anxiety and kindness

“Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up.” (Proverbs 12:25)

At first glance, the teaching of this Proverb seems over simple and it’s easy (for me, maybe not others) to say, “Well, of course. This is more self evident than gravity.”

If I can humble myself to get down off my high horse, I’ll dig a little deeper. Here’s the next step:

When I’m with an anxious person, speak kind words, don’t add to it.
When I am the anxious person, seek out people with kind words, not those who will add to it.

Anytime I read a scripture and my first response is, “oh yea, I’ve got that one,” I see this as a sure sign that I need to dig deeper. I don’t want to invent complexities and split hairs–this is fruitless–but neither do I want to miss out on an important truth the Spirit is teaching.

 

wisdom in the eye of the beholder

Do not be wise in your own eyes” (Proverbs 3:7)

What a perfect picture of pride. We need this picture because it is the struggle of every growing Christian.

This command can be difficult for the wise to follow–should a wise person not see themselves accurately?

Perhaps is means, “Do not see yourself as wise enough.” This would fit with the context, (Trust in the Lord, lean not on your understanding…fear the Lord).

How can we maintain this humility? What does it mean to ask of ourselves, “Am I too wise in my own eyes?” Here is what it has meant for me:

  • We can remember our mistakes, foolishness, and sin. Seeking God’s forgiveness keeps us humble.
  • We can keep learning, which I wrote about here: (Why the pursuit of wisdom never stops).
  • We can think about the mysteries of God, exploring the limits of our understanding leads to humility.

 

 

 

Why the pursuit of wisdom never stops

“Let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance.” (Proverbs 1:5)

When it comes to wisdom, there is never a moment when a person has “arrived” and can take easy and stop learning. Here are a few reasons why:

  • We are great at forgetting stuff. We need to keep learning because what we really need is to relearn the important things we’ve forgotten due to carelessness.
  • We haven’t seen it all. Every situation is like a snowflake. Although they may be similar on a superficial level, in the details, each one is unique and calls for a nuanced discernment. When our responses become automatic, we run the risk of a hardened heart. Vibrant habit becomes meaningless ritual. Brillant insight spirals downward into blind assumption.
  • We are different. Our personalities may change very little over the years, but our priorities don’t. If we are growing spiritually, they become more focused and less selfish.
  • God is infinite. We can never learn everything about the heart of God.

I’m sure there are many other reasons why we must keep up the pursuit of wisdom, but one thing is clear: even the wise are to keep adding to their learning.

one really weak question

The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” (John 2:18)

Here’s the backstory:  Jesus enters the temple courts and finds too much “business” happening, animals were sold and money was being exchanged. Jesus was “consumed with zeal” and drove out everyone that turned the temple into a market.

The people who didn’t like it confronted Jesus. They wanted a sign, something that would establish his his authority.

Jesus could have preformed a miracle on the spot, but he didn’t. He could have talked about the sign he had just preformed (creating wine at a wedding), in effect saying, “ask around, others know my authority.” Instead he talked about the future, in a way that was confusing.

They asked the wrong question.

They should have known Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11 (quoted by Jesus in the other gospel accounts). The temple was to be a house of prayer, not a den of robbers. Why would Jesus need to do a miracle when the truth was self evident–at least it should have been. At a minimum, they should have asked a question, perhaps something like

“Teacher, why are you doing this?”

Ignorance is better than foolishness…but these people were fools–made so by their selfish pursues. Looking for authority when they should not have needed it. If they were more concerned for the truth, and authentic worship, they would have resonated with the Words of Jesus.

Instead, they wanted something fantastic.

We are dazzled by the fantastic–that’s human nature–but when we demand it from God, we presume too much. It is not our place to put God to the test.

There is another problem with demanding things from God. This attitude reflect a posture of the heart that is too hardened by entitlement to hear God speak. Jesus could have done a miracle, but they would have made another excuse.

 

Silent service is the difference between shutting up and speaking up

Perfect Storm Factor #1: I have a ton of ideas and opinions about nearly every subject.

I’m constantly thinking about things that I don’t understand–which is all the time because the world is a confusing place. I am constantly making mistakes and work to correct them. Some people call me quick witted–but I’m just sharing what I’ve already been thinking about. In school, some people are natural geniuses other people do a lot of homework. I’m in the second group. I’m not smart, I just think a lot.

