How do you feel about being disciplined, especially by God? The word discipline doesn’t usually bring pleasant thoughts to our minds. Yet, if you look at the word, it is obvious it is tied closely to the word “Disciple.” To be a disciple is to be a learner, a student or better an apprentice of a person. A disciple is one who is devoted to another person whom they regard as the master of some discipline and is the one they desire to learn from, to imitate and to become like as a fellow master of the discipline who may mentor others who can be apprenticed for the discipline. In different fields such as becoming an electrician we start as an apprentice who trains under others. In time if they grow and learn they can become journeyman who can train other apprentices and work toward becoming a master electrician. In discipleship, we are apprentices of Jesus. We are constantly working to be more and more like him. As we grow we become strong enough that we begin to train others to become like him as well. We become journeymen of Christ and can mentor others for him. I’m not certain we ever attain the master status with discipleship, since we are always trying to help others become more like Him.
Discipline then is God’s training of us in our discipleship, putting us through different things to help us grow and become more like Jesus and better able to lead others to him. In Hebrews 12:4-8 we read these challenges with regard to God’s discipline of us as his disciples. “In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood. And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says, ‘My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.’ Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined – and everyone undergoes discipline – then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all.” Were you disciplined as a child growing up? Did you realize the discipline was given because your parent loved you? Did it feel like love to you? As an adult, if you have children, have you disciplined them? Is it even possible to bring up a child to adulthood without discipline? Would you demonstrate any love for the child if you didn’t discipline them in their growing up?
The problem with us in our relationship with God is that often we can’t see the suffering we go through as a form of God’s discipline. Too often we look at whatever we may be suffering and either blame it on our own carelessness, or on nature, the world, the environment or what we ate last night. It is difficult for us to attach the problems or suffering we have in life as coming from God. Why is that the case? I think there are multiple reasons, but the biggest is likely the fact we just can’t see God acting through the events and activities of life. We too often picture God sitting on his throne in glory, playing cards with the angels and showing little interest to what is going on in this world. It is especially hard for us to recognize God being involved in our personal lives. How can the God of the universe care about me as a person and actually get involved in my suffering to help me grow? The writer of Hebrews makes the point that learning of God’s discipline is an encouragement for us. It is vital to know that God is so deeply in love with us personally and individually that he will discipline us to help us become better disciples of Jesus. God is not the executive of a large corporation. He is our father in heaven. But he is also our father on earth. He is here, involved and active in our lives.
Think of the difference it would make in how we see life if when we suffer we recognized it was discipline from God because of his tremendous love for us. When you discipline a child for some failure or mess up in their life, is it because of your love for them or out of spite, hatred or disgust with them? I know we can get angry and frustrated with our children when they refuse to obey what we tell them to do. But if we didn’t love them we would simply ignore their actions, let them go and do whatever they pleased. It would be much easier than going through the agony of their anger, and misunderstanding of everything we are trying to do. When your dad gave you a good whipping with a switch and turned around to say, “this hurts me more than it does you,” did you believe him? Years later when I was disciplining my own children, I understood and knew it really did, but at the time I thought it was crazy. With God, when he disciplines us for our wrongs in hopes of training us to do the right things for him, he knows that most of the time we won’t recognize it as from him and out of his love for us. It will take time, years, and maybe not even in this life, for us to understand and believe it was truly from his love for us.
In God’s family there are no illegitimate children. Every person was both born again into the family of God and adopted by God into his family. So we both chose God to be our Father in heaven and he chose to adopt us into his family as one of his own. Now the greatest father of all is working with and on us to mentor, guide and train us in discipleship for him. The next time you are going through a tough time in your life, think, this is from God. He is training me in his love to be a better disciple of Jesus. Then, maybe I can actually rejoice in the suffering knowing what seems bad now is actually molding me into one who looks more like Jesus every day.