For the love of discipline
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.
Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And you have forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as children—
‘My child, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
or lose heart when you are punished by him;
for the Lord disciplines those whom he loves,
and chastises every child whom he accepts.’
Endure trials for the sake of discipline. God is treating you as children; for what child is there whom a parent does not discipline? If you do not have that discipline in which all children share, then you are illegitimate and not his children. Moreover, we had human parents to discipline us, and we respected them. Should we not be even more willing to be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share his holiness. Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.
Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.
Today is Ash Wednesday, the official beginning of the season of Lent. And last night at the Smith house we sat down for dinner around pancakes (because it was Shrove Tuesday) and talked about Lent and what we would be sacrificing. After suggesting things like “school” and “eating vegetables” and strangely enough, “nachos” (we don’t actually eat nachos that often!) we managed to get through to our kids the nature of what Lent is actually about and why we sacrifice something for forty days every year to remind us of Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf.
Most people - even children - can grasp the idea of joining Jesus in his sufferings for a measly forty days, and so we often “guilt” ourselves into giving something up so that we can, as Paul says to the Romans, “Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” (Romans 8:17) But this passage from the book of Hebrews gives us another and less talked about reason to observe Lent as a Christian: discipline.
Let’s be honest. We are a culture that has a very negative view of discipline. We equate discipline with punishment. We see people who discipline others as needlessly punitive and generally mean. And when we talk about the discipline of the Lord we conjure - perhaps subconsciously, but none the less viscerally - an image of God as a mean spirited despot who is out to rob our lives of joy. But if we are to understand discipline biblically - that description couldn’t be further from the truth.
This morning I went to the gym. It’s now become a regular part of my life. I go there at least three times per week and pay someone to make me do things that I otherwise wouldn’t do. I’m tired. My legs are sore (today was leg day) and the last thing I want to do is another set of squats - but my trainer tells me to do a minute of squat jumps, a minute of speed squats, and a minute wall sit in rapid succession. It’s NOT fun. But it is good for me. It makes me healthier. It makes me stronger. It makes me a better person when I do squats. No no one would gather from that story that my trainer is a jerk for making me do those squats when my legs were already Jell-o from the previous set, we all understand that the discipline of fitness is the hard work that leads to becoming a better version of yourself. So why do we see the discipline of the Lord in a different light?
Spiritual discipline is the hard work of becoming the best version of ourselves as well. It is the hard work of becoming Christlike. This is the goal of the Christian life. And in the season of Lent, we have a ready-made template, handed down through the ages, of how we can submit ourselves to a discipline for the purposes of being shaped and formed into a better version of ourselves.
It’s not about giving up chocolate, or coffee, or pop (or nachos!), but it’s about teaching yourself that those things that you think bring you joy, do not bring ultimate joy in comparison to Christ. And those things that you think you need (I say this as someone who once gave up coffee!), we don’t ultimately need at all. It’s about disciplining ourselves to be more reliant on Christ and all that he provides for us, so that we can become better versions of ourselves.
So allow me to encourage you to take some time this week, if you have not already done so, to think about what you might want to give up for the season of Lent. Something that yes, teaches you about joining Christ in his sufferings (but let’s be honest, going off Facebook, or not watching television hardly compare), but more importantly, something that teaches you discipline, and allows you to give your desires over to Christ so that he can make you into the person he has always wanted you to be.