I never understood what my mom meant when she would say “This is going to hurt me more than you” when she’d discipline me until I became a parent myself. It’s really true.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying God hurts more when He disciplines me than I do. God isn’t like me and His peace cannot be disturbed by anything. If His peace could be disturbed then that would mean what disturbed God’s peace was more powerful than God Himself. That isn’t the God we believe in. That’s an idol more akin to the pagan gods of old than the Father of our Lord Jesus.
So, with this in mind, let’s look at our Lesson today in Hebrews 12:1-10:
BRETHREN, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation which addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor lose courage when you are punished by him. For the Lord disciplines him whom 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 to discipline us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father.
St. Paul gives us the path to endurance in our faith by holding up the examples of our Lord Jesus and His faithful followers through the centuries. By starting with the image of the arena, the apostle gives us a powerful insight into how we will endure: like an athlete running a race!
First, we will endure if we keep in front of us the examples of the saints and, primarily our Lord Jesus. He endured the Cross BECAUSE He saw the results, not the momentary struggle. If we allow ourselves to get tunnel vision on our problems, we de-energize our hearts and increase the chance for stumbling! It’s only as we stay focused on the “end game” that we stay encouraged to stay faithful.
Next, we will endure if we avoid the temptation to mistake the pain of preparation and discipline with punishment. I will never forget my days as a football player. The “two-a-day” practices had us running drill after drill to hone our abilities. I hated the practice time, but, without that work, my performance on the field would have been horrible. So it is with the “disciplines” of the Lord in our lives. These moments aren’t motivated by anger or disappointment in us from God, but rather by love. His “discipline” is therapeutic, not punitive!
Finally, we will endure if we can embrace the mind change, attitude change, necessary to see these moments of pain and struggle as precisely the evidence we are God’s children and not objects of His wrath. If God didn’t love you, He’d just ignore your selfish ways and let you have anything you want at the moment. But we’ve all seen how that turns out for children who are indulged and not trained. They end up very unhappy people.
No one “enjoys” discipline, but all of us discover at some time in our lives that, without it, we can never become who we were meant to be. How many talents have been left unused and lost by not taking the time to hone our God-given abilities?
Today, as we remember the 40 Mayrtrs of Sebastia, are you going through a rough time? Is this period in your life hard, painful, and maybe even discouraging? If you can, allow the grace of God to transform (not rescue) you to see this momentary and “light” affliction as a time of training for the “Big Race” so you will finish well. If you endure, you will win at the only “game” worth winning! Being Orthodox on Purpose means staying faithful, no matter what!
P.S. Dear Lord, You are always faithful. You always remain the same. You have run the race of human life for us and have entered into terrifying death, and have conquered death for us all. And now You ask us to look into the auditorium of eternity and see the saints who have gone before us and have finished their race well on earth. They cheer us on from the finish line of life and encourage us to not give up! Lord, I need Your grace and strength to keep running this race. I need Your mercy when I stumble and my heart longs to quit. Please be with me today and hold me up as I desire to persevere to the end and have the “right answer before the awesome judgment seat of Christ.” Amen.