Learning to Love (I Corinthians 13), Part 8

Pendennis_Castle_(1).jpg

Is not Easily Angered.

We have read so far that “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not self-seeking…” Now we add “it is not easily angered.” It’s no surprise that the description of love as “not easily angered” falls close on the heels of “not self-seeking.” Anger is a close relative of the self-seeking behaviours.

From toddlerhood each of us develops extensive and creative systems for our own self-defense; its first expression is inevitably in the angry use of the word “No!” wielded with great authority from lips little more than novices in their own mother tongue. We learn early to defend our own self-determined plans and before long become masters at the task.

Self-defense—and by this I do not mean primarily physical protection of one’s self—is necessary when there is no one outside of ourselves to whom we can entrust the job of protection. If I see myself as the primary person responsible for guarding and fortifying the value of me (my ideas, my hopes and my dreams), I must practice self-defense. I must build certain walls and barriers to protect my vulnerabilities from being discovered, and my plans from being hindered. And in some cases, when my defense warning system is deployed, a weapon must be wielded to ensure self-protection—I give vent to unmitigated anger.

“For many,” observes C.S. Lewis, “the great obstacle to (love) lies … in our fear—fear of insecurity.” We may not consciously admit it to ourselves, but we are afraid for our very lives and we’re scrabbling to cover that fear with bluster.

The Biblical directives toward restraining anger are not external and superficial fixes. They are not commands to control our rage on the outside, while we continue to seethe and smolder or shake and shiver within. They get to the root of the problem, to our inner need to solve the problem of our insecurity. Let’s be ruthlessly honest: none of us is capable of loving like this chapter in I Corinthians suggests. We are rightfully insecure to recognize how little capable of loving (not to mention living rightly) we truly are.

Jesus once explained to a couple of disconsolate travelers that Scripture is not a list of dos and don’ts. It is not quick fixes or fake smiles. Scripture is all about Himself, Jesus—it’s a picture of Him coming into our sad human condition and offering us something we can never create for ourselves. He is the great Rock and Shield who alone can defend and protect our inner selves. He gave the Emmaus Road travelers example after example, and the revelation opened their eyes and ears.

“Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” they asked each other afterward in awe. This was not the burning of anger but the warmth and energy of Christ’s loving Spirit entering into their hearts and minds and souls. This was the great ‘ah hah’ moment; they finally understood that Christ was moving through history to ensure He would—in God’s perfect timing—die for all humanity to rescue us all from our great insecurity, and then rise to lead us to everlasting life.

Jesus is perfect love. He initiates loving us, and if we receive His overtures, we find ourselves dropping our guard and finding true inner rest. The events or persons or situations that used to anger us now fall more and more under the influence and authority of Jesus, our Protector.

So once more we find Jesus to be relevant to life. No more hiding behind ramparts, shooting angry darts at others and causing chaos all round. When we come to Jesus for love, we gradually learn to recklessly love others without defending ourselves. No need for anger. Anger never worked anyways.

(Photo Credit: By Darren Shilson from St Stephen, UK, United Kingdom (Pendennis Castle B+W Uploaded by oxyman) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)

Advertisements

Learning to Love (I Corinthians 13), Part 7

IMG_2101.JPG

Is not Self-seeking.

Nothing is more natural to us than to look out for ourselves. We do it all the time, and sometimes it is even good for us. We prepare our meals keeping our fingers away from the sharp edge of the knife; we look both ways before crossing the street; we don warm clothes in winter and sunblock in summer. But paradoxically, nothing is more of an obstacle, barrier, and impediment to love than looking out for ourselves.

The writer of I Corinthians 13 has been scrutinizing the notion of love. He has been examining, defining, and virtually dissecting every facet of love for those who care to listen. The ancient text was written specifically to new believers in the Greek city of Corinth (c. A.D. 56), but also to “all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours.” He wants people to understand some hard lessons about love.

He has started by explaining that love is patient and kind, that it does not envy or boast, and that it is not proud or rude. Those were the kindergarten and elementary lessons on love. We need to work on those, but they are child’s play compared to what’s coming. Now the Apostle Paul propels us into graduate-level course work. Enough of the easy stuff; it’s time, he seems to suggest, to get down to the real labour of love—the nitty-gritty, ‘get your hands dirty or get out of the garden’ kind of love.

“Love…” Paul explains, “is not self-seeking.”

