When we are born there is nothing that we know outside of wanting our own way. We know how to cry when we don?t get what we want or when we are unhappy, but other than this we know nothing. We don?t possess information about history, mathematics, science, or any other subject. Nor do we know any of the most basic necessities for living life. We can?t feed ourselves. We can?t dress ourselves. We don?t know how to change our diapers or clean ourselves when we are dirty. We don?t know how to speak.
As we grow we begin to learn. We are taught to walk. We say our first words. We learn how to feed ourselves. We learn how to tie our shoes and dress ourselves. All of these things are taught and we are willing to learn. Now we might resist some of the lessons our parents try to teach us, but eventually we learn.
As we continue to get older and new lessons come our way we still have the need to be willing to learn. We need to be teachable. We need the instruction of those who love us and know what we need to know. We need the discipline that is necessary to take the important lessons that are provided for us and implement them into our life. It is so important that we remain teachable throughout our lives so that we don?t miss the important lessons that will come our way throughout our life. I said, ?It is important,? but make no mistake about it?it is not a given.
We can resist the lessons that are provided for us. We can stiffen our neck, strengthen our resolve, and turn a deaf ear to some of the greatest gifts that are provided to help us learn how to live this life that God has given to us. A stiffened neck, locked jaw, and deaf ear will never reside alongside of a heart and mind that desire to learn.
In our lesson for today we are going to learn about how important it is to desire discipline and all that little word entails. Won?t you turn with me to Proverbs 12 and let?s begin. In Proverbs 12:1 we read,
1 Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid. (Proverbs 12:1 NIV)
The very first verse of Proverbs 12 sets the cornerstone for our lesson today. Solomon says that those who love discipline love knowledge, but those who refuse to be taught or corrected are stupid or senseless. I want you to notice the word, ?discipline,? in verse one because it is a very important word, a multi-faceted word. The Hebrew noun that is translated “discipline” in the NIV actually means, “instruction, discipline, correction, or warning.? Actually, this little Hebrew word is used in all four of these ways. Instruction, lessons for living life, how we are to relate to one another, how we should manage our households and our businesses, these lessons come to us, each and every one of us. Our response to God?s lessons may vary, but the lessons come each and every day. Those who are willing to be taught will pay attention to the lessons that come their way, and they will work to implement the lessons. When we get off track we need to be open to the correction that it will take to get us back on track. During those times when our heart strays and we lose our commitment to godly instruction, God warns us about the consequences of straying from His commands. It is so important for us to pay close attention to those warnings.
I was reminded of how important it is for me, and all of us, to heed God?s lessons and warnings as were taking prayer requests at the close of Promise Keeper?s last Tuesday morning. One of the men present asked us to pray for a young man named, Salvador Martinez. Salvador is sixteen years old and he was arrested for a drive-by shooting that took place a couple of months ago in which a little 9 year old boy was shot and killed. The District Attorney is seeking the death penalty for Salvador. The very best thing that can happen for Salvador at this point is that he will receive a life sentence without parole. Remember, Salvador is sixteen years old.
When Salvador stood before the judge this week he told the judge that he had accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. Some of those in the courtroom snickered, they rolled their eyes, and very few people who witnessed Salvador?s speech gave credence to his confession. Salvador then apologized to everyone who had ever tried to teach him, everyone who had tried to help him, and turn him away from his path of destruction. The young man had been offered lessons throughout his sixteen years. He wouldn?t listen. There were those in his life who tried to correct him when he went astray, when his life left the straight path. He wouldn?t listen. Salvador had been in trouble for another crime he had committed. He was warned about what would happen if he continued to live in defiance. He wouldn?t listen, he wouldn?t learn, he wouldn?t accept correction. Today, Salvador wishes that he would have listened, but it is too late.
My friend, you and I do not have to follow in the footsteps of Salvador Martinez. I?m not simply referring to you or me committing a crime like murder. I?m talking about something much more common, more widespread, something much deeper than a headline grabber, something much more common than the crime of murder. I?m talking about disobedience, disregarding the little lessons that make such a huge difference in our daily lives.
I?ve come this morning to urge you to pray for a desire for discipline. Because of the nature, character, and love of God for you and me the lessons will come, but what will you do with His life-saving lessons?
I want to take a minute to show you some of the ways that the Hebrew word I showed you earlier is used in God?s Word so that we can gain a deeper understanding of how important this lesson is for each of us regardless of how young or old we may be. If you can cultivate a desire for discipline in your daily walk with God then you will see glaring benefits whether you are a business person, parent, grandparent, high school or college student, husband, wife, plumber, politician, teacher, salesperson, or friend. Let?s begin. Turn with me to Proverbs 4:13.
13 Hold on to instruction, do not let it go; guard it well, for it is your life. (Proverbs 4:13 NIV)
When God provides lessons in living for you and me we are to give our undivided attention to what He is teaching us. We are to hold on to it, guard it well, for it is our life. These lessons will be a determining factor as to whether we experience peace and contentment or the unraveling of our life. If you don?t believe me then take a trip to the County Jail and ask Salvador Martinez.
