Long-Suffering

I am not a patient man.

People who know me might say that I am pretty easygoing. My personality assessment would define me as one who is not too easily ruffled. Compared with others, perhaps I tend toward patience in many of my interactions. And for the most part, that is true.

But held up against the Bible’s description of patience, and measured against my Savior’s example of long-suffering, I realize how far from patient I truly am.

I’ve been reading a compilation of Jonathan Edwards’ sermons on I Corinthians 13 (the book is titled Charity and Its Fruits: Living in the Light of God’s Love), and what Edwards says about verse 4 of that “love chapter” of the Bible is very sobering and convicting to me. In modern English we do not use the term “long-suffering,” but that is what the word “patient” in I Corinthians 13:4 means. Edwards says that this patient quality of love is called long-suffering, or suffering long, for this reason:

Because we ought meekly to bear not only a small injury, but also a great deal of injurious treatment from others. We should continue in quiet frame without ceasing still to love our neighbor, not only when he injures us a little but also when he injures us much, when the injuries which he does are great. And we should not only thus bear a few injuries but a great many, and though our neighbor continues his injurious treatment to us a long time…. The meaning is not that we should bear injuries indeed a long time, but may lawfully cease to bear them at last; but the meaning is that we should meekly bear injuries though they are long continued, that we should not only bear it when men injure us a little while and then soon repent of it, but we should meekly bear it though they continue in their injuriousness a long time, yea, let it be ever so long.  [pg 100]

If that is not convicting enough, Edwards further says that the manner in which we meekly bear injurious treatment for a long time is not with a “bitter exasperated countenance” nor with “rash and hasty expression” but with “peaceableness and calmness” and grace. If needed, a person…

…may reprove his neighbor; but if he does, it will be with politeness and without bitterness, which still shows the design to be only to exasperate. It may be with strength of reason and argument and serious expostulation, but without angry reflections or contemptuous language. He may show a dislike of what is done, but it will not be with an appearance of high resentment; but as a man would reprove another that has fallen into sin against God, rather than against him; and as lamenting his calamity more than resenting his injury, and as seeking his good rather than his hurt; more to deliver him from the calamity into which he has fallen than to be even with him for the injury he has brought on him.  [pg 98]

Oh that I could truly see and lament the calamity of another’s sin against God as the far greater problem than that person’s injury to me! What would that look like to meekly bear injury against myself without contempt or resentment but truly with sorrow for the calamity that person will face before God because of their sin?

And lest I bemoan the fact that injuries against me seem to happen so often, Edwards cautions that I should not be so surprised.

If we are not disposed meekly to bear injuries, we are not fitted to live in such a world as this, for we can expect no other than to meet with many injuries in this world. We do not live in heaven, or a world of purity, innocence and love. We dwell in a fallen, corrupt, miserable, wicked world; a world that is very much under the reign and dominion of sin…. Men who have their spirits heated and enraged, and rising in bitter resentment when they are injured, or unreasonably dealt with, act as if they thought some strange thing had happened to them. …it is no strange thing at all; it is no other than what is to be expected in such a world…. A wise man does not expect any other and is prepared for it, and composes his spirit to bear it. [pg 106, 107]

I am not a patient man. I complain all too easily about the short suffering that I face. My spirit gets easily ruffled and resentful from others’ injurious treatment toward me. Edwards’ apt application of Scripture pierces my pretense of patience and shows me how desperately I need the Spirit of God to grow this fruit in my heart.

The Discipline of Singing

It is not my position as a pastor that pushes me to sing in worship whether I feel like it or not. Rather, it is my increasing experience that the intentional act of singing words that are true helps my heart to turn toward God and away from self.

If Luther is right (and I believe he is) that sin prompts us to “turn in on ourselves,” then worship songs that speak of God and the Gospel are a powerful antidote. (Granted, there are plenty of worship songs that do not focus on God or the Gospel, but instead tend to assist our souls in turning inward.) And yet the songs themselves cannot serve as an antidote unless we intentionally enter in to singing them wholeheartedly.

