The series Christian Atheist addresses inconsistencies in our faith. Sometimes we believe that God exists. But we live like He doesn’t exist. We believe in God but don’t live aligned with what we believe. When we choose to follow Jesus, it’s hard; it takes courage and strength. One thing that we can all relate to is going through hardships. We go through hard things not because God hates us but because life is tough. Following Jesus doesn’t mean that life is going to be easy. It means Jesus is going to be with you.
There are four different categories of hardships:
Trails are when life gives you challenges. James 1:2 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds.” When we go through trials, we need an attitude like Christ. You might not be able to control your situation, but you can control your attitude.
Life gives you trials. God gives you tests. He tests you because he wants you to win. God’s setting you up so you can see how much you’ve grown and how strong you’ve become. He sees you more than a conqueror. Daniel 3 tells us the story of 3 men who were tested and remained faithful in the midst of their test.
Jesus says in John 15:1-2, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” Everybody gets cut. Fruitless branches get cut off. Branches that do produce fruit get pruned to be more fruitful. No one would choose to be pruned, but God is preparing you for purpose. We need courage when we find ourselves in a pruning season.
The same God that blesses you is the same father that disciplines you.
It might not seem like it, but discipline from God is a good thing. Because it proves that you are His child, God would never discipline somebody that is not his child. Discipline from God is less about punishment and more about correction. We all need a heavenly Father to help us see things we can’t see. God’s discipline is always timely. But when God sees it fit at the right time and occasion, he will introduce discipline to my life. The second thing discipline always is strategic. God knows how to discipline me.
Hebrews 12:7-8 (NIV)
Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all.
He said the only reason why I would discipline you is that I care about you enough to discipline you. If you weren’t my kids, I wouldn’t discipline you. I would just punish you. Do you see the difference? Are you grateful that the punishment of God was satisfied with Jesus on the cross? We don’t have to live with this anxiety, wondering if God is mad at us. God doesn’t need to punish you and punish Jesus. The punishment Jesus took on our behalf satisfied the wrath of God. God is not punishing you because He is angry at you. He disciplines you because He loves you and wants you to grow.
Romans 8:28-29 (NIV)
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.
God works all things into the good by shaping you to be more like Christ. Trials can shape you to be more like Christ. Testing can shape you to be more like Christ, pruning and shaping you more like Christ. Discipline is one way that we become more like Christ. God wouldn’t care enough about you to discipline you if you weren’t really his kids. So part of embracing discipline is embracing sonship and daughtership and embracing a father. Do you want God to discipline you? The mature answer would be, “Yes, I do. I know it’s not easy. It’s not going to feel good. But it’s part of being a son or a daughter, and the fact that he would care about me that much is the best news ever. I embrace discipline. I don’t run it.”
Hebrews 12:9-11 (NIV)
Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! 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. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
God is training you. Sometimes there are areas of your life you can’t take care of on your own because you can’t see them on your own. And a little discipline will reveal that to you. The key to facing the hardship of discipline is to repent.
Repent – μετανοέω
(Change + Thinking)
The Greek word for repent is used 50 times in the New Testament. It’s two words meaning changing and then thinking. It means changing your thinking and looking at it from a different perspective. In scriptures, this word is often accompanied by the word believe. Repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. First, change your thinking before you can even believe it.
Luke 15:14-16 (NIV)
After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
Without context from the story, you hear about a young guy in the middle of a famine. You might think it’s not his fault since it is a famine. It says that he’s rented himself out; he’s indentured himself as a servant to another master of another country. He begs to sleep in the barn and feed the master’s pigs. Even though he is working, he doesn’t have anything to eat. So he starts eating the pigs’ food. He’s at rock bottom and far from home. If you only hear that part of the story, you may wonder what happened to get him in that place. But when you read the whole story, you can see that his hardship is easy to understand.
