From Pastor Lee, with love
For a few months Pastor Lee preached from 1 Corinthians 13:1-8. His sermons started with the point that we need a better understanding of what love is and the need to be intentional about it. We use the word too often and too glibly. I admit, I love my refrigerator. But Lee encouraged us to rethink the phrases we use so we don’t overuse the word love and lose sight of what an amazing thing love is. We are trying to do this in our house.
Then he showed that we should want Christ and the love of Christ more than anything else. Without that we are nothing. If we do lots of good things but with the wrong attitude or motivation, it is still nothing. Like parenting in the pew, it matters that we do it the right way – not with an “attitude”.
His next sermons demonstrated that to love well we need humility and patience. I noted that he said “how dare we be defeatists about love.” No, we can’t do this in ourselves but we do this in Christ. Through Him and with His love, we can serve others without worrying about what we need or losing patience. I should be humbled by what I have received from God.
He mentioned that when revenues are down, we cut expenses. But the reverse is true with love. When we are getting less love we are called to be merciful and gracious and give love, and in abundance. I know this is not my natural tendency. I can hold a grudge, and if I’m snubbed I want to snub back to make sure it’s clear I know I was snubbed.
Clearly, getting irritated, being grumpy or short with people, a rude tone of voice, holding grudges – all of these are not how Christians should behave. In fact, to be baldly honest, they are all sins. They describe sinful behavior. Not just undesirable behavior, or socially awkward attitudes. They are wrong, an affront to a holy God who has called us, sent His Son to die for us, an affront to the Holy Savior who bore all our sins and died on a cross for us, and an affront to the Holy Spirit who lives inside of us to change our hearts and minds and transform us into new creations.
Pastor Lee makes it clear that all of these things cannot be done in our own strength. He admitted that all of the things in this chapter are impossible to do on our own. And the opposite behaviors are our natural tendency. When we fail (which is all the time) we should repent, turn to God, admit our behavoir is wrong, and actively seek His power and help to change.
What does patience look like? During one sermon I realized that some of the latest conflicts in my house and at work were due to my habit of speaking in shorthand. I have developed a bad habit of starting many conversations in the middle. I seem to assume the person I’m talking to is aware of the internal conversation I’ve been having with myself for the past few minutes, or hours, or days. And then I get upset or frustrated when they respond in their ignorance of my internal conversation.
Maybe it’s related to a desire to be efficient. We’re all busy and have many things to do, so the less time we spend rehashing and spelling out details, surely the better off we are. We can quickly move on to something else. I’m now trying to be more conscious of what I’m going to ask someone. I ask myself whether I need to be clearer in describing what I was thinking about or assuming that led up to the question I want to ask or task I want them to do.
Another area where I need patience is when my ‘need to be understood’ is rearing its ugly head. This is closely related to the internal conversation dilemma. I will not always be understood. Even close friends and family will not always know or be able to understand me. And its likely that at any given moment it is more important for me to seek to understand the other person instead.
Relationships can be so much work, and often get messy. Relationships can be so easy and provide encouragement and support and laughter. They are worth the effort, but it is too easy to focus on the wrong things. We all talk about how busy we are and how much we are all doing. That is probably true and we should evaluate our lives to see if we are doing too much, sacrificing excellent things for time spent doing too many good things. But often, what we are really saying is we are so busy doing things we are called to do, serving others as God has given us opportunity, that we don’t have “me time.” Time to spend on my own personal pursuits or hobbies.
This can lead us to get impatient and even rude with others because they are keeping us from something else we had planned to do. But really, how much “me time” do I need? And which is more rewarding and encouraging, time spent serving God or time spent watching tv or reading a novel? Being patient and present with people, showing love, makes them feel valued. We all know we appreciate when someone really pays attention to us, takes time to see us, listen to us, and really understand where we are at that moment.
Besides, being rushed and stressed instead of accepting where we are makes us anxious and worried. Then we aren’t a blessing to others, and we don’t bring glory to God.
The Doobie Brothers song Black Water has these lyrics
And I ain’t got no worries
‘Cause I ain’t in no hurry at all
We can be impatient, in a hurry, rushing through life and past people. Or we can be patient, kind, gentle, not insisting on our own way, and loving. And that usually means we have less worries.
Bearing and enduring
According to a personality test I took in grad school, my job right now is a very bad fit for me. I’m not one of those people who thrives in critical situations or turning around struggling projects. Yet I’m supporting a tool that is mostly used during critical situations when tempers are already flaring and our project is in serious need of turning around. Add in the economy and the reactions by the company to that economy that keep reducing our labor force and increasing our workload, and I’m usually not in a good place at work.
I feel the stress when I’m not able to do my job well and knowing my team is working as hard as they can, and I have customers sending me more emails and instant messages and phone calls to explain why their one request is really the most important one. At these times my tendency is to get frustrated, angry, irritated, and grumpy.
As Pastor Lee has taught, these are the times I need to proactively prepare for. With prayer before the day starts, with responses composed when I am calm that I can use when I’m not calm, and then with prayer and a present awareness of God’s love for me and His calling me to sanctification while I’m in the middle of the emails or chats or phone calls. I have to remind myself not to take it all personally. I should do good work, and be concientious. But my identity is not in how good I look at work or even really how well I seem to handle the stress.
My identity is in Christ. I am a Child of God and I am indwelt by the Holy Spirit. God is passionate about my holiness and He will use whatever it takes to change me. This includes all the interruptions, problems, and policy decisions at work. None of those are hindrances or evidence of God’s lack of love or attention. Every single one of them is an instrument in the hands of the God of love. My goal is to joyfully accept what God gives me each and every moment of the day. And when I fail to meet that goal, or find myself in the midst of the struggle to meet the goal, I must turn to Him. That’s really what he’s trying to show me, that I need Him every moment of the day. (Yes, I’m talking about my favorite term, non-sufficiency again.)
RC Sproul Jr. said in his recent Ligonier Connect course on Understanding God’s Sovereignty in Suffering, joy is the settled conviction that God is able, and He is for me. That is what I seek: joy. And being intentional about understanding and appreciating love, being loving in all my relationships and thoughts, words, and actions are ways to be joyful and evidence of that joy. My God is an awesome God!
First published in the HARP Newsletter Spring/Summer 2014