Trying to be More Patient Than Job

file0001894206932“Is your middle name Job?” the woman asked my wife. “You sure are being patient with me.” Sharon just smiled and encouraged the elderly and forgetful assisted living facility resident. I smiled too when she told me about it the next morning, and it got me thinking about patience.

Was Job really patient? Despite the expression, “the patience of Job,” I didn’t remember Job as seeming particularly patient. What is patience anyway?  Looking up the definition of patience I found this:

Patience, noun

  1. the quality of being patient, as the bearing of provocation, annoyance, misfortune, or pain, without complaint, loss of temper, irritation, or the like.
  2. an ability or willingness to suppress restlessness or annoyance when confronted with delay

Hmm. Not so sure I’d call Job a patient man. Yes, he bore a lengthy period of misfortune and suffering, but not without complaint or irritation. Checking a Bible translation comparison site revealed that it’s the King James Version where Job is credited with patience. More modern translations use perseverance, endurance, and steadfastness instead.

Here are several versions of James 5:11

KJV – Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.

NIV – 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.

NLT – We give great honor to those who endure under suffering. For instance, you know about Job, a man of great endurance. You can see how the Lord was kind to him at the end, for the Lord is full of tenderness and mercy.

ESV – Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.

Not being able to read the ancient Greek, I’m not able to evaluate the exact word for myself, but these latter alternatives seem to better reflect the nature of the story to me.

I’m not writing to cast aspersions on Job, I’ve had no suffering like his, just to relate how my thoughts were going. After meditating on patience for a day or so and getting to this point, I brought my attention back to myself. Am I patient? How good am I at enduring trouble with a cheerful or calm demeanor? Better than I used to be. I’m doing okay at this “ability or willingness to suppress restlessness or annoyance when confronted with delay.” Then I left for work.

Facing an hour drive, I popped in an audio CD with the monthly Bible message from Ligonier Ministries. R.C. Sproul’s teaching usually begins on the second track, following some introductory comments on the first track. This day the introduction seemed prolonged and boring, and I got irritated. Going to skip a track, I noticed that I had only been listening for about 3 minutes. That woke me up. Wow. I’m really not that patient. I need to work on this.

I had my chance five minutes later when traffic backed up for half a mile on the approach to Interstate 4. I had forgotten to allow additional time for construction at the ramp and was again immediately irritated – with the delay and with myself. After just a minute I thought – Here I go again! It’s just that easy to slip into impatience. It’s ingrained more than I know. – and then I relaxed. Nothing to do now. I’ll get there when I get there.

And as you might have guessed, I didn’t experience a substantial delay. I arrived right on time only to walk in and have to wait for an elevator. What’s up? These are taking longer than usual, I thought to myself. Then a flash or recognition – No, not this again! Third time this morning! Yes indeed. Third time’s a charm as they say.

I get it. I accept it. I should be more patient, and I’m going to work on it. Be patient with me, I’m a work in progress. You are too. Whatever you’re working on, keep at it.

Abiding 2 – Much to Offer, Little to Say

the dudeYou may have noticed that I’ve been writing less lately. No, I’m not too busy, I just don’t seem as motivated to write. It has something to do with the concepts I outlined in “Less Striving, More Abiding” and “Thinking Just for Fun.” My thoughts are still flowing freely, and I’m enjoying figuring things out, but I don’t feel as compelled to spread my conclusions around. It’s a new sensation for me. Thinking without communicating about it. Abiding with my ideas.

There was a time, and not too long ago, when if it was in me, it had to come out. I’ve been like that my whole life. If you knew me, you would know what I think.

Although expressing myself hasn’t always gone smoothly, it has been a learning experience. First I learned that I’m not always correct. Embarrassing oneself with confident pronouncements subsequently shown to be in error will help with that. Next I learned how to raise issues and share my ideas without being a jerk about it. (You’d be surprised how long it takes to learn things like this.)

