My very dearest friend phoned me last night and shared with me a wonderful bible passage that she had read just yesterday morning. We often do that – sharing verses with each other, sharing things we have discovered in our journey. It’s funny because I don’t do it in the same way with anyone else. It is perhaps because our journeys are so similar that we are able to do it, although our stories are totally different. Anyway, whatever the reason, I am so grateful and so glad to have K for a friend. I am sure I have taken this friendship for granted at times and I want her to know, if she reads this, how much her gift of friendship has meant to me. Our conversations always leave me feeling like I know K better – and that I know God better. We edify one another, through His grace. Do you have anyone like that in your life? St. John of the Cross says they’re the only friends worth having (I paraphrase somewhat!).
The last post on Just Zoë, Just Life (it’s been a while – we’ve been away) was a musical version of the verse Philippians 4:4 ‘Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: rejoice!’ This verse came to me in an afternoon of contemplating and prayer.
In her call yesterday, K told me how she’d read those verses, in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, and then the following:
Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
And it hit me (as the radical Jesus always hits me – straight between the eyes – or is it the heart?)
Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.
Suddenly God was tapping me on the shoulder. Through K (we are his hands and feet, after all) he was calling me on the telephone because I hadn’t quite ‘got it’ the first time. I’d been distracted by the funky music. But no, said God,
Let your gentleness be evident to all.
The Lord is near.
Does this mean – can this mean – that when the Lord is near, in other words when a person walks closely with God, one knows this by their gentleness? The word rendered ‘gentleness’ in the NIV bible means ‘gentleness, consideration and forbearance’ according to Frank’s Ancient Greek dictionary (he trained as a minister – very handy to have around when you
can’t be bothered don’t have time to learn all this stuff for yourself).
Let your gentleness be evident to all. Gentleness is not a quality that is often promoted from pulpits. In fact, many would associate gentleness with weakness. Bullies always do. Or maybe in a patriarchal society it is seen as too feminine, and therefore undesirable?
But isn’t that what Jesus himself was saying in the Sermon on the Mount? ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled‘ etc. Not that the weak will be made whole (as in ‘awww what a shame’) but that their weakness gives them something that of itself sets them apart, moves them closer to God? Maybe being close to God, and moving closer to God, begins in (apparent) weakness. ‘For when I am weak then I am strong’, another letter of Paul’s says.
It’s all back to front and upside down, isn’t it?
While I’m on the subject, I can’t recall how many preachers, speakers, pastors, ministers, etc. have impressed me with their gentleness, which is not to say some have not impressed me (actually I can – I wrote about Mama Maggie last month, and Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, has always come across as a gentle man, more concerned with doing right than with being right).
Is gentleness the same as meekness? It certainly bears a resemblance. And gentleness surely begins with humility. Most of the big-shot Christian speakers don’t come across as necessarily prizing humility either. I’m in no position to throw stones – it must be a very fine line balancing public speaking, and leadership, with humility. It must be an ongoing struggle. But if one’s gentleness and consideration for others is evidence of one’s close walk with God… where are such leaders?
In Galatians 5:22-23, Paul writes of the fruit of the spirit (love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control). Far too often the gifts of the spirit are sought-after and prized with no apparent regard for the fruit. Indeed the fruit is often lacking and no one notices, being too busy with the flashy fireworks of the gifts, silly sheep that we are. Paul talks of these qualities time and again. And (of course) Jesus said it first
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
It’s like God builds His kingdom upside down. Or maybe it’s us. Maybe sin has made us all upside down, and the fruit of the spirit are us being turned the right way up – eyes cast down in order to look up, so to speak.
In the verses given to me by K, after ‘The Lord is near’ comes the words about the peace that transcends all understanding. I pray that as I walk into that place on Friday, and say the words, so painful, my gentleness will be evident. I pray that in this gentleness Christ will shine through me. I also pray that in doing this, the peace that transcends understanding will be mine. And I pray that finally speaking the truth, after all these years, will indeed set me free. May it all be for God’s glory.