Archive for September, 2012
Tags: Character orientation, Christianity, Fruit of the Holy Spirit, God, Patience, Patient, Traffic congestion, Virtue
“They who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength.” Isaiah 40:31 ESV
We’ve all heard the prayer: “Lord, make me more patient—and do it now!” Of all the spiritual virtues, patience is one that tends to be troublingly elusive. Let’s face it; if patience is a virtue, most of us are not very virtuous. It’s flat out hard to wait.
Think of how you feel when you’re late for a critical engagement and caught in a traffic jam. I find it tough when I’m in a hurry and rush to the “10 items or less” line at the grocery store, and then have to wait while the guy in front of me pulls 16 items out of the basket and casually chats with the clerk. How did I know it was 16 items? I counted them, piece by piece!
When life or people don’t measure up to our expectations, being patient can be quite a challenge. But it’s clear that God wants us to develop this character trait. After all, patience is more than a virtue—it’s a fruit of the Spirit. It reflects His very presence in our lives, for He is a patient God. If He weren’t, we all would have been annihilated long ago.
So what’s our problem?
There’s a good probability that our struggle with patience has been unsuccessful because we’ve been trying to focus on our own agendas and timelines and not trusting that, for reasons best known to Him, God may have a whole different schedule for us. Our propensity to live with a short fuse is all about forgetting that God puts us in His waiting room on purpose, because He is often doing something behind the scenes while we wait.
It might be as simple as teaching us to be more concerned with the struggles and feelings of others rather than being totally taken with our own interest and plans. There is plenty of evidence as well that God interrupts the normal flow of our lives to open unusual opportunities to be used of Him in unexpected ways. Or, it just may be that God wants to give us the opportunity to show what His patience is like by demonstrating it to others.
One thing we can be sure of—God’s time is always the right time. His management of our situations—whether in traffic or in the “ten items or less” line—is always the best management. Patience is not learning to wait for others; it’s learning to wait on God and to cooperate with His work in our lives. Next time impatience begins to stress you out, stop and ask God what He is saying to you; ask Him to show you why your expectations and schedule have been hijacked. Then take a deep breath and trust. Trust that He is at work in you and in the situation.
So, the next time you have to wait, “wait for the Lord”!
- What kinds of situations make you impatient?
- What are you waiting for right now?
- What are some ways that God might be working in your situation while you wait?
- How has God caused you to better understand patience today, and what will you do to develop this important trait?
Tags: Bread, Christ, Drink, Food, God, Grape, Shopping, Wine
This call has nothing to do with personal sanctification, but with being made broken bread and poured-out wine. Yet God can never make us into wine if we object to the fingers He chooses to use to crush us. We say, “If God would only use His own fingers, and make me broken bread and poured-out wine in a special way, then I wouldn’t object!” But when He uses someone we dislike, or some set of circumstances to which we said we would never submit, to crush us, then we object. Yet we must never try to choose the place of our own martyrdom. If we are ever going to be made into wine, we will have to be crushed—you cannot drink grapes. Grapes become wine only when they have been squeezed.
I wonder what finger and thumb God has been using to squeeze you? Have you been as hard as a marble and escaped? If you are not ripe yet, and if God had squeezed you anyway, the wine produced would have been remarkably bitter. To be a holy person means that the elements of our natural life experience the very presence of God as they are providentially broken in His service. We have to be placed into God and brought into agreement with Him before we can be broken bread in His hands. Stay right with God and let Him do as He likes, and you will find that He is producing the kind of bread and wine that will benefit His other children.
Tags: Bible, God, Judaism, Lord, Prayer, Psalm, Sages, Shopping
“Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” — Psalm 90:12
Many years ago, supermarkets used to award customers with a free shopping spree. I remember once hearing on the radio that a local woman was the 100th customer at the new local grocery in town, and they gave her five minutes to fill her cart with anything that she wanted.
The woman had a whole route mapped out in order to strategically fill her cart with the best and most items possible. Other past winners gave her advice on how to capitalize on the opportunity – what to buy and what to pass up. Every second counted, and the woman was determined to make the best of the time that she had.
Jewish tradition teaches that when every person passes on to the next world, they will be brought to a heavenly trial. All of our wrongdoings will be made known, and we will have to defend ourselves. The Sages teach that every person will plead insanity because the only way that a person could possibly go against the will of God, is if he is temporarily insane. The reasoning goes, if we were thinking clearly, we would never sin.
