child, that he believes in you, and that he wants nothing but the best for you. He’s a loving parent that refuses to give up on you.
3. God’s discipline is oftentimes painful.
I remember the switching I received from my mother. I can’t forget the paddling I got from a teacher. It hurt. Discipline is rarely painless. But, a double meaning exists in the word painful. Discipline hurts the receiver and the giver. I had to become a parent to understand the words my parents said before enacting a punishment, “This is going to hurt me as much as you.” Discipline hurts—God and us. God doesn’t like it any more than we do.
4. God disciplines for an ultimate purpose.
Never is the hardship and suffering sent our way capriciously. His ultimate purpose is to make us like his son (Romans 8:29). In order for that to happen, he has to change us. Ultimately, that is the purpose of all discipline, whether it is from a parent, or a coach, or from God. God seeks to change our behavior, our actions, our thoughts, and our motives.
It has been said that God comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable. God sacrifices our comfort to make us conformed to his character.
5. God’s discipline seeks a finished product.
God wants us to break through the tape by becoming a spiritual champion. The signs of that occurring are: sharing in his holiness, displaying a harvest of righteousness, and living a life of peace. Upward we are holy—set apart like God, outward we are righteous—acting like God, and inward we have peace—the calmness of God.
Don’t you want that kind of life—one lived right that has a profound tranquility? It all hinges on your response to God’s discipline.
What is our reaction when our loving Heavenly Father disciplines us? We have three possible reactions.
• We can resent God’s discipline bitterly.
My trusty thesaurus offers the following synonym for resent it recommends dislike, hate, take exception to, rail against. Yet many people do just that when the hardships of life come. As a result, they become bitter, hardened, scornful, and filled with hate.
Discipline not rightly received sours rather than sweeten the character.
• We can accept God’s discipline grudgingly.
When the pain and hardships come on our lives we can endure them but not be happy about it. In this scenario, we often question God, “Why are you doing this to me?” We know that we are God’s children; we just can’t understand why he would be putting us to the test. Somehow we have the attitude that as believers we are above the painful realities of life. That in some way our Christian credentials give us a primary status that is to protect us from the hurts and heartaches. Instead of asking God, “Why?” we would be better off asking, “What are you teaching me?”
• We can embrace God’s discipline willingly.
Discipline is always preparatory to blessing and can bring nothing but blessing when rightly received. To embrace God’s discipline is to understand that a loving God will never chastise his children capriciously. His discipline is to prune every branch in our lives that does not bear fruit so that our lives can increase its yield. His discipline is purposeful and brings us life.
When our attitudes are right, God can use those hardships to change us more like his son. When that happens we will cross the tape becoming a spiritual champion.
During my college tennis days, the running and practicing the team endured paid off. Our teams won the conference then the region earning a births in the National Tournament.
My parents were drove down to watch us play in Florida. While in Ocala in a conversation with my parents, my coach paid me a tremendous complement. My parents told me later that the coach had said, “If I ever have a son I would like for him to be like Rick.” All the running and hardship that I went through not only made me a better tennis player; it made me a better person.
Don’t you realize that God makes a similar statement concerning you? “For all my children, I would like for them to be like my Son—Jesus.” And to accomplish that purpose he disciplines his children. And for us his children to become like Jesus we must embrace his discipline willfully. Again and again.