“How long will you say such things? Your words are a blustering wind. Does God pervert justice? Does the Almighty pervert what is right? When your children sinned against him, he gave them over to the penalty of their sin.” Job 8:2-4 (NIV)
Bildad is the second of Job’s friends to speak, and Bildad doesn’t mince words. In fact, Bildad has all the tact of an atomic bomb. He opens his argument with an insult (“Job, you’re a blowhard”), and quickly follows with a sharp accusation of Job’s children (“They had it coming”). By the time Bildad got to all of his talk about hope and restoration I’m afraid he’d already alienated his audience.
Wise King Solomon observed that a gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. I’m afraid Bildad’s harsh opening only assured an angry response from Job.
Today I’m thinking about a handful of recent situations in which harsh words were spoken. I cannot control what others say or think, but I can certainly control my reaction and response. Along the journey I’ve come to realize that conflict is like a math equation: Two negatives result in a negative. I’m not always the best at responding appropriately, but disciplining myself to keep anger in check and respond in a gentle, controlled manner leaves the door open for meaningful dialogue and hopefully, a positive resolution will eventually follow.
I am reminded this morning that Jesus said the sun shines on both the good and evil, and that rain falls on both the righteous and unrighteous. No matter what path we take or where we find ourselves in our life journey upon this earth, there will be good times and there will be bad times for every one of us. I have learned along the way that the real question is not what happens to us, for we all will have our personal share of both pleasures and pain. The real question is how we respond and what we choose to do with both our blessings and our tragedies.
I want the innumerable blessings that shine on my life to create in me a trinity of tangible responses:
Gratitude: I wasn’t entitled to the blessing, I need to be thankful.
Grace: I have been shown favor I don’t deserve, I need to show favor to others.
Generosity: I have been given much, I need to give much away.
I want the tragedies that I experience, both great and small, to cause me to respond with:
Patience: Even Noah discovered that rain eventually gives way to sunshine, but I need to let patience grow in me during rainy days.
Perseverance: When I doggedly press on through the storm, I find maturity, wisdom, and character developing in me.
Purpose: It may be cliché, but dark clouds do have silver linings. I need to seek God’s purpose for me in the pain.
I have observed along the journey that when I respond appropriately to the circumstances I find myself in, laughter gives way to deeper understanding, and tears give way to joy.
Let them know that it is your hand, that you, Lord, have done it. While they curse, may you bless; may those who attack me be put to shame, but may your servant rejoice. Psalm 109:27-28 (NIV)
Those who live life as public figures or in the spotlight of leadership are likely to find ourselves in the midst of a whirlwind of speculation and suspicion at some point in our lives. People are people, and whether you lived some 30 centuries ago in Jerusalem or live in rural Iowa today you will find that some experiences are common to humanity. There is a particular kind of insanity producing frustration that comes with finding yourself at the center of others’ misguided gossip and false accusations.
King David, who penned the lyrics of today’s psalm, was no stranger to the spotlight of popularity and leadership, nor was he a stranger to scandal and public ridicule. For certain, some of the public ridicule David brought on himself. Like all of us, David made his share of boneheaded mistakes. Yet, even in the tornado of gossip the truth often becomes distorted and inflated into crazy tabloid speculation.
In my experience, there are only a few things you can do when you find yourself the subject of local gossip and speculation:
Plead your case in the right place. Vent your frustration to God. That’s what today’s psalm was all about for David. Psalm 109 is an ancient example of a screaming, venting, thrashing Metalcore anthem. Get it out. Express your feelings. Tell God what you’d really like to see happen to those lying gossips talking about you behind your back. It’s okay. God understands your emotion and isn’t surprised by your feelings of vengeance. It’ll be good for you.
Let it go. Once you’ve vented your anger and frustration, take a deep breath and then let it go. Believe me, there is nothing you can do to chase down and confront every source of gossip and every false accusation that you hear on the streets and behind your back. You’ll ultimately fail, drive yourself crazy in the process, and your efforts will only fan the flames of speculation. Like David, don’t just plead your case to God but also relinquish your desire for justice to the only True Judge.
Stay the course. When Wendy and I were married (Eight years ago this New Year’s Eve!), it created a fair amount of talk in our neck of the woods. I was recently divorced at the time and I admit that the timing of our quick courtship did not do anything to quell the rumors and idle gossip. We heard the whispers and felt the self-righteous judgment and disapproval of others. At that point in time, Wendy’s mom gave us a sage piece of advice: Make like a turtle. Toughen up the shell, let it bounce off, and keep plodding towards what you know is right. Slow and steady wins the race.
Give it time. Just this past week I was told that a young adult, who has watched Wendy’s and my marriage for the past eight years, commented that they see our relationship as an example of the kind of marriage they want for themselves. Wendy and I talked about that last night and marveled at how far we’ve come from those days when it was whispered that ours was a flash-in-the-pan rebound relationship doomed to failure. If you find yourself falsely accused, remember that what is true about you will be revealed in the test of time as others observe your faith, love, life, actions, words, and relationships.
