In 1985, I began my graduate studies in the Mathematics Department of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. Newly married, excited to discover and join the Reformed Presbyterian Church there, and eager to prepare for my career as a math teacher and basketball coach, I pursued my studies.
One of my classes that fall was taught by my adviser and the head of the department. I knew I was struggling through the course. However, I did not realize how badly until I took my final and then received my grade report at the end of the semester. Staring me in the face was a D! I had never received that grade before and here I was getting one in grad school. I was put on academic probation. If I did not get solid grades the next semester, I would be out of the program. Speaking of D's, at that time I was discouraged, depressed, and devastated.
I have shared this somewhat embarrassing story with my children and even students that I teach today. Why? Because of the lessons that I learned through that act of academic discipline. These lessons proved to be far more valuable than the math ones in the classroom that semester (That should be fairly obvious!).
The face slap of that grade showed me that I was not equipped to do the higher level, abstract math my adviser thought I was capable of doing (He had pushed me to consider a PhD upon entrance; after that grade, he readily agreed when I said it was beyond me.). Also, my grade revealed to me that I was not paying attention to a truth the Lord was increasingly pressing on me from Psalm 131:1.
Lord, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes arrogant; nor do I involve myself in great matters, or in things too difficult for me.
This failure led me to look more closely at what the Lord had created me to do. I realized this grade coincided with a growing desire to teach more than research. So I finished my studies there with a master's degree in teaching mathematics. Further, in the midst of that time, the Lord called me into pastoral ministry. Looking back, I see how my Potter's hand was disciplining me for my own good. He was shaping me in ways that would help me serve others.
So it has been throughout my life. Setbacks, failures, rebukes, shortcomings, dead ends - how they sting at times. Yet each event or circumstance the Lord has used to discipline, reorient, and teach me His ways.
We are living in an age where discipline is despised. From pity parties to ranting riots to snowflake safe zones to Twitter tantrums, people want to be heard but they do not want to listen. Yet this is not the way of Christ.
Disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ are those called to hear and obey the message of the gospel. They are to deny themselves, pick up their cross daily, and follow Him (Luke 9:23). Thus, they should not be surprised when the Lord providentially forces the issue, and should look through the pain to what lies ahead. "For the moment, all discipline seems not to be pleasant, but painful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterward it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness" (Hebrews 12:11).
Are you living for daily pleasures or discipleship pain? Are you always talking about your rights or being trained for righteousness? Are you filled with self-pity or with the Spirit's peace?
The answers to those questions, and similar ones, reveal something to us. They show if the pupil in Christ's classroom knows whether D is for discipline or not. And when you learn that lesson, the beautiful thing is that you do not fail even when it looks like you do.