Patience


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.

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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.

 

 

We urge you, brothers, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all men.

1 Thessalonians 5: 14

 

This is something that I don’t really want to admit. Yet, I have been all of the people that are described in the first half of this verse, and my way of behaving has certainly required God and the people around me to need to exercise patience. There may not have been any instances when I picked up the furniture and threw it around the room, but I have been angry and frustrated to the point of acting very badly in the presence of others. My personal failure to trust God and to proceed through life with the courage that is fueled by this trust has happened far too many times. The utter exhaustion that comes from living in this hostile world has taken all of the energy and the will to keep going out of my legs on several occasions.

 

These are all times when God’s direct and personal involvement in my life has been incredibly meaningful. The Lord never leaves me in a weakened condition for any longer than I require to understand my responsibility for my situation and to trust in God’s answer for it. Frequently, the truth that brings me out of the troubled state is provided by people who seek and understand the Lord’s wisdom, and who are willing to follow Christ’s model of engaging honestly in people’s lives. It seems that frequently Christ’s voice is heard coming from the mouths of people in my community of faith.

 

The hardest aspect of this process of engagement is probably God’s requirement that we do it with patience. When I have taken the personal risk that is required to enter into a hard conversation with someone, I am ready for that person to embrace my insight and wisdom and just get on with it. However, this is not the way that most of us function. Real change of the sort that beings about Christ’s transformative living takes time. Truly walking through life with others demands that we set aside personal agendas and timelines and embrace God’s view of people’s needs. In the end, God wants us to do what is of primary importance to Him; that is, He wants us to enter into true relationship with others.

 

Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he says,

In a favorable time I listened to you,

and in a day of salvation I have helped you.”

Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.

2 Corinthians 6: 1, 2

 

Paul is making reference to the fact that all that he does by way of sharing the truth of the Gospel is done in conjunction with what Christ has done and with what He continues to do. There is no independent labor on Paul’s part involved. There is nothing that can be done by him or by any of us that is outside of what Christ has undertaken Himself. In other words, no one comes into a relationship with God except by way of Jesus, the cross, and the conjunction of God’s grace and love at that point of sacrifice and redemptive victory. Some people might want and even desire to be granted the comfort of grace for a time or even for a season, but they are not prepared to set aside the shallow pleasures of the life that they have known and surrender fully to the cross of Christ with its hard realities and radical transformation.

 

So, they walk away from a relationship with God that they had never truly entered into. This is a mark of the vane and foolish nature of people in that we will give up on eternity and on an opportunity to be engaged in life in conjunction with the author of all wisdom, truth, and love. Yet, it does not need to be so. God’s grace is made available to us in an unending supply. He does not hold it back or remove His offer of it from us. There is no set season or finite opportunity for a person’s response to Christ. In fact, the time for repentance is now, the season for acceptance of God’s offer of salvation is here. These are the hours and the days for people to come to the Lord and this is the place where their lives are to be changed.

 

Christ calls upon those of us who do know Him to be open and willing to follow Him into engagement with people at all times and in all places. We are not going into all of this on our own. We are not even responsible for leading the effort. Rather, Christ has gone before us in yielding His life to the cross, and He continues to be the one who does the real work of bringing people into acceptance of God’s offer of salvation. We are simply asked to be willing to take the risk of rejection that comes with being confidently open about our faith and that happens when we share Christ with the people that we encounter in the course of our days. So, even people who have walked away from God’s offer of grace, those who have openly and possibly aggressively rejected Christ, and others who are antagonistic to Christ and to us because of Him are loved by God and are among the people that Christ wants us to seek out and to care about for the sake and the glory of the Gospel.

So the men took some of their provisions, but did not ask counsel from the LORD.

Joshua 9: 14

 

This is one of those strange moments in the story of the conquest of the land of Canaan by the Israelites under Joshua’s leadership. In fact, this is a point where the story seems to take a sort of left turn into the realm of Theater of the Absurd. The story tells us that this one group of people from within the land sent representatives to Joshua in order to act out a drama in which they convinced the Israelites that they were actually from far away. So, the Israelites entered into a covenant with these Gibeonites that they would not harm them. It was only after this that it was learned that the seemingly road weary, worn down and dusty travelers standing before them were actually skillful actors who were dressed in costumes and were using stage props in order to convince Joshua of their sincerity.

 

The true point in all of this is found in this simple statement. Although God had been consistently providing wisdom, guidance, and counsel for Joshua and for the people for a very long time by now, they chose to make this decision on their own. In the overall scheme of things, this was not a very big deal. These were a few people who could do little harm, and they told a very convincing story. Yet, history has demonstrated that small decisions and little events can have extraordinary and ever-lasting consequences. Consider what impact a few deceptive words from a serpent had on us all after Adam and Eve acted upon them. This bit of grand theater that was carried out by the representatives of Gibeon is very similar in tactic to the way that Satan deceived our ancestors in the garden. Also, in both instances, the answer to the problem at hand would have been easy to discern by simply taking a few moments to turn to God and seek out His counsel and wisdom.

 

There is universal truth to this human dilemma and failing. We want to take charge of our lives and to make our own decisions along the way. Yet, we also know that God is in life with us and that He provides us with multiple sources for His ageless and universally applicable wisdom. So, we determine which issues and under what circumstances we will go it on our own or seek out the Lord first. This is what Joshua and the Israelites did here, and for them this self-directed decision would haunt them for generations to come. There was a better way for them to proceed, and there is a better way for us to engage with life also. The Lord provides us with His Word of truth to guide our journeys through this world. His Spirit also speaks wisdom to us, and the body of faith surrounds us with people who are similarly informed. God intends for His people to turn to Him and to trust Him to lead us through all of life. His counsel is ours, and it brings life, peace, and righteousness to our days. So, why would we ever join Joshua in saying, “Never mind, Lord; I’ve got this one handled?”

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