Let’s face it; discipline stinks. Our children illustrate all too well this truth that we learn to cleverly disguise as adults. No one asks for discipline. And yet, loving parents know that it is necessary for growth. Our Father in heaven also disciplines every one of his children. And so we are encouraged in Hebrews not only to expect divine chastisement, but also not to grow weary from it because it is a sign of God’s love: “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives” (12: 5b–6). He is merely repeating Proverbs 3:11–12, and themes from Job 5:17, Ps. 94:12, 119:67 and 75, and Rev. 3:19. Hmm, since this is mentioned so many times in Scripture, it must be important and we must have a hard time remembering it!
Well here’s a question: What do your prayers sound like when you are going through a hard time?
Stanley Gale has a great chapter dealing with this tough subject in his book, A Vine-Ripened Life. Gale’s book is based on the much-loved passage in John 15, where Jesus describes himself as the true vine, with the focus on how we cultivate the fruit of the Spirit that is produced from abiding in him. But before digging into all that fruit, there is a wonderful chapter on “My Father, the Gardener.” As the vinedresser, Gale explains that our Father “is at work cultivating us to produce more fruit, toward His goal for us of much fruit, fruit that will endure” (15).
The thing is, we tend to think we already have a good start on the whole fruit thing. We think of ourselves as further down the road to Christlikeness than we really are. And so we like to think that our sanctification is a matter of some good sunlight, nutrients, and maybe a little polishing (to keep with the gardening analogy). But we also need a good bit of pruning, A.K.A. discipline. God will send us a challenge, difficult circumstance, or may allow even severe trial for our growth in godliness.
Sometimes we know exactly why we are in a trial. We knew we were sinning all along, and we were just hoping it wouldn’t catch up with us. It’s just a matter of paying the consequences for our actions. But other times, we may be the victims. There may not be a particular offense that we have committed that can be directly linked to our suffering. And then we are left wondering why God is allowing this kind of affliction in our life. Of course, the preacher to the Hebrews points out that Jesus is the one who actually got what we really deserve, so that we will not become weary or fainthearted in our sin (12:3). Since he demonstrated his love for us on the cross in our place, we can be confident that even when we are afflicted and don’t understand why, he is sovereignly working “for our good, so that we can share in his holiness” (12:10b).
Gale has a great paragraph that helps us gain a better perspective on our reactions to these trials:
Often in hard times our goal is to escape hardship. We want it behind us. But if we recognize the hand of our Father the gardener behind it, we’ll ask questions like these: “I wonder what God is pointing out in my life?” “What is he showing me that I need to tend to?” Knowing that trials and hardships come to us from the hand of our heavenly Father, we become more accepting of the difficulty and expectant of God’s design for it. Our prayers will take on a different flavor, changing from “Lord, save me from this trial” to “Lord, grow me through this trial.” (22)
This is a prayer that pleases the Lord. It is the fruit of abiding in Christ. Gale teaches us not to make light of God’s discipline, and helps us learn how to abide in Christ through it. The above quotation reminds me that the way I pray evidences whether I am abiding in Christ, or counting on my own abilities to endure. To have that kind of self-examination and to pray for God to use our trials for our growth demonstrates a grateful, rich faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ, and a true desire to be like Him.
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