Scripture Text: James 1:19-21
We’re going to go through all kinds of emotions when we’re struggling. Some of them are natural and help us to process what’s going on. Some make things worse, though.
In a way it may feel as though I’m coming down on you today, but really I want to help you. The trial or hardship that you’re going through is probably out of your control, so I want to talk with you about some things that are in your control so that you can keep from making things get even worse. Today we’ll talk about 4 things that you can do that will help lower conflict, protect your testimony, and maybe even bring some peace into your storm.
Read James 1:19-21
Quick to Listen – verse 19
Struggles put the pressure on us and sometimes drive us to frustration and anger. The first key to relieving the pressure is to learn to listen. It seems really simple, but I can’t tell you how many times I have been asked to help settle conflicts that have sprung out of miscommunication. Usually this is the result of someone, or everyone failing to listen.
Why is this so hard for us? Because listening, really listening, requires that we set aside self and we just don’t like to do that. In order for real communication to take place we have to listen for understanding rather than just looking for an opportunity to respond. That’s why God’s word tells us here that we should be quick to listen, but slow to speak.
I have seen amazing results when working with married couples by just teaching them to listen to each other. Listening allows us to fully understand what the other person is communicating. Unless we really understand them any response that we give will be meaningless, but if we understand them then maybe we can actually work through things rather than spiraling into out of control anger.
Slow things down
Listen to understand
Slow to Speak – verse 19
We’ve got to learn to listen, but the second part is just as important. Be slow to speak.
We need time to process what we’ve heard – Pr. 10:19 Restraining your lips is prudent.
We should always choose our words carefully – Pr 15:1 soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
We need to speak peace rather than chaos
Words that are carelessly spoken can’t be taken back. Failing to listen and speaking in haste are a definite recipe for conflict, but choosing to discipline yourself in this area can make you a pacemaker and help you to avoid the pitfall of losing control.
Slow to Anger – verses 19-20
Now, right off the bat as we move on I want you to notice something. He says be slow to anger, not refuse to be angry. There is a difference. We’re not forbidden the emotion of anger, we are just expected to be in control of it.
Ephesians 4:26 (NIV)
26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry
Jesus got angry and cleared the Temple of those who were dishonoring God. The main difference in anger that might be called righteous anger and anger that leads to sin is found in the source of our anger. Anger that leads to sin will almost always be centered in selfishness. I’m mad because I didn’t get my way or I was inconvenienced in some way. Anger that could be honoring to God is focused outside of me. It wants to right a wrong, like in Jesus’ case God had been wronged and so Jesus was angry. Another example might be someone was taken advantage of, a child is hurt or endangered, your family is in danger.
That kind of anger will not drive you to sin, it is controlled and disciplined, and seeks to make things right.
So there are times that we will get angry, but we should be slow in getting there. In other words we should be patient. Why?
Verse 20 – The anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.
In other words a lifestyle of anger is not going to produce the results that God wants in us or in the situation.
Anger is not going to help in a traffic jam, it’s just going to get you wound up and possibly cause you to drive dangerously. Anger is not going to fix things between you and your kids. Anger is not going to give you a better relationship with your spouse. Anger is not going to help you progress at work. Anger just doesn’t improve a situation.
What I have seen anger do is tear apart friendships, build walls between spouses, and alienate children. I’ve seen anger turn to violence and I’ve seen it make small problems into big ones, but I have not seen it fix anything.
Here are some other thoughts on Anger:
It gives a poor representation of God – Numbers 14:18 The Lord is slow to anger
It reflects a lack of love – 1 Corinthians 13:5 Love is not easily angered
It is the opposite of the patience God may be trying to build in us – James 1:3-4
The bottom line is that anger that is out of control is destructive. It hurts us and also the people around us. So, instead of going with what is natural and just blowing our top whenever we feel like it we need to bring those feelings under the control of the Holy Spirit. A heart that knows Christ needs to bear His fruit and a life that honors Him must be under His control.
Here’s how to do that.
Cling to the Word – verse 21
James says that since anger can’t bring about God’s righteousness we should put away filthiness and wickedness. We need to understand that there is a link between anger and sin. The solution he offers is to just put them away like you’re changing a dirty shirt for a clean one. The problem is that doing that is impossible, at least on our own.
If he stopped there it would be something that is beyond our reach, but the good news is that he goes on to tell us how this is possible.
“humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.”
It’s the word of God that changes our hearts. God’s word penetrates our hearts, shows us where we have strayed from God’s will, and points us back in the right direction. It doesn’t just happen automatically, though, we have to do something with what we read. That’s where the discipline comes in. God uses His word to show us where and how to change, and then we put the effort in to make the change.
Years ago I sat in my office with a frustrated father. He was frustrated because his daughter always seemed to be distant from him. She was depressed, and that drove her to do all kinds of unhealthy things to try to get attention. He thought that as her youth pastor I should straighten her out.
In that situation I always reminded parents that I could partner with them to help their teen, but I couldn’t be expected to be the miracle worker. God had to change their kid’s heart and they as they parent had to be a part of the solution because the reality is that they saw their student a lot more than I did. If they weren’t doing the right stuff at home there wasn’t a lot that I could be expected to do at church.
Then I took it a step further and told him that his daughter was craving his attention. She loved him dearly, but was afraid of him because of his temper. Every night was another explosion as he vented his anger over seemingly random things. If he wanted his daughter to change he had to change. He needed to hug her, tell her he loved her, and stop blowing his top over everything. He needed to be the Godly leader in their home that Jesus called him to be. Doing that would go a long way toward helping his daughter.
He looked me in the eye and said that he knew everything that I said was true, but that he just couldn’t make that change.
That is a common attitude. We often know what we need to do, but lack the discipline to actually do it. The truth is that sometimes it just feels to good to continue on in our sin. I encourage you, though, to break the cycle and learn how to overcome your anger so that it doesn’t overcome you.
Before we go let me give you some practical suggestions to help you with this.
- Be consistent in God’s word and prayer (respond to what you read. Pray for yourself and others)
- Listen for understanding, not for an opportunity to reply
- Choose your words carefully. Speak life and peace rather than chaos and destruction.
- Think before you respond
Pull yourself out of a situation before it escalates (count, pray, take a walk)
Trust me when I say, you’ll be glad you did.