Category Archives: Patience

Thoughts on God’s mercy

Last night, I woke at 2 AM, which is fairly typical. Last night was a bit different, though, because I was also attacked with an unrelenting darkness that buried me in a dense cloud of shame and worthlessness. That is more infrequent, but that particular dark cloud is not a stranger to my room.

The black cloud that envelopes me seems to whisper at me that I don’t deserve God’s compassion. It is for other people, not for me. I am outside of it looking in the window at God’s mercy to others, but it will never be for me. I’m too…useless, worthless. It’s hard to describe, but I would imagine that I am not the only one who gets attacked by this particular cloud.

The trigger for this particular cloud is that I had fairly intense pain for the last 5 days that there was no relief for. I couldn’t sit. I couldn’t stand. I couldn’t lie down. It wears on you.

I’m telling you this because one thing that chronic pain does is isolate you and make you feel like you are alone – hence, the black cloud. So I am telling you, if you struggle with chronic pain as well, you are not alone. And these thoughts you have are also not unique, nor do they put you outside of God’s compassion.

But let me go on.

I have learned that simply lying there in the dark staring at the ceiling is not an effective solution. So after trying for 30 minutes or so to sleep, I got up and opened my kindle paperwhite to a wonderful book by Dane C. Ortlund called “Gentle and Lowly.” (If you don’t have it, get it now).

He wrote something that stuck on me like a burr and won’t shake off. I want to share it with you so you can think about it with me. He wrote,

“Unlike us, who are often emotional dams ready to break, God can put up with a lot. This is why the Old Testament speaks of God being “provoked to anger” by his people dozens of times….But not once are we told that God is “provoked to love” or “provoked to mercy.” His anger requires provocation. His mercy is pent up, ready to gush forth. We tend to think: divine anger is pent up, springloaded; divine mercy is slow to build. But it is just the opposite.

And I thought about that. It occurred to me that this is a difference between the gods of the pagans and the God of the Bible. The settled state of the gods of the pagans is either anger or indifference. They have to be provoked out of it. This is why they had to eventually offer their children as sacrifices – to try to convince the gods to pay attention to them. It is why Cain offered the sacrifice that he offered. It is why so many churches are full of so many people trying to get God to listen to them, to pay attention. “If only we worked harder, did more, loved more, gave more money, purged ourselves from sin, did better….”

But the settled state of the true God is love. Mercy. Compassion. He must be provoked to anger. And that takes a long, long time. In fact, he is reserving his wrath for the day of judgment. The reason that he delays is that he is not willing that any  should perish, but that all should repent and believe the gospel. The goodness of God should lead us to repentance. He is so good to us that he did not come in judgment as soon as mankind deserved it. He first sent his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish but have everlasting life.

I had everything backwards under my 2 am cloud. I still tend to view God as my earthly father. If I accomplished enough, did enough, made no mistakes, worked hard enough, and found the right formula, then perhaps I can get him to at least notice that I am here.

But God is not my earthly father. He is my Heavenly Father. His settled state is compassion. I don’t have to provoke him to love. His love is already there. It was his love that provoked him to provide a sacrifice for our sins, to speak in human terms. It was his love that caused him to send his only begotten Son into the world, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

My Christian walk is not about trying to appease God’s anger or indifference. It is about resting in his love through faith in His Son, who gave himself for me. In that rest, I can turn outside of myself and my accomplishments and simply love and serve those whom God has placed around me.

It is God’s anger that is provoked, not his love. And that changes everything.

Think about it.

A pagan god – indifferent or angry. Must be provoked to pay attention.

The Covenant God of Abraham – full of compassion and mercy, slow to anger, plenteous in covenant faithfulness and love.

OH – and get Dane Ortlund’s book.

8 But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
9 Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.
10 For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.
(Rom. 5:8-10)

26 Comments

Filed under Gospel, Love, Patience, Thankfulness

Do unto others

It is easy to belittle the overweight man when you eat all you want and never gain a pound.

It is easy to ridicule the chronically ill when you haven’t been sick a day in your life.

It is easy to be exasperated with the parents of a special needs child when you don’t have a special needs child.

