It has been a rough year. We’ve struggled through problems and sufferings and trials and troubles and sickness and disappointments. I wonder why God won’t reduce the pressure. Could He be disciplining me?
Dear Worn Out,
If you thought that when you became a Christian, all of your troubles were over, you had best think twice.
We all agree that our children need discipline at one time or another. However, we tend to forget that we sons and daughters of God must be disciplined as well. Unraveling the convoluted twists and turns of suffering has everything to do with the reality of God-given discipline for His children.
The number-one biblical chapter on discipline is Hebrews 12. The number-one verse is Hebrews 12:10-11, which says,
Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. 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.
Years ago, my mother and I were discussing the nature of God. I shared with her how God sometimes allows pain into the lives of His children. My mother was indignant. She said, “You can’t tell me that a loving God would ever hurt His children.” I never could convince her that she was wrong.
When we think of discipline, we think of punishment. But discipline is so much more than that. Discipline may include training, educating, practicing, and willpower. These are all positive, life-changing things.
By the way, a person who has never asked Jesus to forgive his sins and received Christ into his life as Lord and Savior has an open avenue for God to punish their behavior. This is the basic teaching of Psalm 73.
The difference between God’s discipline of believers and God’s punishment of unbelievers lies not in the nature of the pain but rather the purpose of the pain.
Lost people suffer for nothing. Christians suffer for Someone.
The suffering of believers and unbelievers often may look alike. Both can get cancer. Both can lose jobs. Both can watch loved ones die—but a person without Jesus is being punished for his sins while God is disciplining His children with a definite purpose in mind.
Let me share some principles about properly handling God’s discipline.
According to the Bible, Discipline from God May Spring Forth from Several Different Sources.
1. CORRECTIVE DISCIPLINE
God disciplines us when we sin. This is corrective discipline. The classic example is David on the palace roof. He saw the lovely naked Bathsheba and committed the sins of adultery and murder. God moved against him in corrective discipline so that David would never do it again.
Obviously, there is a dimension of punishment involved as the consequences for his behaviors.
“The sword shall never depart from your house,” said Nathan the prophet. David’s life was miserable afterward. His baby died. Ahithophel rebelled. Tamar was raped. Abner was killed by Joab. David was driven from Jerusalem.
The list goes on … his son Absalom even had sex with David’s concubines on the rooftops of Jerusalem.
But the marvelous thing was that through all that punishment, David became a better man … a more godly man. Even if it was painful.
Examine the suffering in your life and see if maybe you’re experiencing punishment that you deserve.
Sometimes God disciplines us not as a result of sin but to keep us from sinning in the future.
We make rules for our children like, “Don’t play in the street.”
They respond, “Aw, dad, all the kids play in the street.” But this preventative discipline may one day save their lives. We discipline them to keep them from getting hurt!
As recorded in 2 Corinthians 12:7, Paul pleaded three times for God to remove the thorn that He had allowed Satan to insert into his body. God was making certain that Paul would not get proud, even after he received heavenly visions.
Instead of removing the thorn, God said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:8).
Carefully consider what your struggles might be preventing you from experiencing … ask God to reveal the reason for His preventative discipline.
Sometimes God gives us instruction through the trials that assault us. Job is a good example of how God can use trials as critical education.
Did Job commit any sin? No. Did God use Job’s suffering to prevent sin? No. God allowed Job to suffer so that he might better know the nature of God. All of his troubles were for Job’s education.
God said, “Job you know a lot, but you do not know enough, so I’m going to educate you.”
If you’ve ever taken time to catalog all of Job’s sufferings, you know that he lost his family, his children, his animals, his health, and friends. God taught Job that He is God and Job is not. God transcends everyone and everything.
When you suffer, ask God to reveal what He is teaching you. Pray for wisdom and endurance. Look for His leading. And remember, God restored all that Job lost!
Our behaviors have consequences.
When Miriam and Aaron tried to undermine God’s authority, He struck them both with leprosy. God killed some of the Christian revelers who were defiling the Lord’s table (see 1 Corinthians 3). God struck down Ananias and Sapphira when they lied about giving to the church (Acts 5).
