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Faithfulness in Action

When you look up the top qualities essential in any lasting relationship, you’ll find the essence of pistis.  That’s the Greek word found in the list of the fruit of the spirit passage in Galatians 5:22 concerning faithfulness.  Three definitions of pistis include our relationship to God, our attitude about trusting God and Christ and lastly, having a moral conviction or assurance. When it comes to our relationship with others this last definition of pistis reveals itself in these ways according to an article in Psychology Today:

  1. I am trustworthy.
  2. I am honest with others.
  3. I am generally very dependable.
  4. I am loyal to the people I care about.
  5. I am easily able to trust others.

My question today is: when you look at this list can you confidently say “yes that’s me” to all of them?  If so, you are the living proof of the fruit of faithfulness.

All the fruits listed by the apostle Paul can be viewed in these ways: God’s relationship with us, our inner relationship with Him, and the manifestation of that relationship to the world.  Too often we forgo that last part.  We say we know the love of God and love God but is the proof seen by how we love others?  When James tells us, “Faith by itself if not accompanied by action, is dead” (Ja 2:17) it should cause us to step back and do a self-analysis of our works in the name of Christ.

The age-old discussion about faith and works so often looks at one or the other.  While yes, we are saved by faith alone, the proof of that faith is our works in His name.  Some might ask, why do I need to prove my faith to anyone?  While it is dangerous to think we need to prove something to the world we must have a heart change when we are re-born in faith.  That heart seeks to prove to God how much we love, trust and place all our life in His hands.  We do His will each and every day.  And His will, as written over and over in the Bible is to be honest, trustworthy, dependable, loving, caring, good stewards of our treasure and blessings, all while seeking to help others.

"Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share." 1 Timothy 6:18

I am thankful to say I believe the people around me can say that I have always been a loyal, trustworthy and dependable friend.  What I can’t say is that I have always been this way in the Lord’s name.  Before giving my life over to Christ my motivations were based on not wanting others to think badly of me and I held my convictions up in pridefulness.   And now? I can say I apply these traits in ways I would never had in the past.  When God asks me to be dependable to someone I’d rather just not have in my life I tell Him: “yes, if it is your will.”  If He asks me to make a hard choice, one that will display my trustworthiness, I say, “yes.”

That’s the difference between acting as a person of the world and a daughter of Christ.  He’s going to ask you to be faithful to Him and do things in faithfulness for others that our flesh screams against.  That, my friend is real pistis.  

I have a dear friend who has been asked by God to befriend someone who is difficult to love.  It’s not a relative or a longtime acquaintance.  It’s a fairly new person in her life.  I watch and listen as she lives in obedience and faithfulness to God in this situation.  The dependableness she shows this other person is the proof of her faithfulness, not just to God but to the world around her.  There is no grumbling, gossip, or “donkeyness” (you know, being dragged to do good).  She does it out of love for her Father who loves her deeply.

Friends, some of you regularly back out of commitments, we tell little lies to cover up our transgressions, we drop our friends at the first sign of conflict.  Before God can trust us in the work He wants us to do for the kingdom let’s start with the small stuff in our own lives.  Not because we have to but because we are faithful to a God who is faithful to us.  It might just shock a few people into wondering about this change in you.  And when asked we can say, “God is doing a good work in me.”

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Our Faithfulness to the Father

I met Jill* when I volunteered to be part of a new discipleship program at my church.  I was to guide her through a program which helps newer or younger believers understand their faith in God and Jesus.  At our first meeting she described her life situation as fairly dire.  After becoming pregnant as a teenager much of her family disowned her.  If not for her godparents she would have found herself destitute.  Fortunately, she and her mother eventually came to a place in their relationship where she and her son could temporarily live in her mother’s house.  

As I listened, I discovered a few things.  First, her professed Christian grandfather had a lot to learn about love.  At every turn he made her and her son feel outside the love of God because of her sin.  Second, I realized, having asked her what she believed, her faith was based on what others believed.  She could not answer what she honestly believed.  And lastly, I witnessed how easily it is for us to focus on the terrible things in our life and push God to the outskirts.  

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind."  James 1:5-6

I’ve referenced the book of James before because it is a no nonsense look at life’s reality – we will experience trials and temptations.  We shouldn’t be surprised by this statement.  Sure, we are maybe stunned by what the trial is or the level of its awfulness.  But we live in a broken world full of sin and sinful people.  The key to all of this is first seeking God’s wisdom in a trial.  Turning to Him before all else.  And secondly, to have faith without doubting that He will find a way.  That path He works you through might have a few more bumps and bruises in store but with our eyes fixed firmly on Him we will also see the blessings before us.  And when we feel we can’t or don’t know what to pray?  We ask the Holy Spirit for help.  “Help me stay faithful, help me to know what to pray!”