Adjectives for self-seeking are: self-esteeming, self-interested, self-important, self-serving, self-centred, self-absorbed, and self-obsessed. Read that list again slowly, thoughtfully and carefully. There are other adjectives that go even further, descriptors like egotistical and narcissistic—pathologic extremes of self-centredness—illustrating how destructive the tendency in us can become. But for now, let’s choose from the ‘self’ list one adjective that describes, at least to some degree, our own experience. Let’s put it under the microscope and see what the fuss is all about.

Paul warn us against self-seeking behaviours because in the long run, when we put self-interest ahead of others-interest and ultimately God-interest, we destroy ourselves. Our self was not made to bear the weight of our own inward focus. God created us to find our greatest fulfillment by centering ourselves on Him first, on others second, and on ourselves last. Reversing that order is counter-productive to our need for love. So why do we do it?

We do it because we fall for the world’s oldest lie. The deception is: “The only way to truly be happy is to look out for myself.” We won’t go into where that lie originates; that’s a story for another day. Self-seeking motives hide deep in the recesses of our souls, come imbedded in our very DNA, and cause at least three injuries to us.

Firstly, they are isolating. When we are making decisions based on how to ensure outcomes that benefit us, they are bound to segregate us from others—especially the ones who suffer from our benefitting. When we become preoccupied with our own issues (our external appearance, our social media standing, our finances, our passions, and even our sufferings and experiences as victims) we fail to concern ourselves with others. We become care-less in looking out for the weak, the hurting and the love-needy. We become self-determining islands of isolation, focused only on our self. And selfishness ultimately makes us unlovable, further reinforcing that isolation.

Secondly, self-seeking motives are disillusioning. The lie sets us up to believe that the more we attend to ourselves the better things will be for us in the long run. We begin making choices out of fear for our own happiness, but find happiness an elusive thing to grasp. The older we get, the more we realize the labours of our lives ending much differently than we had planned. The disillusionment that follows this disappointment is often nothing less than overwhelming. Look at any example from the world’s highest pedestals of success and we see the carnage of lives crushed with disillusionment.

And thirdly, the inner drive for self is, in the end, self-destructive. The lack of love for others makes us not greater ourselves, but lesser. Our souls shrivel; our thoughts become disordered; our words take on twisted deceptions; we lose our hold on truth and reality and our actions become self-limiting. The goal of creating ourselves into masterpieces results in a corrupted shell of the glorious individual into which God envisioned making us.

What is the solution? In a word, Jesus. Jesus taught, “whoever finds his life will lose it but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” It’s a bold statement. It’s an impossible task. But here’s the miracle: Jesus came down to earth to live a life of selfless servanthood toward His heavenly Father and to all of humanity—to you and me. He repelled all temptations of self-interest and sacrificed His very life at the call of the Father to deliver us. And He offers His own Spirit to empower us to live for Him and to be like Him. That’s the breath-taking solution, designed and modeled by Love Himself. Here’s our opportunity. Each day He awaits our invitation to begin or continue the process of learning to love.

Learning to Love (I Corinthians 13), Part 6

Clay-ss-2005.jpg

Is Not Rude.

A lump of clay is rudimentary. It is the raw material of something more. When it had been part of the riverbank, its form had fit its function. It was a wall against spring rains swelling the creek into a riotous rush, threatening to overrun the edges of field, forest, and even city. But as a lump, washed from the bank and carried downstream, clay no longer assumes its natural function. Clay smears, smudges and muddens everything it touches. It stains clothing, clumps annoyingly on boot soles, and gets wedged under fingernails. It is rude.

When the Apostle Paul addends his list in I Corinthians 13 to include what love is not, he declares, “it is not rude.” What does this mean? Is it just another ‘thou shalt not’ that adds to the negative impression many have of what it means to be a person of faith? If it’s just about tiptoeing around other people’s compulsive sensitivities, surely we are culturally beyond that sanctimonious Victorian-era of priggishness, are we not?

Yet there it stands: “Love…is not rude.” No apology or explanation. What did Paul mean? Firstly, Paul didn’t actually use the word rude, because the international language of trade was not, of course, English. The word he used was a word with a negative prefix added to it—the way we add prefixes to words to make them mean the opposite—like: a-symmetry, mis-understanding, and il-logical. The word he negativized was from the verb ‘to form.’ He made it into something like de-form.

“Love,” Paul writes to the new believers in Corinth, “does not deform.” Love does not deform, twist, warp, disfigure or besmirch others—either in actions or with words. It does not muddy the waters of truth, smear others’ reputations, or stain the purity of others’ minds with its clinging insinuations.

