Hebrews 12:7-11 “It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons (daughters). 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…..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.”
Many of us have heard this passage before, or at least heard the concept taught. I think because of the way we use the word “discipline” these days, we easily skim over some of the meaning. Discipline is something we think of doing to our kids, a punishment or consequence when they have not followed the rules. Of course we know it is healthy. If there are no consequences then they would not grow up knowing how to behave and function in society. We often say that God disciplines us for our good, because He loves us, and in that we envision giving our kids a spanking and saying ‘this hurts me more than it does you’. Surely that is a part of what this passage means, but I think there is something deeper here as well.
Discipline: training to act in accordance with rules; drill, activity, exercise, or a regimen that develops or improves a skill; training. (Webster)
The word discipline can mean punishment or consequence, but that is a lesser meaning. I am not a linguist, but the words origin seems to be traced back to the 11th century, and spin off from the world disciplina (instruction given, teaching, learning). Discipline is training. It is not something that is done to us as much as it is something that is done with us. God does discipline us by convicting us when we are in sin, but more often I think he disciplines us by allowing us to walk through hard things, and by gifting us with challenges that teach us new skills and strengthen our abilities. In this He is training us and He is doing this because He knows what is ahead of us. What cross country coach would enter a student in a 10k, knowing that they can barely jog a half mile? Our father knows the race that we are in, and He knows the parts that are up ahead of us. Because of that, He is disciplining us so that we can run and run well. He is disciplining us for our good. He is disciplining us so that we can take part in the bigger things that will bring us joy.
I love this part, ”They disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them…” I think we could also say our earthly fathers trained us to the best of their ability for the things they knew we would encounter in this life. Respecting authority, working hard, managing money, changing a tire…having learned these things, once in a tricky situation, we are better prepared to endure it well. “..but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share in His holiness.” And following that logic, I think we can point out here that our heavenly Father is training us for the things He knows we will encounter, with the entire scope of eternity in His mind. He sees us as we are now, He sees us as we will be when He is done with us, and He knows what we need to make it through to the end. So the hard things that seem to be thrown our way, the uncomfortable, the inconvenient, the things we think we just wont make it through, it is not something we just have to bear because life is unfair, and it’s not even something we have to deal with because we are simply in a broken world and things happen. It is a gift from a very good Father, who is preparing us for the good things He has ahead.
We pray often to ‘be used’ by God. To do something great with our lives. To have an impact on those around us. To make His name known. Then things start to hit. Setbacks, relational tension, financial strains, unexpected things that just seem to be in the way. Sometimes it feels like, ‘Why me?!’ ‘Can I just get a break?’ Look around at all the people that seem to be wasting time and doing nothing with their life, and start comparing it to yours in a time when you are trying to serve, and love, and be faithful in all the ways you know you need to be…you will quickly get confused if you don’t keep this concept of discipline in mind. The best coach looks for the student that he can work with, the student that will endure the training (discipline), the student that he can see winning the gold medal…And that is the one he works most intentionally with and pushes the hardest. Harder than the students that aren’t doing so well, the ones that seem like they should be getting more training. He looks for the ones that are willing to undergo discipline, the ones that long to be trained, all along with the end goal in mind, of seeing them cross the finish line with hands in the air, victorious. Discipline, training, challenges and hard things, are a sign of approval, a sign of “I know you are going to go far”. Not a punishment because we are doing something wrong. Not a test to see if we will make it. A gift, a special training for what lies ahead.
“Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may be not put out of joint, but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” (v 12-14)
As we are praying to be a part of something great, He begins to answer by bringing us hard things. He begins to answer by discipling us, training us, so that we will be ready to carry the weight and the responsibility of the things He wants to let us be apart of. “So that what is lame may not be put out of join, but rather healed.” If He were to hand us something great without training us first, we would crumble under the pressure and weight of it. Sometimes He puts a desire in our heart and we don’t understand why He is not allowing us to achieve it. He is working a deep healing in us (healing always hurts, remember), He is strengthening us in the deepest places, so that we can bear the weight of how He wants to use us, so that we can see the desire in our hearts come alive.
What do we do in the meantime? “Strive for peace, and for holiness.” Sounds simple right? We all know that when hard things hit, the initial reaction is to back down and quit. We are praying and seeking to do great things for the Lord, our hearts are full of pure intentions and a passion to serve Him but He is making us wait and we don’t know why. Then the stress of life starts to hit, then someone hurts our feelings, we begin to run out of grace, we being to think ‘no one understands what I’m dealing with!’ Or, the desire yet unfulfilled in our heart creates such an ache that we can’t hold out and wait for Him to bring it to pass so we begin to numb the pain and seek comfort in other things, we begin to settle, sinful things begin to seem not so bad. We’ve all been there, but we can’t stay there.
We have to come to a place where we see hard things as a gift, from the hands of our good Father. We have to speak this to ourselves, and we have to speak it to each other. We have to shout it over each other’s lives when we can’t hear it for ourselves. Discipline is a sign of favor. It is a sign that He is hearing our prayers, that He is and is going to continue to use us, and the position we will be in ahead requires special training. This should excite us! We have to endure well, we have to finish the training, and thankfully, He has promised that He will get us through. He who promised is faithful.