image by Timon Studler from Unsplash
It is no secret that one of my besetting sins throughout my life has been impatience.
I grew up listening to my mom constantly telling me that my personality traits of being independent, organized, and task-oriented also fed my weakness of impatience. When my mind is fixed on finishing a task, clearing my to-do list or squeezing in one last item before I wrap up, everything else takes a back seat, and anything which threatens to get in the way becomes Public Enemy Number One. I get short-tempered and snap easily at those who are too slow for my pace, since I work (and talk--and read--and move, apparently) at a rapid pace.
With a sigh, I wrote patience down on my prayer journal as one of my goals for 2018--and 2019--and here I am, seemingly without any obvious improvement, still working at cultivating this elusive virtue. Why is it I wasn't getting anywhere? I would think I was fine for a stint, then something would happen--some situation would catch me off guard, or some person would just be "too much!!"--and it would happen.
As when dealing with any other habitual sin, it's not a straightforward master-this-level-and-move-on-without-having-to-deal-with-it-again matter, handy as that would be. You think you've overcome this besetting sin, broken this habit; then a few weeks--days--hours--later when you least expect, it hits you. And we get discouraged, when our self-control and discipline eventually prove insufficient.
This was where Walter Henegar's advice from his little booklet on procrastination came in handy.
All along, I had been focusing on the actions themselves--the isolated incidents of impatience. I lost my temper just now; I spoke sharply and dismissed someone who I felt was taking too long; and so on. However, this meant reinforcing a pattern of guilt, of examining myself when it was already too late.
Henegar describes how he too used this approach at first when dealing with his own habitual sin--procrastination. Like me, he quickly got discouraged, tempted to blame external situations for his regular lapses, and struggling with guilt yet without any real sense of hope in breaking out of this cycle. Eventually he realized that the right approach was to examine the sinful attitudes in his heart which were the root of the problem, rather than fire-fighting the manifestations.
Though our respective habitual sins seem polar opposite, I came to the same conclusion as Henegar when I tried examining the root issues at heart of my impatience: pride. Pride in prioritizing my own agenda before people, before opportunities God had put before me. Pride in assuming my methods were better and others inferior if they took up more time. Pride in relying on that sense of achievement and success as my fulfilment and self-identity, rather than what I had in Christ. Pride in being unwilling to accept and trust in God's plan and God's timing for my life, and instead steamrollering my own plan and own timings.
Realizing this transformed the way I prayed about my struggle to be patient. Instead of the well-intentioned but vague Lord help me to be more patient today (which I often forgot by the time I finished praying, and which definitely did not come to mind in time when needed later on in the day!), I found myself praying about the attitudes and priorities in my heart. Lord, help me to love others more than I love the adrenaline rush and sense of gratification I get from clearing my to-do list. Help me not to be blinded by my agenda to Your hand directing me to Your work. Help me to seek Your purpose and Your timing today, rather than mine. Help me to change the sinful attitudes I accept so unthinkingly, and to be transformed heart, soul, mind--and to-do-list!
Instead of a guilt-driven pattern of sin spiraling into despair, this enables a grace-driven, humbled, yet hopeful understanding of our hearts, empowered for true change as we work at overcoming our habitual sins, and more deeply than ever aware of the grace and power of God, and where we stand before Him.
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"...my heart was hot within me."
I remember being struck by how accurate this description was. So many times I'd felt that hotness burning inside, the anger or bitterness threatening to spill out in a flood, feeling yourself almost trembling with the effort to be stronger than it. An almost physical sensation; as if it were something you could spit out.
"I said, I will guard my ways, that I might not sin with my tongue..."
David's response goes further than simply trying to keep it in check, out of a vague sense that it was the right thing to do. His clarity of mind even at such an emotional moment shows his maturity and experience in suffering, in understanding the weaknesses of the human heart, and its tendency to sinful coping mechanisms and reactions. David was keenly aware of the temptation to vent emotions in words--whether spoken ones or thoughts in our hearts and minds--which very easily could lead to sin. His response is to keep a strict check on himself, almost an external action-- "I will restrain myself with a muzzle."
