In the summer of 2015, I got a wild idea that I wanted to play rugby. I was transferring to the University of Idaho in the fall and knew they had a rugby team there so I decided now was the time to go for it. The only problem? I had no idea how to play rugby and hadn’t been in team sport condition for years. Not wanting to be deterred, I enlisted the help of my Dad. He went all out training me for my new sport. He already had an outstanding legacy in coaching, having coached my younger sisters in soccer for years by that point. His team had the reputation for being the fittest at any tournament and there was an adage amongst him and his players whenever one of them mentioned some ailment: “You know what fixes that? Running.”
So when he took on training me, I knew exactly what I was getting myself into and I was still floored. Honestly, sometimes I really did just lie on the ground and wheeze for a bit. For that entire summer, my Dad had me running all sorts of drills to get my physical strength and endurance up before the rugby season came. One drill even included me pulling his full weight the length of our field. Pretty tough training! I regularly wanted to complain (and let’s be honest, sometimes I did). My body ached, my lungs burned, and I wanted more than anything to just stop. And yet, there was my Dad (you know, that guy who supposedly loves me so much) telling me to run a drill again.
We often make the mistake of determining God’s love for us by our current comfort. Do we have a roof over our heads? Do we have that career we always wanted? The spouse we’ve longed for? The hobby that fulfills us? The health we enjoy? Take one of those away, and we’re quick to come to God in fear and panic, wondering what’s going on and how he could be so unkind. We feel abandoned by God when we endure struggle. I have, and I know I’m not alone in having felt that way. The reality is, though, that God’s love speaks so much louder in the struggles and hardships we endure.
There’s a passage in Hebrews 12 that speaks directly to this. I tried to pull just a key point, but the whole thing is so intense and convicting that I had to include the whole thing.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. After all, you have not yet given your lives in your struggle against sin.
And have you forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you as his children? He said,
“My child, don’t make light of the Lord’s discipline,
and don’t give up when he corrects you.
For the Lord disciplines those he loves,
and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.”
As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as his own children. Who ever heard of a child who is never disciplined by its father? If God doesn’t discipline you as he does all of his children, it means that you are illegitimate and are not really his children at all. Since we respected our earthly fathers who disciplined us, shouldn’t we submit even more to the discipline of the Father of our spirits, and live forever?
For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness. No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.
So take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees. Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak and lame will not fall but become strong.
Don’t mistake the grueling hardship of training and discipline for unkindness. If you’re going to ask God to make you into something new and better, there’s going to be a process to get there. You have to work, you have to train, and it’s going to be tiring. The fact that it’s hard and hurts doesn’t mean you’re failing, it means you’re working. It means you’re going somewhere. Because God doesn’t train us just to give up on us. He trains us to prepare us and protect us.
If instead of diligently training me, my Dad had said “Nah, you’re good! Just eat potato chips all summer and wing it!” we would have fun for a moment but then I would have downright suffered when it actually came time to take the field. My Dad loved me too much to treat the situation so flippantly. He put me through the hard work so I could be ready. He gave me my best chance to succeed. What could be more loving than that?
God does the same for us on an unimaginable level. He puts us through the struggle of spiritual training and growth so that when a real trial shows up we have the strength and endurance to face it. He loves us too much to leave us as scrawny, wimpy versions of ourselves. If we come to him saying “God, help me be better!”, he’s going to do just that. It’s not mean, it’s not unfair, it’s love. Discipline and training shows love.
When the time finally came for me to take the field in my first rugby game, I was ready, and it wouldn’t have been possible without all the grueling work my Dad put me through that summer. When the whistle blew for the first time, I felt a little jittery, sure, but I didn’t feel unprepared. Every sore muscle, stitch in my side, and wheeze in my lungs that my Dad had run me through over the summer had ensured that I was not caught off guard when the moment to step up came.
So don’t shy away from discipline. The results we get being disciplined through struggle and hard work make us into stronger, wiser, and far more capable Christians than we could ever be in an easy life. Sure, it’s painful, sure it’s hard, but it may also be the best thing for you. So ignore the painful stitch and the burning in your lungs. There are far greater things ahead.
Let’s find some joy,