This leads to deep convictions. I know I’m not always right, but I’m typically more confident than most that what I’m talking about is correct.

Sounds arrogant. I know. That’s not my heart. When I’m unsure of stuff, I try to give it an appropriate “I could be wrong…” but I don’t do a great job of this. #WorkingOnIt

Perfect Storm Factor #2: To make communication matters worse, I get real comfortable really quick. I somehow lost the basic human social skill that says, “take your time to get to know people.*”  No one has ever accused me of being a diplomat.

As an aside: I love diplomats. Some of my best friends are diplomats. I envy their patience and self-control and have learned to follow their example. (Although, based on this post, it may not sound like it! HA!!).

Perfect Storm Factor #3: The final factor of this relational conflict causing “perfect storm” is that I really like to be understood by others–especially people I respect. When I feel like I’m misunderstood, I typically (over?) confidently (over?) share. I never wonder why my closest friends get worn out sometimes.

Anyhow, I could have cut everything before this sentence and had a perfectly good teaching. Such is (my) life.

The discernment of when to speak and when to keep quiet is a difficult for just about everyone. From what I’ve observed**, most of us speak too much or too little. Thankfully, we have God’s Word to guide us:

Proverbs 26:4-5
“Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.”

For many years, I saw little practical wisdom in this scripture beyond, “Sometimes you need to speak up, sometimes you don’t.” I was fine with that, and it did little to slow down my speaking up.

Years later I discovered / received from God a*** clue for discernment: do not speak up when you will be like the fool, speak up when you can show the fool his (or her) foolishness.

Since then, I’ve been a lot more quiet. Many fools are confidently convinced of their own wisdom…and if I try to do anything about it, I’ll be a fool myself. In these situations, it’s my job to work harder to earn the right to be heard.

So here is my prayer:

Lord, Help me to correct every fool who will listen, to be a silent servant of those who won’t.

Lord, Help me not be wise in my own eyes so that I can hear the answers to my own foolishness.

 

*Originally, this line was, “work hard for people to like you” … but that sounds so dismissive/condescending of people whom I’d label diplomats.

**This is one of those phrases I use to try and soften the “strength” of my opinion / conviction…did it work? Did this footnote kill that?

***typically, I’d write “the clue” rather than “a clue” … because for me personally, it was a definitive clue.

putting a god back in his place

“They took Dagon and put him back in his place.” (1 Sa 5:3)

Under the corrupt leadership of Eli, the Philistines captured the Ark of the Covenant. Like a trophy, they placed it next to their false god Dagon.

Dagon was an important god, adopted by the Philistines from the Babylonians. Although Dagon’s precise nature is unknown, scholarship suggests he was the god of farming, grain, and maybe even fish.

Next to the true God of Israel, Dagon had no power. In the morning, their God was on the floor, laying on his face. If I were one of the angels assigned to this task, I would have chuckled constantly though the night! Of course, this was no mere prank, it was a demonstration of God’s power. Dagon was submitted to God.

When their god failed them, the Philistines propped him back up and put him in his place.

They should have repented and put their faith in the God of Israel. Dagon was a god “adopted” from Babylon, why not accept a new one who has demonstrated his power as the one true God? The next day was worse: not only was their god face down on the ground, but his head and hands were broken off. A perfect picture of utter powerlessness.

Our God is a God of absolute power. Nothing else even comes close. He is Altogether Holy: beyond and above everything in creation. No one gives him instructions or even advice.

We all love to control the important things in our lives. We believe it leads to lasting confidence and comfort. Our drive for control often determines what we worship.

Even when we come face to face with the truth of how powerless our false gods are, we still choose to worship things we can control. 

We know our worship is weak when we work to put God in his place. Our God is no mere statue that can be put on display. First in this room, then in that pone. We may say we worship the God of the Bible, but in our hearts we write a different story.

In spite of our deepest self-deceptions and carefully constructed rationalizations, God can’t be controlled.

Our calling is to submit and follow his leading and turn away from the false gods we worship. When things went sideways, the Philistines put their god back in his place. This is a clear warning that we shouldn’t follow their example.

 

 

 

 

 

Why do we irritate others?

“…her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her.”(1 Samuel 1:6)

What moves us to provoke others? Even when we are so richly blessed, why do we feel the need to grind others down?

Perhaps it is a lack of thankfulness, we fail to remember and acknowledge God as the provider of everything we need. Our lack of gratitude hardens our heart to the troubles others face.