So why did I bring up Jill?  Over the next few months, I tried encouraging her to ask God in prayer for direction, both about a job and her housing.  I pointed out the blessings in the midst of her trial.  I urged her to see the work God was doing in her life.  What I got back from her was the opposite.  I’m sure we have all been in relationships like this (or maybe we’ve been the one like this).  At each turn a blessing she received was still not good enough.  There was always something else wrong.  She told me she was getting nothing from God.  And yet she had a place to live, food to eat, a school for her son, a church that was helping her, and someone to talk to – me.

How many of us when we are in the inevitable troughs of life, troughs that feel lacking in joy and love, create an equally deep trough of faith?  If asked that question just a couple years ago I would have raised my hand in agreement.  God’s not there.  God’s not listening.  God doesn’t care about me.  God doesn’t see me.  And sometimes leading to my cry, “I don’t believe in you anymore!”  

Friend, God never, ever leaves.  He never stops listening and responding.  He never stops loving.  But we do.  And it’s time to start a new practice.  I used to tell the girls I coached in softball, “If you keep practicing something the wrong way you will get very good at doing it…the wrong way.”  So, yes, it’s time to look in the mirror and tell yourself a new approach is needed.  A new way of practicing our faith.  The second life takes a twist we must drop to our knees in faith.  We become people with buckets overflowing with faithfulness rather than fruitlessness.  Because let’s be honest, the old way really wasn’t working that great in the first place, right?

"When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, 'Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith.'" Matthew 8:10

Do you want to be recognized by Jesus like the Roman centurion who pled with Jesus to heal his servant?  He told Jesus he had faith that Jesus didn’t even need to come to his house in order to perform the miracle.  He told Jesus – “just say it and it will be done.”  Whew!  That’s some amazing faith for a man who shouldn’t have had anything to do with this Jew.

I love this quote by Charles Spurgeon about our relationship with the Almighty during difficult times:

When you go through a trial, the sovereignty of God is the pillow upon which you lay your head.

Charles Spurgeon

When it comes right down to it you have to ask yourself, “Do I trust God? Do I have real faith that He is faithful?”  Not just in the good but in the bad.  When you are facing homelessness, financial ruin, the death of a loved one, sickness, pain, betrayal, and more – are you finally ready to say to Him, “You give every good and beautiful thing. And I know you will work this out for my good.”?

It’s time for a perspective shift in our faith lives.  Seek the blessings.  Search them out more earnestly than we do trying to find the worst in any situation.  You’ll find it’s not that difficult after a while.  That’s the fruit of faithfulness.  That’s loving a God who loves you deeply.

I have read mystery and detective books my whole life, starting with Nancy Drew.  Recently I decided to use any free time to read various theological books.  I’m currently in the midst of the Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis.  For those not in the know about this book, it’s letters from a “head” demon advising a lower demon on how to best ensure his assigned “patient” goes to hell.  I was writing this post on faithfulness and came across this passage:

“In a week or two you will be making him doubt whether or not the first days of his Christianity were not, perhaps, a little excessive.  Talk to him about ‘moderation in all things’.  If you can once get him to the point of thinking that ‘religion is all very well up to a point’, you can feel quite happy about his soul.  A moderated religion is as good for us as no religion at all – and more amusing.  Your affectionate uncle, Screwtape.  

On the troughs of faith, The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis

Think on that spiritual battle in your next trough.  Will you allow it to pull you further down?  Or will you fight back in faithfulness?

Coming up: Faithfulness in action

*Jill is not her real name

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Fruit of the Spirit: Faithfulness

A few years ago, one of my daughters was going through some really tough stuff.  If you are a mother, you know how much it hurts to watch your child go through trials.  On top of her situation, I was struggling with my own demons, you might say.  I found myself standing in my bedroom crying.  Feeling so much hopelessness and despair.  And betrayal.  Not by any earthly being, but betrayal by God.  I looked up through my tears and yelled out, “That’s it.  I’m not going to believe in you anymore.  I’m done.”

And then I laughed.  Yes, I laughed.  Because God turned right around and said to me, “If you don’t believe in me then why are you talking to me?”  It’s impossible to feel betrayed by something you don’t believe exists!  He made it clear to me He wasn’t going anywhere.  I then needed to decide if I was going to stay as faithful to Him as He has always promised to be to me.

