When I was a child, I asked my dad for a lot of things. But I never asked for discipline. Unfortunately, “I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child” (1 Corinthians 13:11). That meant, by and large, corrective and conditioning disciplines were to be avoided.
I enjoyed an orderly house, tended yard, prepared meals, clean clothes, and a loving, respectful, peaceful atmosphere in my boyhood home. But I didn’t naturally enjoy the disciplines required to achieve these things. I often sought to evade them. I also enjoyed the idea of performing well in school, sports, and music, but didn’t naturally enjoy many of the exercises required to develop my skills. I shirked them too often.
If my external authorities — my parents, teachers, and coaches — hadn’t wisely and lovingly imposed upon me unpleasant and often undesired disciplines, I never would have realized many of the benefits they brought me. And I would have realized even more benefits had I been mature and wise enough to appreciate and welcome their discipline more and avoid it less. I did not see, or did not believe, the long-term gain of short-term pain.
Maturity Welcomes Discipline
But “when I became a man, I gave up childish ways” of thinking about such discipline (1 Corinthians 13:11). Well, that’s an overstatement. However, I have learned to value the benefit of submitting to discipline far more than I did as a child and to welcome it — especially the discipline of the Lord.
Around age 20, I became keenly aware I was helpless to achieve the kinds of transformation I needed in my character and affections on my own. Even my efforts at self-discipline, while needed, still could not bridge the gap between what the Scripture described and my experience. So I began earnestly asking my heavenly Father to discipline me, whatever it took.
God lovingly answered with a convergence of events I never could have orchestrated or even imagined, resulting in a prolonged season of very difficult and painful spiritual wrestling. Not only did God work me over in areas I knew needed change, but he also addressed areas I wasn’t even aware of. Most wonderful of all, God met me in personal and powerful ways as he deepened and strengthened my faith. Afterward, I saw clearly how the benefits outweighed the painful struggles.
This experience has encouraged me in subsequent years to repeatedly pray, and at times fast, for my Father’s discipline when I’ve needed breakthroughs. And he has lovingly and faithfully answered. Some of his discipline has been more severe than that first one, and some less. But regardless, I have never regretted those prayers, nor have I stopped praying them. For through them, God has pressed my love for him to depths and heights I otherwise never would have known.
I’ve learned that asking God to discipline me is a Christian Hedonist’s prayer; it’s asking him for a greater capacity to enjoy him.
The Lord Disciplines the One He Loves
This is the whole point of Hebrews 12:3–11, the clearest explanation in the Bible of the profound good we receive when God disciplines us.
We often don’t recognize God’s discipline when it sets in, even if we’ve prayed for it. That’s because it usually looks different than we expect. Therefore, we cry out to God in our distress and disorientation. And God answers,
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” (Hebrews 12:5–6)
In other words, “Don’t be afraid. This is from me, and it’s because I love you.” We often respond, “But Father, this is too hard! Please stop!” And God replies,
It is for discipline that you have to endure. [I am] is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, [you] have had earthly fathers who disciplined [you] and [you] respected them. Shall [you] not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined [you] for a short time as it seemed best to them, but [I] discipline [you] for [your] good, that [you] may share [my] holiness. (Hebrews 12:7–10)
In other words, “I love you too much to stop the good coming to you through this discipline.” We might respond, “I want your good, Father, but I don’t think I can endure this! It’s too painful!” To which God says with kind, wise, loving firmness,
For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:11)
In other words, “Trust me. My grace will be sufficient for you in this pain and afterward you will never regret the painful training” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
The Lord disciplines the one he loves. That means there are dimensions of God’s love we can only know through his discipline. And there are dimensions of peace and godly fruitfulness we will only know through his wise, rigorous training, a program individually tailored by him for us.
Whatever It Takes, Lord!
That’s why a Christian Hedonist prayerfully welcomes and even pursues the Father’s discipline. It is a sign of spiritual maturity, desiring real treasure more than passing pleasure (Hebrews 11:25–26).
If we wish to avoid our Father’s discipline, and don’t ask him for it for fear that he just might answer, we are thinking and reasoning like spiritual children. We are, in effect, saying “no thanks” to God’s offer of mind-blowing, soul-enriching, faith-strengthening, joy-increasing good — the inexpressible joy of sharing God’s holiness and all the benefits it brings. We decline the gain of being strengthened to comprehend the love of God that surpasses knowledge because it costs us short-term pain (Ephesians 3:18–19).
Let us pursue spiritual maturity. Let us not allow our flesh’s short-term objections and bankrupt desires to dictate our spiritual progress (Romans 6:12). Let us not settle for shallow joys in God. “Let us press on to know the Lord” (Hosea 6:3) and “take hold of that which is truly life” (2 Timothy 6:19) by making this our frequent prayer:
Whatever it takes, Lord, discipline me for my good that I may increasingly share your holiness and bear the fruit of righteousness.