And that is why I believe that singing can be a spiritual discipline. Certainly it doesn’t have to be a discipline, and it isn’t always a discipline, but sometimes it may be chosen as a discipline. Singing becomes a discipline when in my flesh I say “I don’t feel like singing” or “I don’t want to sing” and yet I sing anyway. In that place, I do not sing because I’m happy, but I sing to make myself happy in Christ. And in that place, I do not sing because life is comfortable and good, but I sing to remind myself that God is good even when life is not. Singing as a discipline is not a response to joyful feelings but a catalyst for them.

But the only way that intentional singing can become a catalyst for joyful feelings is when what is being sung is deeply and powerfully true. In order to pull my sin-sick eyes off of myself and onto the God who saves, and in order to straighten out my inward-curving gaze, I must be singing words that point me compellingly to the Gospel so that I become captivated by the beauty of Christ.

At the retreat I led this past weekend, I struggled to sing Keith and Kristyn Getty’s song “When Trials Come” because I felt so empty and weary, and yet those beautiful–and true!–lyrics breathed new life into my soul as I chose to sing them despite how I felt. So join in with me, and see the triumph of the cross even in the midst of your weariness.

When trials come no longer fear
For in the pain our God draws near
To fire a faith worth more than gold
And there His faithfulness is told 
And there His faithfulness is told

Within the night I know Your peace 
The breath of God brings strength to me 
And new each morning mercy flows
As treasures of the darkness grow 
As treasures of the darkness grow

I turn to Wisdom not my own
For every battle You have known
My confidence will rest in You
Your love endures Your ways are good
Your love endures Your ways are good

When I am weary with the cost
I see the triumph of the cross
So in its shadow I shall run
Till He completes the work begun
Till He completes the work begun

One day all things will be made new
I’ll see the hope You called me to
And in your kingdom paved with gold
I’ll praise your faithfulness of old
I’ll praise your faithfulness of old

 

Sins vs. Sin

A small view of sin results in a small view of the Gospel.

If our understanding of depravity is that we do bad things (or fail to do the right things), we focus only on sins in the plural. In that understanding, sin is tied to behaviors or actions that we do or don’t do. And certainly those sins are abhorrent to God (Proverbs 6:16-19, Galatians 5:19-21, etc.). But sin is bigger than acts of sinning.

Scripture speaks of sin as the nature that we as human beings are born with (Romans 7:18). It is what comes naturally out of our hearts apart from Christ. It is what makes us enemies of God who are destined to receive His wrath (Romans 5:10, Ephesians 2:3). It is the constant inclination of our hearts away from God (Genesis 6:5).

That sin is so pervasive that even our seemingly righteous acts can come out of a heart that is set on autonomy from God (Isaiah 64:6). Martin Luther coined a phrase that aptly depicts this pervasive sin in our hearts: incurvatus in se.  This Latin phrase means “curved in on oneself.” The essence of our sin is that we try to save ourselves–we try to make life work apart from God.

When we begin to grasp the depth of that sin, and when we begin to realize that even our virtue is clouded with self-salvation efforts, we can cry out with Paul in Romans 7:24, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” But it is that cry of wretchedness that then opens the door to exclaim in great joy with Paul, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom. 7:25)

Seeing sin in all its ugly depth allows us to see the Gospel in all its wonder and beauty.

50 Years!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI flew up to Portland, Oregon yesterday in order to celebrate my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary, together with my siblings and their families. In a time in which commitments of any kind are hard to come by, let alone the commitment of marriage “till death do us part,” it is a tremendous gift to have parents who are still married after 50 years! And while my siblings and I certainly wish that there was a greater depth of friendship and intimacy in our parents’ marriage, we still rejoice in God’s faithfulness to carry them through all these years, and we honor their faithfulness to one another “for better or for worse.”

