When a Tough Day Happens July 21 2017

(Part of BCF’S blog series: “Society, Selflessness, and the Scriptures")

Last week I was waiting at a small rental car office to return a car when it became clear that the staff there was completely overwhelmed.  Overhearing conversations, this dilemma was brought about through a combination of a couple of staff who could not make it in to work and a high demand for cars on a hot summer day.  Customers and staff were well-composed overall, with a lot of apologies being expressed.  But clearly it was a tough day for all concerned.

We have all had that experience in one way or another, whether it be with serving or being served, whether with children, at schools, hospitals, restaurants, banks, stores, in traffic, at airports, or any number of other situations.  Sometimes it seems like a daily occurrence.  In our age of instant everything, when a system breaks down, it somehow seems more difficult to tolerate.  Technology has brought with it higher expectations of efficiency and timeliness.  One click on your laptop can now bring a package to your doorstep tomorrow morning, or even the same day.

As believers, unexpected delays present a huge opportunity for us to demonstrate the love of Christ.  It’s an opportunity that we many times overlook.

Let’s start with how we respond to others.  It is no wonder that the first characteristic of love in I Corinthians 13 (the “love chapter”) is “patience” (verse 4).  Regardless of the order of the list of  characteristics or actions of biblical love, all of them are very important.  But it somehow seems fitting that patience would be first, given how much we struggle with it.

Suffice it to say that people observe how we respond in difficult circumstances or when unexpected delays occur.  Responding with patience and grace when others naturally become impatient and angry definitely gets noticed, even though it may not be visibly acknowledged by others.  Numbers of times we have been in stressful situations, and as we demonstrate patience in the midst of other angry customers, the person delivering the service often expresses his or her gratitude.  They sometimes even have done favors that they wouldn’t do for their angry clients.  We don’t respond in order to receive a benefit, or even an acknowledgement; but we do it out of a response to Christ’s love for us and His own amazing patience with us.

Ephesians 6:7 is a great reminder for both those serving and being served in a difficult, stressful situation:  “With good will render service, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free.” Humans may not notice or appreciate what we do, but that’s not important, because our heavenly Father is the one Whom we ultimately serve.

On the other hand, patience doesn’t mean that we don’t help a business to be more responsible or that we refrain from helping our children become more disciplined.  There may be times that a business needs to be told things so that they can help their service to improve.  In the long run this will be better for them and for their customers.  But it can be done graciously and lovingly, not focusing on our own irritation, but with a view to helping them to become better.  This is the same objective we should have for our children.  We discipline them not because of the inconvenience they have caused us but so that they can grow in maturity.  There is a big difference between these motivations.  We will have more on parent-child relationships in a forthcoming series of blogs titled “Helping Children Learn Selflessness.”

All of this is built on the example of Jesus, Who “did not come to be served, but to serve” (Matthew 20:28).  The principle holds when we seek to help our children, when we deal with other individuals, and when we interact with businesses.  Whenever we try to help them improve, it’s not because of the inconvenience we experience but out of care for them.  And there are occasions where it is just best for us to not say anything at all, because either the problem is so self-evident or is just not able to be solved for other reasons.  That was basically the situation at my car rental counter.  It was better to just try to encourage the employees, who had essentially no control over the situation they were in.  There was not much they could do about it at that point, and they worked through it as efficiently as they could.

This is not to say that Christ-like patience and service is easy.  But a focus on serving (rather than being served) is a life-transforming principle that will help you be a peacemaker where others are stressed; show contentment when others are jealous; and express hope when others are despairing.  And it applies whether we are customers or the ones rendering the service.

Writing this blog reminded me of what one of my bosses told me many years ago that “Steve, if we didn’t have problems, you probably wouldn’t have a job.”  Wise words, as many jobs exist that are mostly focused on trying to solve problems.  It’s just that some days happen to have bigger and more difficult problems to solve.  In the words of the Shirelles (a 1960s vocal group), “Mama said there’ll be days like this.”  More importantly, the word of God says:

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exaltation.” (I Peter 4:12-14)

So don’t be surprised, but even expect these interruptions and “opportunities” to come.  And here are a few other ideas that you might consider the next time you are enduring an unexpected wait, delay, or potentially exasperating experience that could be a temptation to impatience or anger, such as:

  • Use it as an opportunity to pray.  Eyes open is fine.  Perhaps the Lord is giving us one of those unexpected “pauses” in life so that we can do exactly that.  You can start by asking for God to help you apply His grace in being patient.  And there are probably plenty of people involved in that situation who could use some prayer.
  • Use it as an opportunity to commit Scripture to memory.  Lesson 2 of the Self-Confrontation manual has several plans for Scripture memory, if you don’t have one of your own.  The Holy Spirit can use these passages to remind us of how to demonstrate Christ-like love even when times are tough.
  • The Lord said in Psalm 46:10 “Be still and know that I am God” (“Cease striving” in the New American Standard Version). In this fast-paced world, opportunities for stillness are rare.  Perhaps there will be an unexpected delay or two this week where the Lord can remind us of this, even in the midst of an otherwise chaotic situation.

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Steve Smith