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I’m sure we are all familiar with the discipline passage in Hebrews (12:5–11). I am not that we all draw the encouragement from it that the author intended. The trouble, I think, is that we have confused the ideas of discipline and punishment. This mistake robs us, not only of encouragement, but also potentially of the opportunity for sanctification and growth. Let’s consider this text:

And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
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 in 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 12:5–11)

We all know (but somehow easily forget) that there are two components to discipline.

First, there is corrective discipline, which is the sort that our minds automatically run to when we hear the word. Corrective discipline is the discipline that seeks to teach after the crime—the sort bum-smacks and if-your-brother-sins-against-you conversations are made of.

But, second, there is also formative discipline. This is discipline before the crime. (No, not the Minority Report kind.) It is not punishment before the crime, but discipline before the crime. Parents subconsciously engage in this sort of discipline all the time, though we really ought to give more attention to it. It is the sort of teaching that seeks to lovingly point a child in the right direction: the direction of the cross.

Formative discipline is the type primarily in view by the author of Hebrews, and the passage above is given to encourage us to listen. Listen because your Father loves you! Listen because your Father wants to make the path ahead of you easier by preparing you for it. Your Father wants to improve your capacity for joy!

The very next verse in Hebrews says, “Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather healed” (12:12).

Family, as we face a tough year with all its attendant challenges, realise that this is not punishment. For the believer, this is formative discipline. This year, with its hardship, is pointing us to the cross. This year is for the lifting of drooping hands, the strengthening of weak knees, and our healing. It is making us fit for heaven.

It probably doesn’t feel like that right now. “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.” One day you’ll be thankful for it. It’s up to you as to whether that day arrives this side of glory or only in heaven. You will be thankful for it when you see it in the right perspective, and the writer of Hebrews is anxious that his readers experience that “peaceful fruit” sooner rather than later.

Thank God for his formative discipline! Let go of the idol of comfort and pray that God will give you eyes to see beyond the discipline to the fruit of righteousness.

Enduring with you in hope,