This past Sunday, our pastor gave a sermon that I think has been the best one we’ve heard thus far in our 1.5 years of attending this church. It just really struck home and I wanted to share some thoughts on it. These are pretty much straight from my sermon notes. I was scribbling like mad so please excuse anything that may not make sense — I’ll do my best to explain.
First off, we need to understand this about the attribute of God’s character:
God is loving…
like a father…
and he wants to make us Holy.
Once we grasp that truth then we can start to understand how this attribute of God looks like in our lives. The passage that was covered in the sermon is from Hebrews 12:4-11, which I’ve written out below.
“In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? 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. It is for discipline that you have to endure. God 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, 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 they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 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 12:4-1 ESV
1. Life is hard and yet we are surprised.
I can’t remember the last time I thought life was easy. Maybe it was as a child? As a child, you have this innocence and are usually sheltered from the hardships of this world. That’s not to say hardships are absent, but they seem to affect us much less as a child, at least from my experience. As an adult, through experiences we realize that life is hard. Sometimes, the word ‘hard’ is an understatement. Hard things happen because we live in a broken world and we are all broken people. Yet somehow, we still have this expectation that life isn’t going to be hard. Maybe it’s because we want to see the best in everyone and everything. So, what happens is that these expectations exaggerate the difficulty we experience, and when hard times come we are taken by surprise and devastated by our suffering. There is a purpose to our suffering and it is a good thing (easier said than done, especially when we’re in the thick of it) if we let it be. We need to stop being surprised that life is hard. Instead, we should remember that suffering refines and sanctifies us, if we allow it.
2. Life is not about being happy, but holy. Holiness is greater than happiness.
Now that we’ve established that life is hard and have reset our expectations accordingly, we can focus on how to live out our lives. There’s a huge reason why we as humans like a happy ending. It’s the way God designed us, what He meant for each of us to desire even after sin entered the world. There are countless books, movies and even industries revolving around the pursuit of happiness. But you know what? All of that doesn’t matter. Our goal in life should be to pursue holiness, not happiness. I think it’s really easy for me to focus on pursuing the things which I think will bring me joy. It can be anything from relationships to material things. The whole point is that I need to understand that the pursuit of all these things (yes, even if they are Godly pursuits) will not bring me the joy I seek in life. If I pursue happiness, I will not find it. If I pursue holiness, I will find joy.
3. Discipline is a purposeful correction of the soul. Respond to discipline with respect and surrender.
When I think of God’s discipline, often I envision God towering distantly above me and shaking his finger in my face, yelling at me because I messed up. That’s not how I should picture God. In fact, God is FAR from distant. (Yes, I know there is a time and place for God’s wrath and righteous anger but it’s not a part of this discussion.) Instead, I should view God as a loving father who wants the best for me and sometimes that involves correcting me. I need to respect that, just as I would respect my earthly father. Discipline is a soul change, not just a behavior modification. We need to understand that changing our behavior will only result in temporary change. Enduring God’s discipline is having a purpose to our hardships and results in permanent change. However, we cannot grow and experience permanent change until the attributes of our faith have been tested to their limits. Difficulties are meant to transform our souls. The mature person sees their brokenness and they don’t fight when God disciplines them. They surrender to the correction because they know that God loves them that much. Finally, God uses a broken world to fix a broken me. How so? Because God loves me and He will use all my brokenness and turn it into something beautiful. Someday, I will enter through the gates of Heaven and will be broken no more. That alone is worth living for!