Saturday, January 15, 2011

Can You Be Rescued From God's Discipline?

I read an interesting Psalm last night in a manner I had never read it before. I had always read the psalms as a collection of songs praising the Lord for helping people overcome obstacles and protecting them from their enemy. There is the great psalm of repentance from David, Psalm 51, which he wrote after being confronted by the prophet Nathan but other than that I had never thought of those who had willfully sinned being rescued by God. I have been raised to think a certain way of God, sitting on his throne, passing judgement on everything we do. It has taken me years, decades even to fully grasp the magnificence and completeness of God's grace. So, I was astounded last night to see Psalm 30 in a different light than I had ever understood it before.

It started off normal enough, singing God's glory for the rescue he had made:

I will exalt you, O LORD, 
   for you lifted me out of the depths 
   and did not let my enemies gloat over me. 
O LORD my God, I called to you for help 
   and you healed me. 
O LORD, you brought me up from the grave; 
   you spared me from going down into the pit. (Psalm 30:1-3)

I didn't think much of this although I did take note of a few interesting phrases: "you lifted me out of the depths", you "did not let my enemies gloat over me", "you healed me", "you spared me". I wondered what situation the psalmist had found himself in. Then I read:

Sing to the LORD, you saints of his; 
   praise his holy name. 
For his anger lasts only a moment, 
   but his favor lasts a lifetime; 
weeping may remain for a night, 
   but rejoicing comes in the morning. (Psalm 30:4-5)

What stood out for me here was, "For his anger lasts only a moment". What had the psalmist done to provoke the anger of God? The only thing that would provoke God's anger is sin. Suddenly I realized that this was a song of redemption and grace. This writer had failed God and his enemies were enjoying what was happening to him; they were gloating over his failure. But the psalmist had repented, had turned to God for rescue and God responded. Why? Why would God respond when this writer had obviously broken the law, had disobeyed, had sinned against God? Because our God has no desire to punish but he does correct in order to save us from ourselves. His desire is for us to have hearts aligned with his and so, when they are aligned, he is willing to rescue us from our misery.

For his anger lasts only a moment, 
   but his favor lasts a lifetime.

What an incredible insight into our relationship with God and our life in this place.

Weeping may remain for a night, 
   but rejoicing comes in the morning.

What an experience to have and what maturity to see this in action in our lives. Many of us do not see it. Many of us do not trust the grace of God until he puts us in the pit and we have nowhere else to turn. We are so full of ourselves, thinking we are secure in our lives, but such security is a lie we tell to ourselves. It is a false security because our only true security is found in Jesus:

When I felt secure, I said, 
   “I will never be shaken.” 
O LORD, when you favored me, 
   you made my mountain stand firm; 
but when you hid your face, 
   I was dismayed. (Psalm 30:6-7)

God only hides his face from us when we walk in disobedience, sinning against him. Our Holy God can have nothing to do with sin. He loves us but his favour can no longer fall upon us. But he has promised that when we seek his face in earnestness we will find him. He will show us mercy and grace because he is more interested in our rescue than in our punishment. We discover the heart cry of this psalmist:

To you, O LORD, I called; 
   to the Lord I cried for mercy: 
“What gain is there in my destruction, 
   in my going down into the pit? 
Will the dust praise you? 
   Will it proclaim your faithfulness? 
Hear, O LORD, and be merciful to me; 
   O LORD, be my help.” (Psalm 30:8-10)

The thing we need to understand is the heart of the Father. A father only desires to walk close to his children. When a child is rebellious there is no harmony in the relationship and the child feels distant even though the father is still there. When the child turns back to his father the father's reaction is not slow in coming:

You turned my wailing into dancing; 
   you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, 
that my heart may sing to you and not be silent. 
   O LORD my God, I will give you thanks forever. (Psalm 30:11-12)

There is a passage in Hebrews that explains clearly how we should understand this matter from God's perspective. Reading this we can understand that he does not desire to destroy us but instead to increase us:

And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons:
   “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
   and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
because the Lord disciplines those he loves,
   and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.”
Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. 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 our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, 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. (Hebrews 12:5-11)

For those of us who are disciples of Jesus Christ, we recognize that the worse discipline is when our Father hides his face from us, when we can no longer sense his presence, when we feel we are in that pit:

but when you hid your face, 
   I was dismayed.

It was the thing that David feared the most:

Create in me a pure heart, O God, 
   and renew a steadfast spirit within me. 
Do not cast me from your presence 
   or take your Holy Spirit from me. 
Restore to me the joy of your salvation 
   and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. (Psalm 51: 10-12)

But the good news is that his mercy is great; his forgiveness is clear; and his discipline has purpose. Once you have been rescued you do not need to go back there. God's forgiveness is complete. If you find yourself in that pit today, there is nothing stopping you from calling out to our Father, to receive healing from your sin, and to be restored to him again.

You turned my wailing into dancing; 
   you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, 
that my heart may sing to you and not be silent. 
   O LORD my God, I will give you thanks forever.


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