For great is his love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever. Praise the Lord. Psalm 117:2

God’s faithfulness to us lowly humans has never really been in question.  It started in Genesis 1 when He created the heavens and the earth and then mankind.  He made it clear that this beautiful, bountiful place we call home was designed for us.  To sustain us and to bring us joy.  And although scientists have yet to confidently determine the age of this planet, we can at least say it’s been here longer than we have.  He carefully prepared the table for us and continues to have it serve His beloved people.

“Sometimes His work goes on quickly, and sometimes it goes on slowly.  Man is frequently impatient and thinks that nothing is being done.  But humanity’s time is not God’s time.  A thousand years in His sight are but as a single day.  The great Builder makes no mistakes.  He knows what He is doing.  He sees the end from the beginning. 

 J.C. Ryle

This week as we look at the fruit of the spirit: faithfulness, I will venture into three areas.  First, today, the faithfulness of God to us.  Then the opposite path –our faithfulness to Him.  And last, how our fruit of faithfulness sees its work in the world. 

I think it’s almost a given now that in each era theologians, pastors, Christians, and even non-believers determine “this is it.”  The world is coming to an end.  Some have found “proof” that the goings on of man are evidence that we are in the end times found in Revelations.  But it’s the view of the “end” taken so often that is fascinating.  The idea that God is now so done with us that He is going to rain down fire and smote the wicked has reared up throughout the ages.

To be sure, God keeps His promises.  He has since the first covenant with man.  And this version of the world, as we know it will one day end.  Many would view that as a scary and unloving idea.  That is, if we didn’t see God as loving and ever-faithful.

If you wish to know God, you must know His Word. If you wish to perceive His power, you must see how He works by His Word. If you wish to know His purpose before it comes to pass, you can only discover it by His Word.

Charles Spurgeon

When my Bible Study Girls decided to delve into the book of Revelations many of us did so with trepidation. We were told by pastors and others how difficult and, at times, worrisome, the book can be.  In the end, what we learned was God is a faithful and merciful God.  He is working right now to create a New Eden.  One that sees no pain or suffering.  One where love reigns supreme.  Evil exists no more.  A place where the complete fulfillment of His covenant with man is revealed.  The only thing we have to do is be faithful in return.

My friends, God has never left us.  He’s not planning to, ever.  He has shown up in your life every, single day. Yes, even when it felt too hard.  Has He solved all your problems?  No.  Has He provided a path toward all your problems being solved one day?  Yes.  He has never stopped loving you or me.  

Of all the fruits of the spirit, it is faithfulness that can teach us so much about God and how to blossom in the other fruit.  Faithfulness is not just about knowing God.  As James 2:19 says, “You believe that there is one God.  Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder.”  No, faithfulness is about stick-to-it-ness because you love and respect something so much.

I will sing of the Lord’s great love forever;
    with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known
    through all generations.
I will declare that your love stands firm forever,
    that you have established your faithfulness in heaven itself. Psalm 89:1-2

God has never disappeared.  Even during the most horrific events in time.  Even during the worst of situations now.  When you seek Him, you will definitely see Him.  And He will say, “Keep talking to me.  I’m not going anywhere.”

Coming up: Our Faithfulness to the Father

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The Result of Goodness

A few years ago, tragedy struck popular Christian singer Toby Mac’s life.  When his 21 year old son died of a drug overdose he found himself in deep despair.  And wouldn’t we all?  The next few songs he wrote reflected that state of incredible sadness.  One day, he asked God if this was where he would sit the remainder of his life.  God, in his infinite goodness, began a new work in the singer.  Through the Holy Spirit, the beauty and glory of God were revealed to him in what Mr. Mac calls, “glimpses.”

I wrote on a napkin one day, ‘you’re still the goodness in my life,’ and I started to believe that, and to see how God is good to me. That’s when I wrote “The Goodness,” and it felt like a celebration, because I began to think about how gracious God is, and how He gives us little glimpses of His goodness, even in the valley.  

Toby Mac, on You’re the Goodness in My Life

The result of understanding and experiencing God’s goodness was an action by the singer.  An act I would call of kindness.  He wrote the world a song to help so many others see those glimpses during their difficult trials.

Too often we take the gifts of God and create a narrow narrative on what they should look like.  Hospitality “should” be a beautiful home, sumptuous meal and perfectly made up host.  Joy means always being “happy.” Love means not only accepting everyone’s choices but willingly going along with them.  You see what I mean?  We all know, in our hearts and minds those are false narratives.  And yet we still succumb to them.  Kindness falls into the same trap.