Most recently, I’ve learned that many people don’t want new ideas. We’re all prone to get too comfortable with our own understanding, and most of us avoid challenges to our worldview – too much cognitive dissonance. I’m sure you can bring to mind issues from diverse fields (e.g. business, lifestyle, politics and religion) and many individual topics where facts don’t seem to matter much and people hardly ever change their minds.

It took me a long time to really get this because, often, people invite new ideas, only to reject them, no matter how compelling. Sometimes it’s subtle – listen, nod, not disagree (or even agree), then do nothing. Other times it’s overt hostility. Mostly it’s somewhere in between. So I’ve learned to hold my peace, to not share what I think, when rejection seems likely. Although I learned to keep it in, it certainly wasn’t natural for me. I’ve had to work at it.

That’s what seems to be changing now. I don’t have to work at it.  I don’t think I did anything.  Must be the Holy Spirit at work.

People sometimes introduce me as a “speaker” and “author” (especially when I’m speaking). That never seemed quite right to me. I’ve never thought of myself as author, but rather as a man with a message. Writing was simply a means to communicate a valuable message. Similarly, I’m not a speaker; I just had something to say.  I still have the “something,” even more than before. But I have a lot less to say.

Thinking. Abiding. Feels fine.

Enjoying the Moments

Things come and things go. Easy to say, hard to accept. How often we try to hang on to a pleasant situation or feeling as it naturally comes to an end. Or perhaps we try to go back in time. Have you tried and failed to recreate or recapture the happiness associated with a past event? I have. It doesn’t work.

So I’m trying to learn to enjoy today for what it brings, even knowing that it too shall pass. This came to mind on my commute earlier in the week when I was struck by the view of pink and yellow trumpet trees in bloom on the last turn out of my neighborhood. Normally it’s a pretty pedestrian view, nothing special. Right now however, it’s spectacular! The bright flowers will bring joy to my drive time only for a few weeks, but what a few weeks!

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Another great flower is the orange blossom, many of which are blooming in my backyard. They’re small, but they punch above their weight in fragrance. Our yard smells great, almost intoxicating! Come on over and enjoy it with us if you’re in town. But come quickly because soon these too will be gone for another year.

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The flowers come and the flowers go. It’s nice to think that they’ll be back next year, and hopefully better, as the trees will have grown bigger. But there are no guarantees. Trees can be injured or killed by disease, drought or lightning. Or I could move away, or be ill, or worse. Next year may never come.

Of course many things aren’t cyclical and a yearly return cannot be anticipated. Your child will only be six, or twenty-six, once. Enjoy every age. The same goes for yourself and your spouse. Nothing stays the same. Change happens. Now is a special time, but so is the future.

Sharon and I notice our town changing every day. Real estate prices are up and developers are back in business. More roads, homes, eateries, and shops are on the way. There is no stopping it. I’m sure the area will still be nice next year, but it will be a different nice than now. I plan to enjoy them both.

It’s the same with the trees – they’re still very enjoyable when they’re not in flower. They bring shade, attract birds and squirrels, and are attractive with only leaves. Oranges will be a bonus next fall, but really there is something to appreciate, and enjoy about the trees in every moment.

Just like life.

Comparing Myself to Others – Grace Make the Difference

In church a couple of weeks ago the pastor said something that caused me to think, “I’ve got to stop comparing myself to others!” At this point, I can’t remember the sermon topic, or the passages that he cited, or even exactly what he said, but the issue of not comparing myself to others has stuck with me.  I’ve been turning it over in my mind since then.  I do understand that my ultimate responsibility is to God, and that we all have the same judge – a judge who does not grade on the curve.  As the Apostle Paul says it,

Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load. Nevertheless, the one who receives instruction in the word should share all good things with their instructor.

