Listen to this devotional:
Listen while you read: "Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus"1 (Lyrics)
Today's title sounds like a contradiction in terms, doesn't it? At first, it appears to be a contradiction, but if we break it down into two parts, first comes the discipline, and then comes the result, which is indeed a delight.
"Stretch and grow" means to strive for better things. "Walk before you can run" is used to establish physical endurance. Realizing that discipline is necessary, Solomon advises parents, "Those who spare the rod hate their children, but those who love them are diligent to discipline them" (Proverbs 13:24 NRSV). All of these teach us that we advance slowly. Many want to attain perfection immediately, whether in enlightenment, healthy bank accounts, and/or noteworthy physical strength. Like every other good thing in life, these have to be earned in order to be valued.
We set up lessons in children's lives to teach them the most effective ways to accomplish things. We give a small amount of money to children weekly when certain tasks are completed. We would never give them a large amount of money and expect that they could use it effectively. By beginning on a small scale, children learn the value of earning, the consequences if tasks are not completed, and how quickly money can be spent. In my day, we earned stars for jobs completed well, and at the end of a week or two weeks, we would have enough stars to secure a treat or a privilege. It is called positive reinforcement for behaviour.
What athletes are able to attain gold medal perfection the first time they go out to compete? They must train diligently and often meet disappointments along the way in order to perfect their skills. How is this different from what we learn in life from our heavenly Father? God the Father teaches us through our hardships that nothing good comes easily. Jesus said:
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. (NIV)
A gardener knows that sometimes if a tree is unhealthy or not producing well, it is prudent to cut it back close to its roots so it can regenerate. It does this by saving its strength for the root of the tree and not wasting precious energy to keep withering branches alive.
Some people look for a reason to blame God for their difficulties, without having a clear vision of how much strength and grace God can provide. When God allows hardships or tragedies to touch our lives, we can choose to strive to do the task better and learn from the experience. In other words, it makes us stronger. Through continually getting back up and moving on, we gain strength in our spiritual legs that we would not have gained from just giving up. God often allows us to go through a series of hardships that we do not understand. He is the author of the whole picture of life, and it is up to us to trust that God does know what is best for us or those around us.
When a parent runs to the aid of children at the first sign of trouble and eliminates the problem, this does not teach them to get back up on their own and feel the joy and delight of accomplishing the task. How much more is God the Father capable of loving us and teaching us!
Let us be thankful that God loves us enough to teach us the truths that will assist us throughout our lives.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, we thank You for the delights of wisdom and grace that You continually bestow on us, even if, in our innocence, we do not recognize these delights. We pray that You will teach us more and more, and that You will instill a great abundance of trust in and gratitude for Your ability to love and care for us. Amen.