The Fatherly Discipline of God: a reflection on Hebrews 12

Tree in mist

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children….God disciplines us for our good in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it….without holiness no one will see the Lord. (Hebrews 12:7, 10, 11, 16)

While the writer of Hebrews does not ascribe all hardship to the Lord, he does encourage believers to receive it—to endure it—as God’s discipline upon us. Such discipline, he suggests, is a sign of God’s fatherly care for us meant to shape us for our own good, which, in this context, means that we share in God’s holiness.

Those who have had good parental figures, know what this looks like. A good parent disciplines us so that we might stop doing things that are either not good for us or for others. Such discipline aims to direct our efforts and goals away from that which is not helpful and toward that which is helpful. In the ideal situation, such discipline makes us into the sort of people we need and want to be.

So, too, God seeks to shape us for our own good. His discipline steers us away from sin, whether against ourselves or others, and toward holiness that is truly good. If we receive God’s discipline as the grace that it is, then over the course of our lives we will become the sort of people God most wants us to be and that we were truly made to be. It is striking that elsewhere in Hebrews, the writer says that even Jesus was made “perfect through what he suffered” (Hebrews 2:10). If Jesus needed that here on earth, how much more do we?

We endure the unpleasantness of the discipline in the present so that “a harvest of righteousness and peace” might arise from our lives. Like a farmer who prepares the land through the harsh action of plowing—land broken up and turned over—so God must at times plow up our lives through the discomfort of discipline. We, like the land before the farmer, must yield to God’s cultivation in our life, letting Him plow, plant, nurture, and bring forth the harvest He desires. This discipline is intended to “train” us and, ultimately, open up God’s best reality within our lives.

Lord, the hardships I face are sometimes difficult to endure. Sometimes my heart is weighed down by it, but I yearn to submit to You within it.  I admit I do not know exactly how You are training me, but I choose to submit to Your fatherly care and discipline in my life.


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