However, David does acknowledge that the mere act of restraining ourselves from verbalizing or expressing our emotions is not a healthy coping mechanism, as it is not an end in itself: "I was mute with silence, I held my peace even from good; And my sorrow was stirred up. My heart was hot within me; While I was musing, the fire burned."
It doesn't resolve our emotional turmoil, even if it does keep us from sinning. It's not the answer, and we would be foolish to think that that external action of controlling ourselves alone is all that God cares about or wants from us. Having kept ourselves from "sinning with our tongue," what we need to do is to open our hearts--raw and surging with the morass of emotions--to God. For a real resolution.
"Then I spoke with my tongue:
Lord, make me know my end,
And what is the measure of my days. That I may know how frail I am...
And now, Lord, what do I wait for?
My hope is in You.
Deliver me from all my transgressions."
David's life was so full of trials, dangers, and uncertainty--he had plenty of opportunities to test and apply what it meant to trust in a God, especially an omnipotent and omniscient God. What it meant, in the midst of trials, to apply humility, perspective, and trust. To reconcile your current emotional state with your belief and knowledge of the person of God, and His attributes.
Instead of lapsing into bitterness, reproaches, or anger when he starts to talk to God, David humbly and simply acknowledges his lack of understanding, his inability to accept God's providence. He confesses his sense of helplessness and frailty, his inability to cope or understand. And he asks for wisdom and humility to do so, affirming his need for God's deliverance.
“And now, Lord, what do I wait for?
My hope is in You..."
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"Thus says the Lord concerning the prophets who make My people stray...[who] say 'Is not the Lord among us? No harm can come upon us.'
Therefore because of you Zion shall be plowed like a field, Jerusalem shall become heaps of ruins...."
What ought to have been a beautiful declaration of faith and trust, of intimacy and closeness with God, was somehow so twisted that it became a condemnation. It's sobering, but an apt reminder.
Do we have false confidence in God's blessing when we are living unrepentantly in sin?
Do we turn a blind eye to the attribute of God's holiness and justice, and His command on us to live likewise as His people, and instead have an imbalanced emphasis on His mercy and His forgiveness?
Are we finding excuses not to address the sin in our lives, finding ways to mislead or distract our conscience?
Are we wanting to be Christian with all the benefits that entails, yet unwilling to give up our pet sins--in denial that they are sins, in denial that they are significant? Happy to be a status quo Christian, content to pay your dues in the form of external duties which promise the assurance and approval of others.
The temptation to ignore what seems like small, petty sins; to purposely not think too deeply, because once you give more thought to application you almost always end up being faced with a call to conviction, repentance, action.
God makes it clear to His people, in no uncertain terms, that holiness is crucial to Him and His people. He condemns the complacency and false assurance of the prophets, who did nothing to address the sin in their own life or in the lives of the people they ministered to. Destruction and judgment.
How do we know when we have twisted the truth in this way? What are the signs that we too, like Israel, have created our own version of a convenient, comfortable Christianity? Created, in essence, our own custom-made idea of God that doesn't challenge our desires and lifestyle--focusing on the attributes that we like, dismissing those that make us feel uncomfortable.
Truth will humble and challenge us, will spur us onto active change, will lead us back to God as the reason and solution.
This--versus complacency, false peace, corruption, flattery that feeds your vanity and self-reliance, condones materialism and greed, panders to what people like to hear, seeking always to be more palatable, not to challenge or push you out of your comfort zone. (v5-12)
We need to be wary, whenever our faith becomes too comfortable, too convenient.
If, each time our conscience pricks us, we always have an argument or excuse to brush that uncomfortable sensation away, and continue our lives without having to take any action.
If we assess others (especially our spiritual leaders and mentors) solely in terms of how good they make us feel about ourselves, and whether they say what we like to hear, if they get in the way of how we want to live our lives. Getting ingenious at finding Bible verses which can be interpreted to support what we want.
"Then they will cry to the Lord, But He will not hear them; He will even hide His face from them at that time, because they have been evil in their deeds."