Here is where a lot of us get confused: We act like we will live forever and behave like eternity is just a moment. The psalmist writes: “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” If we understood how short life is and how long eternity will last, we would know how to live our lives. But this truth about reality is difficult for the average man to grasp and even harder to remember.
Psalm 90 reminds us of how brief even a long life really is. “In the morning it springs up new, but by evening it is dry and withered” (v. 6). In contrast to eternity, our lives are like grass that is new in the morning, but gone by the end of the day. If you blink, you might miss it. Like the woman with the shopping opportunity, we need to make the most of every moment that we have. We need to make a plan and seek advice. How we spend our lives today will have consequences forever.
The shopping-spree gimmick may be a thing of the past, but we all have a similar opportunity today. We are given a brief amount of time in this world in order to do as much good as we can. Think about the shortness of life and contemplate eternity. How does that change the way we will live our lives in the present?
Tags: Egypt, God, Ishmaelites, Jehovah, Joseph, Pharaoh, Potiphar, Prison
Now Jehovah was with Joseph, so that he prospered; and he was in the house of his master, the Egyptian. When his master saw that Jehovah was with him and made everything succeed that he undertook, he trusted him and made him his own servant. He also made him overseer of his household and placed all that he had in his care. From the time that he made him overseer in his house and over all that he had, Jehovah blessed the Egyptian’s household for Joseph’s sake, and the blessing of Jehovah was upon all that he had in the house and in the field. Potiphar left all that he had in Joseph’s charge, and he knew nothing about his affairs except about the food which he ate. And Joseph was handsome and attractive.
After these honors had come to Joseph, his master’s wife tried to tempt him to be unfaithful to his trust. But he refused, saying to her, “See, my master knows nothing about what I do in the house, and he has put all that he has in my charge. How then can I do this great wrong and sin against God?” Day after day she tempted Joseph, but he did not listen to her. One day, however, when he went into the house to do his work and when none of the men of the household were at home, she caught hold of his garment and again tried to tempt him, but he left his garment in her hand and fled out of the house.
She kept his garment by her until his master came home; then she said to him, “The Hebrew slave whom you have brought to us came to me to insult me; and when I cried aloud, he left his garment with me and fled.”
When Joseph’s master heard what his wife said to him, he was very angry; and he took Joseph and put him into the prison, in the place where the king’s prisoners were kept. So he was left there in prison. But Jehovah was with Joseph and showed kindness to him and helped him to win the friendship of the keeper of the prison, so that he placed all the prisoners in Joseph’s charge and made him responsible for whatever they did there.
After these things the butler of the king of Egypt and his baker offended their master the king of Egypt, and Pharaoh was so angry with these two officers that he put them in the same prison where Joseph was. And the captain of the guard appointed Joseph to wait on them; and they stayed in prison for some time.
And the butler and the baker of the king of Egypt, who were in the prison, both had dreams the same night, each with a different meaning. When Joseph came in to them in the morning, he saw plainly that they were sad. So he asked Pharaoh’s officers, “Why do you look so sad to-day?” They answered, “We have had a dream, and there is no one who can tell what it means.” Then Joseph said to them, “Is not God the one who knows what dreams mean? Tell them to me, if you will.”
Then the chief butler told his dream to Joseph and said to him, “In my dream I saw a vine before me, and on the vine were three branches, and the buds put out blossoms, and its clusters brought forth ripe grapes. Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand, and I took the grapes and squeezed the juice into his cup and gave the cup to Pharaoh.”
Then Joseph said to him, “This is what it means: the three branches are three days. Within three days Pharaoh will let you out of prison and restore you to your office, and you will give Pharaoh’s cup into his hand as you used to do when you were his butler. But when all goes well with you, remember me, show kindness to me and speak for me to Pharaoh and bring me out of this prison; for I was unjustly stolen from the land of the Hebrews, and here also I have done nothing that they should put me in the dungeon.”
When the chief baker saw that the meaning of the butler’s dream was good, he said to Joseph, “I also saw something in my dream: there were three baskets of white bread on my head, and in the upper basket there were all kinds of baked food for Pharaoh, and the birds were eating them out of the basket on my head.” Joseph answered, “This is what it means: the three baskets are three days; within three days Pharaoh will take off your head and hang you on a tree, and the birds shall eat your flesh.”
Now on the third day, which was Pharaoh’s birthday, he made a feast for all his servants. Then he set free the chief butler and the chief baker. He restored the chief butler to his office, so that he again gave the cup to Pharaoh; but the chief baker he hanged, as Joseph had told them. Yet the chief butler did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.