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Galatians 6:1-8 NIV

Okay, I get that. But in day-to-day living it seems that I am always needing to compare myself to, or I am being compared with, other people. Examples abound:
– Do I sing well enough to serve in the choir? [no]
– Am I smart enough to get into medical school? [yes]
– Am I good enough to get the job, or the promotion? [maybe]
– How popular are my books and my blog? [not that popular]
– Can I make the sports team? [never could]
– What are my talents and abilities? [varied]
– How do they measure up in the marketplace? [some better, some worse]
I’m sure you can think of many more. Our human systems and societies typically reward talent, skills, drive, ambition, intelligence, beauty and other personal characteristics that are not equally distributed. Some can be acquired (education for example) but others are inborn gifts – if you don’t have them, you can’t get them. Life isn’t fair.

I don’t think it’s possible for me to completely stop comparing myself to other people without the Holy Spirit changing me from the inside (which is happening, albeit slowly). But honestly, comparison seems to be built into our social fabric, it’s how the world works. As I’ve thought about this, I’m not sure the real issue is “comparing,” but rather the “judging” that is part of my sinful nature. The Bible warns us more about judging than comparing, and we are to be “discerning” about people and issues. Doesn’t discerning involve comparing, at least sometimes?

Given that, I’ve begun to think that controlling my attitude is the most important thing to do as I inevitably continue to view myself in relationship to others. I can control my attitude. What’s my perspective? Am I operating from a perspective of Grace or from that of Law/Works? I think that makes all the difference. I’ve tried to express this in the 2×2 matrix below.

Comparing

Here’s how I’m seeing it:

If I operate from a perspective of Law, where I compare favorably to others (quadrant 1), I adopt a self-righteous attitude and am contemptuous or disregarding of “lesser” people. Where I don’t measure up (quadrant 3), I become envious of others’ success or giftedness, and I may despise and disparage them in an attempt to elevate myself.

On the other hand, operating from a perspective of Grace, where I compare favorably (quadrant 2), I am grateful for my talent, success or other blessing from God. I know it is not me who is responsible. This also leads to compassion for those who may be relatively lacking in those same areas in which God has blessed me. Where I am not gifted or specially blessed (quadrant 4), I can accept my limitations or shortcomings. God’s grace is enough. I don’t have to “measure up” to any human standard. Seeing and appreciating the gifts and blessings that God has given to others allows me to be happy for them.

That’s a very short explanation; Grace goes a lot deeper. It is by Grace that we are saved and transformed. It’s so easy to slide back into a Law- or Works-based perspective in selected areas of life. That leads to a person who may be saved all right, but perhaps has persistent bitterness, envy, or self-righteousness. Understanding and operating from Grace is the cure for that. Think Grace!

Knowing I Don’t Know

Work can be frustrating, can’t it? In my job I’m tasked with leading a few important healthcare initiatives, and it’s slow going. Nobody opposes me, but the law of inertia applies and everyone isn’t always on the same page about what we’re trying to accomplish. Consequently, it’s been hard to build momentum. Lots of times I think, “If the leaders just knew about my issues, they’d clear my path and I could get some traction. If only they understood the importance of what I’m doing, all would be well. If only I could get their attention…” Perhaps you’ve had similar thoughts in your job role.

Now I’m actually pretty high up on the org chart, and I like to think that I have a good understanding of the big picture. I’m not at the top to be sure, but high enough that I do have access to the executive leadership as necessary and more. So I’ve been able to test this hypothesis of “if they only knew _______, then they would __________” pretty often. The results have been decidedly negative. Usually it turns out that I don’t have that great an understanding of the big picture, and even when the leaders understand my problem, they’ve got bigger fish to fry.

It’s humbling of course, but it’s made easier by the fact that my superiors are generally kind and loving people, quick to listen and slow to anger. Also, I can take some comfort in the idea that my arrogance is natural for fallen man. I bet my subordinates are thinking the same thing as they struggle with issues that I am not willing or able to solve for reasons about which they’re in the dark. We all have the same human nature.

