Monday, July 25

A Dose of Discipline

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. --Hebrews 12:11

Depending on our upbringing, we each may have a different mental image when we hear the word "discipline." To some, the word invokes images of a trip to the school principal's office. Others may call to mind their field of study in college. Still others may understand the definition of discipline to mean adherence to a particular lifestyle. Each of those definitions is correct, yet none of them gives a full picture that can be applied to God's definition of discipline.

Hebrews 12, verses 5 through 12, describe how and why God doles out discipline to his children. He does so by allowing us to endure hardship. He also disciplines us by rebuking us when we have done wrong. He does these things because he loves us, and sometimes he loves us so much that it hurts.

No discipline seems pleasant at the time. Is it the disciplinary action that hurts or is it something else entirely? After all, God doesn't exactly come chasing after us pulling his belt through the loops with the speed of lighting. He allows things to happen to us, but I don't know that he directly thumps our heads. If God is not giving us a parental bum-swat, then what is it about discipline that hurts?

Of the six definitions I found for the word discipline, only one of the usages of the word refers to the act of punishing. The others refer to gaining knowledge, teaching, training, or instruction, "especially to teach self-control." That is where the painful part of being spiritually disciplined comes into play. Our natural inclination is to be self-serving. It hurts to deny ourselves of what we want.

What God wants from us is clear in the Bible. His word contains instructions and serves as a training guide for how we are to behave as his children. The word of God is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness (2nd Timothy 3:16). When it's put that way, it's clearer to see what God's picture of discipline looks like.

My current understanding of the definition of God's form of discipline forces me to return to the not-so-flattering Biblical image of myself as a sheep. Sheep are simple creatures and consequently, do dumb things, not unlike myself. Because of the tendency to wander into trouble, I need discipline. God has set up his rules, precepts and laws, as a fence around me. When I am obedient and living according to his rules, I don't get hurt. If I venture beyond the fence, I do so at my own risk. When I fail to yield to God's discipline, I take my chances with what the world may hand out. Any hurt I experience when outside of the fence is not caused by rope burn from God throwing out a lasso to drag me back. The hurt happens because I try to do my own thing in a world in which I don't belong--a world outside of God's precepts.

Because God loves us, he puts up the fence to keep us safe. Because God loves us he will always provide for us when we stay within the fence. Some people may not like the idea of being within a fenced area, and that's likely due to their own unwillingness to submit their selfish nature to God's discipline. God is not surprised when people feel that way; in fact, he gave each of us the to do so under his provision of free will. God will never force us to live subject to his discipline and all that goes with it. We have the free will to decide whether we want to live in his house with his rules, or try to go it on our own.

It has taken several years and will likely take several more before I am fully trained to stay inside the loving restraint of that fence. I know that the more I keep at it, the more disciplined I will become. Eventually I will get to participate in a harvest of righteousness and peace.

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