Don’t scorn patience

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“Don’t pray for patience, or God will give you many exasperating circumstances!”

Doubtless you have heard versions of that adage.  As true as it is, the one who utters it seems to do so with a tone of frustration and resignation as though having to wait were a curse.

A quote by William Gurnall, 17th century English pastor, recently arrested my attention and transformed my view of the fruit of patience.

Here’s the context for Gurnall’s teaching on the value of patience: What are we to think when God is silent after we pray earnestly an ‘acceptable’ prayer?

(Gurnall qualifies prayers as acceptable those tied to one of God’s promises and those that are offered from a ‘clean’ heart, that is a heart that has repented of known sin among other qualities.)

This pastor labored to persuade readers (or listeners to his sermons) to appreciate God’s delay in answering our prayers.

“Be patient, and thou shalt find, the longer a mercy goes before its delivery, the more perfect it will come forth at last…(then giving an example from Abraham’s long wait for a son)….when the date of God’s bond was near expiring, and the time of the promise drew night, then God paid interest for his stay. None gain more at the throne of grace than those who trade for tie, and can forbear the payment of a mercy longest.”

180 turn

Reading that quote the other day flipped my heart 180 degrees. All of a sudden I saw this onerous, groan-worthy quality trait as a priceless treasure God desires and wills to give us. But not as in, cut open my heart and pour in high-octane patience. Were it that easy!

No, instead, He sets out to offer me many, many occasions to wait on Him.  Whether:

  • at the grocery store or
  • for someone laboriously telling a story to get to their point or
  • the arrival of a job offer after multiple interviews or
  • for rain or
  • for a diet to work or
  • for a publisher finally to say YES!

Considering the payoff for this kind of inner strength, I now see the KINDNESS of God in giving us multiple opportunities to practice the skill of waiting on Him.  For what else are delays but God’s sovereign schedule of life’s events?  And what else is Biblical faith, but a treasuring of all that God is for us and all He promises to be in the future? Doesn’t that kind of faith require PATIENCE since we don’t physically SEE what is promised?

Does this kind of waiting on something in the future seem vague and like a discipline involving self-denial?  Then maybe shifting the focus to the reward will help.  Here are just a few of the many payoffs?   Consider some staggering promises of reward:

  • face-to-face seeing God (Rev 22:4)
  • renewed strength (Is 40:31)
  • compassion from God (Is 30:18)
  • food and satisfaction for all our desires(Ps 145:15-16)
  • all the gifts from God due us (1 Cor 1:7)
  • adoption by God the Father (Rom 8:23)
  • help and protection (Ps 33:20)
  • salvation from many dangers (Gen 49:18)
  • grace that is promised when Jesus comes back (1 Peter 1:13)

And if reflecting on some of these pledges of future blessing were not enough to help one see the payoff for patience, God brought to mind James’ motto for the ‘Saints Club’. Consider it PURE JOY my brothers when you face trials of various kinds….(James 1: 2-4).  Why?  because, as this apostle explains, trials grow patient, cheerful endurance in us.  The Greek term for that character quality is hypomone. Literally it means to STAY UNDER.

I take that counsel to instruct me NOT to fight the trying circumstance but to practice patient waiting, praying for God to resolve it or for it to resolve itself or for my God-dependent efforts to have their effect.  Whatever the outward action, the inner state of a follower of Christ is calm, patient, cheerful trust in God who ordained this particular trial and circumstance.

What is ‘driving you nuts’ that God is allowing or bringing back time and time again in different forms to GIFT you with patience? 

Enough of the churn!

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Up until last Friday, I lived with churn. You know that confused, lingering, heavy problem for which no solution is evident? The one that weighs you down and dominates your thoughts?  Yeah, that kind of burden.

churn-1

It takes a lot of energy to keep switching sides, changing one’s mind.  I did that for a number of years with the dilemma – DO I invest time and energy into weighing myself every day, working to maintain a certain weight? or DO I trust God about how He wants my body to be and choose NOT to have my weight be such an identity issue?  Come 5 December 2017, I will celebrate one year of FREEDOM from that enslaving idol.

