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

More Meek?

Mom, that sounds like you and Dad arguing, ya’ know?

So interjected seven-year-old Gabe, as I wrote this very post yesterday. In the background, a radio talk show host was arguing with a caller. I wish I could say his comment was scripted.

In May I posted an introduction to Mademoiselle Meekness.  I offered some reasons to pursue her and debunked a couple of misunderstandings about her. Matthew’s Henry’s 1698 essay, The Quest for Meekness and Quietness of Spirit,” prompted both posts.

Our ladies’ small group finished the book last week.  But before she’s shelved beside Puritan peers, I must pay my respects to the fair lady. 

By way of recap, meekness is not a shy temperament. Nor is she mousy or weak. She is certainly not “tolerant” refusal to reason or settle on truth. I can’t resist including this century old G. K. Chesterton quote, describing such misplaced meekness:

What we suffer from today is humility [meekness] in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert—himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt—the Divine Reason . . .(Orthodoxy, p. 31f.)

Meekness is “an attitude of humility toward God and gentleness toward people, springing from recognition that God is in control.”1 Meekness is power under control. She helps us govern our anger when provoked, and patiently bear the anger of others. She lets us keep silent when the heart is hot, and put up with insults. 

In a June, 2013 Revive Our Hearts broadcast, Nancy Leigh DeMoss shared this wonderful example of meekness.  George Whitefield was an 18th century English itinerant preacher and evangelist. During his ministry he received a malicious letter accusing him of wrongdoing.  He replied:

I thank you heartily for your letter. As for what you and my other enemies are saying against me, I know worse things about myself than you will ever say about me.

With love in Christ, 

George Whitefield 

Such adornment! Meekness makes us more attractive, certainly to our Lord, and likely to our neighbor. Adorn yourselves with a meek and quiet spirit, wrote Peter, which is very precious in God’s sight.  We must remind the Father of his beloved Son when clothed with meekness.  Learn of me, Jesus said:

for I am meek and lowly in heart: and you shall find rest for your souls. (Matt. 11:29)

No wonder a meek spirit is so precious to God.

Are you a spiritual bee? (#4 below)

Matthew Henry offers these “good principles which tend to make us meek and quiet.”  

  1. He has the sweetest and surest peace who is the most master of his passions. Whoever controls his temper is better than a warrior…He that rules his spirit than he that takes a city. (Prov.16:32)  Application: At the start of the T-ball season, our son seemed to be parked in the outfield, without much fielding opportunity. Were the coaches following rotation protocol? (Wo! to the Tiger Mom in me.) My spirit was vexed. In prayer, the Spirit convicted me to wait before I spoke or fretted more. Sure enough, sweet peace was restored-and before the next game when Gabe rotated to pitcher.
  2. In many things we all offend.  We all stumble in many ways. (James 3:2) Henry adds, [Knowing man’s tendency to sin and stumble] should not be used to excuse our own faults and take the edge of repentance…but to excuse the faults of others and take the edge off our passion and displeasure. Application: Sometimes when others do not acknowledge “personal” emails, I (wrongly) take offense. Was it received, read, meaningful? I was just recently working into that peevish state after two unrequited notes, when what should appear?  Scrolling through “marked as read,” I spotted a few of my own. No excuses and no edge off this repentance!
  3. Men are God’s hand, as it is said in Psalm 17:13-14.  Men’s reproaches are God’s rebukes and whoever he be that offends me, I must see that the Father corrects me.  Application: Exhibit 1: Gabe’s quote above. Out of the mouth of men and babes, God speaks.  I stand corrected- again. 
  4. There is no provocation given us at any time, but if it be skillfully improved, there is good to be gotten from it.  It is an ill weed indeed out of which the spiritual bee cannot extract something profitable. Application: Last Friday a dear friend suggested I was being deceptive during a discussion.  I wasn’t.  I was being gracious, ambiguously allowing the possibility that the subject of our conversation had no ill intent. That’s all, not being deceptive.  I (defensively) explained. Then, buzzed the bee. I zipped my lips. Maybe I could be more forthright. 
  5. What is said and done in haste is like to need repentance. As when Abigail suggested to David that repentance would be needed if he avenged Nabal’s household. Application: An email again.  The tone of the email was sarcastic and accusing.  I drafted my response.  Not mean, just clear and direct.  Then- two sentences in- I paused. Don’t add gas to a fire. Or, to borrow Henry’s word picture, be soft sand, not loud rock, when the waves hit

In case we’d need something more concrete than “principles,” Matthew Henry ends his essay with these “Rules for Direction” (AKA: “9 Tips To Be More Meek “):

1. Sit loose to the world and everything in it. Break a piece of new china when it arrives so you won’t be too attached to the set.
2. Be often repenting of sinful passion. If we confess our sins…
3. Stay out of the way of provocation. If possible.
4. Learn to pause before speaking.  Count to 10 if you must.
5. Pray that God will work a meek spirit in you.  Amen and amen!
6. Be often examining your growth in this grace. As my head hits the pillow.
7. Delight in the company of meek persons. So grateful for the meek, quiet friends God has given me.
8. Study the cross of our Lord Jesus. Who, when insulted, opened not his mouth. 
9. Converse much in thoughts with the grave. Death will quiet us shortly; let grace quiet us now. (p. 143)

“Patient and meek beneath affliction’s rod,
And why her faith and hope were fixed on God.”
-Engraving on tombstone of Bridget Kilroy,
who died in 1848 at age 50 in County Clare, Ireland
Gabe’s comment wasn’t my only tip-off.  I need more meekness. So, I tip my hat to Lady Meekness, and pray she’ll adorn me more and more ’til this life is past.  
1. Youngblood, R. F., Bruce, F. F., Harrison, R. K., & Thomas Nelson Publishers. (1995). Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary

    Meet Meekness

    The man who is truly meek is the one who is amazed that God and man can think of him as well as they do. – D. M. Lloyd Jones 

    May I introduce you to Mademoiselle Meekness?  

