God’s Discipline: Being Formed by the Master

The following is a summary of Deacon Dan’s homily for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time.

Zig Ziglar was a famous motivational speaker and sales guru. I’ve listened to a lot of his motivational and instructional tapes over the years. One of my particular favorites is on the topic of goal setting and the use of SMART goals. “SMART” is a memory aid for the words Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound.

Zig once told a story of how he set a goal to lose five pounds of weight in 30 days. The goal matched all of the “SMART” criteria:

  • Specific – It was a goal for weight loss
  • Measurable – Five pounds, that’s what he wanted to lose
  • Attainable – Five pounds in 30 days seemed reasonable
  • Relevant – He knew that losing weight would have health benefits
  • Time-bound – 30 days, that’s the time period he set for the goal

He said he felt extremely confident about achieving that goal. “In fact,” he said, “I felt so confident about losing five pounds in 30 days that I didn’t even do anything about it for the first 29 days!”

Do you think he achieved that goal? No. His goal was “SMART” in theory but he lacked the discipline to work on it over the 30-day time period.

Discipline can be a difficult thing – especially when it involves our development as Christians. We don’t always like it when we are going through the process of being trained and formed. It can be particularly difficult when it is God who is doing the shaping and forming in our life and we have to give up control – allowing God to help us become the type of person He wants us to be.  That’s what today’s readings are about, being disciplined and having the strength, tenacity and trust to achieve our heavenly goal.

Today’s readings remind me of story of the Tea Cup by my favorite author, “Unknown”. The story goes like this:

A couple took a trip to England to shop in a beautiful antique store to celebrate their wedding anniversary. They both liked antiques and pottery, and especially teacups.  Spotting an exceptional cup, they asked “May we see that?  We’ve never seen a cup quite so beautiful.”

As the storekeeper handed it to them, suddenly the teacup spoke, “You don’t understand.  I have not always been a teacup.  There was a time when I was just a lump of red clay.  My master took me and rolled me, pounded and patted me over and over and I yelled out, ‘Don’t do that. I don’t like it! Let me alone.’ But he only smiled, and gently said; ‘Not yet!'”

“Then, WHAM!  I was placed on a spinning wheel and suddenly I was spun around and around and around.  ‘Stop it!  I’m getting so dizzy!  I’m going to be sick,’ I screamed.  But the master only nodded and said, quietly; ‘Not yet.’

“He spun me and poked and prodded and bent me out of shape to suit himself and then… Then he put me in the oven.  I never felt such heat. I yelled and knocked and pounded at the door. Help!  Get me out of here! I could see him through the opening and I could read his lips as he shook his head from side to side, ‘Not yet’.”

“When I thought I couldn’t bear it another minute, the door opened.  He carefully took me out and put me on the shelf, and I began to cool.  Oh, that felt so good!  Ah, this is much better, I thought.  But, after I cooled he picked me up and he brushed and painted me all over.  The fumes were horrible.  I thought I would gag.  ‘Oh, please; Stop it, Stop it!’ I cried.  He only shook his head and said. ‘Not yet!’.”

“Then suddenly he put me back in to the oven.  Only it was not like the first one.  This was twice as hot and I just knew I would suffocate.  I begged.  I pleaded.  I screamed.  I cried.  I was convinced I would never make it.  I was ready to give up.  Just then the door opened and he took me out and again placed me on the shelf, where I cooled and waited … and waited, wondering ‘What’s he going to do to me next?’   An hour later he handed me a mirror and said ‘Look at yourself.'” “And I did. I said, ‘That’s not me; that couldn’t be me.  It’s beautiful. I’m beautiful!’

Quietly he spoke: ‘I want you to remember, then,’ he said, ‘I know it hurt to be rolled and pounded and patted, but had I just left you alone, you’d have dried up.

I know it made you dizzy to spin around on the wheel, but if I had stopped, you would have crumbled.

I know it hurt and it was hot and disagreeable in the oven, but if I hadn’t put you there, you would have cracked.

I know the fumes were bad when I brushed and painted you all over, but if I hadn’t done that, you never would have hardened. You would not have had any color in your life.

If I hadn’t put you back in that second oven, you wouldn’t have survived for long because the hardness would not have held.

Now you are a finished product.  Now you are what I had in mind when I first began with you.”

Bebo Norman (another one of my favorites) tells a similar story about being formed by the Master in his song, The Hammer Holds. Here’s a link to an interesting YouTube version of the song. You can also purchase and download the song from iTunes.

God’s work is not completed in us. We are not yet what He had in mind for us. And, so, we must experience some spiritual discipline in our lives. We must be open to His will.

As Paul reminds us in his letter to the Hebrews:

“At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it.”

I encourage you to take some time this week to think about where you are in your relationship with God. Are you willing to let God shape you and form you in the discipline of love and service, or are you fighting Him to avoid any pain or discomfort? Have faith, and remember this: “If God brings you to it, he will help get you through it.”

This Blog Post Copyright Daniel R. Donnelly. All Rights Reserved. http://www.deacondan.com

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