I spent a significant portion of my teenage years looking after other people’s children. I quickly discovered that the easiest way to end bickering and prompt students to do their homework was to give the kids whatever they wanted. I turned in my discipline card after a vegetable showdown with a 7-year-old and enrolled in the business of bribery. Twinkies and potato chips supplemented Mac ‘n’ Cheese. Strawberry Nesquik purchased fickle, childish goodwill. While I liked my young charges, I didn’t love them enough to stand up to them.
Parents instill boundaries because they want their children to grow up into healthy, balanced people who can both give and receive love. They withstand the demands of their children and discipline them when needed. Proverbs 3 tells us why:
“My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights” (3:11). 1
The goal of discipline is not to punish. Though some people fail at this, true discipline isn’t an expression of anger, and it’s not designed to cause harm. True discipline corrects, sparks change, spurs on growth and helps us become better people. Parents, motivated by love for their child, actually endure the pain of enforcing discipline, while lesser mortals can’t be bothered.
The writer of Hebrews draws on the Proverbs father’s wise words when he encourages his readers to struggle against sin. He says, “we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us, and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live?… For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of those who have been trained by it” (Heb 12:9–11).
Often I react to pain the same way a child kicks against eating vegetables, studying and going to bed on time: avoidance. If I can keep myself out of difficult situations, I won’t have to react to them. Even more dangerously, if I can keep myself from reflecting too closely on my spiritual state, I won’t be required to change habits. If I can keep from getting too involved with my church, maybe no one will notice my shortcomings.
It’s difficult to chart spiritual growth in the midst of pain. I may see growth in retrospect, but while I’m experiencing it, all I want to do is return to my comfortable, pain-free and growth-free state. But being open to God’s work in my life means being open to His correction. We are not called to remain spiritual 7-year-olds, attempting to sneak broccoli off our plates. We are called to seek Christ and be changed into His likeness.
Want more out of your devotional time? Pick up Opening Up Proverbs by Jim Newheiser at Logos.com/ProvNewheiser
1. All biblical references are from the English Standard Version (ESV).↩