Steps of a temple in the Mayan Ruins of Tikal, Peten, Guatemala

Being patient with other people

Do you ever just want to haul off and smack someone? I do. Some people get under my skin to the point that I really just want to shake them. I don’t, of course. I usually resort to making faces at them and taking notes about their behavior to feature them as an irritating character in my next novel (you’ve heard it’s not wise to upset a writer, haven’t you?).

But is that the way we’re supposed to be? As followers of Christ, we all have the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We just don’t always choose to use it. According to Galatians 5:22-23, everyone who has the Holy Spirit has the opportunity to demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit: “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

Yesterday I blogged about being patient through circumstances. But what about being patient through relationships?

Steps of a temple in the Mayan Ruins of Tikal, Peten, Guatemala

Steps of a temple in the Mayan Ruins of Tikal, Peten, Guatemala

Today’s verse is Colossians 3:13.

Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.

When it comes down to being patient in difficult situations, I can do that. Actually, anymore, the more difficult a situation gets, the better I am at being patient through it. In the last five or six years, I feel like every situation I’ve been in has been difficult, and this year has felt like a constant emotional roller coaster. We’re not even halfway through 2013 and I’m already exhausted. But I’m not impatient.

However, all it takes for me to lose my cool–I mean really lose my cool–is for me to come in contact with a stupid person. If you’ve ever driven in the car with me, you know this is true. I don’t get angry very easily, but when it comes to bad drivers? Wow. Yeah, that’s all I’m going to say about that.

Today’s verse stings because I’m not very good at making allowances for the faults of others. I think it’s my own perfectionism. Deep down inside I hold myself to such high standards that I expect others to perform to a certain level, and if they don’t, I get impatient with them. After all, excellence isn’t that hard to achieve. If I can do it, why can’t they? Right? Any other perfectionists out there hear me?

But the heart of today’s verse is patience and humility. Maybe I’m driven to be perfect, but I guarantee you that I’m not. No one is. And everybody knows that, but there’s a difference between knowing it and living it.

When someone wrongs you, forgive them. Why? Because it won’t be very long before you turn around and wrong someone else, whether you intend to or not. And you appreciate being forgiven, don’t you? You appreciate people being patient with you, don’t you?

Granted, there’s a level of stupidity that you shouldn’t have to deal with. Some people are fools, and f0ols are dangerous to have in your life. Those are the people who keep making the same mistakes over and over again and never learn from them. But even those people don’t deserve cruelty. We should still be patient with them, even when we cut them out of our lives.

God forgave us. And when God forgives, He puts our faults out of His mind. They don’t exist to Him anymore. And that’s how we need to forgive others. When someone offends us or does wrong to us, we need to choose to see them as a human being who isn’t perfect, just like us.

Yes, there may need to be a change in the relationship, but don’t give up on them. Just be patient with them. People are people, and they don’t change until they start listening to God. And that is true for believers and non-believers alike because you can be a follower of Christ and not be listening to the Holy Spirit.

Think of a person in your life who drives you crazy. Identify why that is. I’ve got one in mind right now. Decide that you’re going to be patient with that person today, that you’re going to show them love and forgiveness even if they don’t reciprocate, that you won’t let their actions dictate your responses, that you’ll listen to the Holy Spirit’s whisper above the screaming of your heart.

It will make a huge difference in your day. And it might even make a difference in their heart. You never know how God will use you, but it starts with listening and obeying the Spirit.

Dead sunflower in a snowy field at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Our struggles have a greater purpose

Sometimes I wonder why we have to suffer through difficult situations. I know we grow. I know we get stronger. But when difficult situation after difficult situation keeps rolling at me, I just want to throw up my hands and shout, “Enough already!” I mean, how strong do I need to be anyway?

And then this old insecure voice starts whispering at the back of my mind: What have you done wrong to deserve this? When situations in my life continue to be difficult, I start wondering if I did something to make God angry at me. But most of the time, no matter how I wrack my brain, I can’t think of anything I’ve done that would have made God so mad that He would keep throwing struggle after struggle at me. And thinking like that eventually leads to the belief that God doesn’t care. But if He cares, why do we struggle?

Dead sunflower in a snowy field at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Dead sunflower in a snowy field at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are John 9:1-7.

As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. “Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?” “It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him. We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent us. The night is coming, and then no one can work. But while I am here in the world, I am the light of the world.” Then he spit on the ground, made mud with the saliva, and spread the mud over the blind man’s eyes. He told him, “Go wash yourself in the pool of Siloam” (Siloam means “sent”). So the man went and washed and came back seeing!

Just imagine being this poor blind guy. He was just sitting on the ground, minding his own business, and somebody (the blind man didn’t necessarily know it was Jesus) walks over and spits in the dirt and wipes mud on his face? Seriously? I would have freaked out.

