7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons… 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
(Hebrews 12:7-8, 11, ESV)
I celebrated my 32nd birthday last week (and no, this isn’t a shameless plug for birthday wishes…I promise I got plenty!). As a part of our family’s celebration, my Mom (as moms are prone to do, I suppose) threw down the gamut of baby and kid pictures for everyone to see. The first thing that struck me about this was the stunning, year over year decline in my attractiveness from the toddler and preschool years on through high school. I guess it happens to everyone, but wow…it brings a whole new meaning to the phrase “a face only a mother could love.”
Beyond this superficial observation, though, this little exercise got me thinking about the relationship between parents and children- both my relationship with my parents, and my children’s relationship with me. I don’t think it is possible to really grasp the depth of a parent’s love for his or her children until you experience it for yourself. And by God’s grace, I’ve had the opportunity to dive into that ocean not once, not twice, but thrice now as a Dad of three.
Just as my parents recounted their own vivid memories of the day I was born, the days we welcomed each of our three will be forever etched in my memory. Each birth brought with it an incredible sense of gratitude, awe, and expectation. I remember considering so many questions of possibility- Who will she grow up to be? What will he grow up to do? How will she serve God? How will he impact others? Will they somehow overcome their genetic propensity (from their Dad, of course) toward awkwardness?
I’ll tell you what we weren’t thinking about on each of those days- discipline. No parent holds their newborn and thinks to himself or herself, “Man, I can’t wait for you to defy me one day so I lay the boom on you.” That said, it doesn’t take long to learn as a parent that deep love requires strong discipline. Kids have a remarkable disposition toward rebellion and self-destruction, and one of the major responsibilities of a parent is to shepherd them through that sinfulness (let’s call it what it is), point them to the saving and transforming grace of Jesus, and give them a living example of what it looks like to follow Him.
I am reminded of this reality on a daily basis. I never wake up looking forward to disciplining my kids, but day after day, I do. “Yes, you do need to brush your teeth today.” “No, you can’t talk like that to your Mom.” “We’re going to use our hands to help each other, not hurt each other.” “If I have to come in there again, it will not end well for you.” You’ve heard it…you’ve said it…you get it. Does this make me a cruel or cold parent? No, quite the opposite in fact; it is the evidence of my love.
Where do we get this idea from anyway? I don’t think it’s a human invention at all, but a reflection of the divine fatherhood of God Himself. According to God’s Word, God relates to us as a father to his sons and daughters. He loves us deeply- perfectly, in fact- and that love leads Him, among other things, to discipline. The Word is clear- The discipline of God is the proof of His love. There are times when He hurts us in order to heal what’s broken in us.
Consider- The kids that are “prone to rebellion and self-destruction” grow up to be adults who are “prone to rebellion and self-destruction.” God knows this, and if you’re being honest with yourself, you know it too. We all stumble, stagger, and sometimes dive headfirst into all manner of sin- and God loves us waaaaaaay too much to allow that sin to end well for us. Why would He? To do so wouldn’t be an act of love and grace, but of incredible cruelty.
To love someone means to seek their ultimate good, whatever the cost. Sometimes that means intentionally inflicting temporary pain to enable the “peaceful fruit of righteousness” to flourish in the long term. No good parent enjoys that process when it’s happening- but because we know the “harvest” is worth it, we persevere. Likewise, I don’t believe God delights in the “unpleasantness” of discipline, but His unstoppable love will not allow Him to turn away from leading us into the life He intended for us as His kids. The pain that often accompanies disobedience serves as a reminder of the sweetness of walking in God’s good ways.
So next time you find yourself operating under the discipline of your heavenly Father, stop and consider just how much He must love you, and just how deeply committed He is to your thriving in every way in Him. As you do that, reflect also on the Gospel- that while you receive discipline, you do not have to receive condemnation, because Jesus already took that for you. Jesus’ love led Him to take your hurt and offer you healing instead. It is His substitute sacrifice that made your relationship with your heavenly Father possible, discipline and all.
So thank Him for it. Receive it humbly. Walk in it faithfully. And put your trust in God’s promise- that when you do, the “peaceful fruit of righteousness” will soon be on the rise in your life.