May 9, 2012

Ordinary stress is God’s extraordinary correction

Because of childhood illness and doctors telling my parents I would not live long, I wasn’t disciplined much, at least not until it began to look like the doctors were mistaken. Odd, even though my parents dearly loved me, I knew at an early age that discipline is a way to show love to your children. My parents meant well, but I needed to be corrected then, and still do. 

Perhaps due to that background and certainly because of my spiritual gifts, I’ve never had a big problem with God correcting me. Besides, He does it for my good and because He loves me.
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 12:6–11)
Today’s devotional begins with an intriguing line, “It has been well said that ‘earthly cares are a heavenly discipline,’ but they are even something better than discipline; they are God’s chariots, sent to take the soul to its high places of triumph.”

Early in my Christian life, God showed me that He had a great purpose in everything that happened to me. As Romans 8:28-29 says, I “know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son…” 

That meant that whatever happened to me, I could look for opportunities to become spiritually mature, to be more like Jesus. Until today, I’d not thought about the usual stresses of life as God’s discipline also.

The Greek word for discipline come from one that means “training” yet has the idea of correction. Right away, I began thinking how my current “earthly cares” are God’s way of correcting something in me. Instead of stewing about them, it makes sense that I look at them from His perspective. What is God trying to say to me? What needs correction in my life? How can I be more like Jesus because of those things that anyone would classify as ordinary cares of life?

The first example that pops to mind is the stress of decision-making in this downsizing process. Moving to a smaller place is exciting, but the practical reality is that it is smaller. Not all of my stuff can be stuffed into it. One closet alone, shelved to hold books, has been an enormous task. Deciding what to keep and what to toss (or give away) is giving me a headache.

I’ve already been corrected in two ways by this closet. One is that I don’t need to keep mementoes of academic achievement to prove anything. My sense of worth is in Jesus Christ and the price that He paid for me. I know that, but this stress tests me; do I really know it?
Secondly, life is short and no matter how “important” some of these books and things are to me, none of them can go into eternity with me. Eventually, it will all wind up in a landfill. I know that too, so why am I stressed?
Jesus never intended that anyone hang their worth on their achievements. Even the Old Testament has something to say about glorying in anything that I do.
Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 9:23–24)
Jesus never boasted about or held on to anything in this world. He also told His disciples that they needed to be willing to give up everything and take up their cross to follow Him. He stressed the importance of their total abandonment to all that is in this world.
As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:57–62)
In this life, getting off that path of being like Jesus happens daily. Each day brings trouble and stresses that are God’s designated rods of correction to keep me on the right path. Instead of gritting my teeth and trying to overcome the trials, it is far better to ask my God what He is saying about my heart, and then be obedient to His correction.

Lord, what a timely poke in my ribs. I’ve been stressed about this crazy to-do list and missed seeing the stress as Your correction and as an opportunity to grow. Understanding that You are wanting to use even this for my good is three-quarters of the battle. Open my eyes and help me cooperate with whatever You have in mind.

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