Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Patience and Perception

Okay, so I'm pondering something... How much of a wait-and-see attitude should a Christian have? What role does experience play in determining the "spirit" of a person's actions, a current event, etc.? How long should we wait before drawing conclusions on any fruits we perceive?

I'm interested because having a balance in two vital areas--that is, with patience and perception--is both a foundation for and true sign of building godly wisdom and character. However, being short on supply of either one or having a false variety thereof has caused millions to be blinded to the Truth.

Allow me to explain what it is that I currently think I think of these two qualities...

There seems to be varying levels of patience and perception (based on our experiences). Perhaps there are better words for what I'm describing, and maybe typing this out on a blog will flesh out those terms. One way to define these terms is to start with extremes: the person with much patience and little perception will wait and wait to draw a conclusion on a matter until they just accept the consequences of having not done anything when everything has finally unfolded. The person with much perception and little patience will sense the faintest whisper of a wind blowing similarly to their previous experiences and immediately draw conclusions that the same is happening now. The former is the typical frog in increasingly hotter water analogy and the latter is your wackiest conspiracy theorist. Certainly, this doesn't even begin to show the many varieties of patience and perception/experience nor even their good side, but it can show the flaws of having a false variety of each one.

To demonstrate some of the other sides of these two qualities, I'll try to describe them with examples. I am reminded by those older than me that "I haven't been around as long as they have to experience these things that they're seeing." And I believe them, I really do. On the other hand, the ever-optimistic, open-minded youth or rarely-judging pacifists seem to have peace, joy and a gentle spirit in their lives. Personally, as I grow older, I have tended to lean more on my experiences to help make quicker judgments of a situation. Still, I attempt to hold off some before making my final judgment to verify that my perception of the situation is indeed correct (I said attempt...).

A patient-only individual may have an opinion, but is waiting for further validation before acting. A perceptive-only person probably had their minds made up long ago and wondered what took so long for everyone else to catch up. Yet the perceptive-only person may have missed crucial information that wasn't initially presented and make a rash decision. The patient-only person may never find the validation they're looking for and take lumps for not acting decisively earlier.

Several years ago, the Worldwide Church of God was taken over from the inside and turned inside out. It was a terrible experience for all, but it was indeed experience-building. Based on everything I've read and everyone I've talked to, many lessons were drawn from each of these experiences. Some folks took the approach to wait it out and patiently see what God would do within the church He raised through Mr. Armstrong, allowing themselves to drift back into worldly Christianity as the Worldwide Church of God transformed itself into Grace Communion International over the decades to follow. Others, being badly scalded personally by this enormous trial, have ran in fear from all organized religion and point the finger accusingly at any who continue to live or teach such a "god" who would allow such a thing to occur. Of course, there are many, many shades of gray between these two extremes.

Similarly in politics, war, prophecy and religion, experience and education are especially needed, as is patience. Many people I know took one look at Barack Obama and immediately knew what kind of man he was by his words and his politics, while others want history to judge his actions. (NOTE: I'm not passing judgment on either camp here, just noting them.) The same goes with George W. Bush, the Iraq War and the recession as well as the future of Jerusalem, Germany, the Catholic Church, and even the Church of God.

Some with much godly experience may see the Church as having shed several of the problems of the past. Others with much experience** have identified loose bricks in the House of God that reek of the sins of the past.

**As a side note, it appears to me that some men with extreme cases of relying too much on their so-called perception have practically turned themselves into prophets and apostles, if they're not already declaring themselves to be so. These people are so sure of their predictions, even if done under the guise of "I've seen this all before" or even "God has given me special insight to know this."

Some with patience have learned from enduring such difficult trials and have gleaned a great deal of knowledge from the lessons each has taught. Others with a more complacent patience have come to the point of not worrying about nor praying for the problems of others because doing so might require some introspection on their part as well. I've seen people refuse to "judge" others because doing so would be hypocritical. We probably shouldn't be so patient with our own sins just because we're supposed to be patient with others. What are we hiding or not overcoming? Paul says we shouldn't want grace to abound for our sins' sake (Romans 6).

Why am I talking about all this? Because I want to figure out the right balance of each of these vital characteristics and make sure that I'm not misidentifying each one for something quite different. I would like to have the patience and mercy to be willing to let God work with every individual to perfect them in His image regardless of their current state. Yet I also understand that God will eventually draw a line in the sand when someone's character is set and their mind cannot be changed by Him or anyone else. Final judgment will take place.

Next, God expects me to make decisions with limited information at times to test me and I can't always have the time that I might want. Other times, He wants to see if I'll act upon my selfish desires or emotions of the moment or patiently dig deep and rely on past experiences to realize what a poor decision that would be. Other questions I've asked are: Will I let God and Jesus Christ lead Their Church? Will I leave in the case of apostasy? Will I scour for problem areas in others or will I get on my knees to pray for any problems that happen to come to my attention?

Also, combining these two characteristics is a powerful concoction. Together, we can draw on our experiences while patiently allowing our minds to sift over all available knowledge that's available, whether through seeking advice, researching and studying the subject in the Bible and asking God personally for help. Whatever mood we're currently in can color our perceptions. Patience can smooth out the erratic nature of our emotions and help us to see the larger picture by analyzing things through a variety of emotions and experiences. Humans are generally incapable of more than just a few emotions or memories at any given time, so repeated exposure to these things while not coming to one quick decision can help us verify that our original perception was or was not the right one.

Perception is absolutely required to make any kind of stand in our lives and it requires us to thoroughly re-analyze our experiences over a lifetime against a backdrop of fellow members' perceptions to build a more complete picture. This is why a Church is required in the first place--in order to allow the various parts of the body of Christ to share their individual growth and knowledge to edify, encourage and grow the Body. Our perceptions need to become the Body's perceptions and the Body's perceptions need to become ours.

As it is, the Body is constantly adding new members, and thus new parts, and this requires patience to help them draw closer to the stature of the fullness of perfection that is our Elder Brother. Our experiences can help us remember what it was like being in their position, if there are similarities, and sympathize with them...even drawing us closer to them by desiring to help them along. Of course, the opposite occurs when someone with more experiences than ourselves offers us a hand in our current trials and lack of understanding some issue.

Anyway, that's me getting all of this stuff off my mind. I suppose the wisest people of all are the most experienced folks around that still practice a great deal of patience in coming to a full judgment, even distrusting their own human nature until God delivers His perfect understanding to them. May each one of us continue to work towards that...

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