Perhaps it is a fear of loosing what we have, and and since we lack a sense of control we lash out and exercise our power.

Perhaps it is greed, and we can’t stand the reality that others may possess what we also have. We see God’s blessings as limited and feel if others are blessed, we will somehow miss out on what we may gain.

Perhaps it is a lack of contentment, we refuse to be satisfied with what we have and so we tear down others because we lack peace. If we are not content, why should others be?

Perhaps it is a lack of joy and in our misery we seek to ruin the happiness of others.

Perhaps it is a lack of confidence, and in our insecurity we think that we make ourselves strong when we shine a light on the weaknesses of others.

The human heart is complex, a maze with constantly shifting walls. We act poorly, and because we don’t take the time to examine our motivations, we easily justify and rationalize our terrible deeds.

What a difficult challenge from Jesus: blessed are the peacemakers! It is so much easier to cause discord than sow peace. We ought to help carry the burdens of others, not add to them. When we live in biblical fellowship, we fulfill the law of Christ.

Life Together, D. Bonhoeffer

Every human idealized image that is brought into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be broken up so that genuine community can survive. Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest, and sacrificial.

–Life Together, D. Bonhoeffer

No One Lacks Integrity

Let us consider two essential dynamics of the spiritual life.

Faith without deeds is dead. Belief is not enough.

Without faith it is impossible to please God. Actions are not enough either.

 

The spiritual life consists of thinking right thoughts and doing right actions. Growing spiritually is the process of thinking MORE right thoughts and doing MORE right actions.

It’s not enough to believe the right things, and only have “head knowledge,” our faith must most motivate real actions.

It’s not enough to do the right things, and simply be a person people consider “good,” our good actions must be born out of a love for God.

 

Many people can answer tough theological questions and paint colorful pictures describing God … but they aren’t actually loving other people: Living in community, demonstrating grace, and speaking the truth in love.

Many people get along with others and are well liked because they are kind…but they aren’t actually moved by their love for God: acknowledging his power, thankful for his gifts, and trusting his promises.

 

The spiritual life is like a rope, a pair of cords twisted together.

 

From God’s perfect point of view, there is no separation between faith and deeds. 0ur actions in the world and attitudes of the heart are inseparable. A tree is known by it’s fruit.

 

The challenge therefore is not to match up our inner thoughts and outer actions—they are already a mirror image of one another. A tree is known by its fruit.

 

“You lack integrity!” is a cry that comes from a human perspective. One person sees and acknowledges the corrupt heart of another…

 

The challenge for the growing believer is to walk in step with God’s Spirit, spend time in God’s Word, and share authentically with God’s people…in these simple practices we receive greater insight into our hearts and greater wisdom in our actions.

 

Let us evaluate our understanding of what is good and right and true. Is it based on God’s Word or our personal experience?

Let us examine our motivations behind our kind words and good deeds. Are we looking for selfish gain or promoting God’s kingdom?

 

You know you are growing spiritually when we are thinking new thoughts (or rejecting lies) and when we are obeying more often.

 

The spiritual life isn’t a list of things to do, nor is it a list of things to know. It is both.

Witness as Worship

“Look at the nations and watch—and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.” (Habakkuk 1:5)

It would be so much simpler if I could get all the life change I needed from just listening and learning from God. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work this way. At least, not all the time.

Without a doubt, we must discover and develop the discipline of listening to God speak. His Word and his Spirit is invaluable for our spiritual progression. We must also devote ourselves to discernment, the spiritual habit of looking out in to the world to see where God is working.

God is speaking, YES! But he is also acting, moving, working in the world. He is DOING amazing things that we need to see so that we might understand, appreciate, and respond with awe. There are some spiritual vistas we can only reach by witnessing God at work.

Naturally, this teaching is paralleled in our human relationships. Actions speak louder than words. Integrity leads to credibility. We learn more from example than lecture. Witnessing a great act of sacrifice and service is more powerful than hearing about a person’s willingness to sacrifice and serve.

Let’s reboot and start from the beginning. The spiritual life is about growing closer to God, understanding him more, obeying him more. Because God is infinite in every direction—power, love, understanding, presence—growing closer to him naturally leads to moments of wordless awe and amazement. We will discover these things in quiet reflection and time in God’s word, but we also must be looking out into the world and witness where God is working.

Better to see the sun set than have someone describe it.