It is easy to say, “They just need to spank that kid more” when it isn’t your child.

It is easy to say abuse never happens when it never happens to you.

It is easy to say that sexual assault isn’t that bad, when it didn’t happen to you.

It is easy to say, “I know that guy. He is such a wonderful man. He could never do something like that” if you aren’t the one he has preyed upon.

It is easy to say there is no such thing as a wolf when you refuse to see the sheep’s clothing.

It is easy to rail against welfare and food stamps if you have never been hungry.

It is easy to scoff and mock the one who struggles with same-sex attraction when all of your sexual sins are vanilla and hetero.

It is easy to tell a woman that she has to return to her husband when you have never been in physical or emotional danger.

It is easy to tell a person with anxiety or depression to “get over it” when you don’t have anxiety or depression.

It is easy to say, “Words can’t hurt you” when you have never been subjected to the repeated and regular assault of vicious and contemptuous words.

It is easy to tell another parent how to raise their child.

It is easy to tell your unbelieving neighbor that all they need is Jesus when they are bleeding from wounds you can’t see and couldn’t understand.

It is easy to tell someone that racism doesn’t exist anymore – especially if you are white and middle-class.

What is hard is to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.

What is hard is to bear one another’s burdens.

What is hard is “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

What is hard is to “esteem the other better than yourself, in lowliness of mind.”

To do what is hard takes patience. To do what is hard means to give of yourself and be quick to hear. It takes sacrifice and love and empathy and kindness.

To do what is hard means we have to put aside our pride and understand that we are not the measure of a man, and our experiences are not the infallible, inerrant final word. To do what is hard means that we must put on Christ,

6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:
7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:
8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. (Phi 2:6-8)

But in order to do that, we must put to death the old man. It is the old man that is the expert on everyone else’s life. It is the old man that is the busybody and talebearer. The wicked are characterized by scoffing, not the righteous.

The new man is different. He is being conformed to the image of Christ, who never ridiculed, never mocked, never belittled. When the poor and the lame and the blind and the deaf came to him, he healed them. He listened. He fed them. He commanded us to do the same.

Paul said that the only one capable of helping someone with a fault is the “spiritual one” (Galatians 6:1). The spiritual one is the one led by the spirit, filled with the fruits of the spirit – love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, patience…”

The spiritual one is the one who has learned how to listen, to walk alongside the wounded. She is the one with patience and longsuffering. He speaks words of kindness and edification, not mocking and ridicule.

It takes the new birth to be a spiritual one.

Until you have learned to listen, study to be silent. You don’t know everything. Until then, pray for wisdom. Be diligent to listen. Quit being afraid of people different than you and don’t fear the reproach of men for doing what Christ commanded.

Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. (Phi 4:5)

9 Comments

Filed under Pastoral ministry, Patience

The Humility of Caleb

“But My servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit in him and has followed Me fully, I will bring into the land where he went, and his descendants shall inherit it. (Num 14:24 NKJ)

I’ve been thinking about Caleb lately. Caleb was a slave in Egypt and saw the plagues that God brought on them. He cheered when the Red Sea covered Pharaoh. He sang Miriam’s song of Redemption. He watched his nation under the watchful hand of God travel through the wilderness. How he longed to receive his inheritance!

When the congregation came to the border, ready to invade and take their inheritance, they rebelled. They were afraid of the giants in the land.

And Caleb’s hopes fell. His desire and expectation crushed. And then God spoke to Moses. “Caleb will enter. He was faithful.”

But he had to wait for 40 years. And the worst thing about it was that there was nothing he could do about it.

The other thing that I’ve been thinking about is humility.

Humility is learning that the world is about God’s glory, not your own. Humility is understanding that without the positive decree of God, you won’t take your next breath. Humility is knowing that our God is in the heavens, and does whatever he pleases.

Without humility, no one sees the Lord, for he will not give his glory to another. God resists the proud, but gives strength to the humble (1 Peter 5:5).

