Tag Archives: Patience

The Easy Way Out

If we have found favor in your eyes,” they said, “let this land be given to your servants as our possession. Do not make us cross the Jordan.”
Numbers 32:5 (NIV)

When I was a kid I was terrible at waiting for things. My sister, Jody, and I would always tell each other what we were getting for Christmas. I just had to know, even though it pretty much ruined Christmas morning as a time of pleasant surprises.

Driven by my appetites I was terribly impatient as a young person and typically wanted things now. Perhaps this developed from being the youngest sibling and watching others get to do things first while I had to wait until I was big enough or old enough. Perhaps it’s just part of my personality. Whatever the case, I can tell you that throughout my life journey when I was given a choice between the instant, easy gratification of a known quantity or the long, slow, patient wait for a promised, better pay-off down the line, I have typically always chosen the former. I’ve been very good at taking the easy-way out.

This trait has generally not served me well.

So it was with great interest that I read the story of the Hebrew tribes of Reuben, Gad in today’s chapter. If you’ve been following the larger story we know that many years before today’s chapter Moses led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land God had promised them in the land of Canaan.

Back in those ancient days the land was largely made up of small city-states that controlled a small territory. Sometimes these towns would band together to form a larger, regional power in the area, but often each city-state would build a wall around their village and go it on their own.  In those days it was a dog-eat-dog world in which people groups were constantly invading and conquering one another. You were always at risk of a larger, stronger people showing up out of nowhere, conquering you, killing your entire population, and taking all of your possessions as plunder. If the Israelites wanted the Promised Land they would have to take it by conquest. It seems bloody and barbaric in our politically correct, modern Western world, but the ancient world of the near east was a bloody, barbaric place. It’s just the way it was.

A generation earlier, on their first visit to the Promised Land, Moses sent spies into the land to check things out. All but two of the spies were fearful and advised not starting a military campaign to take the land. Two spies, Joshua and Caleb, advised that the Israelites have faith in God and go for it. Because of the tribes’ lack of faith God said they’d continue to be a nomadic, wandering people for an entire generation before giving their children another chance.

As today’s chapter opens we’re setting up for the second chance. The Hebrew Tribes have approached the Jordan River and are once more looking out over the Promised Land. It’s right there for the taking, but it will require a hard campaign of conquest an no guarantee of victory. Now, the Reubenites and Gadites come to Moses and say, “We like this land we’re standing on. Perfect for our flocks. We’ll settle for this. Have fun with the conquest.

It’s just like me as a little kid. “I’ll take the thing I can have right now. This land I can see and we already possess and I don’t have to worry about conquering? It will be way more easy. I’ll take the easy way out, thank you.”

Moses immediately thinks, “It’s deja vu all over again.”

When confronted with what they were doing, the Reubenites and Gadites strike a pledge that they will settle the land they were on, but would send their men on the military campaign to support their fellow tribes in the conquest. Moses agrees, but I can feel an eery foreshadowing of problems to come…

  • Will the Reubenites and Gadites really be committed to supporting the conquest when their wives and children are back on the other side of the Jordan?
  • Will the Reubenites and Gadites leave their best fighters to protect their families and possessions and send their worst fighters on conquest? How’s that going to go over with the other tribes?
  • Once the Promise Land is secured will the Reubenites and Gadites be pissed off when they realize that they settled for less when they could have had much better land if they’d just been patient and held-out like the other tribes?

[Cue: red flags waving, alarm bells going off, and a loud buzzer]

All of the hard lessons this impatient person has learned along my life journey tells me this is not going to end well.

This morning I’m reminded of some of my own mistakes when I chose immediate, easy gratification over a much better, promised pay-off that required patience, fortitude and/or hard work. Some of these mistakes were silly and insignificant, but others were tragically life changing.

I’ve learned over time to recognize the pattern in myself. I’ve developed more patience. Having experienced some really good “promised land” rewards and delayed gratification has given me positive reinforcement on which to draw upon. I’m more likely to make wise choices today than I was in my younger years. Nevertheless, I’ve learned that some natural inclinations never go away. I just have to learn to recognize and manage the moment when I’m tempted to take the easy way out.