Turn with me to Proverbs 15:32 and take a look at what Scripture has to say about the two paths I?ve just laid out for you.
32 He who ignores discipline despises himself, but whoever heeds correction gains understanding. (Proverbs 15:32 NIV)
How could ignoring God?s lessons lead to our despising ourselves? That?s a great question. Think about the stories you have heard on television or read about in newspapers and magazines that have chronicled the demise of bright, brilliant, intelligent leaders in the marketplace, on the athletic field, under the steeple, in the halls of education, and the list goes on. You may never hear their confession on television or read about them in print, but let me assure you that in their hearts and minds they know that they have blown it. For a period of time we may try to justify our sin, our neglect of God?s wonderful counsel. We may try to find others to blame and lay our failures on, but eventually we run out of people to blame and we know that we?ve blown it. Turn with me to Daniel 4 and let me give you an example of what I am talking about.
In Daniel 4, King Nebuchadnezzar was a powerful king who ruled Babylon with an iron-fist. Nebuchadnezzar was arrogant. He had convinced himself that what he saw taking place in Babylon was a result of his genius and determination. God came to Nebuchadnezzar in a dream to teach him a lesson, a very important lesson in humility. Nebuchadnezzar didn?t know what the dream meant, his wise servants couldn?t interpret the dream, but Daniel did. Daniel interpreted the dream for King Nebuchadnezzar and yet it fell on deaf ears. In Daniel 4 we read,
28All this happened to King Nebuchadnezzar. 29Twelve months later, as the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, 30he said, ?Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?? 31The words were still on his lips when a voice came from heaven, ?This is what is decreed for you, King Nebuchadnezzar: Your royal authority has been taken from you. 32You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like cattle. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes.? 33Immediately what had been said about Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled. He was driven away from people and ate grass like cattle. His body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird. 34At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever. His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation? 37Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble. (Daniel 4:28-34; 37 NIV)
Nebuchadnezzar was offered a lesson in humility, God was trying to teach the King that He alone was Sovereign, but Nebuchadnezzar didn?t learn the lesson until he was broken, he was humiliated in order to learn humility.
It?s easy for us to read about the lessons God has tried to teach others. We can look at the lives of others, examine their failures, and shake our heads in disbelief. Let?s turn the spotlight on ourselves. What lesson is God trying to teach us? Each of us is King Nebuchadnezzar and we are desperately in need of teaching, instructing, and correction. What lesson is God seeking to teach you at this time in your life? Is He trying to teach you how to forgive? You may not be physically imposing, but you?ve got a death grip on grudges that you?ve held onto for years. God wants you to let go. Is God sending lessons in honesty your way? You?re working in the marketplace where cheating, bending the rules as well as the truth are common as the air you breath, yet God is calling you to a higher standard. Is God trying to teach you lessons in submission? You may be a young person who would parent you differently than your mom and dad are parenting you, but God wants you to listen to your parents and show them respect. You may be working in an environment where you know you could do a better job than your supervisor, but God is calling you to pray for your boss and take his or her instruction concerning your job. Is God trying to teach you discipline in your thought life? You may be married, but you?re eyes and thoughts race after the other sex whenever you get the chance. God is calling you to gain control of what you look at and what you think. There are a million other scenarios that I could lay out before you and I can?t answer what God is trying to teach you, but I know He is.
I do know that He is trying to teach me a greater dependence upon Him instead of trying to convince myself that I have all of the answers. God is trying to teach me to keep my priorities in order, to stay focused, and not get distracted by those things that are not important, but which I make important. How can I learn these lessons and consistently apply them to my life? That?s a great question. In Proverbs 12:15 we read,
15 The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice. (Proverbs 12:15 NIV)
The first step in becoming a person who desires discipline is that we become willing to listen. If I close my heart and mind to the lessons that God sends my way through time spent in His Word and the counsel of those around me who love God and love me, then I am destined to walk the path of the fool.
I?ve learned some hard lessons in life, lessons that I don?t want to have to go back and learn again. I?ve learned that whenever I close God?s Word and neglect the time that I can spend with Him, listening and learning, that I end up following my own desires, what seems right to me.
Solomon says that a wise man or woman is one who listens to advice. This advice comes to us in different ways: Our primary and unparalleled source of learning is God?s Word. Paul wrote to Timothy about the importance of God?s Word in his life and work. Turn with me to 2 Timothy 3:16-17.
16All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17 NIV)
We also learn from the people that God has put into our lives. Remember God put Daniel in King Nebuchadnezzar?s life so that he could learn a valuable lesson in humility. God has put people in each of our lives to teach us, counsel us, and correct us. We also need to recognize that not everyone in our life is able to give us wise counsel. Job had three friends: Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. They were good guys. They cared for Job. They dropped everything to go and be with their friend, but their advice to Job about how he ought to handle the tragedy that he was going through was absolutely worthless. You may wonder, ?If they gave him such bad advice, could they have really cared for him?? That?s a great question. Turn to Job 2:11 and I will show you that they really did care.