This excerpt is from the story of the prodigal son. Jesus made this story up to help us understand the Father’s heart. Once upon a time, there was a young punk little brother who could care less about his older brother or his dad. The younger brother goes to his dad and says, “What if we pretend you’re dead now so I can get my inheritance?” The Bible says the dad finally agrees. The dad knows that the fact the son’s even asking for this proves that he’s nowhere near ready to handle what he’s asking for. It says he takes the money after the dad gives it and goes away to a distant country. Later in the story. The older brother says, Dad, how can you receive this son back when he was out squandering this money on prostitutes? The older brother knows what kind of life his younger brother is living. And so this is where the younger brother finds himself. The famine has brought him to his knees. But it’s also the consequences of squandering this money and acting like a punk. I wonder if we could read this story not as a trial, test, or pruning, but could we read it as discipline from a father? Do you think this father knew what would happen to the son if he gave him his inheritance early? Of course, he did. That’s why he didn’t want to do it. That’s why he’s later in the story waiting for him to come back home because he knew he would never make it.
Sometimes God’s greatest discipline is to give us exactly what we’re asking for. We pray, ask and beg God for things, and he tells us that we are not ready for them yet, but we keep asking anyway. You might be asking God for a job that you want so badly. God might have a better career path that he wants for you with a better boss and better coworkers. He may give you the job you asked for, which turns out was the worst job ever. Sometimes God gives us exactly what we’re asking for. That’s the best way you can discipline us. He knows what’s best for us. We have a father who prepares us for purpose and shapes and disciplines us. He can take painful things and use them for his and your good. No son or daughter will escape this. My question is, do you want to or not? Our hearts are rebellious and may wish to escape discipline. But if we want to be a son or daughter, we must embrace this.
How to repent:
Step 1: Examine your life
You’ve got to figure out what’s going on in your life. Determine which category of hardship you are facing and what areas of your life are not pleasing to God. Throughout my life, I have experienced God’s blessings and have come to expect them. But at the same time, I am not surprised when I have times of suffering. When things in my life feel crunchy, my first response is to hold on. God loves us too much to let us continue and carry on acting like a punk. You are God’s son or daughter and represent Him in this world. It’s time to examine your life.
In the book Job, we learn about a man with a tremendous amount of suffering in his life. He chooses to trust God even when he doesn’t understand. Job asks himself if he is in a trial, being tested, pruned, or disciplined by God. Job pulls together as friends and asks them to help him examine his life. Here are the questions he asks himself in Job 31: Have I been lustful with my eyes? Have I been dishonest with my business? Have I been too hard on my servants? Have I denied the poor? Have I forgotten about the widows? Where am I blind spots? Have I forgotten about the widows? Have I been greedy with my food and not helped the hungry? Have I ignored those in need of clothes? Have I not helped people in court with my influence? Have I put my trust in gold? Have I rejoiced over my enemies’ misfortune or gloated over them? If I allow my mouth to sin? Have I allowed a traveler to sleep on the streets instead of taking them in? I know that if God’s disciplining me, help me find my faults so I can repent and see my life change again. God will come through. I can get out of this thing.
Step 2: Repent and Confess
Luke 15:17-19 (NIV)
When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger!’ I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”
I love that line in the Bible where he came to his senses. He was in the middle of this pig pit when he came to his senses and repented. He first repented and then went to his father to confess what he had done was wrong.
Step 3: Return to the Father
Luke 15:20-24 (NIV)
“So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.’
“But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.
Sometimes God’s got to discipline you so he can bring you home. Occasionally He’s got to give you what you’re asking for even though it’s not good for you. Because he knows it’s going to bring you home.
If you’re ready to come home to the Father, pray this prayer. Lord, I surrender my heart to you right now. I need to come home to you today. Father, I’m embracing not running from discipline any longer. I know the things in my life that I must change. With the help of the Holy Spirit, I will change those things today. I repent and commit to changing my thinking. I choose to live a life that demands an explanation to the world about how good you are. I will confess it, and I will come home to you. Thank you for the same God who blesses us, the same father who disciplines us. In Jesus’ name, amen.