Patience


I will sing to the LORD,

   because he has dealt bountifully with me.

Psalm 13: 6 

When David set out these words, his life was not going well. We don’t know the exact circumstances that surrounded him, but we certainly are aware of enough hard and challenging times that came his way for us to understand that he could be at the end of his ability to handle whatever it was that he faced. Yet, the song that starts out, “How long, O LORD, will you forget me forever?”, ends with this statement of recognition of the Lord’s care and provision and joyously hopeful note of thanksgiving. Had something changed in David’s life during the time of his reflection, or was it more a matter of his working through his fears, doubts, and concerns so that the Lord could respond to him with words of truth that bring with them the encouragement that his heart so badly needed? 

There is real value in doing what David did in this song, for speaking out to the Lord about the things that are troubling us is more than simply therapeutic. This act of engaging in honest conversation with God gets thoughts and feelings that we have working on our inner beings and it sets them out into the clear air of God’s realm of providing us with reason and order. The pain that we are experiencing, whether physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual, may not end at that time; however, talking it all over with the Lord does tend to grant a form of respite from the burden of carrying whatever it is that is so heavily weighting down the heart. The ability to manage pain, to calm a mind that is swirling in turmoil, or to find order in a jumble of confusion and chaos is something that comes most readily from the source of all order and peace in the universe, and that creator and source is God.

It seems to me that David is actually suggesting that he will sing a song of thanksgiving to the Lord even though the issues that are troubling him are still present and very real to him. There is no process of resolution mentioned in these six short verses; instead, we see David’s personal resolution to take all that is troubling him to the Lord with his mind and heart focused upon the many ways that God has taken care of him in the past and with genuine anticipation of the way that this same God will deal with what is going on at this time. This is an example of faith that is active and realized in the middle of the crisis. David expresses a form of trust in the Lord that grants its bearer the realization of peace that allows for him to think more clearly and to endure the moment more readily than would be the case without this tangible understanding of the presence of the Lord with him. David sings about God’s bounty as it has been poured out upon him over the course of his life, and he invites us to do the same as we travel hard roads and navigate the churning waters of our own times of asking, “How long?”  

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Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,”

John 14: 6

 

Life is precious to most people. This is especially true when it comes to our own lives. We like the idea of drawing in breath, and we really embrace the concept of continuing to get up each day and to walk about engaging in the activities and in the relationships that make up the world that we inhabit. Life means something to us, and it meant something to Jesus, too. Still, He gave it up, and He did so painfully, with dread, and in absolute submission to the will of the Father. The life that Jesus surrendered is the reason that He can make the statement that He did here to Timothy and to us. His death and resurrection from the grave that followed it as night does the day have brought about a miracle that defies the powers of this world and that takes anyone who accepts the gift that Christ is offering out of a state of living death and transforms us into beings that experience life as God comprehends it during our remaining days on earth and into all of time beyond this life.

 

This new life that is given to us by and through Christ is not without its requirements. In fact, the Lord is rather demanding of each of us if we wish to truly experience the freedom that comes to us through our new relationship with God. He requires for us to forfeit, to surrender, our old lives in full to Him and to allow the Spirit full and absolute access to each and every corner of our hearts, minds, and spirits. We are not permitted to retain any vestige of hold-back or some parts of ourselves in reserve as a sort of cushion against the shock that change causes or in the form of old pleasures that we can turn to in moments of self-determined need. Jesus held nothing back, and He demands that His followers truly walk in His footsteps without deviation; so, He requires the same of us. This is not to say that there is not grace and understanding in all of this, for Christ is remarkably patient with us, and He knows that this sort of total surrender takes time to enter into and then to accomplish.