That particular ‘giving it up/over to God’ final act came after a lot of churn.  Looking back, the churn and my wishy-washiness contributed to much of my pain.  I have felt so much freer since that once and for all decision 11 months ago.

But the back and forth of making and breaking my word to myself has made me gun-shy. I am leery of the sticking power of any decision I make.  The question is – will I truly leave the issue with God or will I take it back into my hands?

I teach French in a school that is 50 minutes away from our house in Western North Carolina.  The days are long and during the school year, I have very reduced personal time. I also find it daunting most days to challenge and teach middle-schoolers with creativity in a way that best makes a way for them to acquire facility with the language.

Yes, my lazy self would love a job that is closer to home and easier AND paid as much as this teaching job.  But as they say in French, ‘ça n’existe pas’ – that doesn’t exist. Apparently.

Why apparently?  Because I have sought other positions over the past 3+ years, AND God has firmly kept all other doors closed AND maintained the financial limits on us that make it necessary for me to earn what I do.

Finally, last week, after knocking on one more door, I gave up.  I’m tired of ‘kicking against the goads’ as Paul worded it in his account of his conversion en route to Damascus. The New Living Translation renders it this way:

We all fell down, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is useless for you to fight against my will. Acts 26:14

I have a hunch, that when and if God wants me to work in a different setting, He will facilitate the move in a way that clearly is of Him and without churn. When Mike and I prayerfully decided to leave suburban Tidewater, Virginia in June 2013, God opened the doors. He sold our Virginia house, found us an affordable house here that is set in the stunning Smoky Mountains and secured a French-teaching job for me.  There was plenty of prayer, but no churn.

I’m a slow learner but I think this lesson (one that the Holy Spirit repeats creatively in different ways) might be sinking in!  Time will tell, but please pray for me to leave this matter in God’s hands and not invest any more mental and emotional energy into it.

 

 

What do you brag about?

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Some women my age trot out pictures of their grandkids or others of their prized pooches.  Then there are those who boast about the good deals they secured on Black Friday or their completion of a holiday decorating schema for home and yard.

But Paul exhorts us to boast in our weaknesses.

  • “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 2 Cor 12:9

I’d like to offer a case for broadening the term ‘weakness’ to mean any limitation or need that one cannot personally overcome or fulfill. Part of maturity is a coming to terms with the fact that, EVEN THOUGH THIS IS AMERICA, one CANNOT do anything one sets his or her mind to.

Adult to skinny child:  What are you going to be when you grow up, little boy?

skinny boy

 

Child: I’m going to be an NFL linebacker!

Linebacker

Dishonest Adult:  Good for you, little boy! You can achieve anything you set your mind to.

So how does getting real with our limitations apply to us, no matter our age?  And can that little boy truly grow up to be an NFL linebacker?

My husband and I have longings and unmet desires that we admit to one another once in a while.  They tend to be activities or situations we think would meet some deep needs of personal fulfillment.   One of those longings popped up last night. Mike was playing some hauntingly beautiful, classical choral music as part of his Christmas play list.  When Emma Kirkby, the British soprano, began her ‘Who may abide the day of His coming?’ solo, tears from that deep place in Mike’s soul welled up. He has sung that exact piece (it’s also written for baritone) with some fine choral groups.  God has given him both a voice for and love of good music. But by our moving to Western North Carolina to a gorgeous spot in the Smoky Mountains in the ‘boonies’ we have cut ourselves off from that kind of music, both by geography and our choice to join a Bible-teaching church.

The conversation then turned to a time we had lived in England for 18 months.  During the one Christmas season we celebrated, we had season tickets to a series of classical concerts in one of the Oxford college chapels. The acoustics of that ancient holy space and the men and boys’ choir were ethereal and soul-satisfying.

That remembrance of time past led me to think of the few times, now so long ago, when we lived in Europe.  And my yearnings for another occasion such as those, to plug into the life and community of a different culture and (if in France or Germany) to speak the local language flooded my heart.

