The Discipline of Pain

They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. (Hebrews 12:10-11a NIV)

There is nothing quite like pain. It motivates like nothing else. Just try touching a hot iron. Your hand will move away before you can even think to move it. It is one of the greatest tools in the hand of the potter who forms me.

God loves me so much that he is willing to discipline me for my good. Yes, it hurts, it is painful but there is a purpose in the suffering. God is using discipline in order that I may share in his holiness.

Holy, Holy, Holy

If I asked most people to complete the sentence “God is _____” what do you think they would say? I suspect that the number one answer would be “love”. While God certainly is loving towards mankind this is not the sentiment that the angels gathered around the throne use when worshipping Him.

And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” (Isaiah 6:3 NIV)

This most defining characteristic of God, holiness, is a mystery. Try looking up what holy means.

Belonging to, derived from, or associated with a divine power; sacred.

Frustrating isn’t it? Whatever holy is, it most definitely is something God cares about. It is also something that you can know when you see it because the Spirit reveals it to us so we can live it.

As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:14-16 NIV)

God commands us to be holy; to be like Him in our conduct. And how do we know what holy conduct is? For any given thing that we do or choose not to do can we put a label on it as holy or un-holy? Perhaps the best concept I can think of to map to holy is morality.

Conforming to standards of what is right or just in behavior; virtuous: a moral life.

The truth is that most things that we do are morally neutral, but all of us live with the reality that we are not as moral, or holy, as we know we ought to be. The strange thing is that the more we know of the Holy One the less satisfied we are with our own holiness. As Peter says, we used to live in ignorance. We didn’t know what holy was and so we simply conformed to our evil desires. Yet strangely even then we knew deep inside that something was very wrong with that kind of life.

So here we are a deeply flawed people. Evil desires shaping most of our conduct and even our own attempts at morality are an abomination to the Holy One. Helpless and hopeless we had nothing to commend us to God. Could it be that our deepest need is not to be loved but to be holy?

Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. (Hebrews 12:14 NIV)

Jesus came to save sinners. Saved from what? Saved from the wrath of God. Saved from the brightness of unimaginable light that would consume anything un-holy in it’s presence.

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” (Isaiah 6:5 NIV)

There is nothing greater than to be in the presence of the Holy One. To miss this is to miss the entire purpose of life. God’s love for me is so great that He is willing to use pain to train me so that I can one day stand in His presence. Not rejected, but accepted, not by my holiness but because Jesus has cleansed me from the un-holy by exchanging my sinfulness for His righteousness.

Yet here I am; living… breathing… doing… hurting… and God has a purpose for all of this. This is the season of planting and these seeds of pain can, later, bring a wonderful harvest.

No Pain No Gain

No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it yields the fruit of peace and righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:11 HCSB)

Later on… the harvest. There will be a harvest but pain alone does not guarantee a good harvest. The harvest or peace and righteousness is only to those who have been trained by it. The word translated trained here is gumnazo.

gumnazo (G1128) primarily signifies “to exercise naked” (from gumnos, “naked”); then, generally, “to exercise, to train the body or mind”

In the ancient world athletes trained and competed naked. The picture here is not some poor fool tied to a post being beaten by God.  The picture is one of an athlete enduring grueling training. They could stop at any moment but they endure, they “stay under” the training because they want to win. Those are the ones who will receive the benefit of training.

Don’t Give Up

When I wanted to run a half-marathon I knew that I would have to push myself harder than I ever had before. I had never run more than 7 miles and I was going to have to run 13.1 miles; nearly twice my farthest run. I plotted courses on the computer that would take me 8, then 9, 10 and 12 miles.  I ran each course and I found that after about 8 miles my body would really start to complain. Back then, before Dercums Disease, I could just ignore the pain and push on. I endured because I knew that I had to push my body if I was going to run that race.  In Sept 2010 I ran the half-marathon and it was very tough but I made it to the end.

Here I am today with Dercums Disease; perhaps one of the most painful diseases on the planet. I can’t just quit Dercums Disease can I? Yes, I could end my life. Even to mention that thought is taboo but anyone with severe pain has probably thought about this more than once. I don’t know how long this pain will go on and I would be happy to leave this body but that is a decision I leave with God. I have to push on until the day when I can say with Paul

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. There is reserved for me in the future the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me, but to all those who have loved His appearing. (2 Timothy 4:7-8 HCSB)

As I rounded the bend of the final turn of the half-marathon and saw the finish line in sight I breathed a sigh of relief. I knew that I was going to make it. I think Paul must have had that sense as he knew the day was drawing near when a Roman sword would remove his head. He knew that it would not be the end but a crossing of the finish line when the righteous Judge would give him a crown of righteousness. Not because he deserved it, but because Christ purchased him.

One day, the pain will be over. One day, I will cross the finish line. Until then I must fight the good fight knowing that not one seed of pain is wasted.

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