February 16, 2015

Reacting to Discipline

Devotion for the Week...

As a mom and as a babysitter, I've given my fair share of time outs. To be honest, nothing irks me more than a child who seems to be enjoying the time out. If I'm disciplining a child for bad behavior, I don't want them to think sitting all on their own is fun! I have a friend who has said to me that she is glad, in a way, when her child cries because he doesn't like the time out because then maybe the discipline will have some effect.

The writer of Hebrews said, "No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it" (Hebrews 12:11). Obviously, our goal as parents is to raise children whose lives are marked by righteousness and peace, which means we must discipline then when they are young so they are trained to behave in ways that are acceptable.

Even if we received that training as children, there are no guarantees that we will never do wrong again. Actually, the guarantee pretty much goes the other way...we are guaranteed we will do wrong. What happens then? Hebrews 12:7,8 says, "Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all." 

I am not a theologian, to be able to explain how God uses hardship to discipline us, or to know what hardships are discipline and what is simply the consequence of living in a fallen world. From this passage, though, I believe that God does discipline us when we do wrong, just as we parents discipline our children. And, just as we do it with the intention of making them better people, He disciplines us with the desire to make us more like Him. If that is true, then our reaction to that discipline is important.

Sometimes kids choose to ignore the discipline, even when they're in the middle of it. They sit in the time out chair and start playing games with their fingers, or drawing pictures on the wall. They're not benefiting from the discipline at all, even while going through it. Do we do that too, ignoring what God is trying to say to us and finding ways to occupy ourselves so we barely even notice the discipline?

Sometimes kids endure the discipline, even seeming upset by it, but then they forget it as soon as it's over. As parents we can feel like we're talking to a brick wall because we keep dealing with the same issue over and over and it's like the child will never change, no matter what we do to try to get through to them. But are adults any better? As an example, how often do we say something we know we shouldn't, and then spend hours feeling guilty about it, and then a few days later we do it again? Does God ever want to just shake some sense into us when we do things even when He knows we know better?

Sometimes kids cry and wail through the discipline and even after, blaming the parents for their suffering. While I don't remember exactly what he said, I can remember Nathan saying once that it was all my fault he was feeling sad after being punished (I think we took away his TV privileges). I was pretty quick to point out that it was because of whatever he did wrong that he wasn't allowed to watch TV, not because I just felt like taking it away from him. His choices were what made him sad, not mine. How often do we blame God for the things that are wrong in our lives, when really it is our own choices that have created those problems?

When kids do any of those things, you can be sure their parents will have to discipline them again and again because the kids will keep repeating the wrong behaviors that got them disciplined in the first place. The same is true for us with God's discipline. If we don't learn the lesson the first time around, we will be disciplined again. It is also possible that the discipline will become more severe each time as God tries to get through to us and change our behavior.

And, of course, sometimes kids actually absorb the lesson from the discipline. They learn not to hit, or snatch toys, or throw temper tantrums when they don't get their own way. Little by little, they become more like the civilized adults we parents are hoping they will someday be. Hopefully that happens for us too as we learn the lessons God is trying to teach us through His discipline. Little by little we learn not to gossip, or lie, or throw temper tantrums when we don't get our own way. In so doing, we become more like the godly Christians he wants us to be.

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