I watched a few minutes of our local swim team’s practice earlier this week. Young swimmers stroked up and down the lanes, breathing hard and pushing themselves to beat their times and improve their fundamentals. The coach stalked along the side of the pool, barking out commands about breathing patterns and lengthening kicks. Occasionally he pulled swimmers to the side, showing them how to make minor adjustments to their arm rotation or correct their form. As I watched, it struck me how much discipline it took for these young athletes to prepare for competition–discipline that extended beyond the hours in the pool. Workouts feel tough when you’re in the middle of them, but they pay dividends when it’s time for the meet. In the same way, God shows his Father heart by disciplining us as his children. Discipline is a sign of God’s love.
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. 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. 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. (Hebrews 12:5-11)
Discipline is a sign of God’s love for us. That may seem strange to us because we often equate discipline with punishment. But while consequences are a part of discipline, discipline is about more than just punishment. Discipline involves training. Discipline might be persistently practicing the fundamentals that will make us successful. It might mean getting rid of distractions that keep us from performing at the top of our game. Or discipline can be embracing habits that at first feel awkward, but point us toward the goal we want to achieve. As a parent, I’m disciplining my children when I insist they do their own chores, make amends for their own mistakes, save money for things they want, read every day, and do something active before they turn on the T.V. Discipline involves turning off devices for family dinner and reading devotions in the morning and Bible stories at night. Discipline develops their characters so they will be prepared for the callings God has placed on their lives.
And in the same way, God disciplines us to achieve the goal he has set out for us:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. (Hebrews 12:1-2)
We are athletes running hard toward Jesus. And like athletes, we are to get rid of those hindrances that block our path and the sin that tangles up our feet. We run, keeping our eyes on Jesus, because our goal is to be like him.
God disciplines us to help us reach that goal. Sometimes God’s discipline comes as conviction of sin, warning us that this area needs attention before it trips us up. Sometimes it comes as a sense that we need to embrace a new routine–freshly devoting ourselves to the ancient practices of meditating on Scripture, fellowship, worship, and prayer. And sometimes it does come as consequences–God letting us experience the results of our own choices so we turn back to him. But discipline doesn’t mean that God is angry or that he is distant. When God disciplines us, he is near–patiently correcting our form, encouraging us to persevere in the practice of holiness, and reminding us that Christ himself is waiting for us at the finish line, cheering us home. Discipline is a sign of God’s love.
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