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May 16, 2020

Discipline and the Heart of the Father

By Grant Nixon

One of the many benefits of living in Central Florida is that we are just a quarter tank of gas, a packed cooler, and a few bathing suits away from a beach day. My family has created countless memories in the sand together.

On those days my mind easily goes to the Father when I see the blue sky meet the sparkling ocean, or curl my toes into the soft sand underfoot. But halfway through one of those afternoons, a dark cloud formed and moved toward the shoreline. As it got closer, the wind blew the sand up until it was painful against the skin.

We grabbed our belongings and shuffled as quickly as we could to the car. But before we could get to it, the storm caught us and thunder cracked overhead as the torrential downpour began. My kids were scared, our fresh clothes were soaked, and our beach day was ruined.

As we drove away, my mind didn’t go to Him like it did when we got there and were greeted by blue skies and warm sun. There was something about the calm of the morning that led my mind to Him, and something about the chaos of the afternoon that didn’t. But why is that? Wasn’t God as much in the booming thunder, harsh wind, and cool rain as He was in the warm breeze and sunshine? Why this mental disconnect?

I think it’s because we normally think of God as the One putting our world back together, not the One taking it apart. Maybe that’s why the discipline of the Lord can be so difficult for us to accept and understand. I think of the Lord as the Father holding me, not restraining me; comforting me, not chastising me.

But Hebrews 12:6 is clear that discipline is from this same Father, “for the Lord disciplines the one He loves and punishes every son He receives.” The writer of Hebrews reveals the motivation behind this discipline – love. As a parent, my discipline is an expression of my love. I want to correct my children to guide them to a better life. A loving Father doesn’t discipline to destroy life but to protect life. In His discipline, the Father lovingly deconstructs a world not good enough for us. That’s His heart behind discipline – love for His child.

But just because the motivation is love doesn’t mean that discipline is easy. Look at how God disciplined Jonah. Jonah 1:4 says, “But the Lord threw a great wind onto the sea, and such a great storm arose on the sea that the ship threatened to break apart.” The Lord’s discipline toward Jonah was violent — a storm that threatened to break his ship apart.

Sometimes the Lord’s discipline in our lives can look violent, too, and our ships can look like they are about to break apart. At times, the Lord, for my own good, has torn things from my hands that I was holding onto tightly, and it was jarring and scary. His discipline can look like a storm.

Sometimes, though, His discipline can be the opposite of a storm. At times, the Lord has disciplined me by allowing me the freedom to follow my pride and finding myself playing the fool because of it. Sometimes His discipline has simply been a display of His kindness that is so unwarranted and undeserved that it leads me to repentance. The Lord’s discipline can look so very different because He is a personal God who knows exactly what we need. But regardless of what form His discipline takes in our lives, the heart behind it is the same — love.

If His discipline looks like a storm to you, please don’t make the mistake of believing that this storm reveals our Father’s hatred toward you or even His absence in your life! Look at Hebrews 12:11 – “No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

The storms of discipline can be painful, and are certainly never fun, but they are also working to produce the “peaceful fruit of righteousness.” The storm of discipline is not an indication of the Father’s hatred or absence. The storm of discipline is evidence of His love and presence. If God had given up on Jonah, then Jonah’s boat would have sailed peacefully to the other side. The storm was evidence that God had not given up on Jonah. And it’s evidence that He has not given up on us either.

A question that often crosses our minds in the midst of a storm is, “Am I being disciplined?”

The quick answer is this: I don’t know. There are plenty of Facebook quizzes to tell you what Disney villain you are (I’m Gaston, obviously), but none to tell you if you are being disciplined by God…no matter what your aunt or grandmother sends you. And since we can’t possibly have a clear answer to that question, I don’t think it’s the most helpful question to ask in the middle of a difficult season.

The better question is, “Am I honoring God right now?” That is a question we can answer! If the answer is “no,” repent and rejoice that He has not given up on you and His kindness is waiting for you (1 John 1:9). If the answer is “yes,” rejoice that He is with you in your suffering, and He is at work for your good (Romans 8:28).

After disciplining my kids I do the same thing every time — I pick them up, hug them tight, and whisper assurances of my love for them. I don’t want them to dwell on the discipline — I want them to dwell on the heart behind the discipline – the heart of a father who is forever for them and will move heaven and earth for their good.

If you are experiencing the Lord’s discipline, let it lead you to repentance. And may I encourage you not to dwell on the discipline, but to dwell on the heart of a Father who is forever for you, who will never give up on you, and who always has and always will move heaven and earth to bring you life to the fullest.

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