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Growing pains and discipline

I encountered a recurring theme this week that made me reflect deeply. What does God's discipline entails? The question that emerged was whether God could curse us when we stray from the right path, and conversely, does God reward us with blessings when we correct our course through repentance and righteous actions?

For a significant part of my life, I held the conviction that this was indeed the case as the Old Testament seems to be full of it. This scripture from the prophet Haggai seemed to surface often during my years of struggle to build a church: "Now therefore, thus says the LORD of hosts: "Consider your ways! "You have sown much, and bring in little; You eat, but do not have enough; You drink, but you are not filled with drink; You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm; And he who earns wages, Earns wages to put into a bag with holes."

Thus says the LORD of hosts: "Consider your ways! Go up to the mountains and bring wood and build the temple, that I may take pleasure in it and be glorified," says the LORD.

"You looked for much, but indeed it came to little; and when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why?" says the LORD of hosts. "Because of My house that is in ruins, while every one of you runs to his own house.

Therefore the heavens above you withhold the dew, and the earth withholds its fruit. For I called for a drought on the land and the mountains, on the grain and the new wine and the oil, on whatever the ground brings forth, on men and livestock, and on all the labor of your hands." (Hag 1:5-11)

The passage appears to be quite clear: the prophet interpreted the challenges faced by those who returned to Jerusalem to reconstruct the Temple as a form of divine discipline. These individuals grappled with re-establishing their lives and rebuilding their nation, and in doing so, prioritized their personal survival over the aims and magnificence of God.

This tendency is a frequent occurrence among human beings, yet is it inherently a sinful act? Does God respond to this transgression with a curse?

Or could this behavior be a recurring phase inherent to humanity? Aren't we all, to some extent, undergoing a transformation from initially prioritizing ourselves to ultimately becoming wholly devoted to the intentions of God? Additionally, it appears that this transformation is often only fully realized in the latter part of our lives, further affirming its status as an integral component of the human journey.

What I have always seen as a curse on the people in Jerusalem, might have been a season of preparation. God's dealings may not have been discipline, but an opportunity for growth. At the onset of life, we are entirely self-centered, and the path toward becoming more centered on others is intrinsic to our existence. While some of us persist on this journey, others push against it, and a few outright reject it. Nonetheless, it constitutes an integral aspect of our human nature.

A recent episode stirred my search. It was suggested that the members of a particular Christian faith community experienced a prolonged period of challenges, lasting precisely forty years. During this time, their efforts appeared to yield few positive outcomes, and it was believed that this predicament was due to a curse from God that put their lives and their work in bondage.

The curse was attributed to their failure to uphold spiritual principles of grace and freedom within the community, leading them to place heavy legal burdens on themselves and the people they evangelised while looking to God as a hard taskmaster.

The subsequent decades brought about significant transformations within these people and the community. The community evolved into a cult and then disappeared. The people mostly remained on their journey with God and were slowly transformed in their understanding of grace and into some of the most loving people I have had the privilege of knowing. Yet, an underlying sense of stagnation and unfruitfulness persisted and was seen as God's lingering curse.

Some of the people are currently encountering a time where the presence of God is tangible, where there are many prophetic interventions and they are experiencing a time of repentance and introspection. This pivotal shift seems to have confirmed the breaking of the perceived curse and heralded the anticipation of forthcoming blessings.

While I don't claim to possess definitive answers, I do find myself questioning the notion of a compassionate and loving deity who would impose a forty year curse upon individuals who acted with sincerity, even if they lacked complete understanding at the time. These people dedicated their efforts wholeheartedly to what they believed was the divine mission.

In light of this, I find myself pondering whether the current transformations they're undergoing and the perceived blessings manifesting in their work might be attributed to a larger, divine plan that unfolds according to God's purpose and timing within our human context.

The natural principle of seasons, deeply ingrained in the fabric of our universe, serves as a valuable analogy. Just as the Earth cycles through seasons, each marked by distinct characteristics and transformations, so too could the lives of these individuals be subject to cycles of change orchestrated by a higher power.

What the prophet Haggai perceived as God's judgment may have been, in truth, the affectionate hand of a Father, shaping circumstances that could lead to the people's progression from self-centeredness to other-centeredness.

We must pay attention to the challenging circumstances in our own lives and harness them for our personal growth. This can only happen when we grasp the fundamental importance of this growth and understand the dedication with which God allows the circumstances that will bring it about. Perhaps the entirety of our life's purpose is intertwined with this process of evolution.

The imagery of winter gradually giving way to spring and summer, paints a particularly vivid picture of this ongoing transition. It beautifully symbolizes a season of rebirth, renewal, and flourishing growth.

I wrote the following poem for these people who have become some of my best friends:

All these years, the Father has known your pain and struggle.

Might it be that it was not a curse, but a season?

A winter season dictated by time alone, not by discipline.

A flawless forty years of seeking and knocking, now concluded.

A season crafted to let us frequently lose control,

Discovering humility within persistent failures.

A season of wandering in the wilderness,

Learning to lean upon our Beloved's arm.

And now, spring arrives unexpectedly.

Fulfilling the Divine purpose,

Unfurling a fresh chapter where Love commands focus,

Where we stand poised to accept all as a gift.

Where life transforms into a calling,

And growth becomes an inherent bestowal.

Followed by the summer of fruit-bearing,

Where gratitude overcomes entitlement,

Where humility produces blossoming,

Where self does not pose a threat to our unfolding,

Where we are prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice,

The ultimate manifestation of the Unseen,

And lay down our lives for our friends.

That marks our ripening,

Our season of feeding the hungry has begun.

Like the plum that must allow the relentless heat of the sun to alter its very being,

Transforming into the juicy, sweet fruit that exists solely to give its life away.

Today we step into spring

alongside countless others,

ready for this ordained day.

They are unnamed, unseen,

A Love-army of God's children,

fastidiously readied for ... summer.

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