“Let no unwholesome talk come out of your mouths,” Paul elaborates to another budding group of Christ-followers, “but only what is helpful for building others up, that it may benefit those who listen.” Unwholesome talk is a part of rudeness. It must go. But as with many aspects of being formed with the character of Jesus and living with integrity, the void it leaves must be filled with something Christlike. It’s like taking that messy, muddy, clay and bringing it into the craftsman’s studio. It must be dealt with on the potter’s wheel. It must be thrown, centred, pushed, pulled, squeezed, pressured, collared, shaped, raised, smoothed and inspected (my potter friends can confirm if these actions will make something of usefulness and value in the process of their craft).

“Finally,” Paul expands in an epistle to a third young assembly of believers, “…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Bringing love into the workrooms of our minds is where rudeness is reshaped into grace, disrespect is molded into consideration, and impropriety is transformed into high and noble conduct. Love is applying the beauty and grace of Christ to the raw material of our hearts and minds so it can work its way out through our mouths and hands and feet. It is centering our worldview upon the eternal truths of God’s Word. It is submitting ourselves to the hands of the Great Potter to see what He will create.

Paul was right. Love is not rude. It is too vast and inclusive to be bound by the sorry restrictions of rudeness. The Holy Spirit, the one Jesus designated to counsel and supply wisdom to His true followers, is present and perfectly qualified to do His recreative work in us, so let’s work with Him. We have love to become.

(Photo Credit By Siim Sepp – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=328890)

Learning to Love (I Corinthians 13), Part 5

bulb.jpg

Does Not Boast, Is Not Proud.

“That’s one small step for man,” the granular transmission of Neil Armstrong’s voice wavered, “one giant leap for mankind.” It was 1969 and Armstrong’s Teflon-booted feet had just stepped onto the surface of the untrodden moon. What was happening here? Was this project to put a man on the moon the natural expression of the ingenuity, curiosity, and wonder of the human species, or was it something less lofty? Critics view the Apollo 8 mission as an exorbitant and meticulous tactic in the Cold War between America and the Soviet Union to claim national superiority—to boast of being the best. Billions of dollars were spent to fortify that boast. Armstrong’s address implied more than a giant leap of scientific progress for all of humanity; it boasted supremacy.

National arrogance notwithstanding, what is it about boasting and pride that is a problem? The term ‘pride’ is commonly used in today’s culture with an almost virtuous ring to it. Merriam-Webster explains that the word has undergone semantic drift (an “evolution of usage resulting in changed meaning”). But there is something timeless about I Corinthians 13, something unabashed in maintaining, “love…does not boast, it is not proud.”

Biblical synonyms for pride are arrogance, conceit, and haughtiness. To be proud is to esteem one’s self-importance higher than one ought. But what do we mean by “ought”? Is there a higher authority than a person’s own judgment of herself, some higher bar that calls us to better choices, more authentic living? Bump up against an arrogant person and you will immediately experience the angst of an existential principle being violated. Why? Because you will recognize a proud person’s lack of love for his neighbour.

God is all about love. He is the full expression of love. “It’s,” explains Chris Webb (‘God-Soaked Life’), “his essential nature.” Having created our world as an articulation and demonstration of that love, God put an innate infrastructure within us that is synchronous with love. God’s purpose and focus in this universe is to create a community of unparalleled love through which He Himself lives, moves and has His being. We must love—we are made for it.

“(T)he crucial question is not whether we love or not;” explains Webb, “in the end we cannot escape our own nature. We will love. We’re helpless to do otherwise. No, the crucial question is this: what will we love—and what will our loving do to us and to the world around us?”

So our discomfort with pride—if we will admit it—is that it twists the proper focus and expression of love—the love that God designed us to have. It focuses love on oneself ultimately. Pride wants to lift up self, to put it on the plane of something to be worshiped, and to be unhindered in its behaviours as a deity would be. Boasting is merely the verbage that expresses the inner fomenting of pride.

The Apostle John comments on the problem of twisted love and its attendant pride and boasting. He warns, “—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away but the man who does the will of God lives forever” (I John 2:16,17).

