“I can say Merry Christmas, but I am not wishing anyone a Happy New Year.” My friend shocked me with her words. She continued, “I am so scared; I think God is punishing our nation and things are just going to keep getting worse.” Although I hadn’t heard it expressed exactly like that, I am hearing fear and panic in the words around me, especially from believers.
She could be right: God does discipline believers and nations. (Leviticus 26:18, NIV; Jeremiah 44:29, NIV) Since God is always loving and merciful, even in His correction, followers do not need to live in terror. There is always a redeeming, refining purpose behind each chastisement.
“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.” (Hebrews 12:11, NIV)
Although no one enjoys being disciplined, the benefits more than compensate for the time of tears.
When I read of an Olympian’s training, I am astounded at the necessary self-discipline. Knowing their backstory and sacrifice makes me appreciate their victory so much more. Spiritual Olympians destroy the idols of comfort, security, ease, and complacency, so they can run their new race. (Hebrews 12:1 ESV)
Pain indicates a problem. Without discomfort, we would continue to use broken bones, ignore infections, and fail to treat our bodies properly. Without spiritual discipline, we would stray from God’s will, embrace sin, and fail to experience the fruit of the spirit. (Galatians 5:22, 23, ESV) Be thankful for God’s protecting punishment, as it keeps us from more serious harm.
“Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” (John 15:2, ESV)
We are pruned by God to be more fruitful.
God efficiently removes the dead branches in our lives that distract us from His purpose. Rather than mourn the loss, celebrate the new creation you are becoming. (Galatians 2:20, ESV)
“Blessed is the one whom God corrects; so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.” (Job 5:17, NIV)
When we choose to run from the pruning and refuse to listen to the nudge of the Holy Spirit, God will continue to seek us out. (Matthew 18:12-14, ESV) If we submit our will to the Lord, the sting is short lived. By embracing the discipline of God, we are blessed.
“What do you prefer? Shall I come to you with a rod of discipline, or shall I come in love and with a gentle spirit?” (1 Corinthians 4:21, NIV)
David, Paul, and Peter each guide us as to the proper attitude toward the refining fire of discipline.
David demonstrates the importance of repentance. Without a change in our thinking, attitude, or behavior, the punishment has not served its intended purpose. We must request forgiveness while acknowledging our offenses.
“And forgive your people, who have sinned against you; forgive all the offenses they have committed against you, and cause their captors to show them mercy . . .” (1 Kings 8:50 NIV)
David humbly recognizes his need for God. He specifically requests God’s mercy. Although no one is worthy of God’s mercy, He generously gives it to those who recognize their helplessness.
“Do not hold against us the sins of past generations; may your mercy come quickly to meet us, for we are in desperate need.” (Psalm 79:8, NIV)
Christians have nothing to fear because it is impossible for them to be separated from the love of God. (Romans 8:38, 39, ESV) Everything that happens in our lives is filtered through His grace. After listing the martyrs, Paul gives courage.
“Keep your eyes on Jesus, our leader and instructor. He was willing to die a shameful death on the cross because of the joy he knew would be his afterwards; and now he sits in the place of honor by the throne of God. If you want to keep from becoming fainthearted and weary, think about his patience as sinful men did such terrible things to him . . . Since we have a Kingdom nothing can destroy, let us please God by serving him with thankful hearts and with holy fear and awe.” (Hebrews 12: 2,3, 28, TLB)
Peter, a man known for being impulsive and cowardly, gave great courage to the first-century church. Believer, your grief will be overtaken by inexpressible, glorious joy.
“In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy . . .” (1 Peter 1:6-8, NIV)
Peter’s words are applicable to the church of 2016. Let your life illustrate the hope of Christ.
“But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. ‘Do not fear their threats, do not be frightened.’ But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.” (1 Peter 3:14-17, NIV)
Peter, who has been imprisoned and beaten, proclaims it is an honor to suffer for the kingdom. Do not be afraid to do your duty of sharing your hope in Christ. Can you be fearful when you trust Jesus? If people are going to malign you, let it be because of your love for your neighbors, and because you believe your God.
Happy 2016, Christian!
God is at work in the world and in your life. He loves you, thus providing you with whatever will benefit you most. If it is discipline, pruning, or refining, surrender your will to it. Rejoice as you anticipate the coming abundant fruit that is more valuable than gold.
- How have you benefited from God’s refining?
- How will you trust God in 2016?
- What is a loving response to believers living in fear?
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