Both intense feelings of longing are real AND they do not mean we are unhappy living here.  The desires are part of who God made us.  Mike is gifted musically and I’m gifted with a curiosity for different people and love of languages.

Yet….in our present circumstances, I don’t see how either can or could be fulfilled.

But here’s the more significant point.  We humans see XYZ as possible remedies or solutions or ways to meet a godly desire.  But God is the Infinite, Eternal One who created ALL there is, including us.  And as Isaiah reminds us:

  • “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the LORD. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. Isaiah 55:8

So, let me remind both my heart and Mike’s heart: “Hearts, listen up! Don’t despair.  Yes, God has given you these gifts, desires, interests and longings.  And He WILL meet those yearnings. It probably won’t be in a way you can even picture.  But longings don’t go unfulfilled.  The satisfaction might come in this life or in the next, but it will come. Trust the one who says:

  • No good thing do I withhold from the one who walks blameless, in my path. (paraphrase of Psalm 84:11)”

So I will practice contentment like David models for us:

  • But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content. Psalm 131: 2

Returning to my initial question about what you boast in, I started by proposing that these ‘current limitations’ or ‘needs’ are included in Paul’s description of ‘weaknesses’.  Could it be that God actually BLOCKS our way to fulfilling some of these desires ourselves?  Might He also use these unmet needs to teach us to be dependent on Him? And what about God employing them….

….also as a means for pointing the cynically jaded, bored, and despairing world to marvel at such a God as ours who does “EXCEEDINGLY ABUNDANTLY more than we can ask or imagine.” Ephesians 3:20?

I do believe God will satisfy those yearnings or He will replace them with something better.  Our challenge as God’s children is to show the world who our God is and why He is enough.  It is by our BOASTING in our inability to meet our own needs along with our reliance on the God who CAN be enough when we are weak and insufficient, that we show the unbelieving world the one and only path to abundant life. Be assured, the Christian is no fool. He trusts in the God who promises that ‘in His presence is fullness of joy and pleasures evermore’.  

Are you willing to be the arena for the tired world to see how wonder-filled our God is?

 

 

 

 

Whose time is it?

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Rushing Clock

 

 

 

Tomorrow is Monday, the start of a new work/school week for young and old. The alarm will buzz, vibrate, rattle or serenade us into the awaiting day where the mantra is RUSH, RUSH, RUSH!  And for many, the Sunday dread of the pending week has already begun to dampen spirits.

Does it have to be this way?  What causes all advance weariness?

For me, the idea of hurling myself into the day with the goal of squeezing out more TIME than numerically possible has gotten old. I’ve been pondering my assumptions and questioning if they are even true.  For starters:

  • is it true that TIME is immutable, that is to say, ‘fixed and unchangeable’?  Do we really have only so many minutes and hours to do ALL that we want to/have to do?
  • is there something called MY TIME.  If this is so, where do we get this TIME? Does it come to us by virtue of being born?
  • is it up to us to decide what we have to do or want to do?
  • and just what exactly IS TIME after all?

Here are some liberating facts to guide and perhaps change our ideas and eventually our Modus Operandi:

God is the source of all that is.  He created TIME out of nothing. But of course He existed BEFORE He made the construct called TIME.  The fact that God formed TIME doesn’t minimize its usefulness for God or for His creation.  But if He created it, He can tweak it, change it, stretch it, and abolish it when His purposes for TIME have been completed.  How do I know this is so?  Consider some of these events:

  • When the disciples were rowing across the Sea of Galilee in a storm, Jesus came walking across the water toward them.  Here are a couple of lines in John’s gospel:  Chapter 6:20-21 But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.”  Then they were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.
  • Then there is Joshua in the Old Testament. The successor to Moses, he prayed to God for His supernatural intervention, as recorded in Joshua 10:13  So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, till the nation avenged itself on its enemies, as it is written in the Book of Jashar. The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day.

If God has created everything/all things, then that ‘ALL’ includes both the material and the immaterial.  TIME certainly fits in the category of immaterial.  We can’t see it, but we measure it by material things that God has created, like the sun and the moon and Earth’s relative position to the stars.