It’s like turning on a lamp only to have the bulb flash, crackle, and then suddenly burn out. Have you experienced that? Some have called it the Edisonian-equivalent of a supernova. The flash and destruction of the light bulb is not a random, unexpected phenomenon; what has happened to the light bulb is a result of what has been happening inside the light bulb over a long period of time. Electric current passes through an incandescent bulb’s thin filament wire to produce heat and light while the filament becomes imperceptibly thinner. At first this thinning is just gradual, but over time the current flowing through the thinning tungsten filament produces heat that exceeds its operating temperature. In the case of our in-house ‘supernova’, the wire melts, a gap in the circuit is created, and a ‘tungsten arc’ flashes out the bulb’s final burst of light.

The thinning of the bulb’s filament is like pride. At first it’s almost unnoticeable. A thought here and there arises in our minds telling us ‘we are in control. We are the source of our power, our abilities and our successes. God may be out there, but we’d rather be independent of Him.’ Over time, though, there is a sort of runaway effect. The more we replace the presence of God with ourselves, the more we imagine our lives as self-determining, and the less we attend to our need for God to sustain us. Our filament-like souls become thinner and more fragile, but we are too busy thinking of the brightness we are creating.

Pride and boasting must be replaced with humility or we will self-destruct. God is love. He calls us to be filled with Himself but His love is only accessible if we come to Him in humility. The author of I Corinthians 13 recognizes that. He is giving us operating instructions for our human lives. When he explains that love “does not boast (and) is not proud” he is trying to help us see into ourselves and discern this uncomfortable truth. So let’s look at this aspect of our lives today and, God helping us, choose humility.

(Photo credit: By No machine-readable author provided. Dickbauch~commonswiki assumed (based on copyright claims). – No machine-readable source provided. Own work assumed (based on copyright claims)., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=583483)

Learning to Love (I Corinthians 13), Part 4

Gold_Bars.jpg

It Does Not Envy.

            ‘Two neighbours came out together to tender their petitions to the god Jupiter,’ describes one of Aesop’s tales entitled “Greed and Jealousy.” The two wanted their heart’s requests to be granted. The one neighbour was full of greed, the other consumed by envy. As the fable goes, Jupiter granted that each might have their request on the condition that the god would also give the alternate neighbour double the first one’s request.

The greed-filled neighbour began by praying for a room full of gold. The deity provided it and, as promised, furnished the other with two rooms full of the same. Now it was the envious neighbour’s turn. Envy not only covets, it cannot bear to think of another having more pleasure than itself. So, in spite of the two rooms of gold now at his disposal, the man devoured by envy prayed to have one of his own eyes blinded. What kind of request was that? It was an entreaty of a man ruled by envy to ensure that his neighbour would never be able to enjoy the beauty of his single room of gold.

“Envy,” explains author Chris Webb (“God-soaked Life”), is an example of “misdirected love. (Envy) can’t abide the idea of being exceeded by others.” While Aesop’s fable describes the extremity of one man’s envy against another, envy also insinuates itself into our lives in quieter, less obvious ways. It camouflages itself so that we are slow to recognize it, loath to acknowledge it and to do whatever it takes to remove its influence over us.

When we caution a friend to avoid certain new opportunities, we may be expressing envy by attempting to foil their success. When we share with others intelligence regarding the weaknesses of a common friend, envy may be our hidden motive. When we view others’ excellences with criticism or bitterness and are secretly happy to see them fall, envy is at the root of our reaction. For some, envy expresses itself in purposeful endeavors to discredit even God Himself. But as in Aesop’s fable, envy always consumes and eventually destroys its host.

The ‘Love Chapter’ of I Corinthians 13 is God revealing to you and me the tendencies of the human heart. It reveals the parameters of His idea of love—love that is directed in a uniquely non-destructive way. So while the Apostle Paul has begun his text with the placid phrases, “Love is patient, love is kind,” he now moves to aim his pen into the territory of our innate human vices, beginning with envy. Envy is love twisted inward. Envy is submitting to a greater disposition toward self than toward others. Envy wants self to rule supreme, and all others to be lesser.

But godly wisdom coaches us to see envy for what it is and to deal with it as with a mortal illness. As the Apostle Paul puts it in another epistle, envy arises out of “foolish(ness), disobedien(ce), dece(ption) and enslave(ry) (to) all kinds of passions and pleasures” (Titus 3:3). Those are hard truths to hear. But there’s more. He goes on to present the means of dealing with envy in our lives. Here it gets very personal; not everyone is willing to get so personal, so relational. He tells us we must embrace Christ’s redeeming grace and mercy, admit we’ve practiced a warped version of love and instead accept Christ’s version. He explains we need to make use of God’s indwelling Holy Spirit who gives us rebirth, renewal, and does a slow but complete clean-up in our lives.

