This week in our Book of James study, our challenge is to keep as our watch words James 1:19-20 "Remember this my dear brothers, everyone should be quick to listen, but slow to speak and slow to human anger, God's justice is never served by human anger" New Jerusalem Bible.
Today, we've read up to James 1:24. Verses 21-24 tell us that we must do away with all impurities and evil in our souls and welcome the Word which is our salvation. We are also told that we must live this Word and be careful not to deceive ourselves by believing we can just read it and forget about it.
I want to share with you my own meditation, which I did based on a cross reference with the book of Ecclesiasticus. In Eccl 5:11-12 "Be quick to listen, and deliberate in giving an answer. If you understand the matter, give your neighbour an answer, if not, keep your hand over your mouth". This ties in so nicely with James 1:19 as we are being told that we must listen well and understand, think before we speak and not to speak out of turn, without proper knowledge. It is further advised in Eccl 5:13 "Both honour and disgrace come from talking, the tongue is its owner's downfall."
How true that is! We all know the power of the tongue. It was God's spoken Word that made all Creation. Having made us in His image and likeness, we too have power in our tongues. We can speak curses or blessings. We can build up our destroy. We can give love and support or create pain, disillusionment or shame in another. Do we use our tongues to build people up, or do we systematically destroy others? Do we gossip or entice others to? Eccl 5:14 "Do not get a name for scandal-mongering, do not set traps with your tongue" Do we give praise and encouragement or do we criticize and condemn?
I thought about that this morning after I had yelled at my youngest daughter. I was running late and putting in a load of laundry before I dropped her off to school. She wanted to help so I asked her to put the clean laundry into the dryer and she dropped it into the soapy water that was filling for the next load instead. I felt so bad when I saw her face. She was trying to be helpful and instead of encouraging her, I tore her down by my words. How often do I do things like that? I think that even once is too often, but I have to acknowledge that, especially in stressful situations, my patience is short and my tongue is very quick to lash out. This is something I really need to work on.
Let's talk about anger. In Eccl 6:4, we are told that "An evil temper destroys the person who has it and makes him the laughing stock of his enemies" Here, as in James 1:20, we are told that anger does not serve God, but rather destroys us and makes us look bad. Perhaps that is because of how we behave when we are angry. I don't know about you, but when I get angry I am not a nice person! My family literally fades into the corners of the house to escape me. I go on a rant, I quarrel alot and God help those in the car with me if it happens to be on the road.
This is my biggest challenge... to maintain my peace of mind when I'm on the nation's roads. My countrymen, a large majority of them, drive without courtesy and an appalling disregard for law. Stoplights and stop signs are run regularly and is generally accepted as "normal", as is not indicating, stopping suddenly and changing lanes dangerously, driving up on the shoulder in traffic and then squeezing in on other drivers. I know this is not painting a good picture of my land, but I want to illustrate a point.
For me, a self-confessed defensive driver and law-abiding citizen, it is beyond unacceptable behavior. I was raised to have respect for all authority and to obey laws and rules. It goes against everything within me to witness and be subjected to this kind of driving. I lose my cool, every single day, despite my best intentions.
Is my anger righteous? Many may say yes! After all, I have my children in the car with me, I'm a defensive driver and I pay for expensive car insurance. These are all reasons to be angry at people who are daily putting my family at risk, causing me to pay higher insurance premiums because of all the accidents on the roads (car insurance is mandatory here) and making my driving experience fraught with tension.
Is my anger serving God?
I would have to say NO! When I get upset on the roads, I upset my children. I quarrel, gesticulate and sometimes, yes I'm ashamed to say, I want to do something to display my disgust! I want to drive past him or her and tell that person something nasty. If the person is trying to squeeze in on me, I wouldn't him/her in, thereby increasing the tension and stress both myself and the children feel. I dream about being able to pull them over myself and give them tickets. I wish I had super-powers so I could zap them and make them see the error of their ways. Someone in my family keeps a whiteboard in her car and writes on it and shows it to the offensive driver.. don't ask me how she does it! We all feel the need to be vindicated because we are RIGHT and they are WRONG. Does that make my anger self-righteous, rather than righteous?
In James 1:21 we are told "So do away with all impurites and remnants of evil. Humbly welcome the Word which has been planted in you and can save your souls" Aha! So, the answer to my salvation, to my conquering my own sinfulness, lies in the Word! Then in James 1:22 "But you must DO what the Word tells you and not just listen to it and deceive yourselves"
What would the Word tell me in this situation? Well, in Matt 5:24 "But I say this to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" I tell you... this is pretty hard to do! I usually grit my teeth and say in a not-so-prayerful way.. "Lord, help this idiot to learn to drive properly!" or some such thing. I realise that I speak curses on these people when I don't practice keeping my mouth shut and controlling my feelings.
A look back at Eccl. 6:4 shows me that I end up looking like a crazy person when I behave that way. I remember one time someone gave me a "bad drive" and I made certain that person knew by blowing my horn loudly and passing them. When I did, it turned out to be someone that I knew and I felt rather embarassed by my behaviour. I'm also increasing my stress levels, shredding my nerves.. thereby 'destroying myself' when I don't control my behaviour.
So, today, Lord I want to surrender this difficult area in my life to you. Please help me to guard my tongue, especially against speaking in anger or admonishment. Help me to hold on to your Word and to make every effort to live it. Help me to improve my listening skills, especially with my children. Again, Lord, I offer myself into your 'potter's hands' to be molded and shaped into what you desire me to be. Thank you for your Grace, Mercy and all of your blessings. AMEN.
May His Grace and Blessings be with you always!
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