While at a local store, my husband and I encountered a man in front of us in line that tested my husband’s patience. I was oblivious to the extent of his rudeness because my attention was elsewhere, but I did hear one of his comments and that one was enough to make me raise an eyebrow.
He was caustic and insolent, giving snide remarks and pushy comments to the clerk. Driving home my husband told me it was making him angry to listen and that it was hard not to step in and make a comment of his own.
The situation made us stop and think…when and what do we restrain and when do we give way?
Sometimes we pray for patience (oh, a dangerous prayer to pray) and God gives opportunities to grow that fruit in us. The reality is, He knows we need that pruning and will give us situations even if we don’t ask for them. Yes, our God has a sense of humor, even as some of that pruning is rather uncomfortable; but there is always purpose in our pain in our pursuit and practice of becoming more like Him…be it patience or other areas.
How many times do we restrain ourselves – whether in words or actions – even though our hearts are desiring quite the opposite? And when is that restraint most often practiced? Is it easier to draw back from a confrontational and/or acidic response with strangers? Are we more inclined to give into that “response” to those we love; to let the frustration and anger pour out on friends or family instead? Is it easier to say no to a temptation when we are with a certain group of people more than others or when we are alone? And when we ought to give way, do we pull back in fear when God is calling us to step out in faith?
Do we live with eyes open, asking God to give us the discernment to see temptation as it rises and the courage and power to not just step back but intentionally respond with the heart of one committed to Christ – to tame a caustic tongue, to turn away from a particular action, to press forward and do the hard thing?
The reality is we all have sinful hearts and are tempted again and again to do and say things that are contrary to the “new creation” we are in Christ or to not do things for His glory that are outside our comfort zone. Face it; we are told to “follow” our hearts, but they are completely deceitful and will, if we are not prayerful and intentional, take us down roads we would never intend to go.
An angry word, a confrontational comment (that is not spoken humbly in love, for the good of the other person), a sinful action in public or when no one is looking, a bitter heart nurtured by murmuring or complaining, or anything that sets itself up against the character of God and His command for us to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18) – set them all aside by the same power that raised Jesus from the dead and live out what we know!
As our friend Bill McDonald says, “Be intentional doers of the Word!”
It is at that intersection of choice that the Holy Spirit will be prompting those who are followers of Jesus Christ; He will convict us, remind us, prod us, pull back on us and say, “Whoa!” We will either choose to curtail our impulses, our desires, and our temptations or we will give ourselves over to them and rush headlong into whatever is set before us, often either blaming someone else or a situation or rationalizing that at least we don’t…(fill in the blank) or that we all have our sin bents and we will never be perfect this side of heaven so….!
When we well up with any desire that is contrary to God’s character and His commands, we have a decision to make (and often not much time to make it; it’s why God says “train yourselves” beforehand). Restraint in the face of temptation says we are hearing God’s voice and choosing to “take up His cross and follow” obediently for His glory, our ultimate joy, and the good of those most affected by our choices.
Every time we set a guard over our mouths, our hands, our feet, or our imaginations, we are strengthening our spiritual muscle, making it easier to hear the voice of the Lord and respond well the next time.
Sometimes it will take intentionality beyond what we think we can do or, in our flesh, would like to do. Often it takes a deliberate call out to God and a rebuke of the enemy of our souls who loves to exploit our weaknesses. Ultimately, we have to stand on the truth that God Himself has given us everything we need for “life and godliness,” “to take every thought (and every emotion) captive” – increasingly!
When we stand firm – we ought to celebrate, thank God, and allow someone to rejoice with us! Realize that it is God at work, continuing to “complete the good work He began.” Likewise, when we blow it – take it to the cross, leave it there, don’t keep picking it up or see it as an excuse to toy with it. Instead, thank God that, in Christ, we are forgiven but that He has given us all we need to stand firm, asking Him to remind us of that the next time a snare is set for our souls.
It’s not a “Pull yourselves up by your own bootstraps” or “You can do it because you are strong!” issue! Not at all. We are weak, and the enemy knows our breakpoints; but God, who created us and calls us by name, knows us better and is already there set to equip us, strengthen us, and give us the ability to stand or flee, to speak or be silent, to murmur and complain or give thanks, to sink into despair or cry out for His mercy. Yes, He provides and equips, but it’s our job to take hold of that grace and use it!
Restrain or give way…but do so not according to the tug of your heart and its desires but according the Word of God and the unwavering voice of our Savior!
“…Stand firm and you will see the deliverance, the salvation of the Lord, which He will accomplish for you today!” Exodus 14:13
“The healthy Christian has a sense of God’s presence stamped deep on his soul, trembles at God’s Word, lets it dwell in him richly by constant meditation upon it, and tests and reforms his life daily in response to it.” J.I. Packer
“A correct view of God is necessary in order to have a correct view of everything else.”