When we think of chastening we think of the application of discipline to bring correction and sanctification. It is relatively easy to understand that a loving Father would use affliction to teach us and train us. In this normal use of the word it is implied that the child of God will understand that adversity is allowed in order to bring about character improvement. The Christian being thus chastened will cooperate with the discipline and exercise his or her will in prayer and repentance to facilitate transformation.
There is, however, a form of transformation that is beyond this. Many times God will allow adversity and suffering when there is no obvious character deficit being corrected.
For example, Paul relates that he and his apostolic team were “utterly and unbearably crushed, to the point that we despaired of life. This happened to us so that we would not depend on ourselves, but on Him who raises the dead.” There is no evidence that Paul was especially self-reliant or had been unusually independent in his actions. This type of adversity is not related to sin or to character flaw; it is related to normal human traits. For example, it is normal to plan a course of action and to act according to the plan. It is normal to ignore God and not seek Him for direction. Seeing our actual powerlessness and our desperate need for God’s help in ordinary life is not natural, and a breaking of self-reliance must occur before a person can surrender to the will of God. Another good example of normal human thinking being corrected is the incident told by Paul where he asked Jesus to remove from him “a thorn in the flesh, a messenger from Satan.” Jesus refused, explaining that he wanted Paul weak because His power is made perfect in weakness. Paul accepted this spiritual change, and ended up saying that he would gladly then rejoice in his suffering if it meant that the power of God would be released through him.
Many of the trials we experience are not a result of a fault or sin that God is correcting. Many of our trials are for our good and will bring about our transformation, but we did not bring them on by our failure. It is the calling of the Christian to be transformed into a spiritual being, dependent on God, meek, detached from ambition and self-will. We learn to yield to the will of God and let Him live His life in us and through us as we release self-will. We are brought into the trusting yieldedness of surrender. We rejoice in our suffering, realizing that enduring trial brings patience and trust and releases the power of God through us. This is the concept of breaking. It is not a negative destructive breaking that brings discouragement and despair. It is the breaking of the outer clay jar that the light within may shine forth.
God closely directs this type of breaking. It is carefully measured, and He will not allow us to be tested beyond our endurance. Furthermore, just like a branch that bears much fruit is pruned so that it will bear more fruit, the breaking we experience is followed by times of comfort and fruitfulness. If we abide in trust and obedience, we will bear much fruit in the Kingdom.
See also the concept of the Dark Night.