Pursuing Holiness in the Minutiae

14 05 2010

Just a few posts ago, I wrote about how the prophets are incredibly sensitive to the presence of evil and a period of time in which I felt the same. I’ve been praying about returning to that intimacy, but today I remember why it’s so hard: It’s the little things.

I’ve been doing a kind of spiritual cleansing – taking a week to pray through and repent of evil / sin in my life. It feels incredibly good – in the evening, after an hour of prayer and making some necessary phone calls or emails, I am surrounded by peace. But at those times, I’m intentional: I sit down, I pray for the right attitude, and I’m ready to face it all.

But it’s the slap in the face that is so hard to deal with. It’s the sudden and unexpected.

Situation: there’s been a person that’s hard to deal with. He has a good heart and means well, but we’ve been working together on something and he doesn’t always “get” what we’re supposed to do. He’s got ideas – often great ones, but often beyond the scope of our project (too time-intensive or unnecessary, for example). So, sometimes he gets shot down (usually by the boss, sometimes I try to warn him that it won’t fly). Anyway, I wanted to work on our relationship, so that the “shooting down of ideas” was in no way a reflection of who he is as a person. In other words, spend some time with him to develop a friendship to make our work relationship better.  I thought it was working.

Until today he sent me an angry email, criticizing me and trying to “push my buttons”. Everything about the email was designed to get a response out of me. Even his word choices were purely accusatory and character-oriented (Any basic communications class / conflict discussion will tell you never to attack someone’s character, but to focus on the actions and how you feel. For example, “I felt disappointed when you forgot to call me.” instead of “You’re so irresponsible!”)

Okay, so here’s the real point: I got angry. The button-pushing worked. I hit “reply” and started to (1) justify myself and (2) return with my own accusations. Well, I quickly knew that I shouldn’t write a response while angry, so I stopped. But then I was just reading and re-reading the email. And getting more angry. The sort of thoughts going through my head:

You have no right to say these things!

And I was trying to be nice to you!

I don’t have to work with you. I can be done with this. That’s it. I’m done! I’m going to email back saying I won’t work with you any more. Then see how you like it – I won’t be your buffer. I don’t have to take this!

Well, you get the point. And I’m sure we’ve all been there. I was really starting to get worked up (this all lasted about 2 minutes…)

Then I heard the smallest prompting from the Spirit. Just last night, I made promises about seeking to be holy, pursuing unity and compassion and grace and forgiveness. The memory of those promises tugged at my soul. The Spirit was telling me to stop. To let go of the anger and pray about how to build up this relationship – even apologize for the things the person criticized if needed.

But I didn’t want to. And here is the crux of all of our choices – in that moment, I knew what God wanted and I knew what I felt. And they didn’t line up. And because I knew that so clearly, I also knew I had a choice to make – the knowledge of the difference between God’s will and mine at that moment made me eminently more responsible than if I’d sent an angry email in the first few moments. Because once you know something, you can’t “un-know” it. At that moment, I knew I was wrong with certainty and clarity. Any action I take after that is nothing but clear, direct rebellion.

Still, even as that all became clear, I hesitated. Then I remembered – I loudly commanded the enemy to be silent, and put myself at the mercy of God. I knew the difference between right and wrong, but had no strength to choose the right in that moment. So I told God that he’d better take over.

He did. And now I’ve written this post. And in a moment, I will pray about how to respond – whether to send out an apology, an explanation, to send nothing, or to make a direct call / arrange a time to get together and talk about it. Ultimately, done with the right spirit, any of these could be the right action. Conversely, with the wrong spirit, any of them could just make it worse. That’s why it comes down to guidance. And in the perspective of the prophets, it’s about “Sensitivity to Evil” and “The Importance of Trivialities”.


Ezra’s community prayer

3 02 2010

Ezra, relocating to Jerusalem to help rebuild it, discovered something shocking. First off, Ezra himself was a bit of a nerd – “skilled in the law of Moses” (= pure academic) who sought “to do [the law]” (= faithful believer) and “to teach the statutes and ordinances in Israel” (= teacher). So, he was basically a theology professor….

So this ancient theology professor had just lead a huge group of exiles back to the land of their fathers (no small feat, considering they crossed the desert with hundreds of pounds of gold & silver without getting mugged). They arrive, they join the people already in Jerusalem, and they all worshiped.

Sounds great, sounds like a success. He managed to organize and bring the people back. Then, for reasons that escape me, some men run up to tattle on the people who are already living in the Jerusalem area. Best I can figure, these men just didn’t know who else to too. They saw Ezra walking into town with quite the array, and figure he can deal with their problem. So they tell him how all these people of Israel are marrying foreigners.

Now, Ezra, the man who led a crowd through the desert guarded only by angels, did not become angry. He didn’t say, “Who cares?” and he didn’t storm off to yell at the people committing the sin. Instead, he mourns. He actually cries out and “sat appalled”. Have you ever done that? You ever sit appalled? Over your own sins? How about over someone else’s? I don’t think I have – maybe over someone’s pain, but never their sins.

Alright, all this was to get to the point: After sitting appalled all day, he prayed, “O my God! I am too ashamed and embarrassed to lift my face to you. My God!! Our iniquities have risen higher than our heads. And our guilt has mounted up to the heavens!!” (9:6)

“Our iniquities” and “our guilt”. He’s not married to a foreign woman. But he accepts responsibility for the guilt of his people. He prays on their behalf from within the community. Oh, that we could learn to do the same! How would things looks if we identified with our communities in this same way? And no, I don’t just mean our churches.