 

Yet, as we follow along Christ’s way, we are led deeper into understanding of why God desires for us to think and to act in a certain manner, and we are granted a continuously expanding knowledge of the heart and the manner of our Lord. The Spirit works within us to transform our old selves with their ways of viewing life into a new beings that are more and more like Christ. So, God’s way takes us ever farther and deeper into His truth. We are made to be beings that know truth and that can seek it as near to its source as is possible to do in this life. This is done by virtue of engaging earnestly with God’s Word and by wrestling with it in fellowship with other followers of Christ while the Spirit reveals its deep mysteries to our hearts and to our minds. A life that is lived out in submission to Christ while continuously seeking out the wisdom and guidance of God’s Word is one in which we are truly alive. Then Christ’s blood is our blood, and His love is what defines us. This new life is one in which our purpose is formed around caring for and about others in a manner that demonstrates Christ’s redeeming love to all of the world.

Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.

1 Corinthians 5: 7

 

There is a real sense of urgency in these words. The sacrifice of the lamb has already taken place, and the blood of atonement is poured out. Yet, there is still an element, a trace, of the old sinful self present in the lives of the faithful followers of Christ. This is generally a situation that we all face at times and from time to time as well. We know Christ; yet, there is still sin present in us. We have given our lives to Him, but we are holding onto some aspects of our old self with a tenacity that almost seems to defy God’s ability to pour out grace upon us. As it was in Corinth, these elements of sinfulness in us and so in the fellowship of faith cause trouble and bring about dissention as they shatter our unity.

 

In Christ, we have the way and the means to clean out all that is corrupt, unloving, and broken in our lives. The cleansing property of His blood is far greater than any of the sins or sinfulness that we may be clinging onto, and Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection have also permanently defeated the hold that death had upon us. Christ has granted to us the final assurance that death’s terrible angel will pass us by, for although we all die in the body, in Christ all are eternally alive in the spirit. So, as we have come to know Christ as Savior and Lord, we are made new, and the old self with all of its weakness and unrighteousness is done away with in the eyes of God. It is not any lack of interest or capacity on the part of God that causes us to continue living in various states of rebellion from God, it is our own stubborn and fearful hearts and minds that grasp onto this leavening in our lives.

 

The journey into Christ’s righteousness is not a simple one. It takes commitment, happens over time, and is impossible to accomplish in our own strength and power. Additionally, it is not a solo adventure, for like all aspects of the Christian life, seeking after righteousness is something that is best done in the company of like-minded travelers. Yes, removing the leaven, the sinfulness, from our own lives and out of the body of faith is an urgent need, and we all are caught up in this important endeavor. Yet, Christ has gone before us, and His sacrifice on the cross gives us the power and the capacity to be victorious over all of the aspects of our old selves that are attempting to hold us down in our witness and to defeat our ability to live in the full expression of freedom that is ours as citizens of God’s Kingdom come to earth. Again, living righteously is not simple to do and it is not easy to accomplish, but the Spirit will guide us into knowing our sinfulness, surrender to Christ is effective in gaining His power and resources for change, prayer and meditation will lead us deeper into the Lord’s will, and the fellowship of other believers can be the support that we need to stay the course to its glorious end.

For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

Galatians 5: 5, 6

 

All of life involves waiting and hoping. Early on, we wait for an age or a time when we will be old enough to do certain things, and we hope that when we get there that the anticipated event or permission will be worth the energy expended in that anticipation. Later on, we wait and hope for that perfect person to enter our world and complete our life, and we search and hope for the great job or the dream house or other tangible signs of achievement in this world. Following Christ and committing one’s life and its course to Him should have a real and a tangible influence on all of this, but it doesn’t eliminate the fact that we still wait and hope. The desires that we wait upon and the reason for our hopefulness are just changed, and this is something that happens over time and at a pace that is more of God’s choosing than of ours.

 

In Christ these various worldly things, even the most significant or important of them, hold little meaning in and of themselves. In Christ the only thing that does matter is the nature and the quality of the life that we live, and this is a life that is fully submitted to God’s will and ordered under the direction and the authority of Christ. Most of us struggle in this area of the reason for our waiting and the object of our hope. The idea of full submission to anything or to anyone is hard for us to engage with and even harder to actually do. We want to retain control, and we desire to select the order of priority of our hopes, dreams, and objectives in life. So, surrendering all of this to Christ and doing it in the absolute and irrevocable manner that He demands of us is not something that we do readily. Thus, this very foundational aspect of our spiritual lives becomes another element in which we are required to hope and wait.