But he didn’t. And he went and did what Jesus told him to do, and he was healed.

This is one of those famous Bible stories that you’ll always hear in Sunday School, and most of the time, the storytellers focus on the fact that Jesus healed the guy. Don’t get me wrong, that’s an important thing to focus on. Jesus healed a lot of people, and it was evidence of who He was (and who He is). But what caught my eye this morning is the fact that the man was born blind not because of something he did or something his parents did; he was born blind so that he could be healed.

That was the entire purpose behind it. There was a reason for this man’s blindness. When he was born, God made him born blind, and that sounds horrible. That sounds cruel and unusual that God would take away his sight as an infant, never even give him the chance to see the world. But God didn’t do it without a reason. He knew that this man would be sitting on this street corner however many years later and that Jesus would heal him.

How many times do we look at the circumstances in our lives as punishment from God? Granted, many times, they might be. I don’t know your life. I don’t know your choices. And if you’ve made choices that are contrary to what God says is right, of course, you’re going to endure consequences. It’s like the natural process of planting and harvesting. You’re going to get the kind of fruit you plant. If you plant bad seeds, you’re going to get a bad crop. That’s not God’s doing; that’s your choices coming back to bite you. So if you’ve made bad choices, don’t get upset with God when your life turns upside-down.

But I know my life. And I know the lives of the people close to me. And I know that none of us have necessarily done anything that merits the struggles we’re facing. And in many instances, the struggles we’re going through are just part of living in a broken world. But in some cases, it really does feel like God has a sledgehammer and is pounding away at us. But that’s a lie. And if we just step back for a moment, maybe we can wrap our heads around a new perspective this morning.

This month I’m studying the Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23, “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!” Among them is patience. And patience is something that we shouldn’t try to get through difficult circumstances without. Why? Because most of the time we don’t understand the greater purpose for our suffering.

There is a purpose. There is a reason. God doesn’t let anything happen to His children for no reason. Maybe we’ll never understand the reason. Maybe we’ll never see the resolution while we’re alive on earth, but it’s our job to be patient in whatever trials and troubles come our way.

Think about the blind man in this story. He was born blind. He didn’t have a choice in the matter. He lived every day of his life knowing that he would never see–until Jesus walked up to him. How many years was that? I don’t know. But what I do know is that his blindness wasn’t a curse; it was an opportunity to be a blessing. I’m sure that man never would have guessed that people would still be talking about him 2,000+ years later and finding encouragement from his story.

I tell you what. If I know that God is working in my situation, that’s reason enough for me to be patient a little while longer. I trust Him that much. He knows what He’s doing, and I would rather have things happen in His time.

So whatever you’re facing today, be patient. You aren’t suffering for no reason, and the challenges you’re enduring present you with an opportunity to display God’s glory for everyone to see. Who knows? Maybe in 2,000 more years, someone will hear about you and find a reason to be patient where they didn’t have one before.

Wheat fields at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Good things come to those who wait

I hate waiting. I think I’ve said that on this blog once or twice. Waiting just isn’t something I’m good at, but it’s something I usually end up having a lot of practice with. I don’t know if it’s because I have an active imagination and can see all the different possibilities of how life could work out the way I want it to or if it’s because I’m a perfectionist with an inferiority complex. Whatever the reason, I just don’t like waiting. If people got medals for patience, I wouldn’t medal in the top three.

Patience is a characteristic that we grow over time. We don’t really just wake up with it. That would be nice, but it’s one of those qualities we have to develop. You’ve heard the phrase: “Good things come to those who wait”? Exactly.

But patience is more than a character quality. It’s a gift.

Wheat fields at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Wheat fields at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Galatians 5:22-23.

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

I’ve heard some people say that asking God for patience is a bad idea because then He’ll give it to you and you’ll end up having to stay in the same situation where you have to have patience for longer than you would have had to if you hadn’t asked for it. That was a long, rambling introduction, but I hope you get the point.

Many of us are in circumstances where we are waiting for God to tell us what to do next. Or some of us are in a situation where we know what God wants us to do… He’s told us to wait. To be patient. To be still. Am I the only one who hates that answer?

Whether it’s the answer we want or not, patience is good for us. The more patience we learn to have, the more we grow in other areas of our life–like faith. Because when you’re sitting still and depending on God to work out the details, you have to learn to trust Him more. When you’re not running around trying to arrange your life to fit the mold of your expectations, you have to let God design it the way He wants. And when you do that, your life works out better anyway because God is a better architect than you are. Just saying.

But personally I think asking for patience is a good idea. Asking God to help me be patient is more than a good idea–it’s a necessity. Otherwise, I’ll twist off and go do things my own way, and my life is too big for me to handle on my own already without me getting into situations I don’t understand.

