Today is part four of a conversation about pain from a biblical viewpoint. Yesterday, we talked about Paul’s thorn in the flesh and how that thorn created humility in his life. Today, we’ll explore a similar theme and think about how the Lord’s discipline is beneficial to us.
A few years ago, my family and I were walking into Target. My younger son, Wilson, was probably no more than 5 at the time, and, without paying attention, he walked out right in front of a car. Only a few inches saved his life. When I reached Wil, I spanked him right there harder than I had ever spanked or than I ever would spank either of my children. Tammy about freaked; she said, “Honey, you cannot spank our children like that in public. Child Protective Services will come to the house and take the children. Target has surveillance cameras, and they have proof of what you just did.” I looked Tammy in the eye and I said, “When CPS comes to the house and says they have video proof of what I did, I’ll say, ‘Back up the video before I spanked him and watch what he did. Would it have been better to sit back and allow him to be hit by a car or to spank him hard and teach him he doesn’t run out in front of a car?” Tammy never said another word, Wil never walked out in front of another car, and Child Protective Services never came.
When Wil ran out in front of the car, I wasn’t interested in punishing him. I wanted to discipline him, to teach him that he did not run out in front of cars and that more serious consequences than Daddy’s firm hand could result. Punishment seeks to inflict consequences for one’s past behavior; discipline seeks to shape one’s future behavior.
Athletes must have discipline: the marathon runner must keep going even after the muscle aches set in, the swimmer goes two miles when he would prefer to quit after one, and the baseball star goes to the batting cage and hits ball after ball after ball. An athlete’s discipline, his determination, makes him stronger, and his discipline better equips him for the challenges which lie ahead.
God’s discipline makes us stronger and equips us for the challenges which lie ahead. God “disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness” (Heb 12:10, ESV). God’s discipline yields “the peaceful fruit of righteousness” for those of us “who have been trained by it” (Heb 12:11, ESV). “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (Js 1:2-4, ESV).
God’s discipline in my life has taken the form of a neurological illness I would wish on no one. It’s embarrassing to be in public and need my wife to pick my legs up and place them on the step in front of me (there are many places grandfathered under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the best thing former President George H. W. Bush ever did). It’s no fun to take every step in pain. It’s no fun to have painful tests at the hospital. It’s no fun not to be able to go out and throw a football with your sons. It’s no fun to have people stare, and it’s even less fun to have them laugh (yes, that is not at all uncommon). Yet, this discipline by the Lord has made me into a much different and stronger person as a result.
How has God made me a stronger person by His discipline? How might God mold you into the image of His Son by discipline?
- We show the world our faith
Think of Abraham. God tested Abraham (Gen 22:1) and told the patriarch to take his only son Isaac, whom he loved, and sacrifice him to YHWH. Imagine that test: Abraham had waited for one hundred years to have a son; he had been promised by God that his descendants would be as numerous as the grains of sand at the beach; Abraham loves this boy and how his heart must have ached on the way to Moriah!; and he is going to have to go home and tell his son’s momma that he, by the command of Almighty God, had slain their son.
What does Abraham do? He argues and fights and tells God that he absolutely will not sacrifice that boy, right? No, not at all. Abraham arose early in the morning to carry out God’s instruction; the fact that Abraham arises early likely says that the patriarch had an earnest desire to honor God, and even perhaps, that he barely slept the night before. But even if he tossed and turned all night, Abraham had faith. Abraham understood that God could raise his boy from the dead, even though there is not a single recorded case of a resurrection at that point in human history (Heb 11:19). Through his willingness to stand the test and obey God regardless of the consequences, we remember Abraham as the “Father of the Faithful.”
In our suffering, we can demonstrate to the world the character molded after Jesus’s image. A few years ago, my neurologist feared that I may have early onset Alzheimer’s, and she sent me to a neuropsychologist for cognitive testing. For the first part of the appointment, my wife sat with me to help paint a clear picture of my difficulties; while Tammy was present, the doctor asked me how I was coping with my illness, and I said something to the effect that God reigns and He would help me regardless of my circumstances. Tammy walked back out to the waiting room so that she wouldn’t be tempted to help me with the test, and after Tammy had left, the doctor looked at me and said, “You can tell me how you really feel now that your wife is not in the room.” I looked at her and said, “Huh?” She replied, “You can’t really be coping that well. Faith doesn’t make everything okay.” I looked at her and said, “One: I’m not going to tell you anything differently than what I said in front of my wife. Two: Faith doesn’t make everything okay, but I know Who watches over me and how everything will be in the end.”
