"The Lord is gracious and compassionate; slow to anger and rich in love." Psalm 145:8
I love this verse. Every time I read it - or very often sing it since it's been set to music in a popular worship song - I reflect on His grace and how His love endures in spite of all my failures. It's a beautiful reminder of how great God is as He deals with us.
But is this verse only to be used to acknowledge those attributes in God, or merely to take comfort as the objects of that grace? By all means we ought to embrace the comfort found in these truths - what would we be if it weren't for His love? But to stop there is to stop short, for, "All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness." (2 Tim. 3:16) We need to seek the sanctifying truths in such verses and ask God to work in us through them.
Psalm 145:8 doesn't directly address us, but rather talks about those attributes of God. Of course, whenever we hear of God's grace, mercy, compassion and love we always think of ourselves because we are the recipients of that grace. But we aren't supposed to just rest as the recipients of such grace; we ought to strive to imitate and reflect it. As Christians, we ought to be in a constant state of purification and sanctification as we allow God to work in us through His Spirit, making us more like Him. If the Lord is gracious and compassionate, we ought to desire to be gracious and compassionate as well.
Where is one of the best areas to help refine these attributes in us? In our homes, raising our children.
What better encouragement towards being slow to anger than a toddler who you have just finished correcting, and then turns around and does the exact same thing again? Or a pre-schooler who is convinced they know what's best and who challenges our authority?
James reminds us that the trials we face will help bring us to a point of maturity and completion - "not lacking anything" (James 1:2-4). There are going to be rough patches raising children - we all know this. But we should be glad that the trials we do encounter are providing opportunities for us to learn to be gracious, compassionate, patient and loving like God.
Practically speaking, what do those traits look like in the home?
It means not blowing our tops when something gets spilled - sure it might be frustrating to have to deal with such a mess, but it was likely a result of carelessness, or even just a side-effect of a little guy growing so fast and not knowing how to handle it yet, and there was likely no sin committed, so we can hardly count our anger as righteous at such an instance.
It means forgiving our children when they have sinned and not holding it over them, making them dwell on their own shortcomings.
It means not losing it because it's 11:30 at night and they're still awake and calling us and we have things we need to do; putting aside our agenda to provide for them in the way they need and assuring them that they are precious to us - at all times of the night.
It means sitting down with your child for the third time that morning as you explain to them why they shouldn't do something instead of screaming at them.
It means disciplining our children firmly and consistently, never out of violent anger and always with love. Joel R. Beeke made the point in his book, Parenting by God's Promises, "We must enforce and enrich every act of discipline with large doses of love." Why? Because that's what God does for His children - something which we can't deny as we've seen His faithfulness in our own lives. God has set the supreme example of disciplining with love - the Bible doesn't say that He does not get angry, but rather that He is slow to anger, that His anger is righteous, and that He is rich in love even when He is angry. What an awesome model for us to follow.
And it also means setting the example for our kids, like our Heavenly Father has set for us - and openly acknowledging when we come up short and pointing them towards the better model: Christ.
We have the perfect example laid out before us of gracious, patient parenting, and when we set that as our standard we'll likely see many areas we can improve on: Are we truly being gracious? Does our parenting style reflect compassion? How much slower can we get to anger while still being firm in our limits and correcting our children? And how much more love can we lavish on our children as we raise them?
And the best part? While we can set a new standard for our parenting as we strive to emulate our Heavenly Father, He is the most gracious, the most compassionate, the slowest to anger and the richest in love, so when we fall short - which will happen - we never need to be afraid of turning to Him, confessing our failures, and asking for His help to make us more like Him.
To God be the glory, forever and ever, Amen!