Saturday, February 9, 2013

Long-Suffering -- Bicycle, Roller Skates, and Pogo Sticks

When I was growing up, I was very active. My parents bought me a bicycle in the hopes that I would spend more time outside…catch the drift? I learned to ride with training wheels and then without. Then my parents gave me roller skates…more activity outside. Are you seeing a trend? I got so frustrated with trying to learn to roller skate. I hated falling with a passion. I hated looking stupid. I didn’t want skinned up knees and hands, but I persisted. I was one of those kids that wanted to know how to do it, but I wanted to know how to do it yesterday without having to struggle and go through the learning process. Then I got a pogo stick. Have I ever told you that my name isn’t “Grace” for two reasons? My left foot and my right foot? And now these two feet were supposed to stay on a pogo stick going up and down!? Needless to say, I didn’t catch onto the pogo stick immediately either. After some tumbles and kissing the pogo stick a few times, and several days passing, I finally got the hang of it. I persevered. I’m just glad they never gave me a hangglider!

The fruit of the Spirit is long-suffering. Some versions may say patience. How can you have long-suffering or patience if you have never had to persevere through difficulty, adversity, hard times or difficult people?

When I think of someone being long-suffering, I think about Paul on his first missionary trip. In the Bible it says that he usually went first to the synagogues to teach the Jews about Jesus Christ, and when they would reject his message he turned to the God-fearing Gentiles and extended the invitation to them. In more than one town, Paul and Barnabas were run out of town. Not only were they run out of town, but as soon as that town heard where Paul and Barnabas were spending time, they would go to that town and chase them out of there causing strife and contention wherever the mob showed up. Paul was stoned and dragged out of town and left for dead. But he wasn’t dead. After they left, some of the disciples took him back to town, and the next day he and Barnabas walked 60 miles in that condition to the next town. Time after time, the door was opened. Paul and Barnabas walked though. Paul preached. Many Jews and Gentiles were saved, but many Jews rejected Jesus. Then the non-believing Jews would stir up contention and strife and run the two out of town. Paul was able to stand his ground against the non-believing Jews because Paul knew everything they had been taught. When Paul began showing them how Christ fulfilled the prophecy, the Jews couldn’t accept they had put Christ to death. What an unpleasant thought.

You know what else I see in Paul? I see commitment. He was committed to the calling God placed on his life. Knowing that God had called him to teach the Jews and Gentiles gave him a purpose to fulfill. Knowing that he was doing this because God had called him to it must have helped him in his patience with these fickle people.

I also love the way that Paul was able to alter his message to fit his audience. In chapter 14, Paul heals a man who had been lame since birth, and when the town people started calling Barnabas and Paul, Zeus and Hermes (Greek gods), Paul quickly realized this city had no idea of who Yahweh really was. Instead of giving them a history the Jews were taught every time at the synagogue, Paul went back to creation. He made the message very basic and easy to understand. That’s how the Word of God is. It can be simple to understand at times, or you can dive in as deep as you want.

Long-suffering doesn’t mean you stop trying when faced with defeat or difficulty or difficult people. Long-suffering means you continue through adversity. You endure hardship and difficulty, but you continue on with what God has called you to do. Long-suffering means that you look for alternative ways to communicate and reach those whom you serve. Long-suffering means you don’t lose your cool when the crowd or an individual flip-flops or changes their minds. Long-suffering means you realize that God is in control and what you endure in this life is temporary in comparison to the big scheme of things. Long-suffering means you persevere, and you can only persevere in the work God has called you to do if the Holy Spirit is in you. Long-suffering means you keep your eyes on God and not on the drama around you…that is how you persevere into long-suffering. Focus on God, his purpose for you and live in the Spirit speaking and doing only what he leads you to do. (That right there is huge and easier said than done…at least for me it is.)

Long-suffering or patience may not be the most coveted fruit of the Spirit, but it is a fruit that we are to acquire. So get after it.

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