Tags: Apostle Paul, Bithynia, God, holyspirit, Lord, No Thoroughfare, Paul, Spirit
The Circumstances of the Hindrance Were Not Clear but the Message Was.
Paul was on his second missionary journey when he was hindered thus by the Spirit of his Lord. He had made up his mind to go northward to Bithynia when somehow he was divinely checked. How the door was thus shut on him we are not told: it is one of the wise reticence of Scripture. Perhaps he was warned by some prophetic voice or visited by irresistible conviction. On the other hand, if one prefer it so, we may think of the pressure of circumstance or health, for Paul would never have hesitated to find in these the checking power of the Holy Ghost. Whatever form the prohibition took, you may be sure it was very dark to the apostle. Paul was not at all the kind of man who took a delight in being contradicted. When he had set his heart on going northward, not selfishly, but in the service of his Lord, it was a bitter experience to be so checked and to have the door shut in his face.
Paul Was Honored by Being Hindered
But the point to note is that though it was dark for Paul, it is bright as the sunshine of a summer morn for us. He was never more wisely or divinely guided than in the hour when he thought that he was baffled. What would have happened to him had the door been opened, and he suffered to go into Bithynia? He would have turned away home again through lonely glens with his back to the mighty empires of the West. He would never have landed on the shore of Europe, never have lifted up his voice in Athens, never have preached the riches of his Savior beside the Roman palace of the Caesars. Paul was a true Jew in this respect: he had no ear for the calling of the sea. He would a thousand times rather have lived in inland places than by the surge and thunder of the ocean. And it was only when every other path was barred that he was pushed unwillingly to Troas where for him and for Europe everything was changed by the vision of the man from Macedonia. He was checkmated, and yet he won the game. He was thwarted, and it led him to his crown. Eager to advance with his good news, there rose before him the divine “No Thoroughfare.” And yet that hour when he was hindered so was the hour when God was honoring him wonderfully and leading him to such a mighty service as at his highest he had never dreamed.
We Are Sometimes Baffled That We May Not Be Beaten
Now I think there is something in that thought on which it would do us good to dwell a little, for all of us, like the apostle Paul, are sometimes baffled that we may not be beaten. It is very pleasant to have an open road and to accomplish what our hearts are set upon. We can all be grateful when our toil is crowned, and the dreams we have cherished for years are realized. But when our plans are thwarted and our wishes crushed and all we have assayed is proved impossible, it is not so easy then to hear the music or to cherish the spirit of the little child. I think there are few things sadder on this earth than what we call a disappointed man. He is so cheerless and apt to be so bitter;, there is such lack of luster in his life. And the pity is, it is not his disappointments that have made him a disappointed man, it is the way in which he has brooded on them and let them sink into his heart and soul. There are people whom no baffling can tame, people whom no thwarting can embitter. They believe in a love divine that disappoints and may be exquisitely kind in disappointing. And so when they are barred from their Bithynia and led to the cold shore where the waves break, they can be happy and expectant like a lover, as trusting that their service lies that way.
The Baffling of Our Childish Dreams
Now I shall try to illustrate that truth by thinking of some of the spheres in which God baffles us. And in the first place, let us dwell a moment upon the baffling of our childish dreams. Do you remember what you were going to be when you were a happy child in your old home? It was to be nothing commonplace, I warrant you, like the commonplace occupation of your father. There were seas in it and desperate adventure and distant lands and daring and excitement. There is not a ragged child in any street but has his childish vision of Bithynia. Ah well, the years have come and gone since then, and somehow or other that door has been shut. You are not a sailor, not a wild adventurer: you are a respectable and quiet-living citizen. And the point is that with the passing years you were never suffered to realize your dream, just that you might be led, almost unwillingly, to the very place where you could be of use. ‘Twould be a poor world without the dreams of children. ‘Twould be a poorer, if they were fulfilled. For everything splendid there would be a thousand candidates. For everything ordinary, not a single one. So we assay to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit suffers us not; and thus are we carried to those common tasks which build up character and help the world.
