Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A Lesson From James

Know this, my beloved brothers: let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak, & slow to anger, for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. -- James 1:19-20

I've often heard people claim a "life verse" for themselves. I'm not so sure I like that concept, because of its implication that this is a particularly special verse, when in fact all of Scripture is God-breathed &, therefore, special. That being said, I do know that there are verses that seem to come up again & again in our lives. There are verses, chapters, & even whole books that I turn to again & again for comfort, for peace, for reassurance, for strength, for correction, etc. James 1:19-20 are two verses that I go to repeatedly because I can often be the exact opposite of what they call me to be. A fact that I need to be reminded of so that I can repent -- turn the other way & behave contrary to the way my flesh wants me to behave.

"Be quick to hear". How often am I not really listening to my husband, mother, sister-in-law? How often do I hear what they're saying (as in, "am cognizant of the words that are being spoken"), but not really listening to what they're saying (as in "giving careful thought & consideration to the words that are being spoken")? How often am I busy formulating my answer, my rebuttal, my example from my own life? I need to silence the thoughts that are whirling around in my head while others are speaking. I need to give them my undivided attention, just as I want them to do for me. After all, how can I really minister to others if I'm not doing this?

Have you ever asked someone - pointedly - to listen to you? I have, & I had a revelation this morning that when I do that, my meaning is sometimes - often? - not just "listen to me", but "do what I'm saying". When I am giving my opinion on how I think my husband should handle a particular situation, I can often become quite adamant that he "listen to me" when it becomes apparent that he's going to handle it differently than I'm suggesting. It struck me this morning that him choosing another way doesn't mean he's not listening to me. It means he doesn't agree with me. . .& that's okay! Maybe instead of focusing so strenuously on being heard, I should apply this verse & be the listener.  How much angst in life would be alleviated by simply following this one command in Scripture -- "be quick to hear"?

"Be...slow to speak". *Sigh* I am one of those people that struggles not to pop off at the mouth whenever something irritates me. In evaluating my speech, I've also noticed that, in addition to speaking rashly & angrily, I can easily revert to: 
     -conceitedly speaking of just myself (dominating a conversation)
     -pridefully boasting about some accomplishment or spiritual insight
     -talking too much
Now, that's not to say that my speech always falls into one of these categories, but it often can if I'm not careful.  Sometimes, I don't give much thought to what I want to say or what effect my words will have; I just say it. And, I just have to say, that each & every time I do this, I regret it.  In being slow to speak, I'm to give careful consideration to my words. I'm not to simply say the first thing that I think of. I'm to step back, especially in an emotionally-charged situation, read Scripture, meditate on it, & pray before entering into dialogue. Then, when I do speak, my words are to be "gracious, seasoned with salt" (Col. 4:6), not rash or harsh. And, of course, my words should show that I have the Spirit living in me, so the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, self-control, & gentleness should be ever-present when I speak. My mother (& others, I'm sure) has said that God gave us 2 ears & 1 mouth because we're supposed to listen more than we speak. Another Scripture verse that comes to mind here is Proverbs 10:19, which says that "when words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent." Lord, help me be slow to speak!

"Be...slow to anger". Now, this is a sore spot. I have quite a temper. Of course, I'd like to blame my pedigree (Scotch-Irish, German, & Comanche is not a good combination if you want to be one of those even-tempered people). However, I know that the real culprit is me; I'm sinful, bottom line. It is a fact that some people have a temperament that is more disposed toward anger; I anger much more easily than Michael. He's much more laid back that I am. I don't know how in the world he just lets things roll right off him, but he does. I'm the opposite. I'll get my hackles up faster than lightning over even the littlest thing.  I am thankful that God blessed me with a more even-tempered husband because he's a wonderful model for me.  He's used in God's sanctification of me in this area regularly.  I used to just dismiss my temper as a part of my personality that didn't really matter much & certainly wasn't sin. Typically, I believed that the fault lay with the person whose behavior angered me.  The only problem is that God's Word says differently. According to this very verse, I should be slow to anger, for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. I want to be righteous, I want to reflect my Lord. So, that means that I can't get angry at the drop of a hat. As a matter of fact, I shouldn't ever allow unrighteous anger to bubble up.  The problem for me is that I can't do anything but that; I'm absolutely helpless to do anything but that! I'm so grateful to God, though, because whereas I can't overcome my temper, God can & is sanctifying me so that progressively fewer things elicit an angry response from me. There is no way that I could possibly white-knuckle it & change. So, I'm exceedingly thankful that He's doing that work in me, & I really look forward to the day when He's perfected me & I am finally cleansed from all my sin, including anger!

As always, I want to be very clear here, that in no way, shape, or form does adhering to this verse - or any verse - earn my favor with God. There is nothing that I could ever do apart from Christ that would please God & save me from His wrath toward my sin. Even if I never failed to listen & was always slow to speak & anger, God would not be pleased with me if I strove to do this apart from Christ. The only way that I am saved is through the perfect life, propitiating death, & bodily resurrection of my Lord Jesus Christ. He earned my salvation & granted me faith. . .& He will keep me in that faith. "For those whom He predestined He also called, & those whom He called He also justified, & those whom He justified He also glorified"! (Romans 8:30)

*Our most gracious heavenly Father, thank You for Your Word. Thank You that You've given us a way to know You -- to know who You are, to know what You're like, to know how You relate to us, to know Your Son whom You sent to redeem us from our sin so we could be Your children. Thank You for the gift of Your Word, the gift of Your Son, the gift of You. Conform us into Your image. Help us to cherish & wield the Sword of the Spirit to kill sin in our lives. We love You, Lord. Help us to love You more. In Christ's holy name we pray, Amen.