Then we begin a process of learning a new kind of love, love arising out of the infinitely complete love of God. This love is called wise because it accounts for infinite reality and results in true human fulfillment in relationship with God and others. It “is first of all pure, then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere” (James 3:17).

So let’s take a deep breath and make a mental note to be alert to envy this week. Let’s ask God for eyes opened to our own envious thoughts, maybe even words and actions. Let’s acknowledge our sin, recognize the grace of Christ that heals us, and nip in the bud every bit of envy that tries to entangle us. God is faithful and wants to work in us the kind of love that Jesus’ life expresses. It’s the kind of love by which a human being like you and me can be transformed. It’s God’s love.

(Photo Credit: By Agnico-Eagle – Agnico-Eagle Mines Limited, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16231250)

Learning to Love (I Corinthians 13), Part 3

Old_woman_feeding_birds.jpg

Love is Kind.

What is love? Singer-songwriters—those who have the social contract for reflecting on what our culture understands as love—agree: Love is “what you do to (or for) me.” Artists illuminate the popular conception. Love, they cry, is what we get from our special other. Love is how they make us feel when our relationship is budding. Love is the passion and attraction and pounding heart rate their presence instills within us. Yes, we’ll return the favour, but we’ll only persist if we keep receiving the incoming sensations of ‘what they do to us.’

So when the Apostle Paul follows his “love is patient” tag from I Corinthians 13 with “love is kind” we may feel surprised, maybe even a little disillusioned. Love is…‘kind’? Kindness sounds so anticlimactic, so monotonous and mundane—a bit like the word ‘nice’. It was bad enough Paul began with love is patient, does he now think that love being kind will inspire us to expressions as grand as we imagine love ought to be?

To help us solve this dilemma, let’s explore kindness using the same template with which we investigated patience. With patience we began by pausing and simply acknowledging God’s existence, by recognizing that God is. Let’s do that again. Then we went a step deeper in step two, exploring how God exemplifies patience. So now we can ask the question in reference to kindness: Is God kind?

“The LORD is compassionate and gracious (another word for kind), slow to anger, abounding in love” (Psalm 103:8); “…the riches of [God’s] kindness, tolerance and patience…God’s kindness leads you toward repentance…” (Romans 2:4); “…[God’s]glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves” (Ephesians 1:6).

We are beginning to see the picture. God is kind and there is nothing mundane or monotonous about kindness. It is full and rich, creative and expressive, helping and healing. God speaks kindness, He acts kindness, He exudes kindness. The vast extent of His kindness is expressed in history’s focal moment: Jesus’ sacrificial and redemptive death on the cross. This kindness—completely unmerited by us—absolves us from the guilt of our rebellion against Him. This is the epitome and climax of everything the word kindness entails. Inhale that thought and we find the ‘love is kind’ concept expanding beyond our human conception. Christ enters our world and conquers spiritual death out of kindness for you and me.

Then comes step three. Let’s do as we did with patience. Let’s apply it. Let’s take the concept of kindness revealed to us through God’s Word and let’s do it. Be it. Kindness is no longer the bland, pedestrian image of an old woman feeding pigeons in Central Park; it is the Christ’s-love-motivated ambition to meaningfully touch others’ lives for good. And we are not called to show kindness only to the weak and helpless. We are summoned to be kind to the tiresome, obnoxious and maddening individuals in our lives—our enemies, for want of a better word. Jesus commands it.

“I tell you, love your enemies,” He challenges us. “Help and give without expecting a return. You’ll never—I promise—regret it. Live out this God-created identity the way our Father lives toward us, generously and graciously, even when we’re at our worst. Our Father is kind; you be kind” (Luke 6:35,36).

Did you catch the overarching rationality of living out kindness? Jesus says it is our God-created identity to be kind. As the Old English root of the word explains, kindness is tied to our identity. It reaches out “with the feeling of relatives for each other; natural, native, innate.” To be kind is to treat others as if they were kindred hearts, beloved members of one’s family. We must begin to think of others with grace and acceptance—perhaps as if they were our younger brothers and sisters.

And what will be the result of kindness?

Kindness works somewhat like forgiveness does—it changes the doer sometimes more than the recipient. Kindness changes us from trivial to sincere, from judging to just, from self-centred to selfless. It molds our character into becoming more Christlike as we practice kindness in our day-to-day lives. How do we learn to be kind? By studying Christ’s life. By reading it, meditating on it, eating, drinking and sleeping it. By submitting to Christ’s Spirit who wants to live out kindness through us we become Christ’s healing hands and feet to those with whom we connect—but only when we are kind.

