Thus you are to know in your heart that the Lord your God was disciplining you just as man disciplines his own sons. (Deuteronomy 8:5)
This is what God told Israel just before they crossed the Jordan into their promised land. The notion of testing their hearts and humbling them (verse 2) seemed to travel with this idea of discipline. Heard any good sermons on discipline lately? They are rare. Perhaps the scarcity is because discipline is an Old Covenant construct, needed more by those perpetually errant Jews than we grafted-in gentiles. No. Discipline is clearly a feature of the New Covenant as well.
My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor feint when you are reproved by Him. For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives. (Hebrews 10:5-6)
OK, perhaps not many sermons. But what about testimonies of saints lauding God’s discipline in their lives? Testimonies are also scarce aren’t they? What’s up with this? Perhaps discipline is just a minor theme. Again, I don’t think so.
It is for discipline you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. (Hebrews 12:7-8)
Illegitimate! This word should stop us in our tracks. In fact, this would be a good time to review our history with God and identify His legitimizing discipline in our lives. Perhaps like Israel, this is the word He speaks to us just before we enter our promised land. The author of Hebrews has just been warming up…
Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share in His holiness. (Hebrews 12:9-10)
Holiness is another word that has fallen on hard times. Could a preacher concoct a more off putting message than one connecting discipline and holiness? The spirit of the age is doing its best to scrub these concepts from our culture; they put too much onus on man and raise the bar too high for his character. And, it is damaging to man’s self image to suggest that there are things in his heart that need to be tested for the sake of humility and transformation. (sarcasm intended)
I heard of a radio music program recently whose hook was; “Everything; Right now; All the time.” These six words may be the best description of the spirit of this age I have heard. It is not hard to imagine the life long process of discipline being anathema in this setting. But we are in error if we share this attitude.
All discipline, for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterward it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed. (Hebrews 12:11-13)
I have watched the cause-effect idea of discipline to holiness become a burden so heavy, it had to be jettisoned. In light of the traditional definitions and understandings of these terms I think this was essential. Many of us were reared in spiritual communities where man, in our ultra – hardened depravity, required a steady treatment of painful consequences to keep us on the holy straight and narrow. Knowing our burden was to be light only added weight to our loads. As we trudged up the steep grade toward holiness, we simply collapsed, by God’s grace.
Unfortunately, portions of the church have reacted to this old wineskin and adopt doctrines that get them to their (self-conceived) promised lands by various means which typically excluded God’s discipline. I pray I am not doing violence to the ideas of discipline and holiness, pandering to the spirit of this age, but I would like to share my current understanding of these terms. Like all of the Middle With Mystery installments, my thoughts are being Father-filtered.
I am one who jettisoned the I-am-just-a-sinner-in-the-hands-of-a-holy-and-angry-God outlook. As a spiritually exhausted saint, I had to say enough. I was making no strides in holiness with my white-knuckled commitments. I was not resting in God’s love in my hamster wheel activities. Discipline, to me, has been the pressures that came to bear (by God’s design and permission) that led me to this revelation. It had a very authentic feel; in the moment, it did not seem joyful.
Discipline is simply the tests God has ordained or allowed (I rarely know which) that redirect my heart toward Him. They are the interventions that reveal God’s ways as far higher than mine. These loving intrusions on my status quo have humbled me and led to the measure of joy I know today as His son. While I receive little confirmation in sermon or testimony, I contend it is by God’s discipline that He leads our hearts into our true promised land, where we realize Jesus is our inheritance. He is our sufficiency; our all in all. When we cross over our Jordan’s we will find an interior life of abundance. It is along this pathway of discipline that He is transforming us into the image of His Son. I suspect this is as close to holiness and righteousness as I will get.
Father, Thank you for Your discipline. Open our heart’s understanding to this aspect of Your transformational love. Help us to sift through the garbage thoughts we have had of you and ourselves. Lead us to that place where we can see and celebrate the redemption you conceal within discipline. Help us to endure that we too might know the peaceful fruit of righteousness.