Trouble is an unavoidable part of human existence. It’s so common, in fact, that we have come to accept it as normal. Consequently, we rarely look any deeper or stop to consider whether the Lord might be trying to get our attention. From our nearsighted perspective, each incident is an isolated event, and the goal is to relieve the pain, solve the problem, and get back to normal. But what if the situation is God’s discipline? He uses a variety of methods to teach and correct us, but if we don’t recognize what He’s doing, we’ll miss out on His valuable training.
So how can we discern whether our troubles are divine discipline or merely the result of living in a fallen world? There’s no reason to see every problem or pain as punishment for sin; but on the other hand, we don’t want to miss the correction our loving heavenly Father sends our way.
Read Hebrews 12:1-13
Before opening your Bible, ask the Holy Spirit to reveal what He wants you to take away from this passage. Then read the section, jotting down your first impressions: What questions do you have? Is anything confusing? Which verses speak into your present situation, and how?
Before we can perceive it in our life, we must understand what God’s discipline is and what He intends to accomplish through it. The Greek term—paideia—encompasses the entirety of a child’s training and education: tutoring and commands, along with admonition, reproof, and punishment. When the word is used of adults, it refers to whatever cultivates the soul and increases virtue, especially by means of correcting mistakes and curbing passions.
Too often we equate discipline only with punishment, but the Lord disciplines us in positive ways as well. For instance, that same Greek word is translated as “training” in 2 Timothy 3:16: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (emphasis added). This means the Bible is one of God’s instruments of discipline in the believer’s life. When we heed His instructions, we are trained to live righteously, thereby avoiding the pain of chastisement, which comes to those who ignore His Word.
With this expanded definition, every area of life is an opportunity for God’s training. Sometimes we experience affliction because we’ve sinned and the Lord wants to draw us back to obedience. But on other occasions, our trials may actually come while we are walking obediently with Him. This is what happened to Paul. (See 2 Cor. 12:7-10.) The “thorn in the flesh” was a tool to protect the apostle from pride. God also used it to teach Paul—and us—that divine power is perfected in human weakness. Both of these situations can be defined as God’s discipline because they accomplish His purpose: “that we may share His holiness” (Heb. 12:10).
Because God knows each of us and our responses perfectly, He understands how to tailor our training in the most effective way.
Write your thoughts in the space provided for notes or in a journal.
• Hebrews 12 compares our life to a race and encourages us to lay aside every encumbrance or sin that entangles or weighs us down. One way we strive against sin is by learning from God’s discipline (Heb. 12:4). In the next verse, we’re told not to regard His discipline lightly or lose heart because of it. According to Proverbs 3:11-12, what else should we avoid doing? Have you responded in any of these ways? Why would these responses hinder what the Lord is trying to do in your life?
• The Lord’s discipline is proof that we are His dearly loved children (Heb. 12:6-10). Yet in the midst of our pain, we may feel that He’s angry with us. What do you think keeps us from perceiving His love?
• Discipline is often painful, but it has a good outcome if we are trained by it. According to verses 10 and 11, what does the Lord want to produce in our lives?
• God’s discipline is not the same for all of His children. Because He knows each of us and our responses perfectly, He understands how to tailor our training in the most effective way. Are you the compliant type who quickly learns through instruction and promptly obeys? Or does your heavenly Father have to “raise His voice” with pain and trouble to encourage obedience?
• Sometimes the Lord will work in our life to correct patterns of behavior. We may not even be aware of them until we experience His discipline. Do you repeatedly struggle with the same issues? What can you do to strengthen these weak areas (Heb. 12:12-13)?
• Scripture tells us that sickness is one of the Lord’s methods of discipline (1 Cor. 11:28-32). But since this isn’t always the reason for illness, we could easily dismiss all our ailments as just part of life. How can you discern whether an illness is a form of divine discipline? What does James 5:14-16 advise us to do?
• Have you ever observed a child who seems oblivious to his parent’s voice? Even though Mom or Dad tells him repeatedly—and with increasing volume—to stop playing and get ready for bed, his attention remains focused exclusively on his activities. That’s the way some of us are with our heavenly Father. We’re so absorbed in this life that we can’t perceive His attempts to get our attention. How will we ever heed His discipline if we don’t have ears to hear?
Ask the Lord to attune your ears to the sound of His voice. Then begin your day by reading His Word and noting any instructions or corrections He gives. Next, consider whether you might be carrying around any extra baggage or entangling sins that repeatedly trip you up and hinder your sanctification. Can you discern any consequences? If so, could that be the discipline of God? What steps can you take to correct your course and cooperate as He makes your path straight (Prov. 3:6)?