The Slippery Sweet-Spot Between Acting and Waiting

Moses answered them, “Wait until I find out what the Lord commands concerning you.”
Numbers 9:8 (NIV)

There are many forks in life’s road. There’s no avoiding it. It just is what it is.

Where do I go to school?
Should I marry him/her?
Do I speak out or hold my tongue?
Should I take this job that’s been offered to me or hold out for the job I really want? 
Should we rent or should we buy?
Do I invest in new or get by with used?
Should we stay or should we go?

As we traverse the Book of Numbers there is a pattern or repetition that many readers don’t catch. The phrase “The Lord said to Moses” is used repeatedly. In fact, it’s used over 50 times. In today’s chapter, some of the people bring Moses a question about how to handle an exceptional circumstance regarding the Passover celebration. Moses simply says he’ll check with God and God provides a seemingly quick answer.

We then go on to read in today’s chapter that the decision of going or staying was miraculously provided for the ancient Hebrews. According to the story there was a cloud that hovered over their traveling tent temple which gave them indication whether God wanted them to move or stay put. When the cloud remained over the tent they stayed put. If the cloud lifted they broke camp and moved.

Wow, I’d love it if God’s guidance and direction were that easy for me to see. At the same time, I have to acknowledge that this may have been the only easy thing in the experience of the Hebrews. I’m quite sure I’d struggle living the life of an ancient nomad wandering in the desert with a couple million cousins.

I have discovered along life’s road that there is a slippery sweet-spot of tension between discernment and decision. We live in an age when time is measured in nanoseconds and we are used to getting things “on demand.” I perceive that the virtues of patience, peace and prayer are increasingly found in short supply in our culture. At the same time, I have known many followers of Jesus who take so long to “prayerfully consider” decisions that they make no progress in their respective  journeys.

This morning I find myself once again seeking to both find and hold the tension between acting and waiting. I don’t want to be so quick to make decisions that I forget to pray for guidance and to give wise consideration to options and potential consequences. At the same time, I don’t want to become paralyzed waiting for some divine sign when there is a clear need to act judiciously and with expedience.

More, Faster

Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains.
James 5:7 (NRSV)

The culture I have known my entire earthly pilgrimage is one of instant gratification. In comparison to my childhood, the world I now experience on a daily basis is instant gratification on steroids. Things just keep moving at increasing speed. This is not the musings of an aging man, but the realities of a culture rebuilding Babel with Cat-5 cable and DNA strands.

When I was 5 I received an “electronic football” game for Christmas that was nothing more than a vibrating panel with little plastic men moving chaotically around the bouncing cardboard panel. Sometimes the “running back” with the magnetic ball on his base would spin around in circles. Sometimes he turned around and vibrate to the opponents end zone for a safety. I was, nevertheless, mesmerized by the experience.

When I was 10 I was playing a hand-held “Mattel Electronic Football” game that was nothing more than little red blips on a tiny screen which would switch on and off representing players (see featured image). I played it for hours, those red blips transformed by  my imagination into the Minnesota Vikings winning the Super Bowl.

When I was 30 I was playing football as a video game on my home computer. The black and white, heavily pixelated graphics seemed revolutionary. Now the computer could simulate actual players, teams and leagues and keep track of my stats across an entire fantasy season.

When I was 40 I had a gaming console playing a much more sophisticated and realistic video game version of football allowing me to play the game as a player, coach the team, or run an entire team franchise including roster moves and salary caps.

At 50 I can play electronic football that looks like a real television broadcast complete with commentary, and I can play against virtually any person, anywhere in the world from the comfort of my man cave.

This is just a trite example, of course. Yet, I can expand this example to almost everything I do during my day. I am growing increasingly used to getting what I want, when I want, and how I want it.

How is this affecting my spirit?

source: singularity.com
source: singularity.com

Throughout God’s Message we find example after example of people who waited. Noah built the ark and waited for years before it rained. Abraham and Sara were promised that their descendants would number like the stars in the sky, then waited for decades before their first child was born. Joseph, as a child, received a vision of his brothers bowing down before him then lived a lifetime of struggle, slavery, scandal and imprisonment before it was ultimately fulfilled. David was promised he would be king as an adolescent boy, then spent thirty years on the run with a price on his head before it would come to fruition.

