Discipline: Redemption Groups Immersion part 2
In my last post I wrote about how God is with us as we struggle and as we walk through the tough parts of life. One of the biggest paradigm shifts of that week in Seattle was the realization that God not only allows, but ordains our suffering and trials in this life. I do not say that lightly, by the way. In the past six months I have seen several sets of dear friends go through some of the roughest situations that can be endured in this life, and their simultaneous grief and faith have deeply impacted my soul.
God has some very sobering instructions for us Christians in Hebrews 12. Verse five says that we are not to ‘regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,’ and continues on in verse six to say that God disciplines those he loves and chastises every son whom he receives. Therefore, if we are truly sons (and daughters) of God, then as his children we will have to endure hardship and pain from his hand. There is no alternate way – it will happen, and it will suck to a certain degree. Yet we are not left without hope – verse ten goes on to say that God’s hand of discipline is for our good and for our holiness or sanctification. So we have an immense amount of hope in the toughest of times – God has not and will never abandon us, and he is with us in the midst of our suffering.
At this point I think it’s absolutely essential to point out that God is not some vengeful knee-jerk reaction kind of disciplinarian just waiting for us to screw up so he can pound us into a pulp. He is a merciful, loving, caring father who wants the best for his kids, and is willing to cause some temporary pain so that there is an enduring joy (just like disciplining a child who wants to run in the street or slapping away a hand that is on its way to a burning stove). This is what we see in Hebrews 12:11 – that all discipline seems for the moment to be painful rather than pleasant, but soon it will put forth the ‘peaceful fruit of righteousness’ for those who have been molded and trained by it. J.I. Packer describes it this way: “And still He seeks the fellowship of His people and will send them both joy and sorrow to detach their hands from the things of this world and attach them to Himself.”
But this introduces a very scary reality that was very hard for me to get through my head, and chilled my spine when it did finally hit home: my sins, other people, various situations or circumstances – these things are not ‘holding me back’ from where or who I want to be. I cannot assign to anything else the responsibility that only God can possess. God is the one who is sovereign and orchestrates it all – he has us exactly where he wants us. At all times. In every circumstance and situation. There are no exceptions, and he is never caught off-guard.
One quick aside: if you have endured the heavy hand of the Lord in one way or another, or have suffered unspeakable evil in this life, know that it is not pointless and it is not endless. God chose not to change what happened to you or what you’ve done – rather he redeems it and redefines it with the cross of Christ. What men have meant for evil for millennia now, God has intended and orchestrated for good (see Genesis 50:20 in its broader context). Those shameful things that you have either inflicted or suffered are now scars that are a testament to God’s healing grace if you trust in Christ Jesus and let him redefine your story of suffering and shame as one of redemption and glory.
So if you are like me when I was in Seattle, and you’re dealing with a quiet undercurrent of bitterness toward God concerning a given unfulfilled desire, or a tough situation or circumstance in your life that you just don’t like, I want to ask you a question that a very perceptive, Spirit-led man named Kirk McKelvey asked me: “When are you going to agree with God on where he’s got you?” You can only gloss over your disdain for your circumstance for so long. At some point you will run out of excuses and you will come to the end of your ‘if only ___ were the case… then I would be ____…’ statements. I urge you and plead with you to confess that bitterness toward God, honestly confess where you’re at and what you think about it (seriously… be honest and unleash it on him – he can take it, and he already knows exactly what’s on your heart), and then begin to pray about what you have been holding more dear than God. Odds are, the thing that you have wanted more than anything else and have tried to snatch from God’s hand as if he wouldn’t notice – that is your idol, or at least a clue to what it is.
Discipline is not fun, but it will in time bring forth that fruit of righteousness, and you will begin to see God’s hand of grace in freeing you from your idols, whatever they are. You see, each of us if we’re honest has a certain list of things that we want in addition to a right relationship with God. But God gives us so much more than that – he gives us himself! And that is all we should ever want or need.
But that’s a whole other topic… I’ll try to tackle some of it in Part 3.