I’m beginning to see my presumption and small-mindedness in believing that the God who creates TIME is constrained by how I, a creature, count TIME.

After all, is it too hard for God to manipulate TIME so that it is sufficient for me to accomplish HIS agenda for me this day?  Come on!  We’re talking about the God:

  • Who keeps the Hebrews’ sandals from wearing out during their 40-year journey to Canaan
  • Who multiplies rolls and dried fish to feed a mighty crowd of hungry folks
  • Who springs Peter from jail on one occasion and Paul and Silas on another (employing two different means)
  • Who brings dead people back to life
  • Who provides a coin in the mouth of a fish for the disciples to pay their taxes

If all this is so, maybe you and I can STOP rushing around.  Maybe slowing down to smell the flowers and marvel at God’s creation can become our norm.  Just maybe welcoming ‘interruptions’ as opportunities to demonstrate our trust in God’s sovereign control over TIME can become our new MODUS OPERANDI for 2015.

May God’s truth, as David penned it in Psalm 31: 14-15, have the last word:

But I trust in you, O Lord;
    I say, “You are my God.”
 My times are in your hand;
    rescue me from the hand of my enemies and from my persecutors!

God holding clock

 

 

 

PS:  Who might be our actual ‘enemies and persecutors’?

Shaky assumption for what will make me happy

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The King was a praying man, after all hadn’t Zechariah mentored him well from God’s word?  And as long as he prayed for favor in Judah’s battles against the Philistines, the Arabs and the Meunim, his armies prevailed.  His and Judah’s successes became the talk of the world that even the Ammonites paid tribute, aka protection money, rather than fight.

But then…..Uzziah grew complacent and tired of having to ask God daily for this and that.  As the writer of the book of 2 Chronicles explains,

16 But when [King Uzziah] was strong, he became proud to his destruction; and he trespassed against the Lord his God, for he went into the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense.

Uzziah

The rest of the story is pretty dramatic.  The priest in charge, Azariah, confronted the King, reminding him with a strong rebuke, that God forbade anyone but the priests from burning incense in the temple.  As King Uzziah exploded into rage, incriminating censor in his hand, leprosy broke out on his forehead.  In hindsight, it would have been better for Uzziah to continue in his daily dependence on God’s strength, rather than crave his own strength.  His desired independence, what he thought would make him happy, led to his downfall.

I’ve been thinking a lot about some of my assumptions when I pray.  At the bottom often of my anxiety is the fear that God is going to withhold what I want, what I know/think will make me happy.

Isn’t there always something we are asking God for, something that will make us more content, happy, complete, and peaceful?   But what if we are wrong in our assumptions?

Mike and I have started watching Frank Capra’s classic, It’s a Wonderful Life. 

In this 1946 Christmas movie, George Bailey has finally earned enough money to take the trip of his dreams.It's a wonderful life

 

 

He longs to break out of the claustrophobia of his small hometown, positive that the wide world holds what he wants.  But the unfortunate timing of his dad’s death delays the trip. One set of unexpected circumstances leads to another, until he is maneuvered into staying put in Bedford Falls, the very future he worked hard to avoid.

His unrealized dream of travel, to be followed by college and then a profession of building modern structures never materializes.  He had always projected certainty that his version of the future was best for him.  Apparently his dad had repeatedly expressed hope that George, as oldest son, would accept his offer to take over the family’s Building and Loan Association.  In an offhand remark that wounds his dad, George dismisses 40 years of laborious efforts to secure loans for many of Bedford Falls’ working class families.  This is not the career or the life that George wants.

You can watch the movie again, if you have forgotten what George learns in the end.  But what I realized in thinking about King Uzziah and George Bailey was that often our assumptions about what will make us happy are not correct.