God's judgment sounds harsh. But--like how Aslan's "not a tame lion"--He is a real God, not One that we can rewrite to suit our whims and moods. His holiness, His righteousness, His justice, are unchangeable and perfect. And thankfully so.
This comes right before the beautiful image of peace and contentment in chapter 4, the famous "everyone under his own vine and fig tree," (v 4) for God's people who "walk in the name of the Lord our God forever and ever." (v 5)
Walk. Not consult, when convenient; consider; get approval from.
Will walk. Present tense, with an indication of the future.
An ongoing, active relationship which is the basis for our identity, our purpose, our direction.
"For all people walk each in the name of his god--"
--the myriad idols and desires and passions that control us all--
"...but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God
Forever and ever."
image by Alex from Unsplash
Looking back, when you try to grasp at specific memories, you tend to find yourself lost in a confusing blur of split second images, fragments of a phrase, and the abstract but poignantly tangible memory of emotions.
I was just musing the other day on how life goes by without us really purposefully acknowledging memories. If you asked me to think back and select any one memory that I remember the most clearly, the painful ones are often the ones you are most conscious of. We take so many photos, and we call that "making memories," but we don't often sit down to rewind those happy memories--or do you? To me, we seem to pass through them gleefully like a cloud of confetti and move on in search of more before the pieces hit the ground. Pessimistic as it sounds. I made a point to be more consciously thankful and aware of the golden moments that God gives me in life, to have them polished and accessible in my mind.
Perhaps it's because as you get older, you have so many regrets. You can't help remembering them, because those are the moments you've relived the most often, replayed in your mind, wishing uselessly that you could change what happened. And that's why you know them so well, why they leap to the front whenever you look back.
One of the greatest lessons I learnt as a Christian and as a young adult was being able to let go of guilt.
Let me take a moment to differentiate between guilt and repentance, seeing them as the "worldly sorrow" and "godly sorrow" that the Bible talks about. Repentance and guilt are similar and yet so distinct that it's well we have different terms for them. Both indicate a recognition of a mistake, taking responsibility for it by acknowledging it was your fault, and feeling regret for your actions. However, guilt implies a sense of helplessness, confined to facing the past, to what can't be undone; whereas repentance implies a sense of hope, looking forward to the future with a resolution to learn from what happened.
Learning to understand that all things--even our mistakes--even our sin--happen within the providence of God.
Also that, as children of God, our mistakes do not define us. They did, previously, branding us as sinners; but a new name has been given to us, a new identity.
"...the glory of God shall be your rearguard"--Isaiah 58
I couldn't understand this phrase the first time I read it, but I loved the sound of it. Like poetry, the cadences stuck in my mind. Why, though? How did glory become your rearguard--something which protects, which enables you to move forward confidently, which is full of military connotations and is much closer to struggle and conflict than glory?
Looking back on our pasts, as Christians, the legacy that we have in Christ also includes rescuing us from the guilt and regret that so often makes us fixate on the past, makes us feel our courage for the future fail.
To trust that even our mistakes and sins can be part of God's plan, can be part of the process of our sanctification, since they no longer define who we are. And since even Christ's death--the ultimate proof of man's sin--became the greatest proof of God's mercy and love, became the greatest manifestation of God's glory.
The doctrine of God's sovereignty, the attributes of His wisdom and providence, become truths that have a vital, direct impact on our everyday lives, on our emotions, on the moments when we weep, when we wonder how we can face tomorrow. They are so much more than musty theological jargon and abstract concepts that don't seem relevant to our struggles and experiences.
Trusting that His glory can be manifested even despite our mistakes and failures and outright sins, by His power and providence--that flawed as we are, destructively self-willed as we seemed, we are yet His instruments, and we have never fallen out of His hands, we have not ruined what He was working on.
We can look back. With regret, most likely. Who wouldn't? But without being consumed by guilt. With the knowledge that God's sovereignty transcends man's sin. With the knowledge that our lives can and will be used to manifest His glory, even our weaknesses and shame.
a small voice
Ci thinks some of God's greatest blessings to mankind are
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