“Do good to your servant according to your word, O Lord. Teach me knowledge and good judgment, for I believe in your commands. Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word. You are good, and what you do is good; teach me your decrees.
Though the arrogant have smeared me with lies, I keep your precepts with all my heart. Their hearts are callous and unfeeling, but I delight in your law. It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees. The law from your mouth is more precious to me than thousands of pieces of silver and gold” (Psalm 119:65–72).
Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny were in trouble. Farmer McGregor’s cat had the two young rabbits trapped under a basket with the goods they were attempting to steal from the garden. Eventually, Old Mr. Bunny (Benjamin’s father) came looking for the boys. He saw the cat sitting on the basket, realized what had happened, and came to his son’s rescue. “When old Mr. Bunny had driven the cat into the green-house, he locked the door. Then he came back to the basket and took out his son Benjamin by the ears, and whipped him with the little switch. Then he took out his nephew Peter.” Beatrix Potter’s illustration of Benjamin and Peter rubbing their sore bunny backsides makes me laugh—poor naughty bunnies! A good lesson for young children…and old ones: Discipline comes to all!
Scripture is full of references to God as our Heavenly Father and His discipline towards those whom He loves. Hebrews 12 says, “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father…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” (vs. 7, 11).
When I was a child, I was always testing boundaries. My parents tell about the time when I decided to do something very naughty. My dad spanked me—as I deserved—and asked: “Will you behave?” I looked back at him with tears running down my face and my lower lip stuck out, “No!” My dad sighed and spanked me again. “Will you stop disobeying and behave now?” “NO!” Three times he asked, three times he spanked me and three times I stubbornly refused to obey. Finally, after the third spanking, tears running down both of our faces, I said, “Okay Daddy, I’ll be good.”
Discipline is a necessary fact of life. Whether it comes in the form of correction, punishment, admonishment or even in the realm of self-restraint, all of us must learn how to handle discipline. No one wants to be on the receiving end, and yet as followers of Christ, you and I come under the authority of the Father. There is a part of me that always chafes under authority. I want to make my own decisions and go my own way. Even though I know in my head that God is the ultimate authority on all things, there is a rebellious part of me that says, “Oh yeah? You can’t tell me what to do!” It’s childish, I know. But it’s a part of the human heart—pride—that each of us must battle daily. Why? James 4:6–7 states it clearly: “‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Submit yourselves, then, to God.”
No one ever said that following God was easy. In verse 67 the writer says, “Before I was afflicted I went astray…” Afflicted here means chastised or humbled. The writer admits that he sinned and the Lord corrected him. The effect of the Lord’s rebuke in his life was repentance: “…now I obey your word. You are good, and what you do is good…” He praises his Heavenly Father for correcting him! This seems so alien in our culture today.
Think back: when was the last time you did the wrong thing and got in trouble? Perhaps you were late to work one too many days and your boss had to call you in to her office. Perhaps you were pulled over by the police for speeding…or worse. Maybe you promised to take care of something for a friend or a spouse, and then you didn’t follow through and he or she called you out. What was your initial response? Was it gratitude? I’m ashamed to admit that my usual response is excuses, defensiveness and blame-throwing. “It’s not my fault!”
When you and I are disciplined by God, no argument, no excuse, no lie can stand up in His holy presence. First Samuel 16:7 says, “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” He knows everything that is in your heart and you and I cannot hide from Him. It seems bleak, doesn’t it? And yet, we know that the Father loves us thoroughly and that He desires what is best for us.
The Bible is full of illustrations of people who strayed from God’s commands and were corrected in one way or another. Sometimes the discipline came in the form of a rebuke from a prophet, sometimes the discipline was more harsh. God alone knows the best way to correct His children. Our response to Him is what is key. The psalmist’s response was to thank the Lord for His discipline. He even says: “It was good for me to be afflicted.” When we set our hearts on obeying the Word of God out of love for Him, we gain knowledge, good judgment and a teachable heart that is soft to the voice of God. But first, we have to give up our pride, our determination to follow our own way and accept that “Father knows best.”
Bible Study Questions:
What do these verses teach us about discipline? (Write down your answers next to each verse)
Proverbs 10:17 and 12:1
Questions for personal consideration: Have you ever faced the Lord’s correction? What was your response? Ask yourself: Do I agree with God’s Word when it says it is good to be disciplined? Why or why not?