When the Holy Spirit does his work in us He does it in concert with our gifts and talents, I believe.  For Toby Mac, an accomplished musician, that meant creating something beautiful musically for all the world to enjoy.  He didn’t have to write that song and record it.  He could’ve kept it to himself.  But I’m sure the Holy Spirit whispered to him, “This is what I want you to do.”

While I have written before the importance of prayer when it comes to so many decisions in our life, when we seek to merge our life to reflect God, we will know what kindness done with our talents can look like on a daily basis.  We don’t have to ask, we will know.  We may need that whisper or nudge but if I were sitting having lunch with you right now and asked how you could be kind to your neighbors you would have a few ideas that would differ from mine.  And all of them God would say, “It is good.” 

The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love;
    I have drawn you with unfailing kindness. Jeremiah 31:3

Our daily walk in soaking in God’s unfailing goodness and the Holy Spirit’s transforming power of helping us shine that goodness will lead us to the fruit of kindness.  Fruit that is so juicy and good.  We won’t feel as though we “have to” help that neighbor or stranger.  We will feel impelled to.  Just like God doesn’t feel He has to be nice to us – He loves us so much it’s just His essence!

Kindness to me may look like asking my neighbors to overwhelm our new neighbor with a newborn with boxes of diapers.  To you, it might be a hot lasagna tray or trimming their bushes.  Kindness to a homeless person can be just a moment of talking to them or an invite for a meal or shower.  

I once called the police to come and check on a homeless person laying across the sidewalk and onto the street.  I feared the was dead.  Many, many people had walked and driven by the man.  When the police came, they took him (alive) to a shelter.  Yes, that was kindness too.  Not leaving someone in a distressed or dangerous state.  Isn’t that the type of kindness God does for us most often?  At least that’s what the Holy Spirit did for Toby Mac.  Through His love, goodness and kindness He lifted him out of despair and put him back on his fruit-filled journey.

Friend, if you aren’t sure or feel uncomfortable about selfless acts of kindness look to our Father.  He doesn’t hesitate with us.  He gives generously and freely.  And if we want to be imitators of “good,” bountiful fruit bearers, He shows us the way each and every day in our own lives.  

You may find it almost impossible to keep your minds always tending upwards, but at any rate, while you are here, “look up” with eyes uplifted to the hills where comes your help. Happy will it be for you, if by the good Spirit of God you can but get the eye so fixed upon the goodness of God now, that you shall become so fascinated, that your attention cannot be taken off that glorious object; it will be a blessing to you, a great blessing which will bear you through all your trials, and make you suck honey from the rock, and oil out of the flinty rock.

Charles Spurgeon

Next week: Faithfulness

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Selfishness vs Selflessness

I recently heard a riff off of Martin Luther’s theology of baptism: “I was drowned in the water of baptism but that sucker can float.”  Picture your selfish flesh coming up like a zombie out of the water each morning.  The battle of being fully sinful and fully cleansed commences.  A battle that will not be won until the day Jesus returns and raises us from the dead.  Sounds a bit disheartening doesn’t it? 

Each day we face the prospect of allowing the world to take control of our thoughts and actions.  Our desire to be vengeful, a worry-wort, greedy, immoral, and selfish sits at the end of the bed beckoning us like a zombie siren song.  

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Ephesians 6:12

When I was a child, our cartoons frequently portrayed this great battle.  The everyday man, when faced with even everyday choices found a little devil and little angel sitting upon his shoulder.  So often the devil would seemingly win.  Why? Because he brings the shiny things.  The opportunities for immediate gratification, fame and glory.  What the cartoons also portrayed is the angel’s way always wins in the end.  The gratification of self always led to some sort of personal destruction.

For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. James 3:16

The problem with the cartoons was it showed “obeying” the angel as less fun and satisfying.  Isn’t that what so many of us really think when we talk about obeying God?  Removing the fun out of life.  Becoming monk-like in our ways.  James describes disorder, lack of peace, lack of love.  Those don’t actually sound like fun while the opposite does.  So I harken back to the previous post’s question, “Who do you love and admire?”

When we honestly answer that question we can then get to the root of our desires.  As a professing Christian our desire for “the good life” should come from a desire to selflessly love and worship God, not ourselves. 

How great is your (God) goodness that you would choose us, and predestinate us to be conformed into the image of your Son, that he might be the first-born among many brethren, and we the happy brethren who should be transformed into his likeness!