I have learned along my journey that God’s sense of timing is not our human sense timing. Following Jesus and fulfilling our God-given purpose requires patience, waiting, and perseverance. These qualities are increasingly rare in a world in which I can order virtually anything I want from the palm of my hand and have it delivered to my door step within hours or days. Why on earth would I believe in a God who wants to groom me to accomplish His purpose for over 40 years when I can have my 15 minutes of fame on YouTube right now?

This morning I’m thinking about purpose and patience. In a world that keeps speeding up, I am realizing how critical it is for me to choose to slow down, breathe deeply, and be patient. God’s creation is about the ebb and flow of time and seasons. Humanity’s creation is about more, at increasing rates of speed. If I am going to embrace the former, I must consciously address the latter.

chapter a day banner 2015featured image source: dcjohn via Flickr

Patient Response

Now if it pleases the king, let a search be made in the royal archives of Babylon to see if King Cyrus did in fact issue a decree to rebuild this house of God in Jerusalem. Then let the king send us his decision in this matter.
Ezra 5:17 (NIV)

In less than two weeks I’ll finish my decade long tenure as President of our local community theatre. We’re a small organization in a small town so our troubles and travails are of little importance in the grand scheme of life. Still, I find it ironic that in the last few months of my term I have experienced more stress and anxiety than ever.

Our stage home resides in a very old building owned by the community that has served us well, but it is in need of extensive repairs and updating. The city is investigating the facility’s use and exploring all of the options available. This has created anxiety and fear for some people, and there have been strong reactions to the situation.

This came to mind this morning as I read of the Hebrews rebuilding the temple while their enemies and neighbors actively petitioned the king and worked political channels to make them stop. I can only imagine the diverse and passionate reactions they must have had among their people to the situation. It makes me glad that I’m merely dealing with a small community theatre and not a national crisis.

In today’s chapter, I read how the political process continued to work itself out. Accusations were met with investigation and the investigation is unearthing the truth of the situation. It takes time, but the Hebrews did well to remain faithful in the task and to trust God to work things out through the process. It’s a great lesson.

Looking back, I see how my passionate reactions to situations in life, motivated by fear and anxiety, have led to unwarranted overreactions. I’ve come to believe that life situations are best handled through patient and thoughtful response. Remaining prayerfully engaged and letting the process play out is rarely a foolish choice.

 

chapter a day banner 2015

featured photo:  janicskovsky
via Flickr

Even the Wise Stumble

stumble danceSome of the wise will stumble, so that they may be refined, purified and made spotless until the time of the end, for it will still come at the appointed time.
Daniel 11:35 (NIV)

Our culture does not like stumblers. We like our heroes to be perfect. I have noticed over the years that if we as a culture like a particular hero well enough we will even turn deaf ear and blind eye to his or her stumbling. Most of the time, however, we prefer to socially crucify people for stumbling, especially if their stumbling disappoints us or brings the arrogant down a notch or two.

I found it interesting what the Man in Daniel’s vision slipped in during the lengthy explanation of what was to happen politically in the centuries following Daniel’s life. “Some of the wise will stumble, so that they may be refined, purified and made spotless until the time of the end, for it will still come at the appointed time.” In other words, even the wise may stumble, and there is ultimate purpose in their mistakes as the consequences of their mistakes refines them. People learn from their mistakes.

Having had my fair share of stumbling in this life, I can attest to both the pain and the purpose of the refinement process. The further I get in this journey the more grace I find that I have with the stumbling of others. I find myself more often choosing not to focus on the disappointment of a person’s mistake in the moment, but to consider what good purpose God’s refinement process might ultimately serve in making him or her a more healthy and whole person.

