Make Like A Bee: Extract Some Good

Bee clinging to flower

Can what is effortful be graceful, too?

I would have thought them opposites. But after gazing at this bumblebee, I wonder.

Because exertion and elegance were together on display. And I think they often stay together in the way of faith.

Exertion And Elegance

A Taming Grace is the working title of “that meekness book” that’s still writing me. And I know that these two—exertion and elegance—go together in meekness, even as they did in the delicate, determined precise dance of the bumblebee.

Meekness is a fruit of grace and a work of faith. It is the freeing power that helps us to choose what we did not choose, and go through trials we meet, not just somehow but victoriously. It takes great grace and immense effort to yield to the hard and to seek the good.

The meek are always looking for the good. Their exertion is elegant. It’s graceful.

Meek Like A Bee

But what again does meekness have to do with bumblebees?

Well, we need meekness when unfair stings, for one. And meekness helps us call to mind that God is good and that it is good to be near God. Meekness helps us stay in our own lane. It reminds us God will provide all our needs and that if we don’t have it, we don’t need it.

To extract takes work. It takes work when we feel mistreated, misunderstood and hurt to pull out some good. To be sorrowful and always rejoicing (2 Corinthians 6:10) means we can extract some good.

For the record, I can only ever do that and work meekness out because God is working his sweet will in me (Philippians 2:12-13).

Bumble bee extracting nectar
Extracting

Effortful

How busy this bumblebee! How methodical and purposeful his movement, how tenacious and clinging his grip. He works so hard. Six legs tense, clasping tight before he thrusts that tongue down deep into each purple petal. Extracting.

We too have to work to extract the good. Granted, unless we’re talking about about teeth we seldom use the word extract. It means to remove or take out, especially by effort or force.

How hard the bumblebee works to extract that sweet nectar. Now I wonder, Do I? Do I work as hard to pull out the good in the hard in my house?

Spiritual Bees Extract Good

If I’m a spiritual bee I do. Proverbs 11:27 says, The one who diligently seeks good finds favor. The good is there to be found.

In his 400 year-old classic, The Quest for Meekness and Quietness of Spirit, Matthew Henry compared the meek to “spiritual bees.”

There is no provocation given us at any time but, if it be skillfully and graciously improved, good may be gotten by it. …[We may] gain some real benefit to our souls, by the injuries and offenses that are done to us: for even these are made to work together for good to them that love God. This is a holy and a happy way of…resisting evil. It is an ill weed indeed out of which the spiritual bee cannot extract something profitable…

So make like a bee. Exert to extract something good, something sweet. The effort itself might be a balm.

Susanne and me, just after the spicy-sweet sample

The Sweetness

Kudos before I close to my dear friend Susanne for introducing me to bee balm. If it wasn’t for her Swiss, herbalist-botanist flair I wouldn’t have even glanced at that plant in our meadow with the bumblebee buzzing round.

But as we ambled through the garden last Saturday, she pointed, “These are good to eat.” Then Susanne plucked a pink blossom and we savored the spicy-sweet treat. But Susanne had another secret up her sleeve.

Then she unveiled a Mason jar full of elegant amber—a bee balm infused simple syrup. A splash at the bottom of the glass mixed with seltzer fizz for joy on a hot July afternoon.

Exertion, elegance, meekness, sweetness. Fresh joy. Good.

The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the LORD, and the poor among mankind shall exult in the Holy One of Israel.

Isaiah 29:19

We know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!

Romans 5:3b-5, The Message

Blow-By-Blow

Is that you there? No, not the boxer. I mean the bag

It’s not about how you pack your punch, but what happens when you’re struck. Do you absorb the blows? Because the happy, blessed -the meek of the earth- they do.

The meek take their blows-steady, upheld, composed. They don’t jab back. They’re soft when struck. They feel the heat and yield. And these blessed meek-they’re mixed right in among us.

The ones who roll with the punches are a marvel to behold.