Charles Spurgeon

We are God’s chosen.  He brings you out of the water cleansed every morning, ready to put on your full armor of God (Eph 6).  Ready to please and love God, not the water zombie at the foot of the bed.  We stay close to Him by soaking ourselves in His Word.  Watering our roots deeply so our branches grow strong.  We talk to Him throughout the day in prayer so the Holy Spirit can guide us in our fruit production.  We thank Him at every possible turn so our good fruit can bless others.

We humans know, it’s implanted in our hearts and souls, that our selfish ways are destructive.  But the pull is so great.  It can only be counteracted by turning our face toward our Creator.  Relying on Him as the broken, sinful people we know we are.  To become selfless we need to be less of ourselves and instead more as people yearning to grab ahold of God’s saving mercy and grace pulling us up from the waters into His arms.

Coming up: The result of goodness

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Fruit of the Spirit: Goodness & Kindness

When my eldest daughter was little, she loved and admired her grandfather greatly.  She loved him to such an extent that if she were caught doing something she shouldn’t, he could just look at her and she’d cry.  She wanted so much to please him that she would do anything to be in his good graces.  My question for you is, who do you love and admire so much that you would do just about anything in order to please them?  You take their advice.  You model your behavior and even thoughts after them.  You may not even realize you have a relationship like this with someone but you probably do.  

The danger is that, as infallible humans, we will invariably get something wrong.  It’s how our idols fall into disfavor.  Relationships get fractured when the one we’ve placed on the pedestal fails us.  There has only been one person that walked this planet who truly deserves that level of devotion – Jesus.  So, my other question is, have you placed God at the top of the list of ones you most love and desire to reflect?

Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God. 3 John 11

What exactly is this “good” that is a reflection or imitation of God?  The word “good” is written 725 times in our Bible.  From Genesis 1:4 all the way to 3 John we read of good and goodness.  I’ll take a leap here and say that of all the fruits of the spirit, love, peace and goodness may be the most misunderstood by Christians and especially non-Christians.  

When we say something is “good” its use can be as widespread as “loving” something thing.  “I love good sourdough bread” is not the same as “loving our neighbors reflects the goodness of God.”  The first is a fleshly desire of something made well.  The second describes a self-less act imitating the character of God.

God is not merely good, but goodness; goodness is not merely divine, but God.

C.S. Lewis

Each one of the fruit of the spirit listed by Paul in Galatians deals with either the state of our soul and/or an action thereof.  All of the fruit are a result of the Holy Spirit’s work in us in creating us more like Jesus.  Therefore, the “goodness” in this list requires us first to investigate what is the goodness of God?

Oh, how abundant is your goodness,
    which you have stored up for those who fear you
and worked for those who take refuge in you,
    in the sight of the children of mankind! Psalm 31:19

When you look up the word “goodness” in Strong’s Concordance it has you refer to the index.  In the index it equates what goodness refers to in various parts of scripture.  All the references are attached to God’s character:

  • Abundant (Exodus 34:6)
  • Great   (Psalm 31:19)
  • Enduring (Psalm 52:1)
  • Satisfying (Psalm 65:4)

I would add to this list that God’s loving character also brings these other good things to our world: light, faithfulness, joy, mercy, and grace.  The words “it was good” are used over and over coming from God’s mouth to describe His glorious creation —  His great love in action.

When I said that the word “goodness” or “good” is listed among some of the most misunderstood I meant this – that apart from God no one’s soul imitates this goodness.  Yes, even that person that seems really, really good.  

If you ask a Humanist or atheist to define their morals or values, they’ll probably list things that actually are God-given commands.  The difference is, commands such as “do not steal” become wishy washy depending upon the non-believer’s circumstances.  You see, we ALL choose someone or something to imitate and hold up as the pinnacle of moral authority.  But non-Christians (and unfortunately some Christians) hold up humans as that authority.  And we are and do what we love, made worse when it is ourself.

Goodness is virtue and holiness in action. It results in a life characterized by deeds motivated by righteousness and a desire to be a blessing. It’s a moral characteristic of a Spirit-filled person. The Greek word translated “goodness,” agathosune, is defined as “uprightness of heart and life.” 

Got Questions, A Christian Podcast

Righteousness, “uprightness,” can only come from one source: the sacrifice of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  He not only cleansed us of the guilt and sin we carry but made it so we can be called to goodness.  To reflect the goodness of God.  

