When we lived the nomadic life of a bush missionary, habits were a constant battle. I have heard that it takes about six weeks to form habits and a few days to break them. Well, when we were living in the bush, we would be home about six to eight weeks, the perfect amount of time to make a habit. But then team meetings and the need for English conversation and groceries would send us to town for about a week. During that week of rushing to accomplish doctors’ visits, government paperwork, meetings, shopping, one special activity for the children, the habits I had worked hard to form slipped away. When I returned home, I would have to start all over again. I never found anything that worked for me.
One thing which really troubled me was what to do when the children were stressed in transition. Did I make allowances or keep exacting standards? I remember talking with an older woman about this. She told me that I must always maintain strict discipline because if I didn't the children would be lax and undisciplined adults.
This idea bothered me. It certainly seemed valid. We've all seen "spoiled" kids. It certainly seemed Biblical: "Spare the rod; spoil the child." Yet something troubled me, and I didn't understand what or why.
However, here I had a very good reason why God had to be a Father who drives us to obey Him by fear rather than leading us to obey Him by love. If God were to spare the rod, He would spoil the child. He has to maintain strict discipline or we will fall away. That's just the way we are. We backslide, so God has to stay behind us with the rod.
While I was trying to work through this thought and before I was able to put it into words as an objection, God spoke to me. "If that is true, Heaven becomes impossible." Suddenly, I began to remember Scriptures about Heaven: no pain, no crying, no suffering, perfect love without punishment. God spoke again, "You are trying to build your righteousness on a foundation of punishment and rewards." Here, I don't remember the words, but rather the idea. If we build our righteousness on a foundation of punishment and rewards, in Heaven where there is no punishment, the very foundation of our righteousness will be removed, and our righteousness will crumple. I remember God's next words, "You have to build your righteousness on a foundation of love. Love will remain."
I don't know whether this is as thought changing to anyone else as it was to me. Punishment and rewards may be the steps that move us from ground level into the house of righteousness, but they are not the foundation. Even these steps themselves must be built on the foundation so that they don't separate from the house. In order to enter righteousness, we must move off the steps and over the threshold. We must be people who will obey fully and completely, simply because we love.
This revelation didn't answer all my questions. It actually brought more, but it did bring some serious challenges to my faith. God basically said that I cannot hold onto both my hope of Heaven and my belief that our righteousness must be maintained by fear and external pressure. Only one can be true. I have to let go of one or the other.