 

Yet, over time and through patient faith, the Spirit works within us to give us the required understanding of Christ and of His will for our lives and to provide us with the strength and the will to proceed along its course with ministry to Christ and to His Gospel message of love, peace with God, and eternal hope as the principle thing that our lives are committed to serving. With our hearts and minds so oriented toward Christ, all other masters and priorities become secondary in importance, and the goals that we set out for our days are established in light of those things that matter most to God. In light of this economy we can wait on Christ’s transformative work to have effect in people’s lives, we can hope and pray for Christ to work miracles in situations and circumstances that seem beyond all possibility, and we can continue get back up when we sinfully fail and fall down, for we know that Christ is continuing to perfect His lovingly devised good work in us in the certain hope of our eternal home in glory with Him.

Be angry and so not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.

Ephesians 4: 26, 27

 

Anger is a natural and a normal response to forces, factors, and situations that do come about during the course of our days. The capacity to feel anger is something that God placed within us in His creation of our nature. We are told that God, Himself, feels anger. So, we cannot just discount these feelings as something that is wrong or that comes solely from some dark place within our fallen natures. Anger, itself, does not demand redemption; however, the way that it tends to play out in our lives is another story, indeed! For, anger is far too often something that we do not resolve. We carry it around with us and even summon it up again and again in order to fuel a particular need or desire to convey personal perspective or to gain an advantage in situations. This retained anger adds force and fury to words and expressions that might otherwise have gone unnoticed or under-appreciated, or so we think.

 

Yet, anger can turn from something that is a part of the nature that God gave to us and that is good and useful and become sinful in a very short amount of time. When we hold onto it and do not seek to resolve its causes it begins to eat away at our souls and to erode the love out of our hearts. The force and the power that may have driven us to seek justice and to demand righteousness quickly becomes a corrosive substance that defaces our understanding of the value and the beauty that God placed in others. We begin to see an enemy when we should see a sinner that is in need of understanding mixed with truth in order to bring about Christ’s redemptive work in them and in our relationship with them. That is why Paul places so much urgency in his directive about resolving our anger. Although there are some cultural aspects to what he says about not carrying anger with us over night, the more important aspect of this is the fact that resolving our differences needs to matter above and beyond all else as it is more important than sleep, itself.

 

Almost everyone will be angry from time to time, and there will be a number of different causes for this anger. Some of it will be generated by the injustice, violence, and oppression that are rampant in our broken world. At other times, anger will arise when people that we know are either harmed by the sinful actions of others or when sin is perpetrated upon us. Still, other anger boils up out of disagreement and dispute with others. Regardless of the cause, the emotion that is anger has a short life span as a healthy response to people. It needs to be worked through and responded to in a manner that leads toward resolution. Sometimes that next stage in its expression is found in prayer, in writing letters to governmental officials, in bible study that leads to the teaching of correct, Scripture-based responses, and in forgiveness of wrongs real or imagined. Sometimes anger is resolved by repentance and by entering into a dialogue with another person. Anger is powerful. It is a big emotion. It is best worked out in the much bigger power of the Spirit as that working out, that resolution, requires commitment and hard work to accomplish; yet, that end result leads us closer to Christ and to the center of His unfailing love and grace.

 

 

 

 

Know this my beloved brothers, let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.

James 2: 19, 20

 

Speed kills, or in paraphrase, Haste lays waste. The point is simple, direct, and well-known. Anger can overtake us and when it does it operates much like a threshing machine in that it mows down everything in its path so that there is nothing except stubble left behind. I am not saying that there are not situations and circumstances that warrant anger, for there certainly are those times, and we all encounter them with too much frequency in our violent and oppressive world. I think that James makes an important distinction between the sort of anger that comes out of a foundation in God’s Word and one that is established within ourselves and that functions to establish personal power or dominance. It is in this distinction that lies the difference between that which is destructive and that which seeks to redeem.

