Picture, for a moment, an imaginary scene that can help illustrate why God restrains us for our own benefit. Imagine a splendid carriage being pulled down the road by six fine-looking horses. The carriage stops and the coachman alights to investigate an obstruction under one of the wheels. The horses, decorated with bells and plumes, look magnificent as they wait in the sun. At any moment they could bolt, crushing the man beneath the carriage. But the coachman shows no fear of that. He works calmly under the carriage, not a plume quivering or bell tinkling. Each horse stands obediently still.
Then two young colts come galloping up over an open field. They are completely unrestrained and seem to challenge the carriage horses to join them in their liberty. But the temptation falls on deaf ears – the carriage horses show no sign of response. They just continue to stand calmly with the carriage and ignore the taunts of the colts.
Then, taking a rope in hand, the coachman catches the two colts, ties them to the carriage, and takes them to a corral where they begin to go through a period of training and discipline. Time passes and their forced confinement becomes increasingly tedious and frustrating. One colt, longing for the days when he roamed freely, feels that he can’t take another day. He leaps the fence and gallops away to enjoy the grassy hills.
The other colt stays behind. Gradually he learns to yield and to respond to the whip and bridle. The training is tough, but he begins to understand why it’s necessary. Finally, it ends. Is he then rewarded by being released to run free again? No. A harness is dropped around his shoulders and he is more confined than ever! Now he can’t even run around the corral; he can only move when his master speaks.
Sometime later, the first colt is nibbling grass on a hillside when down the road comes the king’s carriage drawn by six horses. The colt looks up, amazed to see in the lead on the right his former stablemate, now grown strong and mature.
While the two colts were able to roam free they didn’t have the choice to rebel or submit. They were their own masters. But, when they were tested and trained, it became clear which one was willing to submit and which was rebellious. It may seem safer to avoid discipline because of the risk of being found rebellious but without discipline we cannot share in the glory of sonship.
Rebellion or submission
When you’re first saved, you usually experience a period of extraordinary freedom and seem to be able to get away with almost anything. You experience amazing answers to prayer, and even when you’ve done some questionable things, somehow God lets you off the hook. Then God says, ‘All right, time for the next phase.’ At this point you demonstrate by your reaction whether you’ve really learned to submit to him. Will you resist God-ordained restrictions or will you patiently submit and trust Him.
We can picture that colt on the hillside running in circles and calling to his friend, ‘Come and join me! Come and enjoy the freedom!’ Yes, this colt is free, but he’s getting nowhere. The carriage horse is conscious of a deep sense of fulfilment and purpose. The one colt is weak, immature and foolish compared with his strong, well-trained colleague.
Christians will go through times of testing in which they feel like they’ve been restrained in a corral. God will use those who are willing to undergo discipline, those who don’t rebel when God says, ‘I’m shutting you in. There’s a purpose in it. Move when I tell you to move.’
Christians aren’t free. We’re slaves of the Lord Jesus Christ and he wants us to respond positively to his training programme. Do you receive the discipline of God? Are you willing to be shut in or must you always be ‘free’? Do you make all your own decisions and do whatever you like, or have you found purpose in pruning, in being cut back? When God begins to bless you with fruit, don’t be surprised when you suddenly feel his pruning knife. You’re being cut back not because he no longer loves you, but because he wants you to bear even more fruit for Him.
When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
His grace all-sufficient shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not hurt thee, his only design
Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.
Richard Keen, from the hymn ‘How firm a foundation’