I’m going to jump right in today with three more of the lessons I’ve learned, from experience, of what it’s been like so far to be parented by God. (You can find the first three here in Part 1).
#4 The primary form of God’s discipline is His conviction. If I disobey God, He starts here. If I repent, He stops here. Some people identify the Holy Spirit’s conviction as a feeling similar to guilt. In my experience, it doesn’t feel very similar to guilt. It feels more like being smacked on the conscience like a toddler being smacked on the diaper, accompanied by a firm, “Mommy said NO.” It makes the toddler drop the fork he was trying to stick in the outlet and start crying and reach for mommy for a hug, changing in an instant from defiant to sorry, from rebellion to repentance, from running away to seeking intimacy again. It’s a beautiful thing.
Of course, if I fight the conviction of the Lord, He cranks up the intensity. The longest I’ve ever pulled this off is about three days. It nearly killed me. The secret to a happy life is to repent and obey within three milliseconds instead of three days! Those were three wasted days I could have spent feeling like the Holy Spirit was snuggling and comforting me instead of nearly killing me (He really didn’t want me to stick the fork in the outlet!).
When I finally gave in and obeyed, I felt instant peace. I saw a picture of God as a giant eagle carrying me in its talons, flying thousands of feet above the earth. I had looked down and seen where we were going, and I didn’t like it, so I tried to squirm out of the eagle’s talons and escape. Of course, if I succeeded, I would fall and die. So the eagle just held on tight. I scratched myself against the closed talons, but the eagle did not flinch. The more I fought and writhed, the worse I scratched myself. If I fought hard enough, I might look like I had been attacked by the eagle, but the eagle never attacked me, and never wanted to hurt me at all. It just held on tight to keep me alive. How much I suffered from fighting the eagle was entirely up to me. If I stopped fighting and submitted, we would have a glorious ride. The eagle was always, always, always on my side. He was always fighting for me, even when I was fighting against myself.
#5 God’s most severe form of discipline is doing nothing. In Romans 1, God’s “wrath” is “revealed from heaven” against human’s sin (v. 18). And what does His wrath look like? It looks like “giving them over” to their sinful desires (vv. 24, 26, 28). It looks like letting them do the disobedient things they want to do and find out what the natural consequences are. It looks like being allowed to destroy themselves. It looks like God letting them go their own way and find out what it’s really like.
I was created by God and for God. Obeying Him is like a train running on train tracks or a car running on gasoline. Going a disobedient way is like a train flipping off the tracks or a car with tomato soup in the gas tank (thanks for that latter metaphor to Sally Lloyd Jones in her children’s book Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing). All God has to do for me to get really, really hurt is to stop stopping me and let me disobey.
This is when, if, 500 spankings later, the child is still trying to stick the fork in the outlet, Mom stops spanking and lets him stick the fork in the outlet. And she lets him find out what she was trying to protect him from all along.
I’ve experienced what I am talking about just once, and once was enough. I never want to experience it again. It took years to recover from instead of minutes. I learned that if I am fighting with God, the worst thing that can happen to me is that He lets me win.
# 6 God’s rebukes are more affirming than anybody else’s compliments. I learned this once when I told a lie. I wanted to impress someone who was important to me, so I told her what I thought would impress her instead of what was true. Afterwards, I had a vision of Jesus yelling at me. That was surprising, because Jesus doesn’t usually yell.
He was saying, “Don’t you know whose language you are speaking when you tell a lie? [See John 8:44] I don’t ever want to hear you speaking one syllable in his language! Because you don’t belong to him anymore, you belong to Me! And WE DON’T SPEAK THAT LANGUAGE IN THIS FAMILY! That’s not who you are anymore!”
And in that moment I realized I would rather be yelled at by Jesus than flattered by any human being on earth, even the one I was trying so hard to impress. I felt put back together instead of torn down. I felt warm inside as if I had just drunk a cup of hot chocolate. I still do, remembering it now. Angry humans are so good at saying, “You ALWAYS do these bad things! You NEVER get it right! These failures are who you are!” Those words shred the soul whether they are screamed or whispered–or even just thought to ourselves. And on the very rare occasions when Jesus raises His voice, it’s to say the opposite: “Stop doing that because that’s not who you are anymore.”