In Retrospect

It gets said a lot, but it’s true: Things make more sense after the fact, looking back, in retrospect. Sometimes, the context of the whole event span of time enables understanding of the event with more clarity. I wish that were always true, but sometimes, things will not make sense before we stand in the presence of our Creator in heaven.

I play an online video game that arranges two teams in competition. I believe it really struggles to fairly balance teams, and members it puts into contests. But I also believe that is a “feature” not a “flaw”, at least from the designers perspective. I’m pretty sure that they count on players getting frustrated loosing and opting to spend money on the game to improve their competitive abilities.

Until I remember that, I can get very frustrated. But, eventually, I get it, I remember that it’s a game, that this is supposed to be somewhat unbalanced. But something inside me still cries “That’s not fair!” And it isn’t. But it’s not supposed to be either.

Being disciplined can be like that too. Often, we don’t see what’s happening as “beneficial” except in retrospect. And this isn’t just true for our relationship with our Savior either. Think about how brilliant your parents become the older you get. So, we should not be surprised when we discover, in retrospect, the wisdom of our Savior in His treatment of us. The first-century disciples of Jesus struggled with this very thing, and here’s how the writer of Hebrews addressed it:

Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.

Hebrews 12:9-11 NASB (Emphasis mine)

In retrospect, it often makes sense. A lot of the time, looking back, the context of the entirety (or as much of it as we can see) gives meaning to what our Savior does. Is it a “universal truth”? No, unfortunately not. We don’t have the full context yet, and even then, we may not really understand everything. But this we can be sure of, our Creator, our Father in heaven, disciplines us for our good, so that we may share in His holiness.

Knowing that may not make it easier to endure. Being told to just wait it out, endure to the end, may not ease the pain any. It probably makes it more painful. We want to see the light at the end of the tunnel and know it’s not a train. Sometimes, it is a train. But as we are “run over” by that train, remember this:

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.

2 Corinthians 4:7-11 NASB (Emphasis mine)

We’re not home yet, and so, there’s still work to do, struggles to endure, and a bright shining home ahead. One day we will stand in the presence of our Creator and Savior. One day He will wipe the tears from our eyes. We will be a part of a “mega-church” worship like we can never imagine. We will all be changed. But for now, we trudge sod of this world, joyfully seeking the next.

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Hard Life with God

Who doesn’t like to hear all the good stuff they have to gain by accepting something or making changes? Who eats healthy because it tastes better? Who exercises because it feels good? Well, that one isn’t a good example, done right it, after a while, does feel good. Still, it takes discipline to do difficult, uncomfortable, or painful things for the eventual good they produce. We know that, but for some reason, we don’t apply that to our life with God.

How would you describe the life of a disciple of Jesus? Fun? Exciting? Full of rainbows and unicorns and kittens? Someone from the outside might describe it as the path of complainers, maybe if they followed me. The life of a disciple of Jesus is hard, and it’s designed that way:

You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin; and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, “MY SON, DO NOT REGARD LIGHTLY THE DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD,
NOR FAINT WHEN YOU ARE REPROVED BY HIM;
6 FOR THOSE WHOM THE LORD LOVES HE DISCIPLINES,
AND HE SCOURGES EVERY SON WHOM HE RECEIVES.”

Hebrews 12:4-6 NASB

The writer quotes Proverbs 3:11, 12. That chapter of Proverbs is famous for verses 5 and 6:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6

But verses 11 and 12 are not nearly as popular. Ironically, we find trusting God a great idea, until the discipline starts. Then we’re confused, wondering why we’re being punished. Why do bad things happen to good people? This may surprise you, and for some you will vehemently disagree, but I believe our Creator teaches us through Scripture that all things that happen to us, good and bad, come from Him.

Yes, as James says, every good and perfect gift is from our Father above (James 1:17), but he also teaches that our Father puts us through fire to develop us (James 1:12). But he also teaches us that this same Savior does not tempt us. So, the trials and temptations are different. Trials are meant to develop us, discipline us to be better disciples of Jesus. Temptations, on the other hand, come from us (James 1:13-15).

The writer of Hebrews claims that the difficulties faced by disciples of Jesus actually legitimize our relationship with our Savior (Hebrews 12:7,8). Think about that for a moment. You are legit because of difficulties, not because you don’t suffer. We suffer, and we ask, “what did we do wrong?” Instead, these very difficulties legitimize our relationship with our Savior. It’s not easy to wrap your head around.

I hate it when stuff doesn’t work, computers (especially), cars, people, business processes, departments at my employer, all sorts of things. And when they don’t, I can get pretty bent. It’s my expectation that these things do what I want, when I want, the way I want. I expect them to operate as designed, and finding the design flawed interrupts my goals, my desires, whatever I’m trying to do. You’ve been there. You know the frustration.

The truth is, these things are designed, and flawed in that design. But what I miss is that they are also part of my Master’s design, part of His plan to discipline me into a person more available to His purpose, His plans, and His Kingdom. When I miss that, I may miss an important goal He has for me. With this in mind, read Acts 16:6-10 again. You may be familiar with this passage, even how Paul was prevented and hindered by Jesus, but now think about that in terms of this concept of being disciplined by our Father in heaven.

Let’s not miss our Macedonian Vision because we’re fighting the One for whom we live and work in the first place. Let’s, instead, permit our difficulties guide us to where our Savior wants to use us, to do those things He wants us to do, and let go of our goals, asperations, dreams, and focus. That’s what the writer of Hebrews is saying, “Don’t get upset with your computer, but let that difficulty guide you to the thing our Savior wants to do in and through you at that moment.”

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation