It was a day like any other day in 6th grade. It was a long time ago but I still remember the one day I ever got in enough trouble to stay after school. The common discipline was to have to stay after school for 15 minutes. It was a terrible discipline for a young kid. That was 15 minutes of daylight wasted. No playtime. On this day one of the other kids complained that I was sticking my tongue out at him. This was news to me. Maybe I was doing a little Michael Jordan-in-flight while doing my math or something. The teacher asked me if this was true and I flatly denied it. She believed me and went back to teaching. The nerve of that little jerk trying to get me in trouble like that! So I did what any of you would have done. I looked him straight in the eye and stuck my tongue out at him. Which happened at the same time the teacher happened to turn back my direction. Busted. Obviously I was a young criminal well on my way to a long prison career.
I got disciplined that day and learned a valuable lesson: keep your tongue in your mouth and forget about revenge or you’ll be wasting valuable play-time. I hope my sordid past doesn’t cause you to lose faith in me as your pastor.
Discipline can be a good thing. In Proverbs 3:11-12, the wise father says, “11 My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline, and do not resent his rebuke, 12 because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.”
For a few weeks now we’ve talking about the storms of life that we all go through. We started out talking about why storms happen and, last week, we asked why storms happen to us. Why Me, Lord? Generally we’ve been admitting that storms aren’t any fun. They’re painful. But is it possible that a storm could be a good thing?
While we’ve talked about the many causes of storms, we’ve focused on random storms that seem to come up for no reason. We take them personally and even question, “why me?” But what if we had an attitude adjustment? What if, dare I say, we welcomed storms when they happened because God can use them to shape us into the Christians He wants us to be?
The word discipline really brings up two concepts in Scripture: the first concept is correction and the second is conditioning. Both of these concepts apply to why life storms happen in the first place and what we should take away from them.
Let’s talk about the first concept, the first definition of discipline in the Scriptures.
Discipline as correction of sinful behavior
After dying, three friends, Jim, Frank and Bob wake up outside of heaven. St Peter says that before any can enter, they have to pass through a bog. All those who pass through sink in proportion to the amount of unconfessed sins they had when they died. Jim launches out and immediately begins to sink. He struggles onward, and finally pushes to the opposite side, just as the mud reaches his neck. He looks back, and sees his friend Frank walking across, his shoes barely sinking in the mire. Jim says, “I can’t believe it. I never would have thought you were so holy!” Frank replies, “Oh, I’m just standing on Bob’s shoulders.”
Sin is a problem before and after we have accepted Jesus. We talked last week, briefly, about how sometimes the storms we are experiencing in life are storms of our own making. Bad stuff is happening to us because we sinned. We broke the laws of God and the storm that ensues is the natural result of that sin. Now, everyone that sins, and that means everyone, is bound to experience the consequences from those sins. But the Bible encourages us to look at those consequences differently – as discipline for those sins.
For the non-Christian, the idea of Godly punishment isn’t a pleasant one, but its purpose is to bring one to the point of repentance and reliance upon Jesus. The Christian, although just as unlikely to find punishment pleasant, can have a different perspective on the results of his sin. The Christian can recognize that God’s call to repentance is an act of love that has good intentions. It’s hard to see that perspective when you don’t know God, but when you do know God, you need to be able to accept that God has higher purposes for chastening you.
Billy Graham has some interesting words on this topic that I’m going to share in a bit. For now, I want to share some of his thoughts about God’s motivation for disciplining His children. First of all, “He wants to lead us to repentance. “Yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance.” (2 Corinthians 7:9).”
God disciplines in order to bring us to repentance. The joke I shared a moment ago was about unconfessed sin. God’s desire is to get sin out so we have to deal with it. He wants to teach us that what we have done is wrong so we will repent of our sin. Parents, isn’t the primary idea of punishment for your kids supposed to be correcting a wrong behavior? The reason for the punishment is to stop the bad behavior and keep it from happening again in the future. When you are experiencing a storm of your own making, pray for the strength to turn back from your sin.
The second motivation that Billy Graham mentions is: “He wants to restore us to fellowship.” Punishment is meant to do more than just stop a behavior, it is also mean to restore the believer to a right relationship with God and with fellow believers. When being disciplined, this is often hard to see. We get prideful and our ego is hurt. We could even resist and become obstinate, stubborn. But God’s discipline is meant to restore us to fellowship with Him. It is an act of love that will help the prodigal to come home to open arms.
The third motivation for God’s discipline follows the first two: “He wants to teach us spiritual discernment. “But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world.” (I Corinthians 11:31-32).”
Correction for our wrong behavior really is meant to help us NOT to do it again. It’s a learning experience. Discernment means being able to look at events and discover the true meaning behind what is happening. Spiritual Discernment helps us to separate the good from the bad actions. Going through a storm of our own making is meant to help us to realize what we have done wrong so that we can keep from doing it again. It’s a learning experience.
So storms can be good. Just as stormy weather can bring life-giving moisture to the earth, a life storm caused by our own sin can bring life-giving changes to our souls. I know it’s hard to accept punishment. Your ego gets involved and you want to act as if somehow it’s not your fault. But that’s not what God wants us to do. He wants us to confess our sins, be restored to fellowship, and to sin no more.
