Ouch. You know, nobody likes a spankin’. Although we should admit right off the top that we all need one every once in a while. A good smack upside the head, y’know? No matter who you are, you wrestle against wrong priorities, bad habits, sinful urges, apathy, activities we just shouldn’t be involved in, and a hundred other things. But you’re not dumb. Those surface problems come from surface causes, such as inferiority, insecurity, fear, guilt, worry, anger, envy, and whatever. Sure, we all understand what’s going on: as I said at the beginning of this study, we just sort of approach life as it comes at us, and we follow our intuitions, we learn habits, and we do what comes naturally, trying to create a smooth and pleasant life for ourselves, dealing with problems that come at us, and trying to maximize our successes. The problem with all that is: it’s spiritually disastrous, because underneath the insecurities, fears, intuitions, etc., are root causes of corruption: self-orientation, sinful values, and ungodly perspectives.
Here’s the deal: It is God’s unwavering intent to make you holy, and from the start not a single piece of you is fit for heaven. EVERYTHING has to be made new. That’s what’s going on with God’s judgment of his own people. The intent is not only to punish, but something deeper: to recreate. The punishment is to purge, like gold in a fire (Isa. 1.25; 1 Pet. 1.7), but the goal is to restore (Isa. 1.26). It’s no different than parents disciplining their children: you’re trying to eliminate the bad behavior, but also help your child become someone better.
So Prov. 3.10 says not to despise it. What does it look like? Hard times. Things not working out. Disrupted plans. Illnesses. Need. Confusion. (See, we’re again debunking the health and wealth gospel.) Any coach trains his team to be winners by just about killing them with laps, “suicides”, exercises, and rebuke. Any military sergeant trains his recruits by first breaking them down, because his intent is to build them up and make something out of them. And it works. Don’t despise it. In practical terms, anything that teaches us, makes us more wise, rebukes (including conviction) and corrects us, or that punishes us can be considered the discipline of the Lord.
This spring (2011) was our wettest on record in Buffalo, NY. The grass was high because the lawn was like a rice paddy, and I just couldn’t get on it with the mower. Finally I knew that I just needed to mow, no matter what. We got a sunny day, and so I raised the mower and mowed. I was walking through standing water, and digging deep ruts in the lawn with the mower wheels. I felt like I was pushing the mower through wet cement as I doubled back on myself for row after row.
By anyone’s observation I was ruining my lawn, but I knew better. Buffalo often has wet springs (though not this wet), and I had often mowed in standing water. I knew that my back yard was mostly clay, and that the ruts would go away. The ruts will go away. What looked like destruction (suffering) or creating a problem was actually for the good of the lawn. And though it was “ruining everything”, it was ruining nothing.
It’s hard to understand, but your parents told you the same thing: they discipline you because they love you so much. I know that my feelings were often, “Please love me less, OK?” We go through all these hard times, and people blame God, and get angry at him, and they terribly misunderstand what’s going on, and it warps their view of God, the church, Christians, and life. It’s time to attain wisdom. Open your eyes to what is happening, and understand it from what God has revealed to you.
There are two ways people usually approach lousy things in their lives: (1) Just use our intuitions and habits and what comes to us naturally to try to get through it and over it, griping about it but knowing it’s part of life. In the process you don’t dig deep enough to learn anything spiritually, or you throw some kind of Christian cliché at it to blow it off. That’s not how you get wise. Other people just collapse in weakness, and they get bitter at God, break down in self-pity, and just live with more emptiness. Instead, (2) the wall we hit makes us pray not just harder but more meaningfully, dig into Scriptures below the cheap clichés, and come to broader understandings of God and faith. We find strength in the mud, because God is there, instead of backing out of the mud in either anger or clichés. We learn how prayer does and doesn’t work, how faith does and doesn’t work, what God does and what he doesn’t do, and we become deeper, wiser believers.
God doesn’t want his people to continue in life-damaging attitudes and behavior. Correction, though painful, is seen as a favor—a sign of God’s grace. He’s trying to make you into something. Now, are you going to respond with anger, because God should be making your life easier, with a cliché, because it’s easier and more comfortable to give a cheap answer, stay 1 inch deep, and deny the realities, or are you going to push through the painful slog, seeking God, dealing with the pain, struggling with prayer, and learning the harder, deeper truths?