My thinking seems to go like this:

  • I want X (for example, a different job)
  • Why?  Because when I think about X, I picture a more content Maria.
  • But I’m afraid that God won’t allow X to happen.  There’s no guarantee that He will bring about X, even if I pray fervently in faith. (might I be……trying to manipulate God???)
  • If God does not grant X, then I won’t be happy

But what if the TRUE scenario is this:

  • God alone knows what will make me happy/content/’better off’ as He defines it.
  • What if what I THINK will make me happy, my X, actually is bad, dangerous, painful or somehow disastrous for me?
  • After all, isn’t God omni– good/loving/knowing/powerful/wise/holy/giving…..
  • Why should I think that I know best?  that what I think I want IS best?

So, are we not to pray for what we want?  Are we just supposed to resign ourselves to….being miserable?

That’s bifurcation, the fallacy of a false dilemma.  It’s not an either/or situation – My will = happiness versus God’s will= misery

(Could that false idea come from Satan?)

When I get scared that maybe God WON’T give me what I want, here’s the promise I fall back onto:

Psalm 84:11

“No good thing does the Lord withhold from those whose way is upright.

  • good = pleasant/excellent/valuable/appropriate,  Hebrew word Towb
  • upright = authentic (with integrity),  Hebrew word Tamiym

When I think of how to be upright, I picture myself looking UP at God, and not at what I want.  I don’t have enough information to know what is best for me.

upright

I’ll still ask God and pray for what I want, but I’m learning to hold those requests loosely.

What is your experience in wanting something really badly and then finding out it was NOT what you thought or (worse yet) it turned out to be harmful?

 

 

 

 

What’s the rush? You’re not going to miss your ultimate appointment!

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“There are two days in my calendar: This day and that Day.” – Martin Luther

Martin Luther

 

 

 

 

 

I like Martin Luther’s earthiness for he was not afraid to enjoy life boldly and speak the truth with fresh vigor.

But what arrested me recently was his peculiar time-management system, at least as far as I can surmise from how he kept his calendar!

What about you and me?  For all the tech devices we employ, meant to make life easier, we seem to be burdened and tied down to what was designed to free us.

I’ve pondered schedules and the existence of RUSHING as a lifestyle this summer.  With 6 of my 9 weeks off as a teacher now a pleasant memory, I’ve been thinking a lot about TIME as I have crossed off summer chores and tackled ‘meaty’ books.  Can you believe that a couple of days I even ‘stressed’ at all I had to/wanted to do?

But is that the way a Christian who trusts God is supposed to live his life?  Does the Bible counsel rushing? By no means!  God WANTS us to develop patience, that is the qualities of endurance and steadfastness (Greek 5281 – hypomone). To prove my point, I’ve pulled out a few snippets of God’s will for us:

  • ..run with patience/endurance -Hebr 12:1  (‘feels’ like a contradiction, but not according to God)
  • …Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him – Gen 5:24 (God’s schedule, not ours) 
  • ….those who wait upon the Lord will ….run – Is 40:31 (have to keep our eyes on Him to catch His signal that NOW is the time to run using His holy petrol) 
  • …But if we hope for what we do not see, with patience/ perseverance we wait eagerly for it – Rom 8:25
  • Now may the God who gives patience/ perseverance and encouragement …. Rom 15:5 (a gift) 
  • And let patience/endurance have its perfect result so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing – James 1:4  (patience aka learning to wait is God’s goal and desire for us!) 
  • For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Eph 2:10 (If God has these divine appointments and purposes planned, let us not fret about our time which is ALSO purposed and planned)

But how are we to gain this patience? Do you know ANYONE who is naturally patient? I don’t!

Here’s the truth: Patience is a gift from God.  But He doesn’t just imbue us with this attribute; He cultivates it IN us by means of the trials, struggles and problems He walks us through.  Do you get that? Suffering has a purpose when we consecrate it to God, when we trust our good Father in the midst of our hardships.  And knowing that there are reasons, even if we can’t see them, is far better than thinking that this painful stuff is just randomly occurring to us!  Chalking problems up to bad luck or fate produces NO endurance or patience – for what’s the point of bearing up well, if there’s NO POINT at all!