God wants to be united with us in full.  He loves us, brings us joy and peace.  He’s asking us to be so in love with Him, so admiring of Him that we too want to fill our souls and the world with light, abundance, mercy and grace.  To set aside all other idols and place Him front and center.  For when we do, our goodness will naturally lead us to action.  Those actions are called love, patience and kindness.

Coming up: Selfishness or Selflessness

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Endurance Brings Hope

Quite possibly the greatest lesson in the Bible about patience and endurance (both makrothymia) or lack thereof, is the one of Abraham and Sarah.  The Lord comes to Abraham and promises that he will be the father of literally millions (Gen 15:5) and yet for years and years Abraham remained childless.  He began to doubt God’s faithfulness in His promises.  So, he and Sarah decided impatiently to take matters into their own hands and create a child of Abraham through a slave girl.  That child, Ishmael, became the thorn in the Israelites’ side until this very day.  And even though they tried to circumvent God, God still came through on His promise with the birth of their own son even after Sarah was determined to be post-child birthing age.

They had hoped.  They had endured.  Until they didn’t.  Abraham and Sarah created their own timeline based on their inaccurate belief in the limited power of God.

When was the last time you said, “It’s too late. It’ll never happen.”? Although what you have prayed for might not come to fruition as you have asked, God is still working with you in the situation. Sometimes it seems you’ve been listening and waiting patiently yet at every turn you feel thwarted, abused, attacked, broken. It’s time like these that our faith is tested. You are not alone. Each one of the apostles, men who had spent hours, days, years in the very presence of God would have to then learn to keep trusting, keep enduring.

He is lining up your circumstances in a way that is better than you could ever imagine.  When you wait for the Lord, you should look forward to what He will do with joyful expectation and confident hope, because He is providing the very best for you.”  

Charles Stanley, 30 Life Principles

He wants the very best fruit to come out of you.  Not just a red apple, but the juiciest red apple you’ve ever tasted.  He wants trees rooted deeply in Him, watered richly by Him and grown in His beautiful light.  It means in those times of trials, long suffering (also makrothymia) we don’t let go.  We don’t try and go it alone.

I waited patiently for the Lord;
    he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
    out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
    and gave me a firm place to stand. Psalm 40:1-2

Our hope can endure because we know He is a God who gives generously (James 1:5).  He will provide in our darkest times; we need only look for Him in the circumstance.  We patiently wait for our hope to bloom into something bigger and more beautiful which may be when we finally are home in heaven.  

Notice that we take action while waiting?  Patiently is an adverb.  It describes an activity.  While we endure through our trial we pray, we seek His love, we experience His joy and peace.  We watch for ways He is using us to help others.

The key to patience is faith in the all-embracing, all-guiding, all-wise, all-gracious providence of God to transform all the interruptions of his children into rewards. Can we not, then, write in big letters, as a heading over our lives and over every frustration, “Satan, you meant that for evil; God meant it for good” (Gen 5:2)? 

John Piper

Friends, we are all waiting.  Waiting for small things and very large things.  We are waiting for the disappearance of pain and the appearance of our hopes come alive.  At times, we say we wait to feel complete or more alive.  And God is saying be patiently waiting, watching, learning, trusting.  He is doing great things in you.

Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy. James 5:10-11


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Impatiently Waiting

There must not be many other words in human language that can evoke as much negative response as the word “wait.”  For what?  How long?  Why? No one likes to wait it seems.  We don’t want to wait in line, wait for the doctor, wait for the test results, wait for the phone call and so much more.  We’ve created online shopping so we don’t have to wait to go searching around town for what we need.  We have fast food so we don’t have to wait to cook a homemade meal.  And although modern conveniences can help us to accomplish other, more important tasks, there are plenty of things worth waiting for.  The birth of child, a harvest, the right spouse, freshly baked bread are but a few!

There are, however, clear times that, if we want to blossom as Christians, we need to not only wait but wait patiently, not allowing our fleshly desires to supersede God’s omniscience.  To marry or not, to have children, take that job, move to another home, how to deal with difficult people or situations, medical decisions – all these potentially life-altering choices should be sought patiently in wisdom with the Lord.  I have heard from too many Christians about failed marriages because they were too impatient to wait for the right person.

“Do not run ahead of God!  The delays may be very challenging for you, but they are growing your faith in Him.  Look to Him, strengthen yourself in His Word and love, remain confident that He is working on your behalf.”  

Charles Stanley, 30 Life Principles

So ok, we get it.  We need to wait on God’s wisdom.  But the waiting isn’t the fruit.  The waiting is the fertilizer, the opportunity for the fruit, which is patience in that waiting.