So how do you have patience? How do you use patience? Because there is such a thing as being lazy. People can be lazy and just say they’re waiting for God to move. People can be lazy and just say they’re being patient. It’s a lot easier to be lazy than patient. But you can tell the difference when God does tell you to do something. If you’re being lazy you’ll look for an excuse to keep being lazy. If you’re being patient, you’ll jump at the opportunity to be useful.

Patience is a gift that God gives us when we accept Christ into our lives. We already have it. It’s our choice to use it or not. If you ignore it, you’re going to walk into a lot of situations where you aren’t prepared and you’ll probably end up falling on your face. But if you implement it, you’ll always be ready for the challenges that are coming. Well–maybe you won’t be ready, but you’ll be as prepared as you can be. And by the time the challenge gets to you, you’ll already have lots of practice waiting on God, and that’s the best way to prepare for any circumstance.

So if you’re faced with a choice today — to do or to wait — you might think about waiting. Granted, if you’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting, double check. Make sure God is telling you to keep waiting. But if you’re getting ready to run off half-c0cked and do things your own way, you might think twice. It’s better to wait and be sure you know what God wants before you do what you want.

Blossoming lilacs at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

You can’t always trust how you feel

What does peace feel like to you? To me, it’s sitting on my back porch step with a cup of coffee listening to the wind in the leaves, smelling cut alfalfa or newly blossoming lilacs (and sneezing a lot). Peace looks different to different people. Some find the country too harsh or too boring and experience peace in a more urban landscape, but everyone would probably agree that peace is rightness. Just general rightness in life, where you’re happy and content and not afraid.

That kind of rightness is possible even if your life has been turned on its head, but only through Christ. Peace is truly only possible through the Holy Spirit’s power, but if you’re a follower of Christ, you have access to that power. According to Galatians 5:22-23, “the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Peace is a gift of the Holy Spirit, and to get it, all we have to do is choose to use it.

Yesterday I blogged about intellectual peace–having peace of mind, choosing not to worry about life. But what about the other kind of peace? What about emotional peace? Peace of heart. That one’s a little trickier because emotions are always tricky. God created us to be emotional being. Our emotions are part of who we are.

Blossoming lilacs at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Blossoming lilacs at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Romans 5:1-2.

Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.

Feeling at peace runs deeper than our circumstances or our physical location on Earth. It’s deeper than our relationships with each other. Emotional peace stems from being right with God. That’s the basis of everything because if you’re right with God, everything else will fall into place.

If you have chosen to believe that Jesus died to pay for the things you’ve done wrong, you are made right with God. Jesus’ sacrifice is what justifies us. Not our works. Not our lives. Not our church attendance. Not our parents’ lives. Only believing in Jesus’ sacrifice for yourself will allow you to have a relationship with God. What’s more, if you believe this, nothing you can ever do will take it away from you because you didn’t do anything to earn it in the first place. It’s a gift from God, and God doesn’t take gifts back.

So, that being said, why do I worry about my future? Why do I fret about things I can’t control? Why do I feel so wretched?

This may be getting a little deeper theologically than I normally do, but human  beings were made with three parts–a body, a soul, and a spirit. But our soul is divided into another three parts, intellect, emotion and will. And it’s our intellect, emotion and will that makes us who we are. It’s also how we were made in God’s image because God also has intellect, emotion and will.

But like the rest of our world, those three facets of who we are broke when Adam sinned. So our emotions are important to our lives, but we can’t always trust them. There are some days when you just won’t feel like a follower of Christ. You just won’t feel like God is close. You just won’t feel like doing the right thing. But on those days, you have to discount what you feel and do what you know.

Feelings are difficult. They’re treacherous. They can lead you down a path, whispering that peace is just around the bend, and when you get there, you find out that they were lying and it’s just deeper trouble waiting for you.

I’m not an expert on this, but I have struggled with my emotions because I’m human and female. I can only share what has helped me. And that is knowing who God is.

I love my emotions. I wouldn’t want to go through life without them, and they help me connect to God on many levels where just plain knowledge falls short. God created us with emotions for a reason, and our emotions can be used to bring Him glory. But my emotions don’t always work the way they’re supposed to, kind of like the rest of me. So I can’t always trust them, kind of like the rest of me. (Are you catching the theme here?) And I have to compare what I’m feeling at the moment to what I know is true in the Bible, and if what I’m feeling is true then I shouldn’t stop myself from feeling it. But if what I’m feeling is a lie, I shouldn’t waste time on it.

Emotions are just like every other part of life. If they don’t match up with what is in the Bible, they’re going to make trouble for you.