So as we step into the foray of the day’s appointments, interruptions and interactions with an assortment of people—people we want to learn to love—let’s not forget the simple opportunities for kindness that suggest themselves to us. Patience calls us to slow down and wait; kindness calls us to step up and enter into. We do patience and we do kindness little by little. Each small success enables us to try next time with more skill. This is how the kindergarten of love works. Are we up for today’s lesson?

(Photo Credit: By Christopher Walker from Krakow, Poland (The Old Lady and the Birds) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Learning to Love (I Corinthians 13), Part 2

Heron.jpg

Love is Patient.

We’re asking, “How do we love the culture around us—co-workers, neighbours, friends, family, those who offend us, those who reject us, those who may even be changing our culture for the worse—how do we love them in a way that pleases God?”

We’ve seen what love is not. It is not big talk, brassy proofs, or bold campaigns—not that big, bold productions are necessarily bad. Look at God’s intrepid exhibition in creating the universe: stars, planets and moons flung into vast, meteoric order so that one small planet could sustain life. That’s mettle with infinite love at its core. But we’ve observed that when we humans try to replicate the show, it comes from a heart of fear: fear of being found out as frauds, fear of failing, fear of missing out, fear of not realizing our unique selves.

We are infatuated with the idea of love; we think expressions of passion and stagings of happy-ever-after romantic matches are love. We think love is something we fall into, something of which we are passive recipients, something we must release with open hands when we no longer feel its fire. We use the idea of love to justify actions that promote our own satisfaction regardless of the long-term consequences.

In what colours does the ‘Love Chapter ‘of the Bible paint love? If we still expect a pyrotechnic revelation of love, we’re in for a shock. Rather than love as the roar of a waterfall, we’re shown it as the whisper of a hummingbird’s wings. “Love is patient,” the Apostle Paul begins. The words painstakingly inked onto the original papyrus would have taken no small amount of determination to inscribe. The grain of the stripped, flattened and glued papyrus leaf would have tended to draw the ink in strange directions like bicycle wheels caught in a rut, careening off their intended path. It took resolution to write those words. It took patience.

But patient writing with ancient inscribing materials is nothing compared to patient loving. Patient loving, explains the Apostle, must persevere against the grain of our natural earth-bound inclinations. What is patience? How do we begin to grasp the facets of this complex and difficult-to-practice aspect of love?

Patience begins with looking at God, with recognizing the vast eternality of His existence. “Be still and know that I am God,” He commands through one of the psalmists. To be patient is to be stilled and silenced in awe of the One who is Supreme. He is. Inhale the thought of Him.

Next, patience grows through learning about the patience of God Himself—the perfect, ultimate form of patience. “The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love” explains another psalmist. One of the breathtaking results of reading through Scripture is seeing examples of God’s great patience in the lives of ordinary folk—people like you and me. You and I are the Adams and Eves, the Abrahams, Sarahs, Rebeccas and John Marks of this century. Like them, we stumble along making messes that God patiently works through to align history with His great plan to bless this world. God never tires of taking us back into His arms after each of our breakaway attempts to do things our way. He patiently heals the wounds with which we’ve pierced ourselves, helping us understand the beauty of soul He desires to create in us.

And finally, perhaps most, difficult, patience matures when we step into the lives of others, when we treat them with the sort of patience God has shown us. Practicing patience means no one is beneath us because we recognize how far God has reached down to us time and time again to lift us up. Practicing patience is seeing all people as inherently valuable—nothing they say or do can change our mind that they are made in God’s image. No wound they inflict is unforgiveable. Practicing patience is…practicing. It is a trial-and-error sort of loving, recognizing we ourselves are imperfect, and that while our attempts to love are imperfect, we will keep on trying. For those who have submitted themselves to the Lordship of Jesus, there is the inside help of His Holy Spirit, counseling us, awakening our consciences, moving us into situations where patience is required. For those who have not His Spirit, patience is a much more difficult virtue to practice.

If we want to love we must grow patient. We must look at God and His great patience with us; we must turn outward to express that patience to those who need love: our families, friends, peers and co-workers, drivers on the roads of life, people online and off the political centre—none are immune to the loving effects of patience. God be with you.

(Photo Credit: By “Mike” Michael L. Baird, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3593420)