My friends and family know I have not typically been a patient person.  I’m a doer.  I make decisions and get things done.  I hate waiting around for other people.  Until one day it hit me.  What does my impatientness (another word I made up) look like to the world?  If I were to ask you the characteristics of an impatient person, you’d probably say someone who looks angry, frustrated, annoyed, maybe even beligerent.  To the world it looks like someone lacking in the other fruits  — love, joy and peace.  

My getting frustrated in waiting was fruit killing.  The killer spray I was using on my fruit was my pride.  I knew better how to make things happen faster, more efficient, more productive.  I knew better than almost anyone I encountered, especially God.  And the world says, “Why should I be a Christian if I still look like that?”

They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.  Titus 1:16

Yikes!  Talk about a conviction.  True patience isn’t really just a lack of doing something.  It’s also about what’s going on inside our hearts and heads.  Are we thinking loving, joyful thoughts during a “waiting” moment?  Do we have peace from God knowing He has a plan for us in this time?  Because I’ll tell you my friend, if we stand in line tapping our foot and being annoyed we might just miss the opportunity to help an elderly person who is struggling with her groceries.  

The line, the wait, is just as long for Christians and non-Christians.  Are we to be the same in how we deal with it?   Or are we to remember “the eye of life’s tornados is the calm hope of our final destination”  as Christian author Dane Ortlund observes?   At all times. 

These short term opportunities for patiently waiting help build up our long-term waiting muscles.  When the pregnancy hasn’t happened, yet.  When the right job hasn’t come along, yet.  When the pain hasn’t gone away, yet.  When our sons and daughters haven’t accepted the Lord, yet.  These aren’t times to get impatient.  They are times to show the world what we believe is true.

Each of those “yets” is a hope we place in God’s faithful, loving hands.  He’s asking us to trust Him, just like He asked Abraham, the Israelites, and the apostles.  He’s saying, “Wait.”  More importantly He’s saying, “Wait patiently without fretting, without worry, without fear.  Trust me.”

Is there something you are hoping for today?  Ask Him in prayer.  Then wait patiently.  It may not be answered today or tomorrow or even in 10 years.  But during that time of patience He will do great things in and through you.

Coming up: From Endurance to Hope 

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Fruit of the Spirit: Patience

I knew I would be asked to take the position.  I was naturally the next in line of succession.  They knew I had the leadership skills and an investment in the organization.  When the call came, I said, “Yes” without much thought.  Partially out of pride and partially out of what felt like the inevitable, I accepted the two-year commitment.  It wasn’t until after my answer did I ask God to bless my decision.  A bit late.  His gift, you might say, to me was two years of lessons I would not have learned otherwise.  Lessons, if offered prior, to which I would have said “No thank you.”

My lack of patience in making important decisions brought me head on to one definition of the word “makrothymia.”  That’s the original Greek for the word we call patience in the list of the fruits of the Spirit (Gal 5:22).  Other meanings include forbearance, endurance, and longsuffering.  Those two years had long lasting effects as I endured character assassinations, hatred slung at me, friends deserting me, and more.  You see, with my simple, impatient answer of “yes” I had committed to being the PTA* president of a large elementary school.  A volunteer job that made me the lightning rod for all complaints, anger and frustrations from the parents of more than 1,000 school children.

Looking back, I realized even with waiting patiently for God to give me an answer I probably would have been led to the same decision.  My skills were needed to help shepherd the school through large-scale changes.  However, had I waited for His go ahead I would have had a completely different outlook on the result.  I saw what was happening to me as almost a punishment for not seeking His counsel first.  I have since understood that God forgives us for our sins but He doesn’t always save us from the consequences.  During that two year journey I learned that He did, in fact, know better than me.  And it was time to start leaning into that truth.

Some of the antonyms to patience include defiance, resistance and disobedience.  Well-worn words throughout the Old Testament.  Oh, those impatient Israelites!  It’s a good thing we are nothing like them!

Some became fools through their rebellious ways
    and suffered affliction because of their iniquities. Psalms 107:17 

That one line in Psalm 107 could be the end of the story.  However, as Christians we must remember this essential truth: He loves us.  He loves us so immensely, desires glorious joy in our lives, and peace in our souls that He doesn’t leave us to suffer.  We need only ask for help.  Psalm 107 goes on:

Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he saved them from their distress.
He sent out his word and healed them;
    he rescued them from the grave.
Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
    and his wonderful deeds for mankind. Psalms 107:19-21

I cried a lot those two years.  I cried in pity for myself.  I cried from hurt feelings.  I cried out of helplessness.  And then I cried out to God.  He told me to endure.  To keep doing the job I promised to do, but do it in His name.

