Having survived The Crucible, the concluding exercise of the US Marine Corps Boot Camp, I understand a thing or two about difficult training. I have sons, young men I’ve mentored and others I know who’ve made it through some of the toughest training demands various branches of the military can make. “Fun” is not the first word that comes to mind when going through training like this.
But that’s OK, because the goal was not “fun” – but rather to be trained and disciplined. The writer of Hebrews never went through The Crucible as a Marine recruit; but he obviously understood the concept. He said, “No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening. It’s PAINFUL!” How right he is!!!!
Yet in the midst of the pain, it is well to remember that the pain is temporary but the training is permanent. There is an outcome to be achieved, and it is the OUTCOME that is worth the painful training. No one I know goes through disciplined training with a goal of enjoying pain. That is ludicrous. Everyone determines to go through such discipline because of the end goal.
Some discipline is corrective. It is given with the intent of changing a behavioral pattern, breaking a bad habit, or crushing a sinful tendency. This sort of discipline is intended to stop certain behavior from recurring. The end result in mind is that we stop weakening ourselves.
Other discipline is prescriptive. This sort of discipline is entered into with the intent of adding knowledge, skill and experience. This sort of discipline is intended to build new and needed behavior into the life of the trainee. The end result in mind is that we are enabled to do something we could not do before.
The best discipline is BOTH of these. It prepares men and women to face battles in life that must be won. They are existential; our very existence hangs in the balance. We need to be willing to embrace discipline that is lovingly (though painfully) delivered so that we can see both elements occur within us – the elimination of those things with which we are destroying ourselves and the learning of the new skills we must possess in order to win the victory.
It is always too soon to write off a man or woman of God who has been “surrounded by the enemy” and fallen into sin. When proper discipline can be lovingly (though painfully) administered and embraced it will lead to great deliverance and further fruitfulness. Peter denied that he even knew Jesus. Barnabus and Mark abandoned Paul. The early prayer of Saint Augustine was, “Lord, make me pure, but not yet.” The list of men and women who’ve failed Christ includes EVERYONE who has ever attempted to walk with Him. Everyone, including you and me. Some of our failures and sins are more public, but none of us has done this perfectly.
Discipline, embraced and internalized, allows for incredible change. It is seldom an undertaking that can be accomplished alone. Walking through a process of correction and training with a loving accountability partner multiplies the impact and effectiveness of a disciplined walk. (I have half a dozen men I meet with regularly for this very purpose.) One final story will illustrate today’s point.
In Nov 1950 USMC Colonel Chesty Puller and his 1st Marine Regiment were among those surrounded by 10 divisions of Chinese troops at the Chosin Reservoir. Looking only at the odds of the 1st Marine Division facing an enemy over ten times their size, the US Army wrote them off as lost in battle. (I say “more than ten times” because a Chinese division is 16,500 men, while a Marine division is only 12,500 men.) It was during that battle that Col. Puller uttered one of his most famously known quotes, “We’ve been looking for the enemy for some time now. We’ve finally found him. We’re surrounded. That simplifies things.” He told his men, “Don’t forget that you’re First Marines! Not all the Communists in hell can overrun you! We’re surrounded, so we can shoot in any direction we want.”
Puller later recalled, “When the Marines were cut off behind enemy lines and the Army had written the 1st Marine Division off as being lost because they were surrounded by 22 enemy divisions. The Marines made it out inflicting the highest casualty ratio on an enemy in history and destroying 7 entire enemy divisions in the process.” (His math may have been a bit off, but his shooting was spot on!)
His Marines survived because they were a well-disciplined and well-trained fighting force. They trained themselves for the task they knew they had to face because they knew it was an existential battle.
Our verse today continues by saying, “BUT AFTERWARD there will e a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.”
We who are charged with the task of winning the world to Jesus Christ face an enemy hoard. Take a look at our society and you will see they are well entrenched, well hidden and well prepared. Open your eyes, Church, and look around you. “We’ve been looking for the enemy for some time now. We’ve finally found him. We’re surrounded. That simplifies things.”
We need to embrace the discipline that has corrected us, directed us and prepared us for what is ahead. None of us is perfect. But any of us can embrace discipline and training to become the best we can be in the battle.
“Don’t forget that you’re the Army of God! Not all the demons in hell can overrun you! We’re surrounded, so we can move out and minister in any direction we want.”