When my children needed discipline, I always looked at them and said, “I’m disciplining you because I love you and I don’t want you to grow up to be the kind of person who would act like this.”
Search your heart and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal sin in your life. Then, enter into the process of asking for forgiveness and changing your actions. Punishment comes out of God’s desire to make us into the image of Jesus Christ!
God’s Discipline Proves that He Loves Us
When trouble and trials arrive, we can say, “Thanks, God, there is no doubt in my mind that You love me.”
Let’s take another look at Hebrews 12:5-6;
“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.”
Some say that if a child is into something that he or she ought not to be, he or she ought not to be spanked. But instead, you are to switch his or her attention to something else.
It wasn’t my attention that my mother switched! When I needed punishment, she pulled out the belt and began marching me to my room. All the time, she was telling me how much she loved my brother and me. My brother and I didn’t believe it then, but we both certainly believe it now. And I thank God that she and my dad cared enough to cause momentary pain for my benefit.
Looking back, what my mother did may have teetered on the edge of child abuse. But the Bible does say, “Spare the rod and spoil the child” (Proverbs 13:24). The key is that the form of discipline must change over time.
Leading up to eight years old, a spanking of appropriate impact may work wonders. In the childhood years, standing in the corner may work well. The high school years are tough! Take away the cell phone and the car keys. Then, by age 18, you have helped your child spread their wings and it is time to leave home.
Just a note: if you know someone who lives without discipline, he should not say, “I’m perfect.” He or she should say, “I’m illegitimate; I’m a phony;” because all of God’s children receive His discipline.
God says, “You are my child, and I’m going to discipline you because I want my children to be something special.”
Discipline lets you know that you are God’s child and that He desires you.
There Are Several Perils to Discipline found in Hebrews 12 that Can Restrict What God Wants to Do in Us
Let’s look at Hebrews 12:7-10;
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.
Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness.
1. Do not despise God’s discipline. Submit to God and live.
2. Don’t misjudge what is really happening. God is working his plan even when it hurts.
3. Don’t become callous, bitter, whine, complain, question, struggle with resentment, blame God or begin to doubt God’s love and care.
When we see a Christian in trouble become bitter and callous against God, we know that that person is an immature Christian who despises the work of God.
Do you know anybody like that? Have you ever done that?
Never forget Psalm 34:19: “Many are the afflictions of the righteous.”
Finally, every trouble that comes is spiritual exercise that builds spiritual muscle. The stronger we, are the better will understand what God is doing in our lives.
I was concluding teaching a three-month class on the basic principles of spiritual growth when a very pregnant woman raised her hand and asked, “If I begin to pray to be a spiritual mother at any price, is there a chance that God might take my baby?”
“The truth is, I can think of some extreme scenarios where your question might come into play. But I certainly wouldn’t worry about it. You go ahead and pray for God to make you a spiritual mother at any price. I’m sure your baby will be just fine.”
I was working in my office several days later when my phone rang: “Hi. I’m the pregnant woman in your spiritual growth class who asked if God might take my baby if I began to pray to be a spiritual woman at any price. Remember me?”
“Yes, of course, I remember you.”
“I went home that night and began to pray to be a spiritual mother at any price. I just wanted you to know that I gave birth to my baby three days ago. My baby lived for six hours. I just returned home from the funeral. Could you come over and see me?”
I was stunned—and felt awful. What should I say? What should I not say? Would it do any good to try to explain? Explain what? Should I just keep my mouth shut and let her do all the talking? “Oh, God, help me!”
I parked and walked up the sidewalk. When her husband opened the door, I saw her resting in a recliner. Her husband invited me to sit on the couch.
She spoke first, “I may never know if there was any connection between my prayer to be a spiritual mother and the death of my baby. But I do know this—God will use even this for the good purpose of molding me to look like Jesus. Thank you.”
Mary Magdalene stood at the empty tomb and cried and cried. She was crying at the very thing that was designed to bring her the greatest joy that she ever had.
Don’t stand before the open tomb of your troubles and cry. God designed it for your profit and for your joy.