No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace... Hebrews 12:11
In his autobiographical book entitled The World Is My Home, author James Michener wrote about an incident in his life which took place when he was but five years of age. The farmer at the end of the lane where they lived had an old apple tree that was no longer productive. Instead of cutting down the tree, the farmer took eight long rusty nails and drove them into the tree, four at the base of the tree and four additional ones higher up, quite evenly spaced.
That autumn a miracle took place, explained Michener, as the old tree bore some of the most beautiful apples he had ever seen. "Hammerin' in rusty nails," explained the farmer, "gave it a shock to remind it that its job is to produce apples."
Michener went on to say that in his late 70s, life hammered in some rusty old nails into the tree trunk of his life. A heart bypass, a hip surgery, and a bout with vertigo were like the rusty nails hammered into the old apple tree. They got his attention. Goaded by the realization that he would not live forever, Michener decided that he had better get at the task of writing some books which had been on his mind for some time. In the next five years he researched and wrote eleven books, including his autobiography, which is well worth reading.
Let's face it. When old rusty nails get hammered into the apple trees of our lives, we take notice immediately of what's happening--something which can be intensely productive. The writer of Hebrews in the New Testament speaks of this somewhat painful experience as discipline, things which God allows to happen to remind us clearly of what we need to do. Those rusty nails are delivered with a clear exhortation to get on with the business before us, because at its longest, life is short. He explained, "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" (Hebrews 12:11).
Furthermore, the Bible explains that it is because of the Father's love that He allows the blows from the hammer driving in the rusty nails to goad us to accomplish the full measure of His will.
A note reached me recently from a young woman who was finishing her internship in psychiatry. She reminded me that years ago she had sought counsel from me as I was driving across Manila to a speaking engagement. Coming from a poor family, she knew lots of reasons why she couldn't have realized her dream to become a doctor, but she reminded me that I told her God owned the cattle on a thousand hills, and that she could trust Him to provide for her. She did, and He did as well.
I'm also thinking of a man who confided in me, telling me how badly he wanted to get into Christian ministry, but he explained that he was almost forty and besides that he had a wife and children to support. "I'd just be too old," he sighed. "How long would it take you to go to seminary and prepare for a ministry?" I asked. "Four years," he answered. "And how old would you be when you finished?" I asked. "About 44 years old." "How old will you be in four years if you don't go to seminary and realize your ambition?" "Forty-four." He got the point, and he went to seminary and became a minister.
What you may have considered to be rusty nails in the tree trunk of your life may simply be events which God is using to redirect you into the path of most productive service. I am convinced that at times it takes the knocks of the farmer's hammer, driving nails into the thick bark of our insensitive lives, before we hear His voice saying, "This is the way; walk in it" (Isaiah 30:21).
Resource reading: James 4:13-17