*

So what about those days when we don’t get done what we had planned?  The good news is – it doesn’t matter! God IS sovereign over our time because it’s not OUR time, but His!  He can chop it short or stretch it out.  And if the only day that really counts is when we meet Him face to face, then why stress?

Here’s a fact, both for the pagan unbeliever who is hostile to God AND for the child of the King who loves God. There IS a day appointed and fixed for each of us.  That is Martin Luther’s red-letter day.  You can be sure that you won’t miss that rendez-vous when each of us will meet Jesus face to face.  You can’t rush that meeting nor delay it.

Jesus holding girl

Waiting as worship

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Last week I took up the topic of decision-making…

and claimed that there were 2 categories. The first kind I developed had to do with reliance on a subjective FEELING to guide a choice.  I shared how our son stressed over 2 ‘good’ choices: stay at the current college or transfer.  He couldn’t decide off the bat, so as a new Christian, he tossed the decision into God’s lap and asked Him to give him a sign.  This divine nod would be a sense of knowing or perhaps peace about one path over the other. The second category of decisions involved one in which I had made up my mind to LEAVE my current school.  What I was asking God for concerned timing, when I would  budge.

I’ve been reflecting about our most current set of decisions that faced my husband and me.  As I have written about before, we decisively chose to leave Virginia, after raising our boys and burying my dad. We actually had TRIED to move multiple times once my care-dependent father died in 2006.  Mike was gazing at 6 1/2 more years of civil service in a joy-less, energy-sapping environment.  And God kept shutting those doors, by NOT granting Mike a civil service job elsewhere.

(The ‘un-success’ of 3-5 job applications over a period of several years is actually encouraging. It tells me that God intervenes when our prayerful attempts to move in a direction are NOT His plan)

But when we chose to move to Western North Carolina, the doors did swing open.  We took our time, studied the situation, prayed continually, fixed up our house, did a job search for a French-teaching job for me and looked for a mountain cabin we could afford.  In addition, Mike prepared and launched a consulting business that would combine his skill set, his experience, and his contacts over the previous 38 years since he matriculated into West Point.

The decisions were made – the waiting began.

Here’s is what I’m learning:

All of life is waiting.  As obedient children, we ask God for something (He commands us to pray for what we need!)…we wait…the waiting comes to an end, one way or another.  We move on to the next need(s).

But there is a godly way to wait and a sinful wait to wait.  We can be SO focused on what we are waiting for, that IT becomes more important to us than God!  Not only does that profoundly insult God and reduce Him to a blessing machine, it robs US of fellowship with Him and much joy.

A beloved friend wrote this about waiting:

Who would’ve thought that “waiting” is part of God’s plan and is for our excitement and pleasure!

Hundreds of books have probably been written on prayer and waiting, but I’ll leave you with one thought as I close this piece, (and by the way, God DID sell our house, procure me a job and lead us to a perfect cabin up in the hills- we’re still waiting for Mike’s clients as he faithfully does all he can!).

Waiting has to do with patience.  And the New Testament often uses the term, ENDURANCE, to mean patience. Strong’s Greek #5281 (hypomone) can be translated AS : “a patient, steadfast waiting for”.  Now with that in mind, read this verse from Luke 21:19: By your patience, you will gain your souls.

God wants us to develop that permanent part of us, our soul,  that moves into eternity.  Doesn’t that put a different spin on our decisions, our prayers, our waiting?  All of life is waiting because all of a Christian’s life is soul-development.  But waiting doesn’t have to preclude enjoying God’s presence each moment on Earth.  Why not seek Joy in God daily? Isn’t that what awaits us in heaven – closer and more multi-dimensional fellowship with God, joy IN His presence?

I believe that ALL our prayer requests, whether they have to do with trials or desires, are meant to grow our patient trust in Him.  And that quiet confidence grows our souls.  So whether I’m waiting for this or that, I pray that the Holy Spirit will remind me that I can worship God NOW, in the moment, in the midst of waiting.  I don’t want to miss a single gift.  I want my life to SHOW that HE is what I value most, NOT the thing I’m waiting for.

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