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October 1, 2015, 12:00 AM

A Matter of the Heart

A spiritual war has been waging in my heart. It's not just with a specific person nor a certain topic; it is a war about patience in general. There are certain things in life that evoke a strong reaction in me, dare I say fury. For some, it can be the people walking in the middle of the street, taking their time, aware of the fact that you're waiting on them to move so you can clock in to work on time. It can be the person that cuts you off on the highway, causing you to slam your brakes and throw everything in your car, including your coffee, to the floor. It can be the back-biting gossip at work (or church) that will create drama if there is none already. It can be legit problems in your marriage, like catching your spouse in the habit of lying or having an addiction to pornography. It just doesn't seem fair! You tell yourself, "I don't have to put up with this! I deserve better treatment!" Some of these things may seem trivial and others not, but they are tests of our character regardless.

So what does God say about these things? I do not claim to have a firm handle on patience and self-control, but the Bible does say in Galatians 5:22, "the spiritual nature produces love, joy, peace, PATIENCE, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, GENTLENESS, and SELF-CONTROL." Patience? Where's the line? How long do I allow myself to be treated unfairly before I can snap? If you model yourself after Christ, enduring suffering is a part of true choice-driven love. 1 Peter 2:19-23 says, "God is pleased if a person is aware of him while enduring pain of unjust suffering... God called you to endure suffering because Christ suffered for you. He left you an example so that you could follow in his footsteps...He never spoke deceitfully. Christ never verbally abused those who verbally abused him. When he suffered, he didn't make any threats but left everything to the one who judges fairly." In other words, it's not up to us to settle our own scores. It's not our duty to give people what they deserve. And the truth boils down to all of us fall short of perfection. Our best behavior is like filthy rags in comparison to the purity of our God. Praise Jesus for the mercy He has given me by not giving me what I deserve! My fleshly nature isn't worthy of much - but by golly, I don't struggle with THAT guy's sin.... that is the attitude we tend to take.

Another potentially discouraging thing is some people who hurt us in life may never change. But Psalm 37:7-8 tells us, "Surrender yourself to the Lord, and wait patiently for him. Do not be preoccupied with an evildoer who succeeds in his way when he carries out his schemes. Let go of anger and leave rage behind. Do not be preoccupied. It only leads to evil." And Galatians 6:9 also encourages, "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time, we will reap a harvest  if we do not give up." We may reap that harvest far after the time we wanted to reap it or it may be a harvest different than what we expected.

So doing the right thing doesn't sound easy. In fact, it sounds very hard! But when you keep your life in perspective - why we are actually here on this earth and Who, only, ultimately satisfies us - life becomes ironically easier. People do not let you down as much. Keeping that focused frame of mind is easier said than done. It is in our fleshly nature to seek approval from others' opinions or to obtain happiness from our comfy circumstances, not an invisible Creator.

I read an anonymous quote today that I liked: patience is the gift of being able to see past the emotion. And that hit the nail on the head for me. When I get angry, all I see is my emotion in that moment. If I could set my fleshly emotions aside, I could see what really matters - how God sees the person on the other end of the conflict.

One last verse to remember when trying to decide if you want to take the easy route of endulging your rampant impatience or allowing the Spirit to transform you into a selfless being, think of Luke 8:15, "as for the seed that fell on rich soil, they are the ones who, when they heard the word, embrace it with a generous and good heart, and bear fruit through perseverence." Are you living a superficial faith? Or will you let His words change your heart and actions? When it comes to patience in your life this month, Mark Tatum reminded us of a great litmus test for our interactions with people: is it true?; is it kind?; is it necessary? Let's pray for each other on this subject!

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