It’s easy to see how the good things of life might be opportunities to enjoy God. But what about the hardships? What about traffic jams? Screaming babies? Chronic illness? Sleepless nights? Unreasonable bosses? Personal conflict? Broken promises? Unfulfilled hopes?
In Hebrews 12 v 7-8 we are told that we should “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.” Let’s explore what this means.
In every hardship we can enjoy the Father’s love
Hardship is not a sign that God disowns or dislikes us. It’s actually a sign of his love for us as sons and daughters. We recognise the need for earthly fathers and mothers to discipline children as an act of love, it is the same with God. And if love leads to discipline, we can see discipline as a sign of love.
This might be hard to do but seeing this world as a fathered world enables us to welcome every hardship as a sign of the Father’s love. And that has the power to turn a bad day into a good day. A bad day becomes a day full of God’s fatherly discipline, and God’s fatherly discipline is a sign of fatherly love. Even Jesus underwent hardship and ultimately death. Not because he was a sinner. Instead, by suffering, Jesus was equipped to be our mediator. Suffering was needed for Jesus to progress to his new job.
As sons and daughters of adoption by God, we too can expect suffering as a sign of our adoption. Frederick Leahy says: “God does not punish our sins in a legal sense: that he did fully at Calvary. The chastisements he brings upon his people are to be understood as the loving corrections of a merciful and tender-hearted father.”
In every hardship we can enjoy the father’s formation
God has a purpose for our suffering. When an earthly parent disciplines their child, their motives are based in love, but sometimes they can make mistakes because they might not completely understand a situation or they cannot know what is in their child’s heart. On the other hand, our heavenly Father knows our hearts and has complete patience and wisdom. This heavenly Father is disciplining us in order to make us more holy.
This doesn’t mean that we should pretend that bad things are good; evil is evil and we’re not being asked to pretend otherwise. But in God’s hands, bad things are also full of purpose. Hebrews 12 v 11 writes, “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.” God is using bad things for his glory and our good. A good example of this in the Bible is the life of Joseph.
So does God’s discipline mean we need to change direction or repent of a specific sin? Sometimes this might be the case but often it is not.
Sometimes it is a call to repent of a specific sin. For instance, in Corinth, the Christians were warned by Paul against social snobbery, and told to repent. If we need to repent of a specific sin then this sin will be persistent and it will be clear. Someone else may need to point it out – like Paul did with the Corinthians – but the sin will be clear. This means we don’t have to tie ourselves up in knots trying to interpret our circumstances.
However, this is not normally how God’s discipline works. Jesus rejected the assumption that every suffering is linked to a specific sin. Instead God’s discipline is like a training regime to get us into shape so we can fight the good fight and finish the race. Through that process we might cry out to God for help and we may feel that God is indifferent. But in fact he is teaching us to trust him, to deepen our godliness and refine our faith. All the time he is ready to catch us if we fall.
How was your day today?
Everything that you have experienced today has been put in place by God the Father for your good and to develop your holiness. This perspective radically changes how we view each moment of our day. It’ll make us look for God in everything around us. Paul famously says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him”. Here is God the Father working in the details of our lives. God uses the hardships of our lives to transform us into the image of his Son so that the Son might have many siblings sharing his experience of being loved by the Father.
God disciplines us to refine our faith, wean us from idols, unsettle our self-reliance, display his power, and direct us heavenwards. Above all, he disciplines us so that we turn from futile sources of joy to find true joy in him.
- Last week we ended with a challenge to receive this world as a gift from God through thanksgiving. How have you got on?
- Think about your experience of discipline from your earthly father. How do you think this colours your view of God’s discipline?
- Can you look back on a time when God used hardship to make you more like Jesus?
- What might it look like to make light of God’s discipline? What might it look like to lose heart? How can we safeguard ourselves from these attitudes?
- When we are faced with suffering, we typically ask ourselves, “What am I going to do?” But take a current struggle and reframe your response by asking, “What does God want me to learn?” or “How does God want me to change?”
Action: Each time this week that something goes wrong, pray: “My Father, thank you for this. Please use it to make me more like Jesus.” This will help us to learn that we can receive hardships as an opportunity to grow, and as a reminder that God is always involved in our lives. We are always in the arms of the Father.