“No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore, strengthen your tired hands and weakened knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated but healed instead.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Do you know why most people don’t exercise the way they should? Because they don’t want to. I rushed that, didn’t I? You were getting all of your excuses ready to start listing off in defense of your lack of exercise, and I cut your short. But the truth is, at the end of the day, we don’t exercise as much as we should (and I’ll let you define “should” in a way that makes you comfortable) because there are other things we’d rather do more. We have time for all of the things we most want to do. Period. Of course, the reason we don’t want to exercise as much as we want to do other things is because exercising is hard. We don’t like doing hard things. But sometimes, hard things that hurt us in the moment help us in the long run. This is an important thing to keep in mind in the next part of Hebrews 12 here. Let’s take a look at this together.
Pain is a gift from God for fallen world. It is an indication that something is wrong and needs to be addressed. When we are hurting, we sometimes like to think it would be nice to not feel pain, but that would actually be a terribly dangerous state of affairs. There are people who can’t feel pain for one reason or another, and their lives are vastly more complicated and troublesome than ours who can feel it. But as much as pain is a good gift from God, it is nonetheless not a very pleasant one in any given moment.
Pain is…well…painful. And yet, it is unfailingly an opportunity to learn and grow. This is what the kind of discipline the author of Hebrews has been talking about throughout this section is intended to be. When God, our heavenly Father, gives us the gift of discipline, it is never fun in the moment. Although every statement in the Scriptures is true, you won’t find many that are truer to experience than v. 11 here.
This is part of what makes the Scriptures so good. They don’t play fast and loose with reality. They simply present it as it is without over-spiritualizing it. Yes, discipline accomplishes good things in us. We’ll get to that in a minute. But in any given moment it is not enjoyable. In fact, it’s often awful. It hurts. And we don’t like to hurt. As a result, our first instinct is to avoid discipline if we can. We instinctively draw back from it. This is why we don’t exercise like we should. We do it once, it hurts, so we don’t go back for a second round until the hurting stops. Then, of course, when we do it again, it hurts again. So we just give up.
But discipline never exists without a purpose. God’s discipline, as the author says next, “yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” There are a couple of things here worth noticing. First, discipline yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. Remember what righteousness means? Right relationships. Someone who is righteous is rightly related to God and to people. Well, when you are rightly related to God and to people, you are going to have peace in your life. At that point, you almost won’t be able to avoid peace. The goal of all of God’s discipline is righteousness.
A second thing is necessary to note here, though. This sweet fruit is only available “to those who have been trained by it.” In order to enjoy the rewards, you have to go through the discipline. All the way through. You can’t run away from it. You can’t stubbornly refuse to engage with it. You can’t merely dip your toes in the waters of discipline. You can’t quit halfway through because it’s simply too much to bear. You’ve actually got to be trained by it. This means facing up to the pain and pushing through to the other side. And if that doesn’t sound terribly pleasant, it shouldn’t. But then, the author has already been honest about that. It won’t be pleasant. “No discipline seems enjoyable at the time.”
So, what do we do in light of this? He tells us that next. We dig in and lean into the discipline. “Strengthen your tired hands and weakened knees.” You’ve been going through a hard season. You are tired. You are sore. And I don’t mean either of those things in only physical terms. You are weary of trying to do good when all around you is ugliness and evil. Dig deep and find those reserves of strength that only come from the Spirit’s flowing through you. Let His strength be your strength. Use that strength to make straight paths for your feet, the author says. Don’t make choices that are going to make the path you are walking more difficult than it already is. It’s hard to believe in any given moment of discipline, but through is always going to wind up being easier in the long run than going around.
When we lived in Colorado, we drove up to the top of Pike’s Peak several times. The road to the summit is about 19 miles of twists, turns, and narrow switchbacks. It takes about two hours to get there. From sea level to summit, though, the peak itself is just a little over 2.5 miles. Why take 19 miles to get there instead of the much, much shorter 2.5 miles it is in reality? Because the long, narrow, and winding path is far smoother and easier. The road may seem difficult now, but if you take another path that promises ease and comfort, you will find your going much harder and more fraught with dangers. You will ultimately have to turn around, come back to the beginning, and take the path you spent all that time trying to avoid. And when you reach that point, your load will be heavier and your wounds deeper. Make for yourself straight paths to take.
And do this because in your current state, you are lame. I don’t mean that socially or even physically. You are spiritually lame. Sin has made it so that you walk with a limp. Refusing the pain and inconvenience of God’s discipline won’t make your life easier. You need spiritual training just like an injury to your body requires physical training if you are going to get better. My father-in-law hurt his shoulder a few months ago. It required surgery to repair what was broken on the inside. As much as the surgery was needed, though, he was lame on the other side of it. He couldn’t meaningfully use that arm at all. He had to commit to a process of physical therapy and exercise that has caused him enormous amounts of pain along the way. But he’s done it. All of it. Painfully and slowly. And today, although there is still a ways to go, he can use his arm. “Make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated but healed instead.”
If you have committed your life in Christ to your heavenly Father, He is going to bring discipline to your life. The sorry state you are in because of sin is simply not the place He is willing to leave you. He has a glorious future and purpose for your life that begins now and stretches into eternity. But if you are going to fulfill that purpose, He is going to have to get you in shape for it. That process is going to be long, painful, and difficult. Stick with it. As Paul told the Philippians believer, “”I am sure of this, that he who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” His discipline is good and for your good. Embrace it and grow into who He designed you to be.