Slow To Anger

James 1:19-22(NIV): My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,  because human anger does not product the righteousness that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.

James is writing to early Jewish Christians, giving them instructions on how to live good, moral lives. Through a series of commands, James is very direct in pointing out behavior that will “produce the righteousness that God desires.” Being “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” are behaviors that can bring about the righteous response that God desires us to have. Anger is at the top of James’ list of actions that will not bring about the righteous behavior that God requires of his children. Sometimes anger is justified, such as anger over how certain groups of people are being treated unjustly. The anger that James is referring to however, is the type that believers must try to avoid, because it will not produce anything beneficial.

I was stopped at a traffic light recently and was the first car in line. It was a two lane road out of a busy shopping center and I was waiting to make a left turn as soon as the traffic light turned green. I noticed a large pickup truck pull up closely behind me and he immediately began to blow his horn. As I looked up in my rear view mirror, he was gesturing at me and waving his arms while continuing to blow his horn at me. He wanted me to pull up enough so that he could make a right turn, but that was not possible unless I pulled out into the oncoming traffic. After about 20 seconds, he drove over the sidewalk and curb, made another gesture at me, sat down on his horn, and pulled out into the road. About 5 seconds later, the light turned green and I was on my way.

Perhaps this guy that I encountered had an emergency situation that I was unaware of or maybe he was simply angry. James is seeking to get our attention, in telling us in no uncertain terms, that this type of anger will not produce anything good or positive. Anger like this does not yield the righteousness in our lives that God desires for us. It appears that so many in our world today are filled with hate, anger, and disregard for others. We encounter people every day that are indifferent to those around them and care only about themselves and meeting their own needs. James commands us to “get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent” and turn to the word of God which can “save you” and guide you into righteousness living. Anger, if allowed to go unchecked, will destroy you and your relationship with God.

We have all been in situations where someone is angry with us; they lose control, and all of their anger is unloaded upon us. It could be months or decades of anger that has been festering and you are the target; it all comes directly at you. How do you respond?  Remember James? He says; “be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” That’s tough advice to follow if we are totally honest with ourselves.

Throughout my life I have been successful in following this advice about fifty percent of the time. As I grow older my statistics are improving however! I’m working on being “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” I’m starting to realize how anger affects me personally and the added weight and toll that is carries. God has used many situations of dealing with anger to shape me and to show me a better way. Allowing less space for anger and holding onto grudges means dedicating more room for God to produce a change in my life. This leads to a closer relationship with God and with my family. I always strive to be a better role model for my family, especially my kids, and also for people who know me as a Christian and a follower of Christ. So I’m working on being “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.”

A final word of wisdom from Proverbs sums up the best way to deal with anger. Proverbs 15:1(ESV): “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”


A Prayer For Those Who Feel Forsaken

Matthew 27:46(ESV): And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

I recently taught a session on prayer from a book by Richard J. Foster entitled, Prayer – Finding the Heart’s True Home.[1] The prayer that I introduced was called the Prayer of the Forsaken and it is based on the scripture passage from Matthew where Jesus cries out to God from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46b). A psalm of David from Psalm 22:1-2 echoes this same feeling of being forsaken by God: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest.”

Have you ever felt forsaken by God? Maybe you have felt a sense of separation or silence from God and you wonder if you have done something to cause this to happen. You pray for circumstances in your life to change, you pray for direction from God, you pray and you pray and you continue to pray and nothing seems to happen. Why doesn’t God answer us, we wonder? We expect God to be on stand-by, waiting to answer our prayers. And we want or expect God to answer our prayers in the manner that we have decided would be best.  We are convinced that we know better than God what we need and how quickly we need it.

Our society conditions us to think this way of course. We want everything done quickly and we become impatient and upset when things are slow to materialize. The world that we live in moves at a frantic pace and we must keep up, or so we think. Naturally, we expect the God who created the universe to answer our requests in a fast and efficient manner. However, that’s not how God works. God has his own timetable and He will answer, or not answer, our prayers according to His timeframe. Peter reminds us “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:8-9).

Foster says that we can pray through these times of feeling forsaken by praying the “Prayer of Complaint.”[2] Through this type of prayer, we can express both assurance and trust in God, but also disappointment and our feelings of hopelessness. Foster points out two examples of Lament Psalms that are helpful in praying to God when faced with these feelings of separation or silence from God.[3] Psalm 109:1(NIV): “My God, whom I praise, do not remain silent.” Notice that the psalmist begins with a word of praise to God before expressing his disappointment. Psalm 88:13-14(NIV): “But I cry to you for help, LORD; in the morning my prayer comes before you. Why LORD, do you reject me and hide your face from me?”  The psalmist begins by placing his trust and faith in God by praying to the Lord. And then he expresses his continued frustration in the sense of feeling forsaken or ignored by God.

I struggle with this feeling of being separated from God’s presence from time to time but thankfully it is only a temporary feeling. Of course, that feeling of separation from God could last one week, three months, or seven years. As believers, we are called to continue to pray and seek God daily as we try to discern the path that he is calling us to take. And we will have to do something else that is difficult for us to do and that is we must wait. God will act when God determines the timing is in our best interests. We must be willing to persevere through difficult times so that we can be molded into the type of person that God created us to be. We must learn to be patient as we wait on God!

 Psalm 37:7(NIV): Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him.



