There are also trials of discipline. We need some clarification here. As noted earlier, not all difficulty in our lives is God’s discipline. When difficulty impacts us, we are prone to think that God is chastising us. That may not be true. We may be experiencing a trial of place and race or a trial of temptation or a test of identification. But if it is discipline, it will be difficult. In discipline God seeks to nudge our lives back to paths of righteousness.
Note the difference between punishment and discipline. Punishment is justice. Discipline is corrective. There is a vast difference between the two. There is not one trouble that God brings into our lives as believers that is punishment. Sin was punished on the cross. We are not in double jeopardy. Every sin that I have committed or will commit or am committing has been punished. Justice was meted out at the cross. But the corrective discipline of God comes along with sovereign nudges that inflict just enough pressure to alert me to the problem and to get me back on the track of righteousness.
Proverbs 3:11-12 states, “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline and do not resent His rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those He loves, as a father the son he delights in.” Hebrews 12 says that if you feel God disciplining you, rejoice. It’s a sign of sonship. If He doesn’t discipline you, you are not His child. I understand that kind of talk.
I don’t know how many times I’ve been in situations where I have wanted to put a little corrective pressure on someone else’s child. But I had no right. The child was not my son or daughter. But with regard to my own children, not only do I have the right to “encourage” them into right paths when they get derailed, I have the responsibility, the stewardship as a parent, to do just that.
How are we to respond to trials of discipline? By not resisting them. They come from a loving Father, and we need to open our hearts to these trials so that the Lord might correct us through them and put us on the right path.
There are many illustrations of this kind of trial in Scripture, but I can’t resist going to the Old Testament prophet Jonah. The word of God came to the prophet: “Jonah, I want you to go to Nineveh.” And he immediately said no.
What would God do? He needed somebody to go to Nineveh, but the prophet had just said he was not going—and was on his way somewhere else. In fact, Jonah was down in the hold of the ship, sound asleep. Discipline was God’s response, sovereignly nudging Jonah back toward obedience, back toward Nineveh.
Some of us say to ourselves, If I sin, I won’t feel any peace. And I feel peace, so it must be all right. Yet many times we have so rationalized our way into sin that we feel quite peaceful about it. Jonah’s nap demonstrates that emotional peace is not a barometer of righteousness.
Jonah was so much at peace that he slept all the way through a storm. God had sent that storm to wake him up and bring him to his senses. But he kept sleeping. So God sent the captain of the ship down to see him. Sovereign nudge number two. The pagan ship captain shook Jonah and said, “Wake up! And pray to your God!” So Jonah got up and went to the deck of the ship. There the sailors were trying to find out who was responsible for their trouble.
They cast lots and gave everybody a number, including Jonah. As that ship tossed and turned under the delicate, sovereign hand of God, the lots were cast on the windswept deck—and wouldn’t you know it, the lots pointed to Jonah. “Tell us,” the sailors cried, “who is responsible for making all this trouble for us? What do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?” (Jon. 1:8).
He had to give a testimony. “He answered, ‘I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land’ ” (v.9).
You’d think that by this time Jonah ought to be dropping to his knees— right? No. The trouble increased. “So they asked him, ‘What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?’ ” (v.11).
Jonah could have said, “I’ll pray and repent, and your problem will be over.” But Jonah replied, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea . . . and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you” (v.12). Jonah was saying, “I would rather die than obey God.” Finally, in desperation, the sailors chucked him overboard. Now Jonah had won. God had nudged him and nudged him, and yet he had stubbornly maintained his sinful choice.
But when it comes to discipline, God has options we’ve never dreamed of. Just when Jonah thought he had won, God said to a great fish, “Do you see that boat? I want you to swim next to it, and when you see a splash, that’s lunch.” Jonah lived 3 days and 3 nights in that underwater hotel. He wrestled with God until finally, after 3 days of devastating discipline, he said, “God, You win.”
We can expect that when we sin, God will love us enough to keep working to bring us back to the course of righteousness. “The Lord disciplines those He loves” (Heb. 12:6). And although this discipline is sometimes tough and troublesome, He does it because He loves us enough to keep us on safe and successful paths.
Passing the test of discipline demands cooperation with God. When I was a boy, we used to like to wrestle to see whose young male ego could be affirmed. As little kids, we’d get a guy down, sit on top of him, and put him in a full nelson until he said one liberating word: “Uncle!”
And that’s how we respond to God. A trial of discipline is intended to get our stubborn wills to say, “All right! Uncle! I’m yours. I repent and will gladly walk in righteousness.”