Last week I spoke of the disappointment that can set in when a person chasing their dreams realizes there is more work ahead of them than they originally thought. If you remember, Jacob had to sign on for another seven-year work contract with his uncle in order to marry the woman of his dreams. I can only imagine what the exchange between the two of them may have been like as they negotiated the second half of that contract. I figure Jacob was a bit frustrated, but Scripture also gives us another possibility to think about. Did Jacob really get fired up in the midst of being wronged? Did he act upon his frustration? We will find out soon.
To be quite frank, I was processing some of my own frustration the other day, and I was trying to come to grips with how I could stand up for what I believe in – what I’m working towards – without telling those that oppose me to get lost. What actually went through my head was not so nice, but the essence was the same. Everywhere you look in our country right now, people are at a tipping point. They feel so strongly about what they believe in, that anyone that opposes them becomes public enemy number one. At some point, many experience a loss of control, and words soon become poison. They get laser-locked on their opponent and won’t stop their verbal, or even physical, assault until they are cut down and belittled.
I do want to make a distinction here. I believe our media has done a huge disservice to us; fueling the fire by sounding the “hate” alarm. I don’t believe that when a person has a loss of control with their words or actions that it automatically means they’ve crossed the line into hate. It simply means they’ve lost control of their emotions. I think of how many times I’ve reached that tipping point with my own children or family members and have said or done something that hurt them. There was never any hate, just loss of control.
I also believe, contrary to what is portrayed to us, that there is much more good in the world than there is evil – but the fact remains that there is evil. The apostle Paul instructed the Ephesians to clothe themselves in the armor of God in order to stand their ground against it.
“Therefore, put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground,”
But then he adds one more peculiar phrase that has always made me stop and think:
“and after you have done everything, to stand.” Ephesians 6:13
He suggests that there may come a time when we are at the end of our emotional rope, yet we still need to stand. So I’m back to my original question: how does one stand up and hold their ground when opposition comes, while still maintaining control? It can only be done through humility.
I do believe that there are people that genuinely hate, but I also believe that a large percentage of those that have been targeted as haters don’t – they just haven’t learned humility. After all, it’s much easier to get whipped up in a frenzy and lose control than it is to face your opposition with a level head. We see this play out on the news virtually every day regarding many of the issues our country is facing. If we took Jacob’s situation and applied it today, I can imagine the headlines! He could have very easily picked up the picket signs and pulled together a group to protest his uncle Laban. He could have sited unfair labor laws and a breach of contract. Or perhaps even plotted worse, and been another statistic of a work place shooting. Jacob had every right to be frustrated upon finding out he had seven more years of work in exchange for Rachel. I don’t think there is any denying that. However, the Bible records his humble response in four little words,
“And Jacob did so.” Genesis 29:28
No screaming and hollering; no crying or carrying on; and no rebuttal in the face of opposition – just humility.
You may be saying to yourself, Paul was talking about outright spiritual attack from evil forces, and Jacob just didn’t get what he wanted. True, but Paul insisted that our struggles – which by definition are anything that brings opposition to us – are not against flesh and blood, but against spiritual forces of evil (see Ephesians 6:12). What drove Laban to deceive Jacob was greed and a selfish desire to see his eldest daughter wed first. Jacob didn’t hate Laban, nor was Laban a terrible guy, yet Jacob had to stand against the evil forces influencing Laban’s actions. On top of that, add those that may have been tempting Jacob himself to fly off the handle.
Wait a second, Joe! You’re starting to walk a fine line suggesting that people aren’t responsible for their own actions. No – I’m simply saying that every action begins as a thought. At that moment, we have the ability to recognize where that thought came from and what to do with it.
“So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” 1 Corinthians 10:12-13
We can either humble ourselves and maintain control against opposition, or succumb to our emotions. The latter leads to sin; and sin has consequences.
So, how exactly does a person humble themselves? I would agree that this is somewhat of a vague concept, and easier said than done. Lucky for us, Paul covered a lot of these bases in his writings. First, we can stop the majority of problems from even starting if we sever the grip of the initial evil thought.
“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Ephesians 4:31-32
Imagine the calmness of our presidential rallies if everyone would do that! So many people have never bothered to ask themselves the question of where their thoughts come from and what they should do with them. It is such a major component in truly being able to love people in this world.
Next, as Paul is nearing his conclusion to the church at Ephesus, he asks for prayer. His request gives us more insight into how to maintain a humble posture. He says,
“Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make know the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains.” Ephesians 6:19-20
He is echoing Jesus who made it clear when he said, “For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it. I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.” John 12:49-50
We must understand that Paul was in prison, and Jesus was speaking to those who were still having trouble believing in him! We learn from these two passages that the next critical step towards becoming humble is to ask for guidance on what to say when reacting to opposition. If you continue reading in the gospel of John, you will notice that as the opposition became fiercer towards Jesus, his chosen words and answers became much more succinct - fewer words, to the point, from the Father (see John chapter 18 and 19). We must take note! Christ experienced the greatest opposition ever faced with literally every sin committed – past, present, and future, placed on his shoulders. By giving up his life in exchange for ours, he became the ultimate definition of humble. We needn’t look any farther.
I’m not certain what opposition may be staring you in the face, or even what thoughts you may be struggling with, but I am certain of how to stand firm. Resist the impulse to run around and make a bunch of noise for all to hear. Instead, pay attention to your thoughts and ask for the right words; you might just be surprised at what you have to say.