11When Job?s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. 12When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. 13Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was. (Job 2:11-13 NIV)
Surely you have arrived at the conclusion that Job?s buddies really cared about him? When they heard that he was going through a horrible tragedy they dropped what they were doing and immediately headed to his house. When they saw Job they began to cry, they were broken over what Job was going through. They sat down by him and stayed there for a whole week?not saying a word. Folks, that is what we call thoughtfulness, that is love, that?s the embodiment of empathy. We need more folks like Job?s buddies. They were wonderful caring friends until they opened their mouths. Once they opened their mouths and told Job what they thought about the situation and what they felt God was doing?their counsel was worthless. I know this is true because at the end of the book of Job we read about God?s anger at the three men. In Job 42:7 we read,
7After the LORD had said these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, ?I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. (Job 42:7 NIV)
We all have friends like Job?s buddies. Maybe we are a friend who is like one of Job?s buddies. Friends that are fun to hang out with, catch a ball game with, or talk to at work or school, but not equipped to offer advice on life. Be careful who you listen to. Be careful who let into your heart and mind. Solomon wrote in Proverbs 12:26.
26 A righteous man is cautious in friendship, but the way of the wicked leads them astray. (Proverbs 12:26 NIV)
Another way that God brings His lessons to us is by experience. As we go through life we see things take place, we hear about what others have experienced, we have friends and family members who have made good and bad choices, and we are to learn from all of these. Every single day we read, see, and hear about the choices others make that affect their lives and the lives of others.
Just this past week I read in USA Today about the downfall of the great home run hitter Cecil Fielder. Cecil played for the Detroit Tigers and New York Yankees during the 1990?s. His picture was all over the cover of magazines and on television, he was a hit with all of the fans, but today he is living in hiding. What happened? Let me read it to you.
Detroit just loved Cecil Fielder, the burly Tigers slugger who ushered in the Decade of the Home Run in the early 1990s. And Detroiters loved Fielder the family man, who doted on his son, Prince, and daughter, Ceclynn. They applauded when wife Stacey was named Mrs. Michigan, posing for pictures in her elegant Grosse Pointe Farms home. Their storybook life seemed headed for the happiest of endings ? Fielder was traded to the Yankees, eventually retired with career earnings of $47 million in salary alone, and moved his family to the largest, richest mansion in central Florida. Now, it’s all gone. All the money, the mansion ? even the loving family unit. Why? “Gambling caused Cecil Fielder’s empire to collapse,” said Al Arostegui, the Realtor who sold the Fielders their 50-room palace in Melbourne, Fla., in 1995 for $3.7 million. (Fred Girard, Poor Tale of Cecil Fielder, The Detroit News. USA Today, October 19, 2004)
You say, ?What does that have to do with me? What do Cecil Fielder and I have in common?? My answer to you is, ?More than you will ever know if you don?t pay attention to the lessons of his life.? You don?t have to make millions to fall into the trap that Cecil fell into. As a matter of fact, Cecil?s troubles didn?t rush on him like a flood. It came as a trickle until the trickle became a flood. Cecil?s long-time friend Juan Samuel said,Fielder ?never showed that side around me or any of his friends,? said Tigers third base coach Juan Samuel, who has been close to Fielder for 20 years. “A lot of times it starts small, a little bet here and there, maybe even in the clubhouse ? before you know, things get out of hand.”(USA Today, October 19, 2004)
It is so important that we learn from our own experiences and the experiences of others. The things we observe and the things we go through are there to teach us. They are gifts from God to show us how important it is to listen and follow His purpose and plan for our lives. In 1 Corinthians 10:6-11 Paul wrote.
6Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. 7Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: ?The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry.? 8We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did?and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. 9We should not test the Lord, as some of them did?and were killed by snakes. 10And do not grumble, as some of them did?and were killed by the destroying angel. 11These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. (1 Corinthians 10:6-11 NIV)
The mistakes made by the Israelites, as Moses was leading them to the Promised Land, are recorded for you and me so that we don?t make the same mistakes. Paul wrote to the brothers and sisters in Rome and said,
4For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. (Romans 15:4 NIV)
Isn?t God good! Do you see how He has provided for you and me? He has given us His Word to teach us, counsel us, correct us when our thinking gets messed up, and to warn us what will happen if we don?t get back on the straight path of righteousness. He has given us friends, godly friends, who are able and willing to teach us, correct us, and walk with us through this life. He has given us eyes and a mind so that we can observe the lives of those around us, those who have gone before us, those who have made wise and destructive choices. All of these have been given to us by God to teach us, correct us, and warn us. What a wonderful God we serve. If that were not enough, God has given us His Son, who came to earth to teach, correct, and warn. Yet He was rejected by people and hung on a cross. Even death itself couldn?t silence Him. He lives today! He is yearning to teach you and me today. Jesus said,
28?Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.? (Matthew 11:28-30 NIV)
You and I have not been left alone to figure this life out. Life is difficult. We have new challenges thrown at us all the time and this is true for the young and the old, for men and for women. You don?t have to watch your life unravel if you will only come to Jesus and allow Him to teach you, guide you, counsel you, and correct you when you walk away from Him. Won?t you come to Jesus this morning? Won?t you take the first step of becoming a person who desires discipline? Won?t you listen to His voice that is calling out for you to come?