The Meek and the Rest

Meekness gives and yields. Lots of times, it covers. When the meek are hit or pressed, they don’t erupt in rage or crack. They don’t shatter like porcelain or snap like a brittle branch. They don’t get defensive when they’re criticized or lash out when they’re attacked.

Instead, the meek absorb an uppercut. The impact stops on them. They don’t kick the dog. 

The meek commit their ways, their misunderstood hearts and motives to the meek and lowly One who alone knows every heart. They refrain from anger and turn from wrath and don’t fret when evil comes. They are steady and tethered. They know who holds them up and the One who’s got their back. For the Lord loves justice; he will not forsake his saints

There are the meek among us and they are a sight to behold.

While the rest retreat or lash out-passive or aggressive-the meek absorb the blow. It’s the way the blessed take their wounds. The meek can take the heat. The rest recoil or boil, sullen or harsh, defensive or attack right back.

But the meek are soft when they are struck. Puritan Jeremiah Burroughs wrote,

[W]hen you strike something soft it makes no noise, but if you strike a hard thing it makes a noise; so with the hearts of men who are full of themselves and hardened with self-love. If they receive a stroke they make a noise, but a self-denying Christian yields to God’s hand, and makes no noise.

Spirit-filled meek resist the urge to vindicate themselves. They trust God and wait patiently for the Lord. That’s how they absorb blows big and small. How they stay soft in pain and failure, in the midst of harsh words and foiled plans and when good motives are misunderstood.

They do it because they know that there is a future for the man of peace. And that those blessed by the Lord will inherit the landAre you among these blessed meek?

This kind of meekness might seem fictional, impossible, unreal.

Not Up For The Fight?

Maybe you’re saying to yourself what my friend Marie said to me the other day,

I’m just sick of being dumped-on. Everyone takes their problems out on me. I’m done.

Can you relate? Marie went on to mention some hurtful jabs from her teen-aged daughter and a hook she took from an insensitive friend. Add the couple undercuts she took at work and Marie had had enough.

Now, they’ll hear what’s really up, and not from Mrs. Meek.

How about you? Are you soft when struck? Or do you make a lot of noise? Do you absorb-soak affliction up? Or do you let it leak all over others?

If messy spills seep out of you like a less-than-Brawny towel, and, like me, when things go wrong you make some noise, I ask, Do you want to be more meek? If so, don’t fret, just get back in the ring. There’s always another round. Until the day we die, blows will abound.

Way back, another Puritan named Thomas Watson wondered how to grow more meek. This is his prescription. It comes with no expiration date. 

1. Often look upon the meekness of Christ. The scholar that would write well, has his eye often upon the copy.

So we read the Scriptures and see him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so you don’t grow weary and lose heartRemember the One who did not revile when reviled and when he suffered, he did not threaten, but entrusted himself to him who judges justlyWe look a lot on that.

2. Pray earnestly that God will meeken your spirit. God is called ‘the God of all grace’ (1 Peter 5:10). He has all the graces to give. Ask him for this grace of meekness. Mercy comes in at the door of prayer. 

I’ll add this third, like the first, on to Watson’s script: Flee to Jesus. When you’re feeling hit-hard and heavy-laden like Marie, take his yoke upon you- get hitched to himFor he is meek and lowly in heartand you will find rest for your souls (Matthew 11:28-29). 

Wearing his yoke means sharing his yoke and that means he’s right beside you. He knows your pain and suffered, too. David knew this well. He knew real spears thrust at him and betrayal and uppercuts from friends. And David sang about his Savior who was right here with him, and who daily bears our burdens

So if you’re feeling burdened or on the verge of punching back, pray to God to “meeken” you up. Then look upon the Lion who is also the Lamb. Flee to Jesus. Here’s there to be found in his Word.

Then, after that you might see them

The Meek Among Us

In big and little ways last weekend, I saw meekness on display.

When motives were misjudged and criticism and correction and milkshakes came, meekness was right there to absorb them like a punching bag or Brawny.

