I can still remember my first day of 7th grade football practice. I was starting at a new school, meeting my classmates and teammates for the first time, and beginning my first ever organized tackle football experience. I was maybe 5 foot nothing and I don’t even think I had cracked 100 pounds yet. Quite the physical specimen for the gridiron, let me tell you…
I took some time putting on my uniform. It was awesome…just like the pros that I watched on TV. Knee pads, thigh pads, hip pads, tailbone pads, shoulder pads…pads, pads, pads… And then the pants, jersey, helmet, cleats, mouthguard…check, check, check… Out we went into the hot August sun to the unknown. Would we start by playing catch, running plays, scrimmaging? Nope…the dreaded “c” word…calisthenics…ouch…
The coach blew his whistle and told us to run laps around the track that encircled the field. Let me tell you something: If you’ve never run with a mouthguard before, the first time is not the most pleasant experience. I’ll just leave it at that. After what felt like an eternity running around and around and around, we moved to the field for stretching and warm-up exercises…and I thought I had already experienced what forever felt like running laps. Finally, we paused for a water break. After practice, my body hurt…everything just ached…it was the most intense workout I had ever done in my life up to that point…and I had a red welt on my forehead from a helmet that was much too tight.
Now, I made it through the season. I had a lot of fun. I went back out the next year. Everything turned out great. But what really helped things turn a corner for my first football experience was not Day 1. The real fun started on the first day of Week 3. Why this day you might ask? Because after all those days of laps, jumps, stretches, and burpees, my body had grown accustomed to the wear and tear of an intense practice. My muscles, bones, and joints had become used to the rigor of what they would experience, and they were built up to endure and push through it. My body had become disciplined for the future contests ahead.
Now, I will be the first to say, and it probably became obvious if you read the first part of this, but I am not the biggest fan of receiving discipline. Whether it’s being punished for something I have done wrong or the training that takes place in preparation for an athletic event, becoming disciplined is hard work and it can be downright unpleasant. There’s not much joy in being sent to your room for misbehaving or doing karaoke until your legs burn. But those things are necessary to bring about maturity…to bring about endurance…to help you persevere for the future.
The writer of the book of Hebrews was trying to connect with his audience, and us today, about the need to persevere…to see the discipline that we receive as for our good and for our future righteousness. Now, we don’t always like to think about personal discipline, or being disciplined, or even receiving discipline from God, but just like an athlete who trains and disciplines their body for a competition, we are being disciplined for life. And as many of you know, life is not a short spring…it’s a marathon…and to train for a marathon is no easy task. God promises in His Word to renew and refine us each day. It’s one of the gifts of being His child. But that renewal doesn’t always feel or seem like roses and sugarplums. It can be challenging, difficult, frustrating, and confusing. It can lead us to doubt and to question. But a knowledge of who God is and His promise of love and grace to us, gives us a vantage point to persevere because He will ultimately use those things for our good and for His glory. He gives us the Ultimate Example of His own Son, who endured and persevered and was disciplined for our sake so that we could be given new life and new hope.
…And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart…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 13:1b-3, 11 NIV)
Pastor Ben Bigaouette