Integrity, zeal, and patience (Psalm 25:21)

Sometimes God impregnates a single verse with rich and explosive meaning that is completely applicable to my life circumstances at that point. On Monday, I read through all the weekly lectionary passages and then the Daily Office without finding a word from the Lord until I hit Psalm 25:2. Those five Hebrew words have been blowing my mind as I’ve been turning them around in my head ever since then. They describe for me the tense relationship between integrity, zeal, and patience: “May integrity and uprightness guard me as I wait for you.”
תם-וישר יצרוני כי קויתיך

Waiting for God is a tremendously agonizing thing to do, and it is something I am very poor at doing. Part of this stems from my sinful lack of trust, but part of it is the zeal that God has put into my heart for the dignity of His Name, which boils inside of me anytime I see anyone do anything that makes God look less than perfectly beautiful. I realize it sounds really holier than thou for me to say that. I wouldn’t have spoken this way until a recent conversation I had with my good friend Derek Rishmawy about the nature of God’s wrath. I am starting to be convinced that when God’s torah (harmonious order), mishpat (justice),  and shalom (peace) are being violated in the world, one of the ways that He enacts His wrath against it is to light a fire under His people that keeps them awake at night until they figure out what God wants them to do in response. And God has been laying it on me thick recently particularly with all the misrepresentations of Him that have occurred during this election season.

But here’s the problem: I lash out prematurely before I understand precisely what it is that I should be rebuking prophetically or whether a prophetic response is even appropriate to the situation. Because I refuse to wait on the Lord (קויתיך), I am not guarded in integrity and uprightness (תם-וישר יצרוני). I have to trust that God will make every fruit plain and that He is patiently untangling all the heresies, including my own, from the midst of His kingdom. It’s about as tedious as being a little boy with completely tangled up hair whose mother has to brush out all the tangles with one of those awful prickly brushes that girls use. In Matthew 13:24-30, Jesus describes the kingdom of God as a field filled with wheat and also weeds. The moral of the story is that the weeds can’t be plucked out, at least not quickly, without doing damage to the wheat. It may be the case that some people are just weeds, but the way you become a weed is to blind yourself with zeal in a crusade to drive out other weeds. It’s more helpful to think of the weeds as the collective evil spirits and heresies we share as a body.

It is a tedious, gradual process. The seeds of today’s popular heresies were planted decades ago, some even centuries ago. God is riling up His people in response to ways of talking about Him that are ugly, but we never know exactly what the problem is and we often lack the patience to let Him teach us. We want to leave the Yoda planet before we’re fully trained and jump straight into battle. Many of the heresies that we battle are the overly confident reactions of previous generations of Christians to the heresies of their day (a process which we of course then repeat). Early 20th century fundamentalism, for example, is an overreaction to a legitimate threat from all those dadgum German modernist Bible scholars who overreached in their demythologizing of the Bible. I consider the Romans Road itself to be an overreaction to the mess of late medieval scholasticism and abuses of the sacramental system. That’s not to say that the solution is to just be an insufferably “both/and” big-tent moderate completely lacking in zeal for the truth.

There’s a tension between integrity, zeal, and patience. Having all three in motion at the same time helps us to fly straight in the same way that an airplane needs a propeller, a rudder, and wings to fly straight. You take any of those elements off an airplane and you’re going down in a death spiral. If you’re not patient in your zeal, you lose your integrity because you overreact to the wrong thing and create a target for somebody else to lash out at in their zeal which quickly creates a theological multi-car pileup. But if you’re not zealous while you’re waiting on God, then you also lose your integrity because you go along with things that God is telling you aren’t right. You’re like the guy on the Titanic who sees the iceberg and doesn’t want to say anything because it’s not your place and the captain knows what he’s doing.

I yearn for integrity and uprightness for myself and for the body of Christ that I love. I mourn the way that I compromise this integrity and uprightness when I forget to wait upon the Lord. Give me Your heart, Lord, since You are so patient with me even as Your zeal convicts me and makes me zealous for Your truth to be victorious. Help me to trust that You will prevail over every attempt to co-opt and sideline You. Command me to speak when I must speak; command my silence when silence is required; and open my ears to hear Your commands.

2 thoughts on “Integrity, zeal, and patience (Psalm 25:21)

  1. “There’s a tension between integrity, zeal, and patience. Having all three in motion at the same time helps us to fly straight in the same way that an airplane needs a propeller, a rudder, and wings to fly straight. You take any of those elements off an airplane and you’re going down in a death spiral. If you’re not patient in your zeal, you lose your integrity because you overreact to the wrong thing and create a target for somebody else to lash out at in their zeal which quickly creates a theological multi-car pileup. But if you’re not zealous while you’re waiting on God, then you also lose your integrity because you go along with things that God is telling you aren’t right. You’re like the guy on the Titanic who sees the iceberg and doesn’t want to say anything because it’s not your place and the captain knows what he’s doing.”

    Yup.

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