Thursday, October 4, 2012

Being Meek When Provoked

A Few Days ago, I shared an excerpt of a prayer by Paul Wesley Chilcote from his book, Praying in the Wesleyan Spirit.  It was a prayer for a meek spirit based on John Wesley's sermon Meekness, Justice, and Mercy.
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"Lord, I want to be meek--
not apathetic about life or lacking in self-confidence--
rather always resigned to your will and never demanding my own way,
always patient and content in myself, at ease and at peace,
always mild and gentle toward friends and enemies alike.
I want to have a deep interior meekness,
not just the outward form;
I want a spirit that is easily reconciled to others."

My Friend, Susan, asked:
I want to [be] meek too...that kind of meek...but what do you do when someone is relentless in their anger and ability to see the entirely negative in every situation? How do you protect yourself from that other than keeping them at a distance?
It was a great question, so I promised her a response here:

 The kind of meekness spoken of when Jesus said, "Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth," and the kind of meekness for which Paul Chilcote leads us in prayer is not a self-abasing meekness.  At the core of the Christian Character is knowing who we are and to whom we belong.  Notice that Jesus' promise concerning the meek is not some special gift or natural outcome in exchange for their meekness... it is an inheritance.

We should ask, "Typically who is it that receives an inheritance?"  We would answer, "Children inherit what belonged to their parents." 

The meek person is self-assured enough that they do not need false pretenses.  The truth of the mater is good enough.  It is wrong minded when we think of the meek as lacking in something. It is the one who must pretend to be bigger, stronger, smarter, wiser, bolder, and more righteous than they truly are that is lacking.  Such a person asserts a claim to the earth--but does so wrongly because it does not theirs to claim.

But the meek, having handed their hearts and wills into the hands of their God, are free from the insecurity that leads to presumptuous assertion.  Chilcote continues the prayer, "Since the meek fix their hearts, desires, and joys in you, they are happy in all things..."

Whats more, though, is that Chilcote (following John Wesley's lead) connects our being meek to our desire for justice (righteous) and being merciful.  
If I am truly meek--if I allow you to heal my inner feelings of anger, impatience, and discontent--then I will desire healthy, honorable, and true relationships... If I hunger and thirst for you, nothing will satisfy me except the blessings of your goodness [(justice)]...  If I am filled with your truth and goodness [justice], then I will be tender toward those who do not know you, and truly merciful, which means nothing other than loving my neighbor as myself.
Separating meekness from justice and mercy seems impossible.  For if we are meek but do not seek justice and reconciliation--we are not actually meek, only cowardly.  Or if we are meek, but not merciful, it is not that we are meek, rather we are holding in resentment and anger.  But if we are meek, hunger and thirst for righteousness (justice), and also are merciful, then we shall inherit the earth, be filled (made complete), and receive mercy.

Another way of thinking about this is that the meek/just/merciful person simply knows who they are and to whom they belong.  Through our sharing in Christ, we have become sons and daughters of God--our selfish hearts and wills have been sacrificed in exchange for heart of Christ, the will of God. Paul said, "It is no longer I that live, but Christ who lives in me..."  If this is the case, then our spirits are truly easily reconciled to others, our desire is for righteousness, and mercy defines us.

So...  "How do you maintain meekness in the face of relentlessly angry and negative people other than by keeping them at a distance?"

I think the Wesleyan answer is that we continue to seek to be made perfect in love by availing ourselves of the means of grace.  Or put into the language of the scripture--we continue to grow in our understanding that we have become in Christ children of God.  We picture the just, merciful, and meek Christ on the cross as the relentlessly angry and negative crowd for whom he came chanted, "Crucify him!"  "Let him save himself!" "This is the King of the Jews!"  For we are told that there is no greater love than this... that one would give their own life for friends (even enemies?).

"How do you protect yourself."
Perhaps the answer here is that you cannot.  Pain and hurt might just be part of it...  But for the one that comes to the fullest understanding of being meek, just, and merciful--not just because it is right, but because it is what it means to be children of God--there is such a surrender to such hurt and pain, and happiness (blessedness) despite it because we are inheriting the earth, our hunger is being filled, and we can expect to receive mercy ourselves.  Chilcote ends the prayer:
Lord, I want you to restore in me a love that is always ready
to think the best, to transform the most evil designs of others into hope-filled victories, and to endure injustice and cruelty with a Christlike spirit of forgiveness. 

Lord, I want to be merciful, and I hope against hope
because I know it is your good pleasire to renew not only me
but also the face of the whole earth.  Amen.


  1. Thanks Eric, you've given me a lot to think about. Susan

    1. Thank you! You gave me something to think about. Good questions drive good conversation.