“And you have forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons: My son, do not take the Lord’s discipline lightly or lose heart when you are reproved by him, for the Lord disciplines the one he loves and punishes every son he receives.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
The believers who received the letter of Hebrews had a hard life. They were part of a movement that was new and unpopular and even considered by some to be an atheistic, cannibalistic cult. They faced economic hardship, social ostracism, and outright persecution on a regular basis. Their former friends who were Jews wouldn’t have anything to do with them anymore and the Roman government fed them to the lions in the arena. And, as we saw last time, the author here said the best way to handle all of this was to consider it to be the discipline of a loving father. What should they—and we—do with that?
Well, for starters, we need to make sure we understand what the author means by discipline here. We generally think about discipline as a bad thing. It’s what happens in response to something we do that was wrong. In this way, discipline is indistinguishable from punishment. That’s not what he means.
Discipline here is like what a marathon runner does to her body in order to make it ready for the competition that lies ahead of her. She has to do this because what she is asking her body to do for her is not natural. The human body is not naturally able to run 26.2 miles without stopping. In order to be able to do that she must work really hard to put herself in a certain condition. She eats certain foods, she does certain exercises, she goes certain places, and she doesn’t do a whole lot of other things. She disciplines herself in order to be better at her craft.
If we have given ourselves over to Jesus, our heavenly Father wants to help us be more like Him. Being like Jesus is not natural for us. We don’t do the kinds of things He did on our own. Similarly, relying on God is not something we do on our own. If we’re going to do that, it’s going to take training. It’s going to take…discipline.
Yet, what kind of discipline will make us more like Jesus? Well, things like the spiritual disciplines will certainly do it. If, like the marathon runner, we set ourselves on a relentless pursuit of things like studying the Scriptures and times of silence and serving others and sharing our faith and things like these, we will make ourselves over into the image of Christ.
But, what if you are trying to get someone to run a marathon who doesn’t always want to run it, much less train for it? Now the training is going to look…a bit different.
That’s a little like the journey we take as followers of Jesus. There are days when we are of the right frame of mind and we pursue Him with a near-reckless abandon. We make great strides and stay consistent with those for long periods of time. Then, there are seasons when we just aren’t feeling it. There are times when we let ourselves get distracted by everything else going on around us and wind up taking a couple of steps back. There are still other periods of life when we get discouraged or angry with God and sit down in place like a stubbornly insubordinate toddler.
God is still committed to our growing in the image of Christ in those times, but if we aren’t going to do it ourselves, He’s going to give us some…encouragement to keep moving; some goading to keep relying on Him and deepening our trust in Him. And usually in those times we’ve demonstrated by our behavior that we aren’t going to go by self-motivation when things are easy, so God’s only choice is to turn up the pressure a bit. And for us, God turning up the pressure usually looks like hard times.
But, if we simply view them as hard times, we’re likely to react to them in ways that aren’t ultimately helpful. Think about it: What do we usually do when things get tough? Forget the “when the going gets tough, the tough get going” nonsense. We find a way to make them easier. But, if the hard times we face are instances of discipline from a Father who loves us and is giving us the opportunity to grow, running from them to find an easier path will mean missing out on the growth.
Or sometimes, when things get unexpectedly tough, we get angry. What is anger going to do in the face of discipline? Then we’re likely to just reject it and keep going in the way we were—a way that was probably leading us away from God and for which the discipline was intended to call us back to the right.
If we learn to see the hard times as acts of discipline from a loving Father, though, all of a sudden the situation and our reaction to it changes. Now we can receive them with grace and intentionality. Now we lean immediately more fully into God, anticipating His help and looking forward to seeing how He uses the situation to make us more like Him. Our attitude becomes one of determined joy and focused courage which not only helps us hold up better under whatever the pressure happens to be, but also sets a great example for the people around us to see and follow.
If our hard times are discipline from a Father who loves us, our attitude toward the difficult issue of bad things happening in a world presided over by a good God is totally transformed. Bad things happen. God never causes them, but He rather leverages them for our good. If we’ll trust Him and lean harder into Him through them, we’ll discover what that good is going to be. Isn’t that better than getting angry or depressed or otherwise discombobulated by them? I think so too. Your heavenly Father loves you. Accept His training to be more like Him and experience the wonder and joy that come along with that.