I’m reluctant to share stories where I’m the hero, for I’m far, far from perfect and doing right is a constant struggle for me. Yet, I was able to share with that doctor that there is hope in God, that God’s discipline has a purpose, and I know all things will be made right in the end.
- We long for heaven.
Our citizenship is not on this earth; our “citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body” (Phil 3:20-21). We anticipate heaven more, for we long for the day when all sickness and decay and pain and anguish and sin and death are banished once and for all (Rev 21:4).
Having a stronger desire for heaven causes us to pursue holiness all the more, for we understand that “without [holiness] . . . no one will see the Lord” (Heb 12:14, ESV). Our lives become more shaped into the image of God through our suffering, for we want an end to suffering; we want holy lives; we long to see God and have Him remove every tear and every pain and have resurrected bodies .We not only seek personal holiness, but we wish to help others obtain the holiness necessary to see God. We know that there is a cure to cancer, there is a cure to genetic disorders such as mine, and there is a cure for every deformity and physical imperfection. That cure is called heaven, and we seek to share that cure with the world.
- We realize what is really important in life.
A fat bank account isn’t all that important anymore as long as I’m here to shape my boys into the Christian men they need to become. The size of my house doesn’t matter as long as I have a home to put inside of it. Arguments about mundane things which will not matter in five years (or five minutes) are no longer important. My family, my friends, my brethren in the Lord, and my God Himself are more important than the things money can buy (and with all my medical bills, that’s a good thing!).
- We go to God’s Word more often.
Give me the Bible, star of gladness gleaming,
To cheer the wand’rer lone and tempest tossed;
No storm can hide that radiance peaceful beaming,
Since Jesus came to seek and save the lost.
We need faith for the fight, and faith comes by hearing the Word of Christ (Rom 10:17). We find faith by reading of faithful men like Job who gave glory to God in the midst of great personal agony. We find faith by reading about John the Baptizer who held firm to his faith even when he knew it would mean imprisonment and death. We find faith when we look at a Lord who gave sight to the blind, who made the lame to walk again, and who raised the dead. We find faith when we go to Golgotha and see One who understood the purpose of agony as the open wounds on His back filled with splinters, as blood flowed freely from the crown of thorns and from his pierced hands and his pierced feet, as thirst overtook Him, and as He died alone. We find faith for even the darkest days knowing that up from the grave He arose and that one day we, too, shall rise!
- We go to God in prayer more regularly.
I talked about prayer in yesterday’s post. But, as we are driven to our knees in prayer, we learn to pray: we learn to pray for others, we learn to pray even when life is hard, we learn to ask the Holy Spirit to take our groanings before the Father, and we learn to pray for others.
- We serve others in new ways.
One of the pieces of advice I’ve always given to those who are suffering is, “Look at those who are suffering far more than you are. Be encouraged that you do not have it as difficult as others.”
That, I believe, is sound advice, but the advice isn’t to pat ourselves on the back or to gloat that others have it worse than we — such an attitude would be contrary to everything our Lord has taught us. Instead, we look at those who are suffering more than we, and we serve. Our physical abilities may be limited (I’m having great difficulty climbing steps anymore, and some homes are simply off limits), but we can still serve: We can pray (Is there any greater service than taking someone’s name before the powerful Creator??), we can send cards, we can call, and we can encourage others to visit.
Discipline helps us be molded into God’s image. All things work for good as we walk with God, not that every bad experience has a silver lining, but that we might “be conformed to the image of [God’s] Son” (Rom 8:28-29, ESV). He will walk with you, and He has walked with me.
Tomorrow will be the final post in this series on pain. We will discuss practical ways that we, as the people of God, can deal with pain.