  • When one spoke hurtful words comparing her kids to another’s, He’s nothing like your Jake, my John, meekness wasn’t perfect. But the mom took a breath, then steered the conversation with grace, instead of getting mad. 
  • When one was splashed with milkshake thrown from a speeding Lexus, this one (I know her well) remembered the helter-skelter merge just then. So she shrugged and nodded while the wipers whoosh-whooshed the shake away.
  • When one whose pure, helpful motives were misunderstood she swallowed hard and held her peace and rolled the injustice and hurt onto her Lord. She didn’t lash out. She didn’t defend. She soaked up the rash, unkind words instead. 
  • When one who’s fast fading into glory was chided for resisting her meds earlier in the day, Grandma made no defense. She simply said, Yes, I guess you’re right. Then she swallowed those dreaded pills down with all her might.
  • When one was criticized for his choice of a wife and his own siblings’ lies landed hard on him, he took the rebuke and left his defense to God. God soon showed up, took the grumblers to task and called him the meekest man on earth. 

Yes, they are among us, right there to be seen. Maybe with these glimpses, it’ll be easier for you to pick them out. Because you do know this sort of person.

They’re delightfully refreshing and easy to be around.

Well, mostly. 

Sometimes, it’s true, their rock-solid trust can unnerve us. The way they leave room for God’s wrath and give the last word, sure, that might convict us. It’s sort of otherworldly, really, how they do this.

Yes. It is. 

That shouldn’t come as a shock. Because God’s kingdom is, after all, an upside-down kingdom. The first will be last and the servant is greatest and die to yourself and live.

And one day-those blessed, happy meek among us-they will inherit the whole-wide, upside-down world. The wait will be over, the punches done, when at last the final bell is rung.

Then some of us might be among them, delighting in the abundant peace of that land.

Commit your way to the LORD; 
trust in him, and he will act.
He will bring forth your righteousness as the light,
and your justice as the noonday.

Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him;
fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, 
over the man who carries out evil devices!

Refrain from anger and forsake wrath! 
Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.
For the evildoers shall be cut off, 
but those who wait for the LORD shall inherit the land.

In just a little while the wicked will be no more;
though you look carefully at his place, he will not be there.
But the meek shall inherit the land
and delight themselves in abundant peace.

Psalm 37:5-11

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Matthew 5:5

When Isaac Made Me Cry

But this poverty of spirit is a gracious disposition of soul, by which we are emptied of self, in order to be filled with Jesus Christ.” 

-Matthew Henry, Commentary on Matthew 5

We won’t forget the Alamo. But four days at the National Bible Bee in San Antonio afforded even more glorious moments to remember. 

But one stands above. It was when Isaac made me cry.

Moments

I will remember Joshua Bontrager (pictured), a dobro-plucking, dairy farmer from Koloma, Iowa reciting Psalm 103 in the final round. We met Joshua in the parking lot our first night. Struck by his gentle zeal wondered aloud how he prepared for the Bee. “Honestly,” he said with a hint of a grin, “I like to study sermons and commentaries.” And so he stole our hearts.

But hearing this Joshua recite my favorite Psalm is not what I’ll remember most.

I will remember a senior and still genial Dr. James Dobson asking the Junior Champion, who happened to be Joshua’s brother, “So, Taylor, are you coming back next year?” I will remember a young Taylor shrugging as he said, “Lord willing.” And Dr. Dobson chuckling, answering, “You should say yes.” And Taylor shrugging again and smiling, silent.

But this humble example in speech, in faith is not what I’ll remember most.

I will remember waiting beside Shirnette in from New York in the small room where her Christine and my Sam would soon be ushered in to recite. Her admission that preparing for Nationals was, “a fight every step of the way,” bonded us. As did, we would soon learn, seeing our kids struggle hard before the judges. So this time with Shirnette is etched. 

