I love history. I studied church history in college a bit. Those were always my favorite classes. We have so many examples of broken men and women who did great things for Christ. Radical changes, reform, even rebellion. But what we don’t see, generally speaking, is longsuffering.
Longsuffering isn’t glamorous. Think of all the movies you’ve ever seen about some epic hero. Most of them will go into some detail about how the hero got to be so good at what he did, however this is always brief. A few scenes of training, and that’s about it. We like action and movement. We like to hear about Paul’s missionary work. We like to hear about how Luther pounded his theses to a door. We like to hear George Whitefield’s great sermons. But don’t pay attention to the years where Paul is off the map serving and learning. Or Luther’s may years of study. Or the hundreds of sermons Whitefield preached that were forgettable as he was forming his gift.
What about families? How many stories of faithful husbands and fathers do you read about in the annales of Christian history? What about the pastors or priests that faithfully served their congregations for decades?
One of the best books I’ve read lately is Eugene Peterson’s memoir “The Pastor”. It’s his reflection on a life as a pastor. It’s well written and nothing crazy happens. There are no revolutions. He doesn’t take down the Catholic Church. No one gets their ass capped. Peterson simply brings to light the beauty of how God works in life, the beauty of faithfulness.
Most days I don’t want a life like this. I look at historical figures or celebrity pastors or celebrated professors and thinkers and I want that. I want to stumble into greatness. I have a hard time with faithfulness. In fact I hate it most of the time. I’d rather read about “greatness” than work hard. We want the story that proclaims us rather than the minor role that supports Christ.
Which is really too bad. This attempt at usurping the role of King doesn’t do us or the King any good at all. We want more than we can contain. We strive for things we can’t do. And even if we can, we find that they are empty. This is tragically the start of our story as a created people. All these stories should inspire us to do great things for others, but mostly I find in myself that I want to do them for my own sake. That robs the beauty from the story. Think about William Wallace. What if after all he did (we have to pretend he wasn’t executed) he became a tyrant over Scotland? He wouldn’t be loved; he’d be remembered as just another power-seeking dictator. I’m fairly certain that at our best we’re like Frodo. We want to do good, but when it comes down to it, we don’t want that. At least not when the temptation is staring us in the face (thinking specifically how he refuses to destroy the ring towards the end of the Return of the King, sorry for nerding out).
Our only hope can be resigning ourselves to worship; to response. I often wonder how many of the great heroes of the faith were actually trying to be Savior, rather than respond to the Savior. All I can say is that we’re in desperate need of grace, and once we realized the vastness of this grace we are free to respond with small acts of worship to a great King. This is longsuffering. This is what all those men and women, who lived now untold lives of gospel response, believe.