But God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. 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.

Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. Make level paths for your feet, so that the lame may not be disabled, but healed.

Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. (Heb 12:10-14)

 

There are two sources of discipline: it comes either from inside or outside of ourselves. The goal of the outside kind is to promote the inside. External discipline isn’t about punishment; it’s about training that will benefit us enormously. It builds character and strengthens spiritual muscles.

Our spirits are weak and feeble as long as we are undisciplined. Our efforts to walk in a godly way are lame. In fact, without discipline, we will eventually deteriorate from just being lame to becoming spiritually disabled.

God allows hardships in our lives to discipline us. These are strengthening exercises for our feeble hands and weak knees — spiritual physiotherapy. The goal of physiotherapy is to increase function and reduce pain. Godly discipline increases our ability to function well spiritually. Spiritual strength always reduces pain. Physiotherapy strives to make us more whole; God’s discipline strives to make us more holy.

The author of Hebrews tells us that discipline is always painful. Considering this causes us to reconsider how we look at pain. Humanly, pain is something we try hard to avoid. When we can’t avoid it, our focus goes to minimizing it. If we can’t minimize it, we pray to be delivered from it. It’s a rare person indeed who welcomes pain and thanks God for it.

When I was a reporter, I had the privilege of hearing and interviewing Dr. Paul Brand, a man who stressed the need to thank God for pain. Born in India to British missionaries, he became the world leader in the knowledge and treatment of leprosy. He was the first doctor to recognize that loss of healthy tissue and limbs was not caused by the disease itself, but by the absence of sensation in its sufferers. Because they can’t feel pain, these patients subject themselves to repeated injuries that cause irreparable damage. Dr. Brand cited one example of a man who was working on a motorcycle and used his hand as a club to beat off a malfunctioning part. Fingers were routinely lost from repeatedly grabbing hot items from an oven with bare hands, and other abuses. The lack of pain led to gradual self-destruction.

Without pain, we too would gradually self-destruct spiritually. Pain alerts us that something is not as it should be. It’s a warning signal that we either need to stop doing something or start doing something. Trying to avoid pain, to mask or sedate it will do nothing to address the real problem. This is never more true than of emotional pain.

Weakness is another red flag. Spiritual flabbiness needs to be addressed through a healthy diet of God’s Word and the strict avoidance of unhealthy spiritual food, whether entertainment that dishonors God’s standards, participation in gossip, or unhealthy relationships. Overcoming spiritual weakness involves regular exercise through putting the word of God into practice under the coaching of the Holy Spirit.

What would happen if I did an inventory of the pain in my life and looked at each one as a tool God has made available to strengthen me spiritually and train me in holiness? What has my response been?

If I can accept pain as an opportunity to grow in my Christian walk, I will make level paths for my feet and be healed from my spiritual weakness. If I resent pain and fight or run away from it, I will eventually become spiritually disabled — unable to function as God intended.

God disciplines me because He loves me and wants me to be all I can be. How I respond to the discipline is my responsibility. I choose whether the discipline makes me stronger or weaker. I choose whether my pain moves me closer to or farther away from holiness.

Verse 15 warns: “See to it that no one misses the grace and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” Every pain is either an opportunity to experience God’s grace or an excuse for bitterness. Bitterness defiles; it is unholy. I need to pray for deliverance not from pain, but from bitterness. That’s the real enemy.

Spiritual Inventory

  1. What is my pain? (Past or present)
  2. How did or am I responding to it?
  3. How did or could God use this pain to strengthen me spiritually? (a) As a red flag indicating a problem or sin? (b) Making me more aware of my need for God’s grace? (c) Making me less self-sufficient and more dependent on Him? (d) Leading to more spiritual hunger? (e) Giving me more empathy for and desire to help others in pain? (f) Helping me to focus my priorities on things of eternal significance?
  4. What was my response to past pain? What is my response now?

I want to take my list of pains and re-define them as opportunities to become spiritually stronger. Lord, I pray for insight. Help me to take each pain and re-state it as an exercise in discipline leading to holiness. Help me to revisit old pains, and when my response has been bitterness or self-pity, help me to repent and to change my response. I may not have asked for the pain or the circumstances that produced it, but my response to it is my choice, even now. Even if the pain is decades old, help me to see it in the light of Your love, as still an opportunity for growth.

Old pain has left me lame and will disable me if I let it. I want to be healed. I want to be trained by my pain and know a harvest of Your righteousness and peace. I want to be like Jesus, who endured everything for the glory that was before Him. I want to keep exercising and not become weary and lose heart.

I want to thank You for pain.