“[Listening and Doing] My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,” James 1:19
I'm wondering about this verse this morning. Really, I'm wondering about it. How does one get to the point where they are slow to become angry? To me, that just sounds like, well, something really difficult. I know I've read this verse a hundred-plus times before, so it's nothing new- but how does one truly become slow to anger? I'd like to know this!
Because when I come across something that causes me to become angry- the anger is almost instantaneous- it's the first thing to come up, and then I need to focus myself and calm down and give the problem to God. That's how the process goes for me, I get angry first, then process what it is I'm angry about. I know other people who process first, and then the emotions come. My husband is one of those, he is quick to listen, slow to process and speak, and then he may become angry or emotive accordingly.
But I'm wondering about those of us who are the opposite- is this a female-male difference? No matter what it is, it has me searching out other verses on anger in the Bible. Maybe I can find a clue as to how to adjust my emotions so that I can be slow to anger, and not first to anger, and then slow to simmer down.
Here's one that says to avoid anger altogether.
"Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil." Psalm 37:8
Ah, here's one that give us some advice for when we are angry. David advises us to silence, so that when we are angry, we don't make an error and sin, or say something that we shouldn't be saying.
"In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent." Psalm 4:4
Search your hearts and be silent. That IS good advice when anger is threatening to take over. When we search our hearts, we're trying to get to the core of why this thing is making us angry in the first place. Maybe our anger is misplaced? Maybe it's for a bad reason- or maybe it's about something that really isn't any of our business at all! And then there are also times, at least for me, where I've quieted myself down to try and figure out why I am so angry- only to discover that the devil himself has been messing with me- giving me a completely imaginary scenario so that I am angry with someone while I have no reason to be. As a mom I find that when I get angry with my kids, sometimes it's misplaced anger. We can have one of those days where it just seems like they aren't listening at all- they're fighting a lot, or just plain being naughty. Of course I get angry, and sometimes angry mommy comes out for a while. But something that I've realized is that my kids are not inherently naughty- there's almost always a reason for it. And when I can quiet my spirit, reflect on our day and figure out why our day is going the way it is- I usually find a reason. A lack of sleep is the normal culprit around here. And when I can see that when my eyes are opened up to that fact, the anger goes away. Just like that, I become tolerant of their behavior and try to make adjustments to create an atmosphere of peace in the house.
Why do we become angry in the first place? Do you know that God becomes angry? My first thought was that maybe anger was not from God, but a quick search for anger in the Bible finds dozens of verses that say "the anger of the Lord burned towards them" or something like that. But I also found these verses in the Psalms that go right along with what James is saying about being slow to anger- and why we should be slow to anger.
"But you, O Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness." Psalm 86:15
"The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love." Psalm 103:8
"The LORD is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love." Psalm 145:8
And there's this verse in Joel as well that also says something similar:
"Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity." Joel 2:13
We should learn to be slow to anger because our Father is slow to anger. As I've been reading these verses and trying to discover how to get rid of the anger completely, I've learned that maybe I'm not going to get rid of it. But maybe, with God's help, I can learn to be slow to anger. I can work on my response to situations and try to see a situation through compassionate eyes- and not selfish ones- which admittedly, are probably the root of much anger.
I went back to the book of James to read that verse again, and I discovered there was a second part to it. So often we read just verse 19, we read that we should be slow to anger, and we stop there. I know that memorization for me in the past did not include verse 20. The thing is, it should, because we see why learning to slow our anger is important.
"for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires." James 1:20
God wants us to have a righteous life- and anger can get in the way of that. Think about it, when we are angry, nothing seems to go right does it? When I get angry, I'm probably thinking thoughts I shouldn't be thinking- if not saying them out loud. A person living a righteous life has learned to control those thoughts and those words. And since that's what God wants for us, it seems to me that talking to Him about anger is the way to go. It says right here in His word, that He desires us to be righteous- but that anger will hinder us. So with God's help, we can learn to do away with instant anger. With God's help, we can learn the thoughtful, peaceful way to deal with an unpleasant situation. Anger does not have to have a part in what we think, say or do.
Joel says to rend out hearts and not our garments. By looking to the inside, and seeing that maybe we need a heart adjustment, we can learn to deal with the anger that creeps up in those moments. We need to take David's advice, and search our hearts, and dig out whatever it is that is causing that anger in the first place- and we need to give it to God. We need to reach in and turn on that compassion and see what the situation really is like before us. And then. Then, we can answer as Jesus would- we can answer with love instead of anger.
"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." James 1:21
God's Word, and the character of Jesus has been planted in us. When we can accept that- when we truly accept the idea that we can learn to love just as Jesus did- then we can break the cycle of anger that brings us down so often. Fill our hearts and our minds with good things- with God's Word and with the things of love and of God, and we can watch that instant anger dissolve away for good.