It slowly dawned on me I had the entire process of faith down wrong.  It seems too simple: Ask God first.  Wait patiently for His answer.  Act on His answer.  It doesn’t mean the seas won’t churn.  It doesn’t mean there won’t be a few weeds in the garden.  It does mean we are acting in His will and trusting that He has good plans for us.

Believing the providence of God, embracing the providence of God, enables us to be patient and faithful in the long, dragged-out, often unexpected trials of life, amidst the most inexplicable circumstances, detours, and delays that, from our limited viewpoint, make no sense. 

John Piper

So, my friends, this week as we look at “makrothymia,” let’s first remember before we can even hope to bloom in patience or endurance, we must trust the love of God.

* For those of you not in the United States PTA is the organization at many schools that supports parents and teachers through volunteering and fundraising.

Coming up: Waiting impatiently

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Resting In Peace

I sat in the back of the car texting my husband about our travels that day.  Suddenly, we experienced yet another brush with death.  Our car came within inches of having the entire left side (the side I was on) shorn by a large truck.  My friends in the front seat continued their ongoing murmur of bickering about driving skills and directions.  My next text to my husband went something like this:

Me: I realized I might die today and I’m ok with that.

My Husband: What??

Me: Ya, we almost just died a few times today but somehow I’m ok with it.

When I tell my friends about this moment they think I’m being funny and exaggerating.  One friend then inquired, “but weren’t you terrified and angry?”  I said, “No, really I was at peace.”

My reaction to our death-defying adventure that day reminded me of these few verses in Pastor John Newton’s famous hymn, “Amazing Grace.”

"Through many dangers, toils, and snares I have already come; 
His grace has brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home."

I’ll tell you friends, my reaction that day was a first for me. Neither the near miss or the bickering could take away the peace I was experiencing. I saw the bickering as my friends’ natural way of communicating with each other over their 60 years of loving marriage. Somehow it worked for them. And as for that little death thingy? I realized I had zero control over the situation. No amount of my yelling about my friend’s driving, yelling at the other driver, fretting , crying or whatever would change the situation. We were in the middle of nowhere so I couldn’t even demand we pull over and let me out.

Instead, I sat back and did the only things I could do: pray and worship.  I didn’t beg God to save me.  I told Him I trusted Him.  If He had more things for me to do here on Earth then I would do them.  I watched as beautiful scenery sped by and I thanked Him for His glorious creation.  I thanked Him for my sweet little family whom I love and I know loves me.  

I tell this story because this hasn’t always been me.  I didn’t even realize it could be me until that very moment.  Until I was tested by the Lord.  Let’s just say I’m a really talented “backseat driver.”  Or as my husband can attest, a well-practiced jump seat boss.  The Holy Spirit and I have worked diligently on this topic.  With each foray into my husband searching for parking places, driving past our freeway exits or taking different, less efficient routes for errands, the Holy Spirit has set on my right shoulder prodding me into silence.

It’s my desires of the flesh – pride and anger — that get me into so much trouble during these times.  I know best.  And if you don’t take my advice, it’s a punishable offence.  But I’m heartened to know I’m probably the only one with this problem, correct?  

Joy and patience are far above our strength…We must persevere in prayer that He may not permit our hearts to faint…Prayer and perseverance are necessary in our daily conflicts. The best remedy to the weariness is diligence in prayer.

John Calvin

When I realized I could not, by my own doing, take on this task of peacefulness  while not in the driver’s seat I turned to God in prayer.  It’s He that gives me the reminders.  It’s He that tugs at my mind and heart.  It’s by the Holy Spirit’s strength that not only does my mouth stay shut (mostly) but my mind turns to something else. And lo and behold, we still arrive at our destination.  We may walk a bit father but we still get there!  While I still struggle with this sin our Saturday errand trips have become more peaceful ventures.  

This training each week led me to that moment in the back of my friends’ car.  To my possible “meeting my Maker” moment.  Not only did I have peace but also joy in knowing I have the love of the Lord on my side whether I’m here for another day or two or not.  And I had love for my friends.  They had taken the day to share an adventure with me, to share their time with me. And what an adventure it was!

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?" Matthew 6:25-27

I know I can’t, by worry or fear or anger, add a single hour to my life.  I do know that with prayer and worship He will make my life more peaceful and beautiful.  And for that I am forever grateful.  Peace be with you my friends.