Why are our hearts hardened toward those we don’t like or are different from ourselves?
Monthly Archives: January 2012
We all want to be forgiven, so why is it, too often, so hard to forgive?
Several years ago while preparing to train a team of adolescents to serve on a mission trip with Christian Educators Outreach in Hungary, a friend told me about two ‘rules’ she had learned in training to serve in Africa. The first rule I boiled down (because I try to boil everything down to the simplest term possible and then expand when necessary) to this: No Expectations. This has become known in my circles (often in a derogatory sense) as rule 1. One young man said that it doesn’t apply to God. Maybe. I say maybe because we can and should biblically expect much from God. Scripture is packed with His promises. These we can expect. But rule 1 is not really about God. Its about humans, and culture, and the things in this life where other people make decisions and do things which are up to them. So, the point of rule 1 among us humans is this: I should not expect you to do what I want. Further, when I am traveling abroad on mission in cultures different than my own, I should not expect things like food that’s tastes the way I like it or comes in quantities that I get in America. It means I should not expect ice or free refills or hot showers or even a toilet seat. When I am abroad, I should go with an open mind.
Indeed I would suggest that if I travel my path with limited expectations, I can more easily cultivate a heart of gratitude rather than one of grumbling. to approach life with lowered expectations on my fellow humans will afford me the pleasure of more pleasant surprises for which I may be thankful, rather than the whining that I (we) are so often prone to feel and then demonstrate through griping.
This does not mean we don’t stop having any expectations on people totally, it just means that when I’m in someone else’s context, I adapt to their culture in areas of what I want.
Do you promise to feel good?
I have taught for a long time that love is commitment not emotion.
In a wedding, and in preparation for a wedding I talk with the couple about commitment. When we make a promise to love it is not a promise to have a feeling. Humans can control feelings, but feelings cannot be conjured up. Things happen and we feel many emotions other than love. But this should not, must not, affect the core commitment that a man has for his wife or she for him. This is a godly act, commitment. I believe this commitment is the basis of longsuffering. If God is our model for this, he is the perfect model. He suffers long with us and he is kind and gentle and gives us many chances. This is the model for our interactions. So, how do we apply this to our love for him? By being committed to remain in communion with Him.
My wife would say here that this is coming as a result of my own nature as an introvert, a hermit even. But I am convinced through years of experience and observation that the problem is that we do not go to him as much as we should. Modern American Evangelicalism has taught us that we need to have a quiet time in the morning, prayer with family, perhaps another quiet time in the evening and then be actively involved in a local church. Depending on the church, this involvement will take many forms. This is all great. But the fact remains that this is not enough.
The reason I say it is not enough is that it is about getting things ticked off a list of things to do. I do not believe that this is what Jesus is talking about when he tells us in John 17 to remain/abide/etc. I do not believe this checking things off a list is going to keep us in an ever deepening relationship with God. Instead, I think we are in the process of adding air to a slowly seeping air mattress to keep it full. This is a terrible analogy, but perhaps you can catch my drift nonetheless. Another attempt is to water a potted plant in our home. We must water it just right or we will over water it or let it dry out and die.
Perhaps Jeremiah’s example makes more sense, the comparison of the bush and the tree in chapter 17. In a recent trip to Arizona, we went up into a canyon. Over the years a creek fed by runoff had cut into the mountains and formed a canyon. Away from this creek there were cacti and shrubs, they were in varying states of growth and decay. But at the bottom of the canyon, near the creek, there were thriving trees and flowering plants. Why? The trees next to the creek were drinking deeply and constantly of the enriching water, they were thriving. It reminds me of the time lapsed photography of the desert after a dry spell when a rain comes and water pours upon the dried up plants and then the clouds pass by and the sun comes out and the plant life awakens and flowers and thrives… for a time… and then they wilt… but not the tree planted by the stream, it thrives all the time.
I suppose what I am trying to illustrate here is that the typical “devotional life” is like watering a potted plant. Consider the limitations of the potted plant. It is limited by the space that the owner will allow it to have in the room, this limiting is accomplished by pruning, and by the pot itself limiting the roots system. But the tree, planted in the open by a stream, it is limited by nothing because it drinks freely due to its proximity to the creek. Are we potted plants? Is that what Jesus meant by “abiding”? Shouldn’t we be committed to God in such a way that we place ourselves in proximity to God to drink freely and constantly so as to make possible our own growth? We complain that we do not experience enough growth. We long to hear from God. But, like the phone call we are making, after the 4th ring, we have to decide if we are going to leave a voice mail, and hang up. Our 15 minutes is over. Or, we have read our assigned portion of Scripture and have prayed through our prayer list and read the devotional thought and now we really must get to work, so… you get my drift.
What would happen if we would actually make extra time and slow down and talk to God as though he were a friend? Telling him the things we know he already knows about us, our feelings, our situation and then talking to him about him, his greatness and attributes… I call this psalmic praying. Praying like the psalms. What would happen if we made time to do this with thoroughness and without rush and on a really regular basis?
Well, I contend that if we do this, we are moving out of the pot and planting ourselves next to the creek. We will grow into an ever deepening relationship with and knowledge of God. But to do this, we must be committed. And this is how I think we truly love God.
Over the last year or so I have listened to a sermon on prayer several times… it is the most helpful teaching on prayer I have ever heard… that is true for me, your experience may be different… but this talk looks at the lives of the reformers and urges us on to a deeper prayer life… I link it here in case you wish to ponder if you are engaging in PRAYERLESS PRAYERS