Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Ephesians 4:2
Ruth Bell Graham, wife of Billy Graham, chose an interesting epitaph for her tombstone. “End of construction. Thank you for your patience.” She saw this message on a highway sign and thought that it just summed things up.
We are all works in progress. When we are trying something new, when we are trying to figure something out, or when we’re trying to get our act together, we would appreciate if people would “bear with us.” Their patience and gentleness when we are under pressure is both welcomed and necessary.
Paul turns this thinking around a little bit. Following the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12), the apostle instructs us to treat others like we would want to be treated. Have you ever made a mistake? Then, be humble toward others. Have you ever been treated abruptly? Then, be gentle in your response. Have you ever been treated rudely? Then, be patient with others. Have you ever felt the pressure? Then, bear with one another in love.
Jim Collins, an author and Stanford University professor, has written a number of books on successful organizations including Built to Last, Good to Great, and his latest, How the Mighty Fall. I heard Collins speak recently at Willow Creek’s Leadership Summit. It is interesting that he attributes the failure of many leaders to a lack of humility.
Arrogance says, “I’ve made it. I did it myself. I am so great that I don’t need to listen to anyone else, depend on anyone else, or give anyone else credit.” The arrogant leader’s attitude is “my way or the highway.” They are locked in a bubble of self. People stopped telling them the truth long ago, because these leaders already know everything, they think.
Collins argument is that no one is invincible and no one has ever succeeded by themselves. The antidote to arrogance and the source of humility, according to this business author, is to count your blessings. When we take out a sheet of paper or open a blank document and begin to recount all of the blessings that we’ve received and all of the people who’ve helped us get there, we suddenly realize that we’re not as big of a deal as we think we are. Humility kicks in. And, here’s the beauty of this: humble leaders are successful. Arrogant leaders tend to implode, even when everything is going up and to the right.
When God chose to gather a people to call His own and use them to perform His will, He didn’t imagine developing a better class of people who are above sin. God knew exactly what He had to work with: us. The hope for success is that God works in us, not to make us perfect, but to make us better.
God knows that when we think we’re more important than others that things will fall apart. When we mistreat others, the task might get accomplished, but there are bleeding wounds in our wake. When we work with others, we tend to be forgetful about how patient God is with us, and we tend to deny others the same courtesy.
The only way that this God-envisioned enterprise called the Church will work is if we bear with one another in love. Otherwise, how is the Church different from any other enterprise in the world?
If Ruth Bell Graham, the wife of possibly the greatest evangelist in history and mother of five, was a work in progress until she was completed on the other side, what stage are we at?
I would challenge you today to take five minutes and jot down the first 50 blessings that come to mind. Remember the parents, the teachers, the coaches, the friends, the employers, the opportunities, the education, the lenders and everyone else who gave you a leg up in life. If it wasn’t for them, you would have nothing to be proud of.
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