“The Discipline of Adversity” is the 13th and final chapter in the book The Discipline of Grace by Jerry Bridges, which we’re discussing every Thursday in the “Reading Classics Together” challenge at Challies‘ place. More discussion on this chapter is here.
though we can only do all of the other disciplines Bridges has discussed with the Holy Spirit’s enabling, yet we still have some responsibility and have to take some initiative. God will speak to us through His Word, but we have to pick it up and read it; He will enable us to keep commitments, but we have to make them, and so on. Bridges reminds us that “we practice these disciplines not to earn favor with God, but because they are the means God has given to enable us to pursue holiness” (p. 228).
But adversity comes from outside of us and is imposed by God on us. It’s not a welcome imposition, but if we remember key factors about it, that will help us endure it.
1. God disciplines those He loves. Hebrews 12:5-6: “And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? ‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.’”
2. His purpose is our holiness. Hebrews 12:10-11: “For [our fathers] disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but [God] disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.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.”
3. His purpose is our Christlikeness. Romans 8:28-29a: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.”
We can’t control what happens to us, but we can respond in a right or wrong way.
Hebrews 12:5: “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him.”
Job 1:22: “In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.” The KJV says “nor charged God foolishly.” Job did not do these things (a good response), but we can be tempted to do them and shouldn’t. Becoming angry with God can lead to a “grudge against God and is actually rebellion” (p. 236).
See God’s hand in it and don’t subscribe it to chance. Lamentations 3:37-38: “Who can speak and have it happen if the Lord has not decreed it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come?”
Submit to God’s discipline. Hebrews 12:9: “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!”
Even knowing all of that, sometimes we wrestle with “Why?” Why does this have to be that way? Why did this have to happen to that person, who is already struggling under so many other things? One of the most helpful sections to me in this chapter besides direct Scripture was this: “Part of the sanctifying process of adversity is its mystery; that is, our inability to make any sense out of a particular hardship” (pp. 233-34). We have to trust that God knows what He is doing, that His ways are higher than ours. “When we are unable to make any sense of our circumstances, we need to come back to the assurance in Hebrews 12:7: ‘God is treating you as sons.’ Remember, He is the one in charge of sanctification in our lives. He knows exactly what and how much adversity will develop more Christlikeness in us and He will not bring, nor allow to come into our lives, any more than is needful for His purpose” (p. 234).
Sometimes people wonder, too, since this is from God, is it wrong to seek relief from it? Not at all. “We can pray earnestly to God for relief and still be submissive to Him in regard to the outcome. Jesus is our supreme example in this as He prayed the night before His crucifixion, “‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will’ (Matthew 26:39) (p. 237).
A few more thoughts that stood out to me:
“Whatever our situation is, it is far better than we deserve. None of us wants to receive from God’s hand what we actually deserve, for that would be only eternal punishment” (p. 242).
“God’s grace is sufficient for us (2 Corinthians 12:9), however difficult and frustrating our circumstances might be…God’s enabling grace will give us the inner spiritual strength we need to bear the pain and endure the hardship, until the time when we see the harvest of righteousness and peace produced by it” (p. 242).
Bridges ends the book with this chapter. It would have been nice to have had a conclusion, a wrapping-up of the whole book beyond the last paragraph or two here.
Overall I have enjoyed my first experience with Challies‘ Reading Classics Together” challenge. I definitely got more out of the book than if I had just read it straight through, because I took it more slowly by reading only a chapter a week, then went through the chapter several times while trying to write a review or sort out my thoughts. That was definitely beneficial to me; I don’t know if it benefited my readers at all. And it helped to draw even more out of the chapter to read some of the thoughts of others participating in the challenge. I don’t know if I will participate again: I guess it depends largely on what books are chosen next. But I enjoyed the experience and than Tim Challies for setting this up for us.