Thursday, July 16, 2009

God's Discipline

I am preaching this week on “How to be Wise With God’s Discipline.” Proverbs 3:11-12 teaches us not to “despise the Lord’s discipline or resent his rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those whom he loves, as a father the child in whom he delights.” Any parent can relate to the importance of disciplining their child. Some of the angriest children I have met are children whose parents do not discipline them. They are too young to be “in charge,” but their parents let them be in charge and consequently the children are overwhelmed and angry. God disciplines us because he loves us.

One of the challenges of being wise with God’s discipline is knowing when discipline or correction is from God. If I lose my job, is God trying to tell me something, am I just experiencing the consequences of poor work performance, or am I simply the victim of a depressed economy? It is hard to say. One thing we can do in the face of this uncertainty is to submit our circumstance to God and pray to him, “Lord, if this is your discipline then help me learn from it and be more faithful and obedient to you because of it. And if this is not something you orchestrated, then help me learn from it and grow stronger in my faith through it.” The fact is that we can consecrate all of our life to God and seek his teaching and wisdom even as we are uncertain of God’s direct role in the cause of our predicament.

I knew a man who, in the midst of an intense battle in Vietnam, made a vow to serve God wholeheartedly if God would spare his life. He survived the battle and promptly forgot the vow. Over twenty years later, as he drove along a road near his home, he heard an audible voice say to him, “I am not going to call you again.” He drove home trembling and called me at the church where he had visited on a few occasions. He said he was ready to give his life to Christ and indeed I baptized him a few days later.

I often yearn for this kind of direct, unequivocal discipline or counsel from God. I love the clarity of it, however painful it may be. My experience has been, though, that far more often God’s discipline comes in more subtle forms, sometimes in the counsel and correction of others, and especially in the painful lessons I learn through life’s hardships.

The writer of Hebrews tells Christ-followers to “endure hardship as discipline (12:7)” The word here for discipline (paideia) means “instruction or training.” Through eyes of faith, hardship becomes like a special tutor who guides us in growth and learning.

This relates to Romans 8:28 and Paul’s declaration that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” And with Romans 5:3-5, which tells us to “boast” in our afflictions because they produce endurance, character, and hope.

I find all this tremendously inspiring because I want to always keep growing. We tend to yearn for easy times but easy times don’t teach us much or grow us much. It is a fact that we learn and grow most through tough times, some of which God brings on us directly to discipline us and all of which he can use to teach us and grow our faith.

I’m not signing up for hardship’s tutoring, but when he knocks at my door I want to open it with faith.


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