Patience


Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them.

Hebrews 13: 9

For people in the early days of the church, the topic of food, the way that it was handled and prepared, and even the manner in which it was eaten was important. If they came from a Jewish background, as many in the church did, then they had always lived under the guidance and the compulsion of the Law of Moses. If they came to Christ after living as a part of the gentile world, they had not been handling foods and selecting them based upon those standards and principles, and this was a mark of differentiation and thus one of division between the Jews and the gentiles. Yet, at the center of following Christ is unity in the Spirit, and thus, unity in the way that life is lived and the conduct of our days. Things that divide or that separate Christ’s people from each other are to be considered carefully and with great suspicion.

The use of foods as an example of this sort of thing was truly pertinent to the days at hand when Hebrews was written. Today there might be other issues and concerns that strike more closely to the heart of unity or rather that enter into heart of the division or separation of people who follow Christ. I am not speaking about core and foundational teachings such as the deity of Christ, the virgin birth, the existence of heaven and hell, or Jesus’ death and resurrection. Still, there are many issues that we can and do allow to disrupt the fellowship of people of faith in Christ. These teachings or ways of thinking are diverse in that they can force people to seek out divergent paths in our journeys as Christians, and they are strange in that when they are made important or even central to a specific group of people they divide us in ways that are unnatural to God and that are outside of God’s desire and intent to bring all of His people together in the unity of the Spirit and in the expression and proclamation of Christ in our world.

In all of life, we need grace. This is the Godly quality that is poured over each of us as we seek to enter into a relationship with God through Christ. We are granted a form of grace that brings about acceptance when we deserve rejection, that embraces us in love as we have earned animosity and separation, that proclaims us righteous despite the sinful nature of much that we think, say, and do. This is the grace that was made perfect and complete by Jesus on His cross of torture and pain and that was given full birth with Christ’s resurrection and victorious rule over all of creation. Now, it is this same grace that provides us with the wisdom, understanding, and love that is required for us to enter into relationships with other followers of Christ without regard for the issues and the concerns that might otherwise keep us distant and separated from each other. Christ’s grace gives His people the strength that we need in order to live outside of the worldly constraints that build barriers between people as grace becomes a gift that we can grant to one another in the name of the one who gave it to us, Jesus Christ.  

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So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

Matthew 5: 23, 24

The various forms of offerings that we give to God are a sign of our trust of Him and of our love for Him. They are an important part of the way that followers of Christ live in that we are surrendering the sure thing of wealth or assets that we have in hand today for the prospect that God will grant to us all that we will need to sustain us tomorrow. Yet, Jesus is saying that there are things that come along in the course of living out our days that are more significant than the way that we express our love, trust, and honor to God through our acts of sacrificial giving. Jesus tells us that the relationships that we have with people are of even greater significance to Him than is the way that we engage in acts of trust through giving in our worship of the Lord.

In fact, I believe that God would see the act of working toward peace and understanding with other people as being one of the most important forms of worship in which we can engage. Christ should make a difference in the way that we deal with other people, and His presence in us should grant to each of His people the grace, mercy, and confidence to engage in acts of reconciliation with diminished regard for the relational or emotional risk that might seem to be connected to those acts of sacrificial engagement with a person with whom we are in a state of disagreement or dispute. I understand that there is risk involved in stepping across the barriers that we construct to keep ourselves separated and insulated from people when we are at odds with them; yet, Christ stepped over the divide between God and humanity to live among and to dwell with us in order to do the greatest of all acts of reconciliation.

Therefore, as we follow Christ, we too should step over the walls of animosity that are put up in our relationships in order to engage in doing the great work of bringing people back into relationship with ourselves and into fellowship with the Lord. This directive to be reconciled sounds simple on the surface, but we all know that it is anything but easy to do. Life is challenging and issues between people are frequently complex; still, in Christ, we have the Spirit to guide our steps and to provide the words of healing to our speech. We also have time to give to the endeavor, for according to Jesus, this sort of effort is of greater significance and has a higher priority than any other thing that we might feel the need to accomplish. Christ desires for us to get our human relationships in order as an act of deep worship to God, and He is with us for every step of whatever process is required for the completion of these acts of holy reconciliation.  

If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell?

1 Corinthians 12: 17

Paul is discussing the various wonderful ways that followers of Christ are different from each other in the forms and the types of gifting that God has given to us. There is no question in my mind that this is what the Apostle is speaking about. Yet, it seems to me that there is more here. As I have been reading Richard Beck’s deep and profound book Stranger God[1],I have come to see this expanded view of the body of Christ a little more clearly. It does seem that God has given to us the gift of people. This is a really simple, yet very complicated subject. People are each different and highly distinctive, too. This differentiation exists in the form of our physical appearances, our personalities, our comfort in various situations, and in our capabilities and capacity to engage in each aspect of living within a community. Some may seem to be able to give more, and some are not as able to contribute, or at least that is how it might seem.