[1] Prayer – Finding The Heart’s True Home, Richard J. Foster, HarperCollins Publishers, 1992, p.23

[2] Prayer – Finding The Heart’s True Home, Richard J. Foster, HarperCollins Publishers, 1992, p.23


[3] Prayer – Finding The Heart’s True Home, Richard J. Foster, HarperCollins Publishers, 1992

 

Why Do You Doubt?

Matthew 14:25-31: Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear. But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” 

“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

Do you feel burdened today? Are the pressures and worries of everyday life wearing you down? Do you find yourself worrying about things that are out of your control? Are you worried about the future? Do you believe that God is capable of helping you to bear your many burdens?

Our scripture passage from Matthew today seems to indicate that Peter did trust Jesus for a moment. However, when Peter “saw the wind” he panicked and began to sink. Doubt had crept into his mind and he began to feel overwhelmed. Matthew tells us that Jesus “immediately” reached out his hand and “caught him.” And Jesus says to Peter, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

How often do we as followers of Christ, focus on our many problems and worries instead of keeping our minds fixed on Christ?  There are many things in my own life that would certainly overwhelm me if I continually thought and worried about them. We can literally sink under the weight of our problems if we focus on them and allow them to consume us. Or we can keep our minds and thoughts fixed solely on Christ and our problems and burdens will become lighter to bear. They won’t necessarily go away, but we can experience inner peace and tranquility when those waves of problems come crashing down upon us. And we will be better able to deal with our burdens, anxieties, fears, and worries with Christ as our peace.

Peter allowed himself to be distracted by the “wind” and in doing so he lost focus upon the one who could rescue him from the turbulent water and the elements of nature.  Don’t allow yourself to be distracted by your worries, doubts or fears. Don’t allow the many things of this world to cause you to become distracted and to lose your focus on the one who can save you and sustain you when you encounter troubled times. Instead of worrying and contemplating on the many uncertainties and problems that come at you on a daily basis, have faith and believe in Jesus and His ability to bring peace and comfort to those who believe.

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:7 NIV).

 

An Eternal Perspective

2 Timothy 1:11-12 (NIV): And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.

2 Corinthians 4:17 (NIV): For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

2 Corinthians 4:18 (NIV): So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Paul was a prisoner in the Mamertine dungeon prison in Rome as he wrote this letter, which we now know as 2 Timothy. This letter would contain the last words from the Apostle Paul. His time upon this earth was coming to a close and he was well aware of that. Paul languished in his subterranean prison cell where it was damp, dark, and cold. The conditions were cramped and miserable and Paul was placed in chains. Paul asks young Timothy to “bring the cloak” and to “do your best to get here before winter” (2 Ti 4:13, 21). It is likely that Paul remained cold and wet all throughout his incarceration at Mamertine.

The Apostle Paul was also very lonely because he writes to Timothy, “You know that everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me” (2 Ti 1:15). It was probably very difficult to locate Paul and to gain access to him in this underground hell hole. One visitor to Paul however, is noted in this second letter to Timothy. Paul writes, “May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains. On the contrary, when he was in Rome, he searched for me until he found me” (2 Ti 1:16-17).

If you are a Christian and a believer in Christ, you will face hardships and you will endure some type of suffering in your lifetime. If you don’t and your life is easy and trouble-free you may want to reevaluate your relationship with Jesus Christ. We know that we will face trials and difficulties and we should not fear them or let worry rule our lives. These times of testing should serve to draw you closer to God and to eventually thank Him for these times in which you learn to develop perseverance and trust in God. Paul knew this truth because he writes, “Now if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory” (Romans 8:17).

As followers of Christ, we must have an eternal perspective not a worldly one. Our worldly culture wants us to believe that the only things real are those which are visible. We are told not to waste our valuable time on things that are unseen or can’t easily be proven. Having a worldly outlook leads us to believe in our own efforts and abilities. If we would only focus on the things that are eternal we would learn to trust God more and our own plans and desires less. As difficult times come our way, our trust in God would lead us to the awareness that “our light and momentary troubles” are nothing compared to the “eternal glory” that awaits us in heaven. For now, we must maintain an eternal perspective as we “share in the sufferings of Christ,” knowing that something far better lies ahead for us in heaven.

 

Choosing that which is better

Luke 10:38-42 (NIV)

At the Home of Martha and Mary

 38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

 41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

 We can become easily distracted by the countless things that compete for our attention. I try to have a quiet time with God in the morning but my mind jumps ahead to an ever increasing list of things that need to get done. Some of these things are important in my mind and others are not. Like Martha, I am easily distracted, I worry, and sometimes I get upset (just ask my kids when I find their dirty dishes in the sink).

 This scripture passage reminds us to get our priorities in order and our most important priority should be beginning the day with our creator. God is delighted when we seek Him out and give Him our attention and praise. Only God can bring much needed peace and focus to your day. As you begin to consistently carve out a daily time with God, you can begin to find renewal and assurance that God is with you as you encounter life’s many challenges and difficulties.

 Prayer: God help me to begin and end my day with a complete focus upon you. Only you God can give me the peace and renewal that my mind needs and desires. Guard my mind and my thoughts all through the day and help me to desire “what is better” – a life that seeks to follow the example of Christ. Help me to not become distracted, worried, or upset, especially over things that I can’t control. Focus my mind and my thoughts upon you God and give me the grace and mercy that I need for this day. Amen.