Lessons from God

I was talking with a friend the other day, and he related an obviously frustrating experience. I commiserated for a bit, then mused aloud, “I wonder what God might be teaching you in the midst of this…” His response was almost immediate: “I know that He’s teaching me patience…” he said, with a tone of resignation and defeat.

I’ve had conversations similar to this numerous times, and I’ve come to notice that in almost every circumstance, God is teaching the person patience. Occasionally, it’s some other virtue like humility, but either way, the lesson is always to work harder at becoming a good person in some fashion, the underlying implication that you’ve been a bad person up to this point.

God’s kind of a jerk.

He’s always chastising us for screwing up and telling us to get on the ball. Do better. Be a better person. It’s almost like God is kind of  a one-trick pony. All He has to say is “You’ve been bad; now do better.”

Of course, it could be that we’re misunderstanding what God is trying to say. My hope is that God is a little less redundant and critical. I’d like to think that God has more to do than keep tabs on when we fall and telling us to stop sinning. If this is the only thing God is doing, it makes Him out to be rather distant and unhelpful. In fact, He becomes little more than a cosmic conscience, telling us when we’re bad and pointing out how we’re supposed to behave better.

Of course, I could be slipping into a mere “Sure, You died on the cross for my sins and all that, but what have You done for me lately?” mentality, but honestly, I’m not completely sure that’s an inappropriate attitude if all He has done lately is play the part of Mr. Conscience. When Jesus said “Follow me,” He was inviting the disciples to travel with Him, eat with Him, share a significant portion of their lives with Him, and with the presence of the Holy Spirit today, that kind of relationship should continue. If the Spirit’s only action is to convict us of sin, He’s slacking off. That is one of His activities in us (John 16:8), but only one of many.

I think often, when we find ourselves thinking about what God is doing in a situation, specifically what He’s teaching us, we don’t listen to the Spirit as much as we tend to listen to our sense of guilt and interpret that as the voice of God. The Spirit may convict, but Jesus also said that He will “teach you all things.” (John 14:26) Surely “all things” includes more than the difference between good and bad. The Tree in the Garden was supposed to give us that, no Spirit required. We know we’re guilty; that’s burned into us (though we’re all good at hiding from it at least sometimes). We know we’re supposed to be better. So maybe we’re not hearing God at all. Maybe He’s trying to say something else.

If the Spirit is to teach us all things, maybe He’s trying to teach us something about Himself. Or perhaps something about other people. Or about the church. Or how the human person or the soul works. Or maybe He’s just trying to get our attention so that we will recognize He’s present and be with Him, have relationship with Him.

Some of us are so quick to judge ourselves that I fear we sometimes drown out the voice of God. Sometimes He is convicting, but sometimes He is encouraging and honoring (Matt. 26:6-13), sometimes forgiving (Mark 2:5), sometimes blessing, sometimes granting wisdom, sometimes opening the eyes of the blind (physically or those blind of heart), sometimes inviting us to be with Him, revealing His Father, explaining how our own hearts work, telling us how much He loves us.

The next time the question comes up, “What might God be teaching you?” what might happen if you took the time and listened to the Holy Spirit, trusting that He might have more to say?


One response

  1. Actually a question I continue to ask nearly every week…! 🙂

    I think I default to “He’s teaching me patience,” when what the Spirit really wants me to see and know remains, “You, alone, can’t DO [this].”
    And I discover whatever “this” is, has less to do with being patient as God’s perfect Will unfold; and more to do with abiding, trusting, and contentment.
    It’s easy for me to see myself as this spiritual cake God isn’t through baking as though its my job to simply wait around until the timer dings and He delivers me from the oven to the world — Voilà!
    The truth remains what Jesus wanted his disciples in the upper room to know: He is the Vine… I am a branch. And it takes a while to grow and produce fruit. There are seasons of dormancy while my cells recover. And sometimes, there is a painful pruning…
    I don’t think the Spirit “teaches Patience” (as I have come to say, too). Rather, He teaches me how to Abide in and with Christ.
    Patience, Contentment, Joy, Love… These are all the harvest of willful obedience to the painful and sometimes long process of my life.
    A subtle distinction, yes. But one necessary to keeping me out of a “conviction oven” and in the sunshine of grace where I can grow.

    February 26, 2013 at 9:52 am

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