But this time with Shirnette in the frying pan, before the fire is not what I’ll remember most.
I will remember visiting with gentle Julia Leary as we awaited results. Julie is a mother of nine. Her Sarah won last year’s competition. Her six year-old Victoria is precocious too. When Julie shared the whole crew had driven 24 hours from New York to compete, Victoria piped up with a family travel secret: Full bladders don’t matter. 

But this Leary family’s costly devotion to the cause is not what I’ll remember most. 

I will remember How Firm A Foundation echoing loud around Cibolo Canyon Ballroom where we all gathered that second night. Never mind that the screens went blank; the lyrics were written on these hearts. Strong, strong they sang, What more can He say, than to you he has said, to you who for refuge to Jesus have fled. 

But singing this soul-stirring song with that joyous throng is not what I’ll remember most.   


The Spirit


In a sermon on Acts 10 John Piper explains that the Spirit comes,

[T]o make Christ real to people and to show us who he really is in his glory so that we come to love him and trust him and obey him and show him to the world. 

What this means is that the Holy Spirit is more likely to come power where the truth about Jesus is being lifted up and made plain. The Spirit loves to come and take the truth about Jesus and turn it into an experience of Jesus

We know that no one can control the Spirit. He is free to come and go. The wind blows where it will and God gives the Spirit as He wills (John 3:8, Hebrews 2:4, Corinthians 12:11). But we also know that the Spirit comes to glorify Jesus (John 16:14). So maybe by exalting Christ in our words, as Peter did in Acts 10, we can increase the chances He’ll come.


I think Isaac did that. I think he increased the odds.  

The Moment


I sit beside Shirnette in the little judging room, and 
Isaac is escorted in. He’s the third of eleven to recite in this room this morning. He states his name and Bible version to the judges.


The timer is set for five minutes. And the moment begins.

The judge said, “Your first passage is John 4:21-25.” Isaac said, “Pass.” 

The judge said, “Your second passage is 1 Corinthians 15:50-54.” Isaac said,“Pass.” 

The judge said, “Your last passage is 1 Timothy 6:4-8.” Isaac said, “Pass.”

And with that third pass, all hope of Isaac advancing was dashed. This is how it ended. Hours and months hiding hundreds of verses in his heart had came to this. Did Isaac wonder, I wondered, if all that time memorizing instead of Minecrafting, reciting verses instead of running around, and studying Greek instead of playing games was wasted?

I hear the judge, again.

Thank you, Isaac. You have some time left. Is there a passage that you memorized that you’d like to recite for us?

Isaac Yang, age eight, inhales deeply. No one breathes. Now Isaac answers.

Yes, please. I’d like to say Matthew 5:3-12.

Now he turns his back to the judges and faces us. And Isaac recites clearly, calmly, word-perfectly all ten verses of the Beatitudes.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth…

And the Spirit falls. The Spirit turns the truth of Jesus into the experience of Jesus and we all try to still our sobs and wipe our tears and dig for Kleenex. Here is Isaac living out loud Jesus’ words. Here in this little room is this little one-poor in Spirit, inheriting heaven, and calling down the Spirit even as in loss and disappointment he recites, Blessed are the poor in Spirit. 

*   *   *   *   *

Matthew Henry said this blessed poverty of spirit is,

[A] gracious disposition of soul, by which we are emptied of self, in order to our being filled with Jesus Christ…we are thankful for what we have, and make the best of that which is. Being poor in spirit is to sit loose to the world and not set our hearts upon it, but cheerfully to bear losses and disappointments which befall us.

Isaac made the best of that which was. He sat loose to worldly hopes. Dreams of advancing ended when he passed. But Isaac didn’t cry. Isaac exalted Jesus. Poor in spirit and filled with the Spirit, he cheerfully bore loss and disappointment. He brought Christ’s blessed words to life.

That’s why above all these precious moments, I pray I always remember when Isaac made me cry.
Isaac, second from right, second row up, standing beside our Samuel.
National Bible Bee Primary Qualifiers, 11/18/15