The Thunder of His Voice on the Horizon

source: andyrs via Flickr
source: andyrs via Flickr

“At this my heart pounds
    and leaps from its place.
Listen! Listen to the roar of his voice,
    to the rumbling that comes from his mouth.
He unleashes his lightning beneath the whole heaven
    and sends it to the ends of the earth.
After that comes the sound of his roar;
    he thunders with his majestic voice.
When his voice resounds,
    he holds nothing back.”
Job 37:1-4 (NIV)

While I was in college I had a friend whose family owned a cabin on the southeastern shores of Lake Michigan. One evening we were visiting their cabin and parked along some cliffs that afforded an expansive view of the western horizon, the Great Lake, and the Chicago skyline in the distance. It was a gorgeous, calm evening but behind the skyscrapers of Chicago we saw black clouds rising. Over the next couple of hours we watched a massive midwestern thunderstorm develop before our eyes. The dark clouds rose like mighty pillars and giant tentacles of lighting spread out like a breath-taking fireworks display across the evening sky. As the storm enveloped the city and began to cross the lake, the wind rose and giant white caps began to break against the shore beneath us. The thunder was deafening.

God says that His eternal nature is evident in creation, in what He has made. That night looking out over Lake Michigan I remember thinking that we were witnessing a tour de force of God’s might. I’ve never forgotten that experience, and as I read the opening lines of Elihu’s conclusion in this morning’s chapter, my mind took me right back to that night.

Elihu’s final words regarding the thunder of God’s voice foreshadows the final chapters of Job’s epic poem. After 37 chapters of silence in response to Job’s questions and the long debate with his friends, God is about to open His mouth to speak.

As I write this post it is the morning of New Year’s Eve day. I look back on a strange and somewhat difficult year in 2014. I stand on the precipice of 2015 with more questions than answers. It’s perhaps apropos that the year had ended with a journey through Job’s epic poem, with questions, and with struggle. It is equally appropriate that the current year ends waiting to hear from the Almighty, and that the new year will begin with God’s voice. Whether God’s voice arrives in the thunder of a  midwest storm or the whisper of a still, small voice, I’m anxious to hear what God has to say. I’m looking forward to what the new year will bring.

Weathering the Extremities of Emotional Storms

source: 57973238@N03 via Flickr
source: 57973238@N03 via Flickr

Remember, O God, that my life is but a breath;
my eyes will never see happiness again.
Job 7:7 (NIV)

I despise my life; I would not live forever.
    Let me alone; my days have no meaning.
Job 7:16 (NIV)

I have never experienced suffering like Job, and I hope that I never do. I have not met anyone who has suffered the level of tragedy that Job suffered. I have, however, heard many people lament the suffering they are experiencing with Job-esque intensity. I have even been been to wail out the blues on occasion myself.

As I read through Job’s diatribe this morning I noticed a common thread that I often discover in my own wailing and in the wailing of others: extremes. Intense emotions tend to produce extreme thinking. Job proclaims that his eyes will never see happiness again. His days have no meaning whatsoever. I empathize with Job’s plight, and I fully understand the extremity of emotions he’s experiencing and expressing. Nevertheless, neither statement is true.

Job does not, at this point, know the end of his story. He does not see the days that lie ahead for him, and he has no crystal ball do divine whether he will ever be happy or not. Not only does Job’s days and suffering have meaning, they will become the source of meaning, understanding, and inspiration for billions of people across the breadth of time.

“Never.”
“Always.”
“Forever.”
“Constantly.”
“Continually.”
“At all.”
“Not once.”

These are words and phrases that I hear in conversation which set off my “extremity” alarm. When the alarm goes off it tells me that whoever is saying it (and, it might very well be me) may be feeling an intensity of emotion that is leading to the experiencing of irrational thought. It’s not necessarily wrong, bad, or sinful. It may very well be part of a healthy progression and expression of feelings that will lead to good things and a healthier place. The pinnacle of the emotional storm might be a very good time to try and empathize with that person, but it may not be the best moment to try and reason with him or her.

Today, I’m thinking about my own penchant for thinking in extremes, and thinking about some extreme proclamations I’ve heard out of people’s mouths in recent days. As I learn to discern these intense conversations in the moment I am able to respond to the extremity alarm with grace, patience, kindness, and empathy rather than anger, frustration, or vengeance. Wisdom is found in knowing when to speak and when to be silent. I’m finding that present, loving silence is often the best response to storms of extreme emotion, and rational words are better left for the calm that eventually comes after the storm.