One of the challenges that I encounter is found in the way that my thinking has been conditioned over the course of my life. As I meet new people, I am almost immediately assessing them. While thinking that I am being open minded and accepting of the person as an individual, there are various internal filters and analytical tools at work, and these in-grained devices are busily placing this individual into broader categories that are ordered by preconceived definitions that lead me to draw value oriented conclusions regarding this person. None of this is happening at the level of volitional thought. Yet, it is all quite real and present inside of my mind so that this defining of a person has an effect upon my heart’s rendering of their worth as well. This is not at all how Christ sees people, and it has nothing to do with the way that our Lord contemplates the worth or the value of them, either.

In order to change something as long practiced and deeply held as is this form of thinking, I need to submit my perspective and view of people to Christ in repentance for the way that I have not loved His people well and with an expressed desire to be changed by the work of the Spirit within me. When Jesus met people, He was more interested in their story and in getting to know who they were than He was engaged with determining their role or their worth within the culture. So too should I care more about the life that people are living and the trials and troubles of that journey than I do about their skills or lack of them. Each of us is uniquely and beautifully formed by God to fulfill a role within His body of faith. There are no classes of citizenship in Christ’s community, for each and every person contributes to the whole as the Lord grants to them a place within His kingdom. I pray that as I go about my day that I will love and respect the people that I encounter in a manner that sees each of them as a whole and a contributing person who has a valuable and a vital place within God’s grand plan for His kingdom come to this world.    


[1]Richard Beck, “Stranger God, Meeting Jesus in Disguise” (Minneapolis: Fortress Press: 2017)

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,

   for my hope is from him.

He only is my rock and my salvation,

   my fortress, I shall not be shaken.

Psalm 62: 5, 6

David knew what opposition and trouble looked like. He faced plenty of it during his days. Some of it was the result of his own poor decisions and some was caused by his overtly sinful behaviors. Much of it was born out of the jealous or otherwise evil intent of others. That is the way that life in this world tends to go for many people. We face into things that put us on trial, that cause us trouble, and that challenge our ability to continue on, and we are the cause of some of these situations, and we are the victims of others. Yet, through all of these times of challenge and trial, David’s words of hope and encouragement remain true and valid. Today’s shelter and tomorrow’s hope are found in the Lord and in Him alone.

We may plan and scheme regarding the ways that we will take control of life and get things going in the right direction, but I have found that I frequently don’t even begin to understand the compass heading for that positive travel. The view from my swirling eyes is obscured by a cloud of doubt and my mind is addled by the vertigo that stress and pain have caused to settle into its processing center. In these times I have a real need for the perspective of another, and I also benefit from wisdom that possesses perspective that is greater than any that I can summon up in my current state of being. These are times when the Lord, His Word, and the fellowship of His body are of vital importance to me just as they were to David thousands of years ago.

Yet, knowing this ancient and on-going truth is not quite enough, for it is very hard to wait on the Lord’s answers when the pressures of life are building up to the point of crushing body, mind, and spirit. Still, God asks us to wait on Him. These challenging times are ones in which our trust in God’s provision is tested. These are moments in life when we are dwelling in the balance point between taking actions that might be rash, hasty, or foolish and continuing to pray and wait on God’s wisdom and provision. These are usually times when it is wise to pray earnestly and to listen for the Lord’s answer in submission to His grace, love, and mercy with endurance that might need to exceed anything that we have experienced previously. In these days of prayer and silent listening we can also devote ourselves to study and meditation upon God’s Word with its message of hope, provision, and the care of the eternal shepherd, and finally, we should seek out the supportive prayer and the mature wisdom of others who dwell within the fellowship of faith in Christ. Trials and troubles will come, but like David, we can say,

“For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,

   for my hope is from him.”

“So shall My word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to Me empty,

but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” declares the Lord.

Isaiah 55: 11

God is known for His resolve. When He determines to do something, He just doesn’t stop going after it until it is done. Granted, the timing of reaching that finish line is also His to control, and that part of the entire process is often the one that seems the most mysterious and perplexing to me. For there are a lot of things that I am certain are the expressed desire of God’s heart that He just seems to take way too long to bring to completion, and either my attention span or my willingness to stick it out, or both, are tested beyond what I believe to be their limits of endurance.

However, that is really my problem; as these situations provide me with a chance to engage in a little spiritual and emotional workout session. The simple but sometimes hard to embrace truth is that I can trust that God really means what He says. So, if I am hearing His word and perceiving His desire, God will make those things happen, and regardless of my skill, intelligence, or patience with the process, He will cause a great result to come out of it all. What I am seeing here as the greater truth is that God’s true desire is not about the situation, itself. He did not send His word of truth specifically to heal the illness, to provide the job, or to free the oppressed. Rather, God gives us His Word to bring us to Him. The Lord’s desire is fulfilled when people learn to love and to trust Him with all of our hearts and with all of our minds and souls.

As we grow in our ability to trust God and to wait on His timing, His Word starts to open up to our hearts in ways that it had not before, and the deeper truths that the Lord wants us to hear and to understand start to reveal themselves to us. There is a process here that is of God and that is His to accomplish. For I have found that as I start to embrace the fact that God will respond to everything in my life that is reflective of His heart’s desire and wait in trusting obedience on Him while continuing to act on what He has revealed to me, God’s Word speaks ever more clearly and with a voice that is impossible to ignore. I can rest in and trust on the reality that the Lord will succeed in all things and over all opposition. 

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?”  

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.

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