Saturday, July 24, 2021

The Germans Have a Word for It

I realize I've referred many times on this blog to my usual morning Bible time on the front porch. God is the only one who understands my circumstances, struggles, and seasons of life, and so he alone gets to direct my paths. After my Bible study this morning the Lord invited me to attend a worship service during my 5-mile run today. The venue was the great outdoors, the music was amply provided by the sound of chirping birds, and the morning message was brought by the one and only John Stott in a sermon from Philippians 4 entitled Rejoicing in Christ. In it Stott talked about the need to find stability in the Lord, unity in the Lord, peace in the Lord, and contentment in the Lord. He zeroed in on verse 5: "Let your graciousness [reasonableness, gentleness, big-heartedness, serenity, equanimity, cheerfulness, calmness, composure, etc.] be known to everyone."

Okay, okay. That message was just for me.

Lately I've been working very hard on what the Germans call Gelassenheit, or calmness (gentleness) of spirit. No person can be considered truly Christian without this trait being a major component of their personality. The person who loves God will be a person who is kind and gentle to all. Kindness is the outward manifestation of a heart that is filled with compassion, generosity, cordiality, and gentleness. People who are committed to being big-hearted don't sweat the small stuff. Their greatest delight is when others feel welcome in their presence. While they recognize that conflict is an unavoidable part of life, they handle that conflict in the least abrasive, biting, and brusque way possible. They know that their overall reputation for goodness and kindness will give them extra credibility when the time comes when they have to use assertiveness. Even when they are in conflict with others, they genuinely desire to maintain a positive presence in the lives of those around them.

Gelassenheit includes the feeling of contentment, peacefulness, and deep inner satisfaction. But note: It is possible to appear contented and yet to be without true Gelassenheit. The demeanor of people with Gelassenheit is consistently uplifting and never demeaning. They recognize that it's possible to speak forthrightly without any hint of condescension. They enjoy giving sincere compliments and commenting on the successes of others. They say, "This is my life, so I'll need to make the most of my choices even if others around me do not." They are overcomers, people who refuse to be defeated when faced with adversity. Rather than being threatened by conflict, they recognize that interpersonal conflict represents an opportunity to display goodness and fairness. This is, I believe, exactly what Paul means by the Greek word epieikes in Phil. 4:5.

Convicted yet? I am! Just think of how applicable Paul's command here is. A healthy Christian wants nothing to do with the desire to verbally conquer others. They stop attempting to force change in the other person. They are able to balance assertion and forgiveness. They take appropriate responsibility for their own emotional life. Today I felt like John Stott was speaking directly to me. My love for others has to be much more than a feeling. It has to be a commitment to prioritize encouragement over criticism and to find what is good in the other person even when that task seems so unnatural.

I know I'm not saying anything you haven't heard before. All of us have had to come to terms with our own deep wounds in life. By accepting the negative circumstances in our lives, we are not letting go of our legitimate concerns or convictions. Instead, in our relationships we have chosen to establish a new life that incorporates the hard lessons learned and that is careful to establish clear boundaries. What I want for us is not to be trapped by emotional dependency on others. Don't let your problems be an excuse to engage in fruitless debate or discussion. Show genuine tolerance for others' flaws and recognize when not to press an issue. Above all, drop the unrealistic requirement that everyone has to line up with your ideal standards. That's never going to happen nor should it. The Bible teaches that we will not get everything we want in life. But that's okay, because "the Lord is near" (Phil. 4:5). So be kind. Be gentle. Be bighearted. Be gracious. And for God's sake don't use your kindness as a subtle means of manipulating others to appease your yearnings. Be real.

From the land of outdoor sermons,