Discipline as conditioning/preparation for maturation and strengthening.
But what about when we are facing hardship that isn’t caused by our own sin? How should we react to life storms that are caused by the actions of another or are just caused by general sin? The second concept of discipline is that of conditioning and we can welcome the storms of life for that purpose.
I mentioned earlier that I have some comments from Billy Graham on this subject. He says, “‘The Bible says, ‘Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth.’ If life were all easy, wouldn’t we become flabby? When a ship’s carpenter needed timber to make a mast for a sailing vessel, he did not cut it in the valley, but up on the mountainside where the trees had been buffeted by the winds. These trees, he knew, were the strongest of all. Hardship is not our choice; but if we face it bravely, it can toughen the fiber of our souls.
Is it possible for storms to be used by God to shape us into the Christians He wants us to be? Yes. Hebrews 12:4-11 says, “4 In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 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, 6 because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.” 7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? 8 If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. 9 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! 10 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. 11 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.
What I find interesting here is the beginning sentence: “In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” It almost seems as if it doesn’t quite fit but it really does. You see, the author of Hebrews is bringing out the fact that the sin of this world is what was standing against the faith and many Christians were suffering persecution because of it. Some were even being martyred for their faith. How do you stand for your faith when it leads to death?
In ancient Rome, crowds by the tens of thousands would gather in the Coliseum to watch as Christians were torn apart by wild animals. Paul Rader, commenting on his visit to this famous landmark, said, “I stood uncovered to the heavens above, where He sits for whom they gladly died, and asked myself, ‘Would I, could I, die for Him tonight to get this gospel to the ends of the earth?’” Rader continued, “I prayed most fervently in that Roman arena for the spirit of a martyr, and for the working of the Holy Spirit in my heart, as He worked in Paul’s heart when He brought him on his handcuffed way to Rome.” Those early Christians “lived on the threshold of heaven, within a heartbeat of home, no possessions to hold them back.”
It still happens today. God can use the storms in your life to condition you for stronger faith. He can use those storms to draw you closer to Him and keep you steadfast in the face of persecution. Billy Graham offers a couple more motivations for God to use storms as conditioning in our lives. First, “He wants to keep us humble. “To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’” (2 Corinthians 12:7-9, NIV).”
God wants to make us fully reliant on His grace so that, when persecution and moments of weakness come in our lives, we’ll have the strength to stand strong.
Another motivation is that God “wants to prepare us for more effective service. God can use the storms in your life to make you more effective for Him. Athletes go through conditioning to make them stronger and to develop more stamina in order to become better at what they do. God often uses storms in your life to bring about the same result. Will you let him do it?
God’s discipline is a sign of His love for us.
Is it possible that God’s discipline is a sign of His love for us? Good parents discipline their children out of love for them. Its purpose is restore the child and help them to avoid more dangerous sins later in life. Discipline helps us to become all that we can be.
Pastor and author, Warren Wiersbe, talks about taking blessings for granted. In his book God Isn’t in a Hurry he writes, “I have felt for a long time that one of the particular temptations of the maturing Christian is the danger of getting accustomed to his blessings. Like the world traveler who has been everywhere and seen everything, the maturing Christian is in danger of taking his blessings for granted and getting so accustomed to them that they fail to excite him as they once did.
“Emerson said that if the stars came out only once a year, everybody would stay up all night to behold them. We have seen the stars so often that we don’t bother to look at them anymore. We have grown accustomed to our blessings.
“The Israelites in the wilderness got accustomed to their blessings, and God had to chasten the people (see Num. 11). God had fed the nation with heavenly manna each morning, and yet the people were getting tired of it. ‘But now our whole being is dried up,”” they said, ‘there is nothing at all except this manna before our eyes!”” (v. 6).
“Nothing but manna! They were experiencing a miracle of God’s provision every morning; yet they were no longer excited about it. Nothing but manna!
“One of the evidences that we have grown accustomed to our blessings is this spirit of criticism and complaining. Instead of thanking God for what we have, we complain about it and tell him we wish we had something else. You can be sure that if God did give us what we asked for, we would eventually complain about that. The person who has gotten accustomed to his blessing can never be satisfied.
“Another evidence of this malady is the idea that others have a better situation than we do. The Israelites remembered their diet in Egypt and longed to return to the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic. They were saying, ‘The people in Egypt are so much better off than we are!”” Obviously, they had forgotten the slavery they had endured in Egypt and the terrible bondage from which God had delivered them. Slavery is a high price to pay for a change in diet.”
Sometimes God uses the storms in our lives to wake us up. To snap us out of the rut of expectation and help us to see blessings as just that, blessings – as opposed to expectations. Why do we expect nothing but roses in life? It’s a setup for disappointment.
God loves us and His discipline, painful as it may be, is proof of that love. He wants us to be all that we can be. He wants us to be all that He has designed us and purposed us to be. And God often uses the storms in our lives to shape us into the Christians He wants us to be. Storms can be good.
Psalm 94:12,13 says, “Blessed is the man you discipline, O Lord, the man you teach from your law; you grant him relief from days of trouble.”
How are you handling the storms in your life right now? Do you realize that God has a higher purpose and can use those storms to make you into a better person? Will you let Him?