    She befriended me years ago, but it’s been a bit on-again, off-again. I’ve been the weak link, and there’s no good reason for it: there’s nothing high-maintenance about her. Only recently have I sought out her gentle, easy friendship. So I’ll have to borrow words from those who knew her better.

    I now present to you…
    Her Grace Mlle Meekness.

    Matthew Henry was one who knew her well. In 1698, he devoted an entire biography to the gentle lady. In The Quest for Meekness and Quietness of Spirit, Henry described meekness as the easy and quiet submission of the soul to God’s will as he makes it known, whether by his Word or providence.  

    Meekness as a toddler, may have resembled my niece Anna.

    She is gracious easiness to be wrought upon by that which is goodMeekness knows that God is good and all He does is good (Ps. 119:68).

    My sweet niece Anna has a gracious easiness to be wrought upon. She sits upright in my lap, wide eyed and mouth agape. She’s eager to hear my silly snoring and to be jostled by Hyper Horsey leg. Just waiting for good to act upon her supple little body. Then hear those happy squeals!

    Maybe you’re not at a place where you can devote time to a new friend. Or you’re wondering why you should nurture this particular relationship?

    Here are three reasons:
    1. A meek, quiet spirit is of great worth in God’s sight (1 Peter 3:4).
    2. The Lord Jesus himself calls us to learn his meek, gentle ways (Matthew 11:29).
    3. Until you know her personally, you might confuse her with weakness or whateverism.

    I thought I knew her, but I had misjudged her.  Meekness is not:


    1. A weak, shy temperament. Meekness is a spirit endowed gift of God.  And she is one tough cookie.

    D. Martyn Lloyd Jones contrasts meekness with easy-going. Those who appear naturally meek may in fact be indolent and lazy, or- and he uses the term advisedly- flabby! And it’s not niceness, which is what you get in animals, he adds. (One dog nicer than another.) Instead, meekness is a true view of oneself, expressing itself in humility toward God and gentleness toward others, springing from trust that God is in control

    Meekness is not mousy. Meekness is courageous. True meekness is a resolution never declines the evil of pain when exposing ourselves to it is the only remedy against a greater evil (p. 56). It allows a man to suffer rather than to sin, to pass over an insult and be thought a fool, and to stay silent rather than have the last word. It is the victory over ourselves and the rebellious lusts in our bosoms (p. 51).  Matthew Henry glowingly describes,

    The meek and quiet soul is through grace a conqueror over these enemies, their fiery darts are quenched by the shield of faith, Satan is in some measure trodden under his feet, and the victory will be complete shortly, when, “he that overcomes shall sit down with Christ upon his throne, even as he overcame and is set down with the Father upon his throne, where he still appears in the emblem of meekness, “a Lamb as it had been slain,” (p. 52, ).

    Meekness is not a natural temperament. She is spirit endowed work of the Spirit.

    2. Whatever-works-for-you relativism. Meekness is open to reason and objective truth.

    John Piper says true meekness is teachable and open to reason.  He describes conversations where two people express different opinions, giving the impression of being so self-effacing by saying, “It’s just my opinion,” and “Let’s not argue about it.”  Live and let live. 

    Too often we think this is the spirit of meekness. Two people making no claim on the other person’s opinion, refusing to submit their own opinion to an independent standard of truth, unwilling to make themselves vulnerable to the claims of truth and the possible need to admit error—that is not the spirit of meekness, no matter how soft-spoken or self-effacing it looks on the outside. It is not self-effacing. It is self-protecting and truth effacing. What could be more serviceable to the spirit of pride than the view that neither you nor I have to give an account of our opinions before any standard but our own private selves?

    D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones in his Studies in the Sermon on the Mount wrote,

    The meek man is one who may so believe in standing for the truth that he will die for it if necessary. The martyrs were meek, but they were never weak; strong men, yet meek men (p. 68).

    Meekness is not weakness.  Meekness is supernatural strength.

    What does meekness look like?  See it in active in:

    David, saying as he fled Jerusalem and Absalom, “Let [the LORD] do to me as seems good to him,”  

    Job, trusting, “God knows the way I take; when he has tried me, I shall come forth as gold.” 

    Moses patiently bearing Aaron and Miriam’s complaints against him. 

    Mary’s “May it be to me according to your word, O Lord.” 

    Nehemiah, who “was very angry with his countrymen,” but”consulted with himself,” before uttering a word to them, and in 

    Stephan, who in the midst of a shower of stones, submitting and praying for his persecutors. (Acts 6:15).

    Meekness knows it might have good reason to speak, but it’s better to be silent than to speak amiss and need to repent (p. 33). And that it‘s better by silence to yield to our brother who is, or has been, or may be, our friend, than by angry speaking to yield to the devil, who has been, and is and every will be, our sworn enemy (p. 35).  

    Meekness reminds us that He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he who rules his spirit than he that takes a city, and that the meek shall inherit the earth. 

    Meekness is a grand companion for the soul, I tell you. Yesterday she told me to hold my tongue when tempted to “set the record straight.” She hugged me this afternoon as I read the principal’s notification of a son’s first (and last?!) school bus delinquency. It’s what he needs, she told me. 

    And this evening when I decade old disappointment got me in the gut again, I heard her whisper quiet, “He doeth all things well.”