My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline, and do not resent his rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.
I can’t remember getting into too much trouble as a kid. I’m not saying I was an angel, more that the memory of my childhood has faded over the intervening decades. I do have a distinct memory of me and my two brothers, crowded into the back of out small late-70s model Mazda. We were on our way to visit my Grandfather or our cousins in the Eastern Suburbs.
The car didn’t have air conditioning and in summer your legs stuck painfully to the vinyl seats. There weren’t iPods or iPads then. We didn’t even have a cassette player – just the radio (talk about dark ages!). Instead, we’d have to entertain ourselves on the 30 minute drive, which as kids stuck in a hot and uncomfortable car, would soon get out of hand.
I can still see us, laughing the kind of jokes that as a kid you think are hilarious, or jostling each other about. Looking at my own youngest child’s latest antics, I wouldn’t be surprised if I’d reach out and pinch my brother, or poke him in the face just for fun. I was that kind of kid.
Dad’s stern voice would come from the front seat, issuing a warning that quietens us down for a moment. But not for long. Either one brother would annoy the other, or one of them upset me (never the other way around of course!), and at the next traffic lights – slap! One of us (almost certainly one of the boys) would get a slap on the leg. That’s when we knew it was really time to stop.
I remember being young and being disciplined by God, too. I was 16, and had been a regular church member and follower of Jesus since I was 12. In my early teens, my experience of following Jesus was more external than internal. I was a Christian because I did “Christian things” – like go to church, teach at Sunday School, and attend Youth Group. My Bible Study leaders also encouraged me to read the Bible and I did because I respected them and wanted to be like them.
(As an aside – youth leaders- never underestimate the power your life and example have to influence young people. The kids under your care will pick up your habits without you even noticing it – the good and the bad ones!)
As a young teen, my experience following Jesus was more of a series of habits than a relationship. Obedience to God meant ticking those boxes every week. Perhaps I’m being harsh on my young self, I probably did have the notion of a personal relationship with God, I just hadn’t had to make any hard choices yet. I didn’t have to risk losing friends because of my faith – most of my friends were Christians, too. And those who weren’t were either happy to come to Youth Group with us, or didn’t care that we went. At 16, I hadn’t yet been tempted by parties with alcohol and drugs, none of my friends were into that.
The first hard choice I had to make as a follower of Jesus was precisely were my weakest temptation was – it was about a boy.
We’d met at my part time job filling shelves at a toystore. He was a few years older than me, finished school and working full-time. I thought he was nice. I liked talking to him. He didn’t drive and lived in the same suburb as me so my dad drove us both home from work a few times. We got chatting one night on ICQ – an online chat program that was a forerunner to what Facebook would become. Then, one night as we were chatting online, he asked me out! Me! Awkward, ugly, overweight, still with braces on my bottom teeth. It seemed too good to be true.
(I still to this day don’t know why he wanted to date me. I definitely wasn’t his type, as his later dating preferences would attest to.)
It was the beginning of a new year. I had just been away on a Church camp where we studied Hebrews 11 – which from that time has become one of my favourite passages of the Bible. I’ll write a post about it sometime in the future. Yet, within weeks I’d ignored everything I’d learned about what true faith, true trust in Jesus looks like, and decided that instead, I’d throw it away for a boyfriend.
Needless to say, the relationship didn’t last long. Nor did it end well. It took a whole year for me to truly recover.
After not reading God’s word for a few months, I decided to take back up where I’d left off at the end of the church camp – Hebrews 12. The verses from proverbs above are quoted, then the writer to the Hebrews goes on –
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.
Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.
-Hebrews 12: 7-13
I can still see myself – 16, heartbroken, sitting on the bed my small bedroom with pink walls covered by posters of The X-Files, reading these verses. I remember the awe I felt when I realised that God’s word was describing exactly what I was going through at that moment.
Up until that point, I had only expected good things from God – easy life, good friends, success at school. And when a difficult choice arose, I was thoroughly unprepared for it.
We think of discipline as punishment or correction – and sometimes it is. But there is another facet of discipline – training, growing, failing and trying again. And God promises to guide us through it. Just like our parents discipline us because they love us and want the best for us, just like I try to discipline my kids because I want the best for them, God wants us strong in our faith and our relationship with him. And he knows better what we need than even a parent does with their child.
That moment when I was 16 was when God laid the groundwork for a real relationship with him. It wasn’t the first time I’d face difficulty and had to work out my faith. There’d be lots more between 16 and 35, and I suspect lots more to come between 35 and whenever it is that my Lord calls me home. And no matter how painful the discipline, I will be thankful for it, just as I am thankful for that day, almost 20 years ago.