 

For people, our first response is often to draw upon our own understanding and strength to attempt to handle whatever it is that we are facing. This is our go-to, fast response in many instances. When it comes to the highly charged environment that surrounds an angry response, rapid deployment of our words is frequently the first thing that we do. We toss out the most powerful and often the most caustic of remarks that we can summon up, and we do, in fact, intend to use this expression as a form of artillery barrage. We want the other person to be set back on their heels, fearful, and ready to concede to our point of view. We seek to win almost as much as we desire for them to lose. This is not the way that God operates, and it is very far removed from the manner in which God’s anger is known to be employed.

 

When we are counseled by the Lord to speak slowly, He is asking us to enter into His Word, especially as it is implanted in our hearts, and to listen to the prompting of the Spirit before we engage with other people. This moment or two of hesitation and contemplation can be truly valuable for both parties when we are face to face, and it can lead to saving us from the sort of ruinous written statements that flow far too freely in our fast moving world of electronic expression and communication. In most tense situations it is best to pause before speaking, seek the Lord in the moment, stopping to pray may seem strange to many of us, but it is never the wrong thing to do, and then speak with redemption as the intent of the words. The other thing that the Lord counsels us to do is to listen. Jesus was a good listener, for He knew the stories of the people that He engaged with. We, too, can allow others the space to tell us their concerns and let us into their journey before we pronounce judgement or attempt to solve the issues at hand. In all of this contemplative approach to conflict, Christ is glorified; for in it, Christ is revealed as the source of our strength as His love sooths the situation and seeks to redeem the relationship.

Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding,

but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly.

Proverbs 14: 29

 

Anger is often a fast twitch sort of response. Everything can be calm one moment and then with the suddenness and the force of a storm that is driven by a micro burst of wind, all is fury and hot-blooded response or reaction that is poured out upon whoever is close at hand. Sometimes these outbursts are over in a few minutes and some last for hours and days. It is there suddenness, unpredictability, and nearly violent nature that make them so hard on both the recipient and the perpetrator. Anger of this sort is never good, useful, or beneficial. It is always destructive as it does leave damaged relationships and broken trust behind in its wake. Even when the people involved state that all is good between them, there is a cost to be paid for these encounters.

 

When Solomon preserved this particular proverb, I would guess that he was recording something that he had experienced in his own life. He also knew that the second line was especially true, for the most profound result of an outburst of anger such as this is that in these situations the ungodly human attribute of folly or foolishness is placed on a form of pedestal as if it were worthy of praise and adoration. For some people this sort of explosive anger becomes a form of expression that is used as a tool to gain power over others and so to dominate them. This is almost as far away from a Christ-like approach to engagement in relationships as people can go; so, this form of expressed anger takes people deeply into that part of our world where evil lurks and godless rebellion rules. This is dangerous territory to visit, and frequent travel there can lead to relational and even to literal death.

 

That is why understanding is so important in the process of overcoming explosive anger. It is important to know the impact of this sort of behavior, and acknowledging this reality also matters greatly. To borrow another proverbial expression, people are not rudderless ships. We do not need to respond to every impulse or emotional force that hits us or that comes upon us. We can make choices in this area of life so that we learn to control the feelings that fill us and that allow us to take charge of their expression. In general, this sort of control is achieved by slowing down the thoughts that start to race through the mind when we are involved in discussions with people who may hold a different point of view or perspective from ours. We need to listen and not react. We also gain control through caring about other people in a manner that reflects the way that Christ sees them. Thus, the understanding that helps to suppress and to manage anger is understanding of God and of His will and way. This is not always easy to achieve and this sort of control usually requires us to enter into repentance, a determined desire to change, and the accountability of others. It is a challenging road to take, but it leads us closer to the promise of glory that is ours in Christ.

 

 

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