Marriage is meant to be a picture of the relationship between Christ and the Church. Because we are sinful human beings, the picture that our marriages portray is often clouded and less than perfect. And yet even in that it is still an accurate picture, because Christ has loved us even when “we were dead in our trespasses and sins” and He has given His very life for us “while we were yet sinners” and enemies of Him. So I rejoice in these 50 years that my parents have remained faithful to their wedding vows, and I rejoice even more in the faithfulness of my God to love me in spite of all my sin and brokenness!

50 anniv parents

Lost in My Found-ness

I’ve been enjoying the daily devotional posts of The Lent Project, from Biola University’s Center for Christianity, Culture & the Arts. The writer of the devotional for April 5th focused on the Sanhedrin’s condemnation of Jesus (from Luke 22:66-71), and she shared honestly how she sees herself often standing with the Sanhedrin on that same pedestal of judgment:

How often do I find myself where the Sanhedrin was that day, standing in judgment of the one who I have been waiting for.  The one who had come to save me from myself, but whom I could not fully accept. You see, I want to make God in my own image. I want to be the one who dictates what the Savior looks like, sounds like, where he is from, and what he will do to bring justice.  My justice.  I stand there, mumbling along with others like me.  Not ones who are lost in their sin, but even worse, the ones who are lost in their found-ness. And so I condemn him.  Not because he is wrong, but because he is right and because intellectually, I believe him.

The thought that there could be another category of lostness–that a person could be “lost in their found-ness”–is unsettling. Unsettling because it is true. And unsettling because it sounds an awful lot like me.

Like the elder brother in Jesus’ parable of the Lost Sons (in Luke 15), I too am responsible and dutiful, obedient and “good.” Like that elder brother, I have not run off to ruin my life and bring shame on my family. And like that elder brother, I protest with righteous indignation at the unfairness of the father to lavish his love on one who was so obviously and deliberately lost rather than on me whose hard work should have earned it by now.

In my self-righteous insistence that I am found and not lost, I am blind to my actual condition. And in that unacknowledged lostness, I condemn the very One who is extending mercy and love to me, preferring instead to bank on my responsible obedience as a sufficient means of gaining the Father’s love.

Oh how patient and merciful the Father has been to me! And oh, what grace that He would open the eyes of the found to see the reality of our lostness and the insufficiency of our self-salvation projects. My heart resonates deeply with the prayer that closes the Lent devotional:

I am lost in my own found-ness, but long to be as one who is so desperate for true salvation that I take him just as he is because he sees me just as I am.  Father, forgive me, for I know exactly what I am doing by denying who you are because you challenge who I am.  You confront me in my comfortable religious life. Somehow let me be with the notorious ones who are drawn to you and know they need you now more than anything or anyone they have ever needed before or will need again.  I want to believe with my entire being that you are who you say you are. Let that be confirmation of my salvation and not of my own condemnation.

Amen! [Read the whole devotional here]

Solitude Is Not Just for Introverts

Introverts, by definition, gain energy from time alone; in contrast to extroverts, who gain energy from being with people. Thus I have found that introverts are more naturally attracted to disciplines of solitude and retreat, and those who land more on the extroverted end of the spectrum are much less interested. But spiritual disciplines are means of grace for all temperaments–we are not meant to just pick and choose whatever feels most comfortable to our personality type.

If I, as an introvert, am entering solitude merely as a way to recharge or get away, I probably am not truly engaging in solitude as a spiritual discipline–I’m just being an introvert. Not that solitude has to be hard and uncomfortable in order to truly be a discipline, but disciplines are purposeful activities intended to create space for God. So even as an introvert who is comfortable in solitude, I need to go into it with a clear intention to meet with God and open my heart to Him, not just to unwind. But as I meet with God in solitude, He may indeed make that a time of unwinding and recharging and restfulness (though sometimes it may also be a time of wrestling or dryness or unrest).

