Life can be quite difficult and frustrating when we’re faced with other people’s faults and character flaws, and worse yet with their insensitive and rude behavior. We all have preferred routines, ways of getting things done, different leadership styles – even God-given spiritual gifts, callings, and “anointings.” And yet they will without fail, at one time or another, cause conflict. That’s a fact of life.
Real Life Scenario #1: You have a one-sink bathroom in your master bedroom. Before retiring for the evening, you give your wife a half hour head-start to accomplish her “routine” – you know, removing her make-up, washing her face, brushing her teeth. When you figure she’s done, you walk into the bathroom and prepare to brush your teeth before hopping into bed. But before you get started, she says, “Hey, I was here first. I was just about to brush my teeth – and you butted in!” A verbal conflict is about to begin between two people, one who thought they were being “sensitive” to the other’s needs and one who didn’t think the other was being sensitive enough. Welcome to the world of petty marital conflict.
Real Life Scenario #2: You come up with an inspired idea. Your boss loves it. He OK’s the plan – and that’s the last you hear about it. That is until you get wind of a planning meeting of the “best and brightest” of the company staff (of which you have always been a part) planning to implement your brain-child. You ask the planning staff “What gives?” – and you’re met with pushback, and are accused of being a “pre-Madonna” who won’t share the glory with the rest of the team. Talk about being misunderstood!
Real Life Scenario #3: Your co-worker is afflicted with what you see as nothing less than a combination of ADD/ADHD – and it drives you crazy. He’s always “forgetting” what you agree to get done by a certain deadline – and causing havoc with the rest of your team. He apologizes, vows to do better, but repeatedly fails to come through on his promised behavior modification. But he always has “a good excuse.” Wash, rinse, repeat. It’s maddening!
That last “real life scenario” especially hit home for me. Failing to overlook other’s faults appropriately is one of my most glaring character flaws. And yet, through prayer and obedience, and choosing to live “in the Spirit” and not in my “sinful nature” (Romans 8:1-ff), I have discovered that I can do it if I want to. Broken people like me can be healed. And broken people like me can become agents of healing – not hate – for others.
So, what’s the remedy to such relational dilemmas?
The biblical one-word answer is “forbearance” – tolerance and restraint in the face of provocation. In a word, its patience.
A combination of Old and New Testament wisdom says, “Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others…By forbearance a ruler may be persuaded, and a soft tongue breaks the bone.” (Colossians 3:12-13 [NLT]; Psalm 25:15 [NASB 1995])
This biblical counsel says through a whole lot of patience (“long-suffering”) and a “soft tongue” (a gentle word), you can “break” a bone-headed or hard-hearted person.
To put a fine point on it, these words of wisdom tell us that forbearance in our lives can be cultivated by:
1) Getting the right perspective (“Make allowances for each other’s faults…”)
2) Patiently and consistently forgiving people who offend us (“…forgive anyone who offends you…”)
3) Persistently persuading the offender with an understanding heart (“by forbearance a ruler may be persuaded, and a soft tongue breaks bones”)
Years ago, my partner and fellow pastor formed a church in his living room. He was a seminary graduate. I was a Bible college grad just a few years into my ministry. He was my “big brother” in the faith. I was several years younger than him, paralyzed with a fear of failure, and had no clue how to start a church. He later confided in me that he had no idea what he was doing either. We spent fifteen years working side by side. The first seven years were a nightmare. The last eight years were a dream come true.
My ministry partner and I were both on the same page theologically. We just had different approaches to church leadership. We existed and ministered in that tension for the first half of our ministry together, eventually becoming co-pastors. He was the dreamer, and I was the schemer. He was the gifted visionary leader, full of ideas and dreams. I was the gifted administrator leader who made the vision come alive. The book of Proverbs says: “A plan in the heart of a man is like deep waters, but a man of understanding draws it out” (20:5 NASB). We were a good team. He was the man with a plan in his heart, and I was the man of understanding who drew it out. Together we worked hard at envisioning, growing, and maturing our fledgling church.
We were both young and highly motivated but not well-equipped, practically or emotionally. We found it hard to agree on how to get to where we both knew we wanted to go. Our personal differences were significant. We could not seem to get on the same page. Sometimes it seemed like we weren’t even reading the same book! We disagreed on nearly everything of importance to forming a new church – our personal leadership styles, dealing with staff relationships and conflicts, how to form a spiritual leadership team to oversee the church, and even how to include women in ministry. But, despite our conflicts and our lack of experience, the church grew. People began attending seemingly out of nowhere. Through no particular expert leadership on our part, our church blossomed from thirteen people meeting in a living room to more than nine hundred worshippers in just six and a half years.
And then it happened. Life got very messy. I felt like I had been the “pooper scooper” in the parade cleaning up leadership and administrative messes after my fellow-pastor for nearly seven years. Then that “poop hit the fan.” And because I had stuffed my feelings all that time, I had become very unhealthy. It not only took its toll on me emotionally – but physically, socially and spiritually. I was a “sick puppy” – and it showed in my ministry and personal life.
Eventually I went to therapy and got some much-needed perspective and help. Through some very intense counsel I discovered the source of my emotional sickness and how it had affected my relationships and my ministry. It took some time, but eventually I was able to emerge a much healthier person and much more effective in ministry.
How did I “get better”? Through practicing forbearance. By developing the right perspective toward my fellow pastor (“make allowances for each other’s faults…”), patiently and consistently forgiving my brother who offended me (“…forgive anyone who offends you…”), and persistently persuading him with an understanding heart (“by forbearance a ruler may be persuaded, and a soft tongue breaks bones”).
It was in the context of forbearance that I discovered the value of openness and honesty, forgiveness and patience, and spiritual accountability. My brother and I had meetings long into the night where we prayed, argued, and challenged each other into spiritual and emotional maturity. Then we forgave and prayed for each other again. But we never gave up on each other.
It was painful but fruitful. It was confrontational but comforting. And it was gut-wrenching but glorious. It forced us to become mature men who wanted to be godly leaders, husbands, and fathers. We became a team of brothers in Christ who loved each other like we loved ourselves. And we served together in emotional and spiritual harmony for eight more years, until God led us in different directions.
There are so many benefits to sharing biblical forbearance, not the least of which is the energy you get from mutual encouragement, the honesty you experience from mutual accountability, and the joy of realizing you’re becoming all that you know God wants you to be.
Make biblical forbearance a consistent part of your spiritual life.