Beyond the workplace, I am reminded of this passage from Isaiah:

My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the LORD. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.”  Isaiah 55:8-9 NLT

Well, he’s right about that, and my work experience proves it. If I’m already having problems with my “higher understanding” on a mere human scale across a couple of levels of management, that pretty much makes the LORD’s point. Thought-wise, he’s in another league. When it comes to God, trust, not analysis, is in order. I want to remember that more, lest I be reminded as Job was reminded:

Then the LORD answered Job from the whirlwind: “Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorant words? Brace yourself like a man, because I have some questions for you, and you must answer them. “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you know so much. Who determined its dimensions and stretched out the surveying line? What supports its foundations, and who laid its cornerstone as the morning stars sang together and all the angel shouted for joy? Job 38:1-7 NLT,

And the LORD’s questioning continues for quite a while longer, eventually pausing:

Then Job replied to the LORD, “I am nothing—how could I ever find the answers? I will cover my mouth with my hand. I have said too much already. I have nothing more to say. Job 40:3-5 NLT

I’m not as arrogant as I used to be, but I should take myself down a few more notches, before God or someone else does it for me. None of us, me included, has all the answers to anything. God has given me a good mind and plenty of good ideas, but people are meant to work together and I’ve just got a few piece of the healthcare puzzle. At work, may I release any frustration, make my contribution, and trust the team.

When it comes to God, it seems pretty clear that I should not even be trying to “figure him out.” Not only don’t I understand his ways, I can never and will never understand them. Fortunately I can understand that he is kind, loving, generous, and faithful. He has been good to me in my arrogance and disobedience. Help me Lord to greater humility and faith. Calm my overactive mind and ego, and help me rest in Christ Jesus. Amen

Learning, Regretting, Repenting and New Year’s Resolutions

“Looking back, I have no regrets and I wouldn’t change a thing.”   That may not be exactly right, but it’s close enough to what the celebrity said during the interview on her life and career. I read it in the newspaper recently and it got me thinking because that’s definitely not my experience. Of course I don’t know her, but I do know what it is to be human. Perhaps she’s had the perfect life, but I think it’s more likely that she has a hard time admitting her faults, at least to the media. Or maybe she simply hasn’t learned anything.

I’m happy to be alive, learning and growing, but it’s not always easy. As I learn new things, pretty often I find myself regretting my past behavior. Learning how to be a better person in various roles (parent, spouse, friend, employee, leader) means recognizing that my prior actions were often self-serving, counterproductive, short-sighted or just plain inadequate. Ouch! That hurts. It’s painful to admit that I’m not and haven’t been that good, and it causes me to regret (that is, experience a feeling of sadness) about my past behavior.

Yet that’s normal, helpful even. Can there be any meaningful learning without regretting? I don’t think so. We absolutely should experience regret from time to time; the more new things we learn, the more past behavior we will have to regret. The question is what do we do with those feelings? How do we not get stuck in guilt, sadness and despair?

Sometimes the regrets are minor in nature and easily dismissed. True example, I am contemplating writing another book, and have just now learned how to make an automatically updating table of contents in Word. Wow, so easy! I feel stupid for not learning that before. Why didn’t I take the time to do so? How much time have I wasted changing subtitles and page numbers? Oh well, it’s negligible in the big picture, and not worth thinking about any further. I’m excited to know how to do it now.

But regrets are not always so simple to dismiss. What about the things we did that hurt people? What about the money or years we squandered? How about the health we took for granted or compromised through self-destructive behavior? As Christians we should be led from regret, a mere sadness over our past actions, to confession and repentance; confession being the open admission of our guilt – our poor or inadequate behavior has caused harm, and repentance being a desire and intent to change for the better added to the sorrow of regret.

Repentance and confession to God allows us to experience his forgiveness. There is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. God’s verdict is “Not Guilty,” and knowing that should help us work through our sadness and regret without minimizing our past. Repentance and confession to other people may or may not result in their forgiveness, but it does allow us to be open to correcting wrongs where we can, and it’s helpful as we try to make a positive change going ahead. The Bible encourages us to confess our sins to one another.

