November 12, 2009

Passing the tests

One of two tests (that I know will happen) starts today. My household is going to be totally disrupted. Everything in the main floor has to be moved somewhere else. I may not be able to get in the kitchen to make meals. There will be dust; I have allergies. It will be messy; I don’t do well in chaos.

The new flooring will be delivered today and installed next week. It goes on the hallway, kitchen, living room and dining room. Chaos will reign until it is finished. Will humility and grace rule in my heart?

The next test also asks for humility and grace. Visitors arrive for several days. Will that test my spirituality? No doubt. Selfish me must be selfless, a good hostess. I know I cannot do that apart from the Holy Spirit.

Today’s devotional reading gives attention to a single word: forbearance. It is in one verse, but the context helps me understand it better, not so much the meaning of the word, but how to have forbearance in my life.

Rejoice in the Lord always: again I will say, rejoice. Let your forbearance be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. In nothing be anxious; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, shall guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4-7, ASV)
First the meaning. Apparently one English word fails to cover all that is behind this Greek word. Most modern Bible versions translate it as gentleness, but the meaning includes contentment, generosity, and goodwill toward others, perhaps even mercy or leniency toward their faults and failures. Forbearance can also describe patience in the sense of not retaliating or being bitter toward injustice or mistreatment. Graciousness works too, at least in the Christian sense of the word.

Forbearance is about humility. That means that I am not to resent or hold a grudge. Instead, I am to trust God whenever life seems unfair. (This is not about new floors or visitors — yet). A humble person does not demand her rights. (Now it gets closer to home.) Forbearance is being gracious to people even when their presence, pleasant or otherwise, keeps me from doing other things that I want to do.

With these tests, humility and graciousness should be easy. I’m excited to have new floors. I’m excited about my visitors. But I also know myself and how I like to run my own life. These two events will not let me do that. What attitudes will rule my heart?

In Philippians, Paul wrote the solution to this little issue (and to much bigger tests). He says to rejoice in the Lord always. All I have to do is think about Jesus and my heart fills with joy. Nothing bugs me when joy rules, nothing. Rejoicing in Him is the greatest way to overcome any kind of “poor me” thinking.

Paul also says that the Lord is at hand. When I allow myself to remember the presence of the Lord, who promised to never leave me or forsake me, how can I be anything but overwhelmed and happy? He is so wonderful, so kind and gracious. In His presence there is gladness and contentment. He will be here when the flooring installers disrupt my home, and when my visitors require my time and energy.

He tells me not to worry. Instead, I need to pray about my concerns, ask for His grace, and be thankful about these opportunities. I know, to many people, this is nothing to be anxious about, but already my schedule is packed. Adding more means the stress of juggling responsibilities. It would be a worry if I do not pray.

Paul also writes that when I make my requests known to God, His peace which passes all understanding will guard my hearts and my thoughts. This peace is never selfishness and wanting all this to be over, and is not even about the delights of having both things happen. Instead, God guards my heart in Christ Jesus. He is the source of the humility and grace that I need, no matter the size, shape, or duration of the tests that come my way. I can count on Him. Big or small, tests come and go, because Jesus is here and He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. 

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