For children (and often adults!), the word “discipline” carries a lot of negative connotation. We tend to think of punishment and hardship, of consequences and strict regimes. With a look at the book of Hebrews, this lesson focuses on the meaning of discipline, and the contrasts between the hardship of discipline and benefits of rewards in Christ.
Lesson focus: Life can be challenging and difficult, but by enduring hardship and remaining devoted to God, we can receive Heavenly rewards and eternal peace.
Passage: Hebrews 12:1-24
Key Verse: No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. –Heb. 12:11
Target Audience: Pre-k through sixth grade (adaptable)
Materials Needed: Large objects to carry and/or strange things to wear; ribbons or “medals” of a sort; decorative materials; Bibles.
Lesson Opening: Start out with a little obstacle course. This could be done outside or inside (depending on spacing and materials used), but set up several elements for children to work through: things to jump over, run around or between, or pick up. On the first run-through, have students complete the obstacles while holding several bulky items, or wearing a big coat/skirt. Once everyone has done it, invite them to try it again, but this time without holding or wearing anything. Which way is easier? Obviously, running without things to hold you back or slow you down. Now, what if we wanted to further improve time on the obstacle course? What would we have to do in order to become more proficient?
Explain that today we are going to talk about hard work, hardship, and holiness…consider, for starters, Olympic athletes. How do they become better? What do they have to do? If it was hard going through the obstacle course, imagine what these sports starts must do in order to train. If possible, show a brief clip of an Olympian’s training regime (such as the following):
This is not all fun. It takes dedication and discipline. The Bible often compares our work as Christians to this. It is hard work to follow God and to “run the race” He wants us to. But He promises that He will honor us if we stick with Him…
Talk about the meaning of discipline. Invite students to share what they think of when they see or hear the term “discipline.” Some people might think of punishment (being disciplined for wrong doing). Consequences and negative punishments might be likely…hard work and structure are also parts of discipline…We are going to take a look at a Biblical version of this word. In the Bible, discipline is seen as a positive thing:
“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
6 because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”
7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? 8 If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. 9 Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! 10 They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. -Hebrews 12:6-10
Encourage kids to think about why parents discipline or set rules. Is it because they don’t love us? Of course not! It would not be safe or healthy to let us do everything we want. It’s the same with God. And think about those athletes. It is not fun to do a whole bunch of push-ups or run a bunch of miles. Then why do it? Because the reward is better than the hardship. And that is the main clincher:
No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
12 Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. 13 “Make level paths for your feet,”[b] so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed. –Hebrews 12:11-13
So what is the reward we are working for? It is a Heavenly reward…when we work to do what the Bible says and stay away from things we know are not healthy, we develop righteousness (goodness), peace, and eventually Heavenly hope. Sometimes life is hard. Sometimes we do what God tells us and we still struggle. But He is with us. Even when we are going through challenges, He is there. We can respect God and even in a way fear Him with reverence, but we also know that He is working for us…
You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm…But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23 to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect… -Hebrews 12:18; 22-23
Remember the obstacle course at the beginning of the lesson? Explain to kids that, in a way, our lives are sort of like that, as we navigate through what God would have for us. And just like we were able to go faster without the extra things slowing us down, when we take off our sins (things we aren’t supposed to do), we can follow God more easily. Sometimes it takes discipline to avoid those things because they sound fun even though we know we shouldn’t do them. We have to be motivated. Athletes are motivated by audiences, glory, or winning. We have an audience as Christians, too, and the example of Jesus to look to:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.–Hebrews 12:1-3
Winners in God’s eyes…using the paper and stickers, have students create a “medal” of sorts for something they plan to do excellently as Godly discipline. It might be consistent prayer, verse memorization, or scripture study. If desired, fashion a necklace out of the medal with string.
Close with prayer and thank God for loving us enough to discipline. Ask for endurance in understanding and accepting hard things in order to grow.