For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
I love this passage of Hebrews because it reminds me that discipline is not only necessary, it is worthwhile. I also love that it speaks not only of discipline as a consequence for wrongdoing, but also those elements of discipline involved in training for the future. I can’t help but think of athletics here. Several years ago before my body began to revolt and my time was entirely consumed with other matters, I took judo classes. I loved it though I did have to work hard to prepare my body to perform some rather unusual movements. There was discipline involved in learning to fall correctly so that I would not be hurt when some of the much larger guys in the club tossed me around like I weighed nothing. There was also discipline in learning to position myself in ways my body did not ordinarily want to go in order to correctly perform a throw or escape a hold.
It was an exciting day for me when the training and practice paid off and I, weighing at the time around 115 pounds, was able to execute a successful Ippon Seoinage (one arm shoulder throw) of a fellow judoka weighing in closer to 250. I was so excited that I cried out, “You didn’t jump!” It was the first time he hadn’t helped me by leaping over me as I attempted to perform the throw. All the frustrating work of doing it wrong dozens of times and the pain of landing a couple hundred pounds of man on my back was well rewarded in that one satisfying moment.
It may seem odd to compare “the peaceful fruit of righteousness” with judo practice, but I am convinced that when we have been trained by the discipline of God, whether punitively or as a preparatory drill, the thrill of getting it right when we go through some dark time or trial will be well worth all the blood, sweat, and tears shed to prepare us for that moment. This moment of future spiritual success that I anticipate for God’s glory will far outshine even my wondrous moment in the dojo when my former judo buddy did not jump. I am imagining all the petty, insignificant worries that plague me and trip me up now are preparing me for some future, greater trial; perhaps strengthening my weak faith to ready me for some test beyond the puny amount I have currently developed. In that time, perhaps, if I am diligent in my training and persevere through the rough spells, just maybe I will find that I am ready to face what comes. Though now I stumble at small obstacles, perhaps the practice of falling and getting back up again will prepare me to stand firm when larger ones loom on the path.
I am training my spiritual muscles, if you will, submitting to correction when I err and applying myself to hard work and effort to gain ground no matter how difficult the terrain. I can only pray that at the end of the race, when I look back on the memories of what assailed me on the way, I will find that all my failures and mistakes prepared me for a greater victory than I could have achieved without them. For it is in failure that, for me, the lesson is driven home. I may not achieve the goal, but I remember it. When I succeed the first time I try anything, I fear that the point of the lesson slips away almost as easily as it was accomplished. And so, despite my many shortcomings, I can still trust that somehow, though it looks messy at times, my faith is being honed, hardened, and shaped through what I am striving through, even as my muscles were shaped and trained to perform peculiar tasks in judo. After all the mistakes have been made and learned from, I hope to stand some day in victory, looking back with satisfaction on a race well run.