God Disciplines his Children
As I sit in prayer with pastors, ministry leaders, and contemplatives trying to live their lives according to God’s will, there is one emotion that can block people’s ability to pray and hear from God. It’s discouragement. Discouragement emerges whenever we experience our life unfolding in a way that transgresses our expectations. In that moment of awareness that life isn’t going the way we want – with little chance things will turn around – the emotion that often bubbles up is discouragement.
It can be tempting to nurture this feeling. Initially, discouragement provides a temporary form of escapism, a way of denying the reality that confronts us. It allows us to take up residence in the belief that we did our best, but life is too hard; God didn’t help us enough. What’s more, in discouragement, we can escape from the hard responsibility of living a life of love in whatever situation we’re in. Discouragement allows us to dwell in a place of feeling let down by God and absolved of responsibility.
But what begins as an alluring temptation to escape reality, becomes a place we can get stuck. As we give into this belief that God didn’t do his part, we can start to feel resentment and anger too. This anger, which is born of our discouragement, provides the energy to stay stuck in our disappointment. At this point, discouragement often transitions away from anger and turns into a deep sadness or even a sort of slothful despair. This no longer feels like escape, and we can remain stuck in loveless discontent for a long time. This is a miserable place to be. I know from experience. Once in despair, our prayer life can seriously suffer and our energy to love others evaporates.
This is not the way it is supposed to be. We are invited to pray always and persevere in the way of love. The key to getting out of discouragement and despair is found in the recognition that the Lord is always present and active in our lives, especially in disappointing circumstances. There is always a way forward even if it’s outside of our expectations. That’s not to say that we can avoid these feelings of discouragement and despair. We will have them from time-to-time. They are endemic to the human condition because faith is very hard. But when we have them, we are invited to take them into our prayer. And it’s in prayer that they can be transformed by God’s presence. That’s the primary takeaway I’ve had as I’ve spent time praying through Hebrews 12.
The whole chapter is fantastic, but it’s the middle section that seems relevant to those of us who experience discouragement.
“My child, don’t underestimate the value of the discipline and training of the Lord God, or get depressed when he has to correct you. For the Lord’s training of your life is evidence of his faithful love. And when he draws you to himself, it proves you are his delightful child.” ~Hebrews 12:5-6, TPT
The implication of this passage is stated clearly in the next verse “we all should welcome God’s discipline as the validation of authentic sonship.” There is an invitation to welcome whatever discouraging circumstances we are experiencing as a form of God’s discipline in our life.
There is no clear guidance about which hard events in our life should be counted as discipline and which should be resisted or rejected as bad things happening to us. I take this to mean, we must welcome everything, not as punishment but as training or formation. Whatever we might struggle to welcome, the things we most resist, well, then these are precisely the things we should receive as discipline. This is not to say hard things, even sins against us, are good. Rather, this is to believe that God can transform our inner world when we welcome disappointing circumstances as discipline.
This is the way out of discouragement and despair. When we welcome every disappointing experience as a manifestation of the Lord’s discipline, then there is a contemplative shift that happens within us. We turn our gaze away from our situational discouragement towards something very different that is unfolding within us. When that happens, our inner life can experience a reorientation around this new awareness of God’s loving activity in our spirit.
We can welcome financial insecurity as the landscape that hones our dependence on our Father in Heaven
We can welcome rejection from peers as an experience that drives us into the arms of God to receive his embrace of us
We can welcome boredom and frustration as the context to grow in patience as we trust that God can make a way for us in the future
This is a choice. We choose to fix our gaze on a wholly different realm, the spiritual realm. In this realm a different set of values, desires, and purposes can be embraced that transcend the disappointing events in our lives. In this hidden, unseen realm, God is near and he is active. By welcoming hardship as discipline, we center this unseen spiritual realm where God is at work.
As we make this contemplative shift, we become much more aware of God’s nearness to us. This is the great gift that welcoming hardship as discipline gives us. As we shift our focus inward, we are greeted with a comforting intimacy with the Father. We have made our center the place where he dwells. Then we are assured once again that we are God’s beloved child. Dissapointing events that happen to us become the very things that remind us that we are God’s child. As the author says:
“For the Lord’s training of your life is evidence of his faithful love. And when he draws you to himself, it proves you are his delightful child.”
This all takes much faith. Discipline is the context in which our faith is tested and grows, but it is through the practice of praying regularly that we are able to repeatedly refocus our gaze on the spiritual realm.
What prayer practices help you with this contemplative shift to welcome hardship as discipline?