The first step to peace of heart is to know who God is, through prayer and Bible study and daily worship. The next step is to trust Him. And that’s not something anyone else can do for you. That’s between you and God. But the longer you know Him, the easier it is to trust Him; and the more you trust Him, the more peace you’ll have.

So if you don’t feel at peace today? First, check your heart. Make sure you’re where you need to be. Make sure you’re listening. Make sure you’re obeying. Because sometimes a lack of peace is an indication that something is going on in your life that shouldn’t be going on. But if you’re in the right place and you’ve cleared the air with God and you still feel conflicted, talk to Him about it. Tell Him. Yes, He already knows, but He wants to hear from you anyway.

Then, maybe this sounds clichéd, but read some Scripture. Read a Psalm. Read the Book of Philippians. Read Romans. Just read something in the Bible. And don’t just read it; let it sink in, understanding that the words in the Bible were written for you. From God to you. You’ll be amazed at how much better you feel.

And if that still doesn’t work and you still don’t feel at peace, find a mature Christ-follower and talk to them. Pray with them. And be patient and wait and keep watching for God to do something. But above all else, remember that you can’t always trust what you feel. First, trust what you know.

The old schoolhouse at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Fix your thoughts

My brain never stops running. It’s always going, like the Energizer Bunny, a constant blur of thought jumping from one subject to the next without slowing down. And most of the time that’s the way I like it. I can be extremely productive when my brain is in high gear but only when I’m focused on something productive. If I get hung up on something non-productive, I can’t accomplish anything. So much of our lives revolves around our focus. We do what we focus on. We are what we think. That’s why it’s so important to have a healthy thought life because what you think is eventually what you will do.

This month I’m studying the Fruit of the Spirit as outlined in Galatians 5:22-23: “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!” And in yesterday’s post about peace, I realized that there are two kinds of peace. Well–there may be more than two kinds, but two kinds stood out to me. Emotional peace and intellectual peace. Peace of heart and peace of mind. Both are gifts that God gives us when we accept Christ, but both are qualities that are easy to ignore, especially if you’re a control freak like me.

The old schoolhouse at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

The old schoolhouse at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Isaiah 26:3.

You will keep in perfect peace
    all who trust in you,
    all whose thoughts are fixed on you!

First thing this morning, I set out to discover if the same word for peace in Isaiah was used in Galatians, and after I spent a few minutes on that, I remembered that Isaiah is an Old Testament book that was written in Hebrew. Galatians was written in Greek. And since I know neither Hebrew nor Greek trying to figure out whether or not the word is the same is probably a bad idea (instead, I just got another cup of coffee). So I may be totally off with this, but I don’t think so.

Peace of mind, peace in our thoughts, is something that everyone has always searched for, even in the Old Testament. No, the Holy Spirit didn’t come to live inside us until the New Testament, after Jesus died for our sins, but intellectual peace was something that God gave to His followers from the very beginning. At least, it was an option they could choose. They could choose to take Him at His word and live the way He instructed.

It’s the same today. For grins, I looked up this verse in the Amplified Version just to get the particulars of the word meaning:

You will guard him and keep him in perfect and constant peace whose mind [both its inclination and its character] is stayed on You, because he commits himself to You, leans on You, and hopes confidently in You.

Check that out. The inclination and character of your mind matter. What is the inclination of your mind? What is the character of your mind? Those are tough questions that make me cringe because the inclination of my mind is to think about myself. The character of my mind is to think about myself. But my mind won’t be in “perfect and constant peace” until both the inclination and character of my mind is focused on God.

Wow. I don’t know about you, but I never thought of it that way.

Peace of mind eludes us so many times because our thoughts are fixed on things they shouldn’t be. We worry because we think about things that don’t matter. We’re upset or frightened or disturbed because we’re focusing on ourselves or on our circumstances, and we’re not supposed to focus on those things. We’re supposed to focus on God and commit ourselves to Him and lean on him and hope confidently in Him.

Peace is a gift. God has given peace to every one of His followers, and it’s our choice to use it. Part of that peace is peace of mind, tranquility of our thoughts. God has given us the power to choose what we think about, and if we fix our thoughts on Him and what He’s doing and who He is, peace will follow. Why? Because God is awesome. God made the universe. God made the atom. God invented time. God created the concept of spring, summer, autumn, winter. God made everything we see. He’s all-powerful. He’s all-knowing. He’s everywhere. And He’s available to us to help us. He not only cares about what goes on in our everyday lives, but He wants to help us get through it and reach out to others who don’t know Him yet. And if you think about it that way, what on earth in our lives is so big that we have to worry about it?

God has given us peace. We just have to use it. And the first step to using it is thinking about it. So fix your thoughts on who God is today. Remind yourself exactly who your heavenly Father is, and then look at your circumstances. And I bet your perspective might change a little.