But having a theoretical knowledge of humility isn’t enough. Humility must be experienced and learned. For pride is so deeply engrained that we don’t even know it is there. Since God loves us and has promised us the inheritance, he has ways of showing us our pride and calling us to repent of it. And one of the sneakiest forms of pride is revealed when God brings something into our lives that is bitter and difficult, and there is nothing we can do about it.

When we are faced with giants, mountains, Pharaohs, armies; when the dark valleys and black clouds cover everything; when the hurt is too deep, we want to fix it. We want it to stop.

Most of the time, we can find a solution. Most of the time, we can find comfort and peace. Most of the time, there is something that we can do. We get hungry, we eat. We get thirsty, we drink. We get hot, we go swimming. We get cold, we put on a jacket or start a fire.

But we don’t learn humility that way. Humility comes when we are hungry, thirsty, cold, tired, and there is nothing to do about it. Humility comes when the black clouds and giant soldiers block the inheritance and we aren’t strong enough. Humility comes when difficulty becomes unbearable, and there is no solution.

That’s when we go to our knees and cry out to God.

But what about those times when God seems to be silent. What about those times when we know the promises of the Scripture, but we don’t see them anywhere on the earth. What about the times when God’s providence tells us to wait?

This is where Caleb and humility cross paths. Job is known for patience; Elijah for prayers; Samson for strength; Solomon for wisdom.

Caleb should be known for humility. He knew that he didn’t have the strength to overcome the giants, but he knew that God could. His humility gave him courage. But when everything collapsed, and God told him to wait, he waited. His humility was then tempered in the wilderness for forty more years.

We see his character revealed again, forty years later. He said to Joshua, who was now the leader:

7 “I was forty years old when Moses the servant of the LORD sent me from Kadesh Barnea to spy out the land, and I brought back word to him as it was in my heart.
8 “Nevertheless my brethren who went up with me made the heart of the people melt, but I wholly followed the LORD my God.
9 “So Moses swore on that day, saying,`Surely the land where your foot has trodden shall be your inheritance and your children’s forever, because you have wholly followed the LORD my God.’
10 “And now, behold, the LORD has kept me alive, as He said, these forty-five years, ever since the LORD spoke this word to Moses while Israel wandered in the wilderness; and now, here I am this day, eighty-five years old.
11 “As yet I am as strong this day as on the day that Moses sent me; just as my strength was then, so now is my strength for war, both for going out and for coming in.
12 “Now therefore, give me this mountain of which the LORD spoke in that day; for you heard in that day how the Anakim were there, and that the cities were great and fortified. It may be that the LORD will be with me, and I shall be able to drive them out as the LORD said.” (Jos 14:7-12 NKJ)

He was ready. He was 80 years old, and ready to drive out the giants. The Anakim were the biggest and baddest of them all, but Caleb was ready. For forty years, he didn’t rail against God. He didn’t become angry towards his brethren, but still called them brethren. He told the truth about them, but held no hatred in his heart. He waited patiently for the Lord’s time and when God said “now”, Caleb was ready and eager. Did I mention that he was 80 years old?

This is the humility of Caleb. What do we do when faced with a tremendous trial and our hope is deferred? What do we do when that which we long for seems so far away? What do we do when there is nothing that we can do except endure the pain? What do we do when we have exhausted everything that we know to do, when we have said all that there is to say, done everything there is to do? What do we do then?

Wait. You can’t fix it, but you can join Caleb and lift up your eyes to heaven where Christ already is. The inheritance is certain because God promised it. The inheritance is certain because God cannot lie. The inheritance is certain because Jesus died for us and rose again and is even now at the right hand of the Father.

But on this earth, everything is still under the curse. The tears aren’t wiped away until he comes again. The whirlwind still rages all around us. Do what you can, but know this: you can’t fix the curse. You don’t understand the power of sin. You can’t change a heart. You can’t even change your own heart. But you can pray and wait and love. That’s humility and it is only learned the hard way.

You who fear the Lord, trust in the Lord. He is their help and their shield (Psalm 115:11).

A proud man thinks he can fix anything. Humility is learned when the giants come, and God says, “Not now.”

9 Comments

Filed under Hope, Patience, Prayer, salvation