When God Blocks Your Maturer Hopes by Ill Health
Or think again of our maturer hopes, born when childish things are put away. It is easy to be glad when they are reached; it is less easy when the way is barred. Sometimes it is a matter of the health. It is the body that becomes the barrier. I have known an artist whose arm was paralyzed when he was on the verge of his career. I have known those who would have given anything to go and preach the Gospel to the heathen; but when they assayed to go into Bithynia, the Maker of their frame would not allow them. Sometimes it is a matter of plain duty. A man must yield his hopes for those he loves. All he has hoped for and striven for and longed for must go by the board at once for others’ sakes. A father has died, or there have been reverses, and the preparatory years are now impossible, and a man has to turn himself to other work which is far away from the calling of his dreams. There is always something noble in the man who takes these hours quietly and well. His very life was in those cherished plans, and he is laying down his life when he discards them And yet remember that if God be God, ordering and opening and shutting, it is along the pathway of such baffling that you shall come to your place and to your power. You do not know yourself–God knows you thoroughly. He knoweth your frame and remembereth that you are dust. There are some characters that need the heightening of success. There are others that need the deepening of denial. So you assayed to go into Bithynia, and God–not fate, not chance–suffered you not; and for you as for Paul, life has been far richer since the bridle-road across the hills was blocked.
When We Are Baffled by the Inadequacy of Self-Expression
Again I like to apply our text to the baffling of our attempts at self-expression. How much there is that we desire to utter, yet in every effort to utter it, are thwarted. It may be some thought that swiftly flashed on us, thrilling us with a truth unfelt before. It may be some comfort we are fain to give to those who are sorrowful and weary-hearted. Or it may be some deep experience of God when He meets us in the secret of the soul and in His lovingkindness speaks to us in another voice than He uses to the world. How powerless we have all felt in times like these to give expression the thoughts within us. We cannot grasp them or clothe them in fit speech or body them forth that others may be helped. And what I want to impress on you is this: that in such baffling of our desire for utterance there may be more than the stammering of the tongue; there may be the wisdom and the love of heaven. If a man could tell abroad all that he felt, before long he would cease to feel. It would be very perilous if we had the power to voice all that is deepest in the soul. For God has His secrets with every human heart, and in the silence of that heart they must be cherished, nor will He ever suffer us to utter them lest they should be tarnished in the telling. Never be discouraged if you can find no words to tell all that is deepest in your being, When you are baffled in your attempt to reach it, it may be God who keeps you from Bithynia. For in the deepest life there must be silence–the silence as of the mountain and the glen–and the awaiting of that perfect fellowship which shall be ours in the gladness of eternity.
The Baffling of the Cravings of the Heart
Once again, may we not trace our text in the baffling of the cravings of the heart? There are people whose whole life is little else than a hunger and a thirst for love. They do not want to be rich–they do not envy the kind of life they see among the rich. They do not want to be famous–they have never felt “that last infirmity of noble mind.” They are not troubled with intellectual questioning; for them the one thing real is the heart, and all they ask of God and life is this–someone on whom to lavish all their love. The strange thing is how often they are baffled in that divinest of divine desires. And the years go by, and they have many friends; but the one friend of their dreaming never comes. And that is always a very bitter thing no matter how it be fought against in secret, for while an unsatisfied intellect is sore, a heart unsatisfied is sorer still. They have assayed to go into Bithynia, but somehow the pathway has been barred for them. Others have reached the sunshine on the hill; for them there has been no highway thitherward. And yet how often, for all its hidden loneliness, that ordering is found to be of God who trains His nobler children very sternly that they may come at last to rest in Him. Paul never would have heard that cry from Europe had he been suffered to go where he desired. It was when he was thwarted in his longings that “Come over and help us” rang upon his ear. And there are many of God’s servants still who never would have had their call to serve had the Spirit not darkly barred to them the way which led to the Bithynia of the heart.
The Baffling of Our Desires for Rest
In closing, may we not take our text of the baffling of our desires for rest? For as life advances rest becomes more sweet, and the comfort and the peace of life more dear. We ask for less and less as the years pass. That is always one sign of growing older. The land that we long for now is not a mountain-land; it is a land of quiet peacefulness and comfort. So we assay to go into Bithynia where we shall be comfortable and contented, and then comes God and bars the journey thither and says to us, “This is not your rest.” He does it sometimes by the hand of sickness falling on the children whom we love. He does it sometimes by the hand of death, shattering the contentment of our days. He does it by conscience keeping us uneasy; by fear of tomorrow in our most sure estate; by the shame which visits us when we see other lives so strenuous and so gallant to the end. God uses all that to drive us from Bithynia and to send us onward to the shore at Troas. He blocks our way when we would settle here and urges us mightily to the beyond until at last a man lifts up his heart to things that are eternal and unshaken, and finds his rest where there is no more death and where Christ is at the right hand above.