Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Cowardice or patience?

Sometimes I’m a coward but I’ll mistake it for patience.  Rather a flipside to my blog post from yesterday.  And still this, too, is a dilemma for me.

By nature I’m more contemplative than combative.  And while it is true that this orientation does give me certain benefits, it also means that after a confrontation very, very often I’m the one left thinking, “THAT’S what I should have said!  Why didn’t I think of that earlier?!?!”  Like the Apostle Paul, I tend towards a mild demeanor face-to-face and bold when I have some distance. 

Part of that is driven by my pastoral patience in wanting people to come to repentance.  But if I’m to be honest with you (and perhaps more importantly, honest with myself), some of that is driven by fear. 

There are times when a strong word is demanded.  A forceful word.  Often times the word that is needed is a word of rebuke.  That time could come in a very visible public setting, or it might come in a private session.  But inevitably when that time comes I feel fear.

I fear many things at that point.  What if I’m wrong, and this person isn’t in sin?  I’ll have rebuked them for no reason and caused them embarrassment.  What if the proper time for a rebuke is not right now?  How do I bring it up later without feeling awkward?  What if I just make things worse?  Do I have the authority to police everybody’s sins and monitor their every behavior?  And finally . . . what if the rebuke is driven by my own frustration and not by God’s standards?

Decades into my life and years into my ministry, and this is still something I am trying to learn.  I have learned, however, that when I am facing personal attack God has instructed me to turn the other cheek.  To suffer silently.  But when the conscience and spiritual well-being of my neighbor is being threatened by the sinful actions of another, there is no doubt whatsoever that decisive action is required.  When God says, “Speak now for the sake of the faith of others!” there should be no hesitation.  And yet I will often hold my tongue and try to convince myself later that I was being patient.

It’s a poor sort of consolation.  For when the faith and conscience of the sheep is being threatened, the good shepherd acts immediately to drive away the wolf.  That never feels like love to me.  I want to be patient with the wolf and wait for him to come to repentance.  In the meantime, however, the sheep are scattered and the wolf continues to confirm himself in his own sin, heaping condemnation upon his own head.

That’s not love.  It’s not love for the sheep.  And curiously, it’s not even true love for the wolf.  When the time for speaking boldly has come, the time for patience has past.  And in that fleeting moment if I can swallow my fear and open my mouth and trust that the Lord’s words will spill out the sheep will see a shepherd who defends them despite his fear and the wolf might just also be shocked into the realization of his own sin, leading him to repentance.  In the end, everybody wins because God’s Kingdom has advanced.  His perfect love for sheep, for wolf, and even for a timid-mouthed pastor has driven out all fear. 

Lord God, teach me to be patient when I cannot, and teach me to be courageous when I must not be patient.  

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