During the Vietnam War I received my draft notice and decided to enlist since I was bound for military duty anyway. The Army assigned me to Fort Leonard Wood, MO, for basic training. I was among the few who had enlisted, most had been conscripted against their will. But none of us had a clue what we were about to endure.
Most of us recruits arrived soft, flabby, weak and naïve. Many had come from a privileged and protected environment, while others came fresh out of the hippy lifestyle of drugs and free love.
The first two weeks of basic training were hellish! We were stripped of dignity and privacy, they shaved our heads, we all wore the same ill-fitting uniforms, everyone looked alike, and we all ate the same tasteless food.
The drill sergeants abused us with their yelling, screaming, and name-calling crushing our spirits. Grown men cried like babies, only to receive ridicule and harsh discipline in response. In the beginning, so much of the misery we endured in basic training seemed pointless, which messed with our minds. We were pushed to the limits physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
In those first two weeks, nothing was pleasant about basic training…but then, something happened. We began to toughen. We started taking the jeers, jabs and punishments of the drill sergeants in stride—even laughing as we “dropped to give them 30” (pushups). We began enjoying the physical and mental challenges. This ragtag group of men grew to respect and honor each other, standing up for each other and helping one another. We became proficient in weaponry, self-defense, and first aid.
After ten weeks of basic training, we were now a strong, confident, disciplined troop ready for anything, because we had already endured so much. We could never have gone to war without the suffering, pain, stress, and indignities of basic training. There was a point to it after all.
In much the same way, suffering, pain and trials serve as basic training for the follower of Christ. Scripture urges us to “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as His children.” (Hebrews 12:7) It’s easy to trip over that word “discipline.” We equate being disciplined by God with punishment and we ask, “Why God? What did I do to deserve this?” But the text goes on to explain that experiencing God’s discipline serves as confirmation that we are children of God:
“If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. 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 spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order 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 12:8-11
In this sense, we must not confuse God’s discipline of His children with punishment. Many people equate suffering with punishment. Remember the man born blind in John 9? Jesus’ disciples had been so ingrained in that suffering-equals-punishment mentality that they asked Jesus, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” But Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened that the works of God might be displayed in Him.” (John 9:2-3)
Much like basic training for the military, God uses hardship, suffering and pain in our lives to toughen us and make us more like Him. In hardship we often experience God’s grace, mercy and love more deeply than when all is going well. We learn to trust Him as we endure. Through hardship, God is training us to live holy lives.
This doesn’t mean that we can’t pray for deliverance, but while we’re going through the hardship—whatever it is—we want to trust the Lord and wait on Him. “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as His children.”
Like a drill sergeant, the writer of Hebrews ends that section on enduring hardship as God’s training in our lives by saying, “Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees!” (Hebrews 12:12) In God’s strength, endure. Persevere. Discover new depths of God’s power that you’ve never tapped into.
“And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” (1 Peter 5:10)