But the land could not support both Abram and Lot with all their flocks and herds living so close together. So disputes broke out between the herdsmen of Abram and Lot. (At that time Canaanites and Perizzites were also living in the land.)Genesis 13:6-7 (NLT)
“Hot spot” is the term used to describe an area of international conflict. Those whose business it is to monitor and handle such crises are constantly aware of what is happening in the various hot spots around the globe. Some hot spots rise and fade with changing political, financial or environmental climate, but others are always places of heated conflict.
As I read of the conflict that arose between Abram and Lot in the land of Canaan I was amazed to think that the land over which they fought seems always to have been a hot spot. It is still a hot spot today. One wonders after many millenia of conflict whether it will ever change.
Today I’m thinking about hot spots in our own lives. Conflict in families, between spouses, or neighbors that seem to perpetuate over time. Layer after layer of conflict is laid between two parties until it is virtually impossible to disentangle the layers and find common ground on which to arrive at peaceful resolution. What a reminder of the fallen world in which we live and breath and share our journey. While the hot spots of the international variety are beyond my reach, God’s Message does tell me: Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. I can do that. I can determine how I will handle and respond to family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, clients, and strangers I encounter along the way. I can choose my words and determine my attitude and actions so as to diminish and avoid relational hot spots in my own life.
So many enemies against one man— all of them trying to kill me. To them I’m just a broken-down wall or a tottering fence. They plan to topple me from my high position. They delight in telling lies about me. They praise me to my face but curse me in their hearts. Psalm 62:3-4 (NLT)
Since being elected captain of the Woodlawn Elementary School Safety Patrol in 6th grade, I’ve spent most of my life journey in one form of leadership or another. Student Councils, Chaplain, Youth Pastor, Pastor, Elder, Committee Chairman, Director, Producer, Board of Directors, Employer, etc., and etc. Over the past few years I’ve been investing a good bit of soul searching, reading, quiet time and mental effort ruminating on my leadership.
The truth is, I feel less comfortable as a leader today than I ever have in my entire life. Perhaps it’s the old saying “the more you know the more you realize you don’t know.” I know I can do the job, but the further I get down life’s road the more I want to do the job well and it’s the doing it well part which I find myself pondering incessantly. My personal assessment shows more room for improvement than I care to admit.
As I read King David’s lyrics today, I instantly identified the groans and frustrations of a man who has experienced the burden of leadership in ways I never will. Still, I feel an odd sense of familiarity with the emotions he expresses in his song. Leadership at all levels can leave you feeling alone at the top with a target on your back. You see smiles and hear one thing said to your face while hearing nasty things whispered behind your back.
I appreciate David’s response. It is easy to react to criticism, negativity, and open hostility with anger, vengeance, and aggression either passive or active. I’ve learned, however, that our natural reactions tend to weaken a leader’s position. Leadership requires thoughtful response. When David chooses to respond to his critics and enemies by waiting quietly for God, he is making the choice of a wise leader. He is avoiding the trap of emotional reaction, he is making space for his own thoughts and meditations on the situation, and as a leader he is recognizing an even higher authority to whom he is accountable.
Anyone can be elected or appointed to a position of leadership. Sometimes we just find ourselves in the position and wonder how we got there. I believe every parent knows this feeling. One minute you’re having fun in bed and the next thing you know you have these big, innocent eyes looking to you for provision, protection, and all of life’s answers. Welcome to leadership. Yet, for the sake of our children, our neighbors, our communities, our businesses, our nation and our world we need leaders who do their jobs well.
Don’t sin by letting anger control you. Think about it overnight and remain silent. Psalm 4:4 (NLT)
Anger is a powerful emotion. It comes on us like an explosion; it surges like a tidal wave. Caught unaware, it can move us to instant and thoughtless reaction of words and brash actions. When directed inward in attempt to hold it inside, it wreaks havoc on our heart, soul and mind. The results are ugly and can be devastating to lives, souls and relationships.
The lyric of today’s Psalm is a wise instruction in handling anger. It’s an ancient version of today’s Anger Management. The key is finding the tension between the two extremes. Neither rash, explosive reaction nor long term detrimental containment – but rather mindful, timely and appropriate response.
Along the journey, especially with respect to my vocation, I’ve commonly been asked very direct questions from people in authority. It’s not always a comfortable position to be in. I have learned from experience, however, that I am always best served to give an honest, direct answer whether it is what the person wants to hear or not.
The results are not always positive. Solomon said that an honest answer is a kiss of friendship, but that is only when the recipient of the answer recognizes the gift that you’ve given them in your honesty. An honest answer can just as easily be perceived as Judas’ kiss if the hearer is unwilling to hear and accept the honest truth of your response.
I cannot control whether the hearer receives of rejects my honest answer. That is his or her responsibility, not mine. My responsibility is simply to provide the honest answer no matter how I think the hearer will react.