Yet, the process isn’t without pain, which can cause us to look for an easier path. “No regrets, just be different! Change without guilt! Just do it!” How often we just try to be different without grappling with our weaknesses and our pasts. But there are no short cuts. Denying your nature and avoiding guilt puts you on the wrong road; it’s as much as a problem as getting stuck in the guilt. Neither gets you to the destination you seek. The path goes through the sorrow not around it.

Perhaps now at the start of 2016, you’re contemplating one or more New Year’s Resolutions. Maybe you want to be more healthy and well – physically, emotionally or spiritually. If so, don’t avoid the regret. Acknowledge the past, your guilt, and your weakness. Regret. Repent. Confess. Receive the verdict of “Not Guilty.” Then make your resolution.

Let me know if I can help.

Do You Want to be Well? How About Healthy?

Crowds of sick people—blind, lame, or paralyzed—lay on the porches. One of the men lying there had been sick for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him and knew he had been ill for a long time, he asked him, “Would you like to get well?”
John 5:3-6 NLT

“Would you like to get well?” Seems like a silly question. Who wouldn’t want to get well? Yet Jesus asked, and we can be sure that he had a good purpose in doing so. For this paralyzed man, getting well would mean a whole new life, and change, even positive change, is hard. He’d been ill for a long time, 38 years; perhaps he was middle-aged or even elderly at this time. If he got well, where would he find work? Where would he live? Life would be more uncertain and maybe considerably more difficult. Was he sure that’s what he wanted?

Jesus, in his person, poses the same question to all people. Do you want to be well? Do you want to be reconciled to God, to have life in abundance, to be healed? If so, come and follow me. Yet Jesus warns us that the cost is high.

A large crowd was following Jesus. He turned around and said to them, “If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple. And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple.”

“But don’t begin until you count the cost. For who would begin construction of a building without first calculating the cost to see if there is enough money to finish it? Otherwise, you might complete only the foundation before running out of money, and then everyone would laugh at you. They would say, ‘There’s the person who started that building and couldn’t afford to finish it!’”  Luke 14:25-30 NLT

Many, like the rich young man (Matthew 19, Luke 18) or the disciples that leave after Jesus hard teaching about himself being the bread of life (John 6), are not prepared to pay the cost and turn away.

Even those of us trying to follow Jesus probably don’t fully understand the cost either, at least at the beginning. But as the Holy Spirit works in us, and we are drawn into a deeper relationship with God, we begin to understand what Jesus meant. New character and new desires accompany this new understanding, and we begin to separate ourselves from worldly vices and preoccupations. We don’t think like everybody else. We don’t live like everybody else…  except when we do.

Healthwise, the average follower of Jesus doesn’t seem to be living a great deal differently than the average American – too much sedentary screen time and empty calories, too little vigorous exercise and restful sleep. Now to be clear, in Christ, there’s no condemnation for this. Feeling guilty is neither necessary nor helpful. We are all very flawed individuals, and we will not be perfect in this lifetime. Grace is our watchword.

“No condemnation” is good! “No results,” not so much, and if you’re looking to be healthy while living just like everyone else, no results is what you’re likely to get. If you want to be healthy, you will have to pay the cost and live differently. The cost is real. It’s hard to be different from your family and friends; to eat what’s healthy, and not what’s tempting; to exercise when you feel lazy; to turn off the TV and read a helpful book.

As for me, I sometimes wish that I could just live like everyone else, but, deep down, I know I can’t. I want to be well and I want to be healthy. But it is hard to be different and my improvement has been gradual. Honestly I’m still learning the cost, and I’m not always prepared to pay it. The Holy Spirit seems to be taking his time with me, like he does with most people.

How about you? Do you want to be healthy? Under grace no guilt is required, only change. So start small, but do something different. You don’t have to understand, or pay, the whole cost upfront. I didn’t, don’t and haven’t. Nobody else does or has either. Just get started, and ask God to help you. Integrate your lifestyle choices into your faith and follow Jesus. It seems to be working for me.

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So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.
Romans 8:1 NLT