"I want to! I want to!" I hastily exclaimed as my dad got up from his desk. My change of heart came too late...
So goes a favorite family tale centered on my attempt at defiance as a five-year-old. My dad was a teacher, and in the evenings he often planned lessons, typed up assignments or tests, and corrected student work. I sometimes played "go-fer" by fetching materials he needed or throwing away old papers. This was usually a role I enjoyed filling.
But on this particular occasion I had decided I was tired of playing teacher's assistant. When my dad gave me a task, I answered with uncharacteristic sass, "If I want to." His response was swift, and though I hurriedly assured him I did want to obey, I was too late to avoid a well-deserved spanking.
As a normally compliant child, more than my bottom felt the pain of his displeasure. It hurt to be out of my dad's favor. But before long, things began to be right in my small world again. At bedtime I was able to say a little tearfully, "I think Dad still loves me."
If only our cycles of sin, discipline, repentance, and restoration could always be so brief and so simple. But of course, we often dig holes for ourselves that go much deeper, do more damage to others, or ourselves and require greater time and effort to climb out of. When we are trapped in a behavior pattern that is foolish or just plain sinful, it may seem there is no way back. Thanks be to God, the beautiful truth is that while there may be pain in the process, our loving Father is waiting and ready to help us get out of the pit. While he is at work in us and in our situation, here are some truths we can hold on to.
Discipline is an act of loving correction, not a sign of rejection
Those of us who are parents know that we often fail to administer discipline well. Mixed in with our desire to save our kids' future difficulty is our own complex mix of feelings such as frustration, hurt, or embarrassment. Due to our imperfection and their immaturity, kids often see discipline as an angry response rather than helpful guidance. Most of us carry that warped view of discipline into our adult lives.
That is unfortunate, because when we are on the wrong road the most loving thing someone can do is point it out and direct us back to the right one. While other people's motives and methods may be questionable, God's never are. His desire is always for our good and for reconciliation.
The writer of Hebrews put it this way, "Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; 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."(12:11) I may not like the pain part, but I am ready to harvest some righteousness and peace! When I sense God's hand of discipline, I can thank him that he cares enough to train me.
Our actions will have consequences
What I view as external discipline is sometimes just the logical result of my actions. When I fail to exercise good habits of eating and exercise, I am not as fit and don't feel as good. If I procrastinate doing important tasks or use poor time management so that I am running behind, I get poor results in my work and arrive late to appointments. As one of my children found out, irresponsible money management leads to an overdrawn bank account and unwelcome fees.
The results of sinful behavior are significantly more damaging than extra pounds, diminished job performance, or tight finances. Galatians 6 warns us "a man reaps what he sows." A more vivid and sobering picture of the fruit of sin is painted for us in James 1, "Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death." The death may be a loss of trust, the severing of a relationship, or spiritual death and separation from God. These devastating consequences aren't something done to us. They are the harvest of the seed we have sown.
We are never beyond the reach of our Father's love
Sin causes ugly results. It may yield its predictable crop of unavoidable consequences. It may bring corrective discipline from our heavenly Father. But it does not have to end in estrangement. God earnestly desires restoration. He invited the Israelites through Isaiah, "Seek the Lord while he may be found; let the wicked forsake his way...let him turn to the Lord and he will have mercy on him, and to our God for he will freely pardon."(55:6-7) When the human race showed ourselves incapable of turning towards him, he made the first move by sending Jesus that we may "have life, and have it to the full."
This invitation holds true for any who come to Jesus for the first time, so that they may know the truth and be set free. It is also true for those of us who know him, but have stubbornly set our jaws and crossed our arms, ignoring his instructions. 1 John 1:9 assures us that "if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness."
Whether you've walked in rebellion for a long time or only briefly, today is the day to accept his offered grace. This night, you can go to sleep in the sweet peace of restored relationship. Your Daddy still loves you.