Solitude may feel more like a discipline to an extrovert, but that does not take away from the value of it. Any athlete knows that the saying “No pain–no gain” is simply the reality of training–in order to perform at their peak and enjoy the game to the fullest, they must do the hard, painful, tiring work of training their body in practice. In the same way, we as Christians train our hearts in order to enjoy relationship with God to the fullest, and some of the heart-training (i.e. spiritual discipline) we engage in is difficult and uncomfortable, but still valuable and necessary. So an extroverted person can learn to enjoy the discipline of solitude as well, even if that is not something he would be naturally drawn toward. And the ways in which an extroverted personality engages with God in solitude might look different than an introverted experience of solitude, but that is OK because the aim is still the same, to create space for God to minister to her heart.

So if you–like me–have a more introverted temperament, learn to distinguish between your natural bent toward time alone and an intentional engagement with God in solitude, for the purpose of growth toward maturity in Christ. And if, on the other hand, you find your extroverted personality resisting even the thought of solitude, give it a try, perhaps in small doses, and experiment with ways of utilizing your strong relational skills to engage more deeply with God in that time.

Unhurried Is Not Un-Busy

Last Saturday I had the joy of leading what I call A Day with Jesus, which is simply a small group of people retreating together for half a day to enjoy solitude with God and to share in community with one another. Every time I do that, I am reminded by those who come of how valuable that intentional, extended time with God can be in the midst of much busyness and stress. And yet as valuable as a retreat can be, the reality of our stressful, busy lives makes the choice to retreat very counterintuitive. Especially in certain seasons of life, making space for retreat can feel impossible.

So I was encouraged by an email I received from Gem Fadling of Unhurried Living. This is some of what she shared…

Any of us in life stages where we find ourselves as caretakers can hear about an unhurried life and think, “Yeah, that’ll never happen. Not in this season. I’m just trying to take a shower and put on fresh sweatpants today.”

[Y]our cry is, “I have so many responsibilities. How would I possibly engage anything resembling unhurried time?”

Remember, busy is a matter of calendar. Hurry is a matter of soul.

[I have] a memory of sitting in a rocking chair in my bedroom. I was nursing one of my sons, enjoying the bonding that happens during that time. I remember very distinctly a small voice, whispering in my ear, “You know, this counts.”

I had been accustomed to following my good Christian girl to-do list fairly well. But all of that went out the window moving from one child to two. I loved being a mom, but I couldn’t figure out how to spend time with God the way I had before.

“You know, this counts” was God’s gentle way of saying, “I see you. I know what season of life you are in right now. This moment, with your son…this is how I feel about you. The care you are giving him is good and right. This counts. I am with you. You are with me.”

Every once in a while I would hear the whisper again, “You know, this counts.” It may have been a worship song that was playing in the background or a word of encouragement from a trusted friend. God was showing me that we were together and relating in far more ways than I was giving “credit” for.

My season of life made me tired, scattered and seemingly out of control of my schedule. But God wanted to show me that being with him, in the midst of my very real life, mattered and counted.

[M]y suggestion to you would be to make it a priority to get two to four hours per month in time alone with God in solitude. Not “me time” but honest to goodness solitude. What we call Unhurried Time with God.

Back in that season of young children, Alan and I would give each other that time by caring for our sons so the other could meet with God. We certainly didn’t do it perfectly, but we did our best to have a rhythm of Unhurried Time.

If you don’t have a spouse or relative that can help you, maybe you can swap with a friend. Or even pay for a babysitter or parent-sitter.

In order for the [moments of] “this counts” to have a solid foundation, these reservoir [longer] filling times must be included. I know it sounds impossible. But with a little work and creativity, you can make some time for yourself and God. Think of it as a holy invitation, not a luxury that you cannot afford.

So if you find yourself in a season of life where retreating for a few hours on a Saturday sounds wonderful but impossible, be encouraged by Gem’s realistic and hopeful challenge. And if you need some ideas or assistance in making it happen, feel free to email me and I’d love to walk with you in figuring out a plan that works for your situation.