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Patience & the Angry Heart

One of the most satisfying and stimulating things that I do in ministry is to serve on the board of the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation. CCEF’s president, David Powlison, has recently published a book titled Good and Angry that should land on the ‘must-read’ list for every church planter, pastor, and believer. I’ve excerpted a short portion below from Chapter 7 (The Constructive Displeasure of Mercy) for your inspiration and enjoyment.
-Dave Harvey


“Patience is a curious response to something that is wrong.  Why is it curious?  Because when you are truly patient, you agree with the moral evaluation that anger makes:  “That’s wrong.  What you’re doing does not please me.  It offends me.  It hurts people.”  True patience is not about passivity, indifference, or tolerance of evils.  You do not just put up with bad things.  It’s not an easygoing tolerance and neutrality.  It does not accept anything and affirm everything.  Patience hates what’s happening.  Then it rolls up its sleeves to redress what is wrong.

Patience sees wrong, but it is “slow to anger.”  This is a prime characteristic of the Lord God.  He is gracious, compassionate, and slow to anger (Exodus 34:6).  It is the first characteristic of love.  “Love is patient” (1 Corinthians 13:4).  God is love, and God is slow to anger.  He intends to make us like himself.  To be slow to anger means you are willing to work with wrong over time. “The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is patient” (2 Peter 3:9).  God chooses to work over a scale of moments, days, years, decades, centuries, millennia.  And he will accomplish what he has set out to do.

Patience is an intelligent, feeling act.  When you are patient, you often see the wrong more clearly.  You feel its knife edge more keenly.  You actually notice more and deeper wrongs than when you react resentfully.  Our resentments are often petty.  But patience takes personally wrongs that don’t necessarily slap our own private agendas in the face.  It notices others’ sufferings.  And it doesn’t take so personally the wrongs that do slap us in the face.

Patience hurts.  It’s hard to learn.  You struggle within yourself so that you don’t react immediately in the wrong way.  You bear with difficult people and events, not out of indifference, resignation, or cowardice.  You hang in there because you are driven by a different purpose.  You are willing to work slowly to solve things.  Patience is not passivity.  It is how to be purposeful and constructive in the face of great difficulties.  You are even willing to live constructively for a long time within seemingly insoluble evils.  By definition, patience means that what’s wrong doesn’t change right away.

It’s so easy to get ticked off, fed up, I’ve-had-it-and-I’m-out-of-here.  But have you ever known anyone who did not do that?  I have a friend named Enrique who has learned to love his wife even though she makes it very hard to love her.  Cheryl Ann is a difficult person.  Her intense self-absorption, hyperactive imagination, and suspicious temperament make for highly combustible emotions!  Unpredictably, she will erupt with accusations against Enrique that have no basis in reality.  Then, turning on a dime, she’ll be filled with remorse, self-loathing, and fears.  Spinning again, she’ll turn giddy with high hopes and wild desires that promise trouble-free heaven on earth—only to come crashing back into difficult reality.  Our culture labels such people.  It throws up its hands, saying, “She’s impossible!” But over many years Enrique has leaned to love her.

How?  Christ is patiently shaping his life to a different purpose.  His reactions were not always loving.  Retaliatory anger, escape into fantasy, discouragement, and self-protection came naturally.  But haltingly, amid ups and downs, he is living his life in order to learn how to love her, even when, and especially when, it is difficult.  He confronted his own lack of love, rather than blaming Cheryl Ann for his failures.  Like all of us, Enrique instinctively lives on either pleasure or indifference or displeasure spectrum.  But Jesus has been purposefully patient with him, showing him the constructive displeasure of a powerful mercy.

A tender hymn captures the dynamic.

My song is love unknown, my Savior’s love to me,
Love to the loveless shown that they might lovely be.
O who am I that for my sake
My Lord should take frail flesh and die?

And Enrique has responded—love to the loveless shown that they might lovely be.  He has learned—he is still learning—to approach Cheryl Ann’s shortcomings with purposeful patience.  It is lovely to know such a man.

One near-synonym of patience is forbearance.  To forbear means to hang in there with people or events that remain wrong and hurtful.  This is more than brute endurance.  It does not mean that you must keep on keeping on, merely gritting your teeth.  Forbearance is committed to changing the world—and willing to hang in there for as long as it takes—not simply to endure the world.  The willingness to work over the long haul is the first piece of the constructive displeasure of mercy.”

Copyright © by David Powlison, Good & Angry, Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press, 2016, pp 77–79. Used with permission. To order Good & Angry go to Shipping is free on this book and all other resources.

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