More Dividing Distempers

This article is a continuation of reflections on Jeremiah Burroughs’ book “Causes, Evil, and Cures of Heart and Church Divisions.  

As we come to the end of Burroughs’ list of “Dividing Distempers” that plague the Christian and the Church alike, we find several brief comments on a variety of sinful attitudes.  Rather than deal with each individually, I thought it best to combine these last few in one article.

Rashness

Ricky Nelson once sang, “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” This is what Burroughs means by rashness; engaging in an activity without careful examination. “Rash men quickly take hold of the sword of justice to hack and hew: they think that what they do is according to reason; but they do not wisely weigh things in the balance of justice.”  How much trouble and division do we often bring upon ourselves when we act rashly, without careful consideration? How many times have we had to take back what we have said and done because we spoke or acted too quickly?  When Tolkien’s “Treebeard” said, “Don’t be hasty;” we should listen. Perhaps most vividly, Burroughs describes rashness saying, “as over-hearty digestion causes wind, and brings much trouble to the body; so do over-hasty resolution to men’s spirits and societies.

Willfulness and Unconstancy

Next, Burroughs takes up two opposing distempers: Willfulness and Unconstancy.  By willfulness, Burroughs means an unthinking determination, like a two-year old in the toy aisle. “A man of willful stout spirit stands as a stake in the midst of a stream, lets all pass by him, but he stands where he was.” If this strong will is rooted in the truth, it is commendable. But often “stoutness of spirit comes from weakness rather than strength.  As a man’s judgment that is without prejudice is very strong, so a man’s prejudice that is without judgment is as strong.” Those who cling to their fixed opinion regardless of the light of reason are often unmovable, and will not be reconciled to anyone else.

While willfulness is a common cause of division, so too is Unconstancy.  This is a word that has fallen out of use, but refers to a lack of faithfulness or stability.  “A man must not be willful; not like a rusty lock that will not be stirred by any key: neither must he be one thing one day, and another another day; like a weather-cock, carried up and down with every wind.”

A Spirit of Contention

Finally, Burroughs offers thoughts on the Contentious Spirit.  There is, sadly, in some a strong disposition to contention. Like salamanders who love and live in the fire, the contentious person is never satisfied unless they are at odds with someone. I once knew a man who never seemed happier than when he was complaining about something. “A contentious spirit will always find matter for contention.”Proverbs 26:21 “As charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife.”

With these, we come to the end of Burroughs discussion on the Distempers, or Attitudes, that Divide us (Pride, Self-Love, Envy, Passion, Rigidness, Rashness, Willfulness, Unconstancy, and Contention).  Next week we’ll pick up the next section on Practices that Divide us (Whispering, Needless Disputes, Meddling, Slander, Revenge, etc…). I pray that as we consider those attitudes and practices that divide us, we may repent of our divisive spirits and be reconciled and restored to one another.

Grace and Peace be with your hearts!

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Rigid Spirits

Recently, in closing up a Bible study on 1 Corinthians, I spent some time studying 1 Cor 16:13-14, “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” That is such a great verse. It’s loaded with imperatives; clear and concise instructions on how we are to live according to the grace we have received in the Lord Jesus Christ:

  • Be watchful – that is, be alert, watch for temptation, and do not let your guard down to sin
  • Stand firm in the faith – Do not waiver from the truth of the Gospel, hold fast to the doctrine taught in the word of God
  • Act like men – Be mature, not tossed about by your passions as young men are, but mature and ready to serve the Lord.
  • Be strong – Elsewhere, Paul speaks of being strong in the strength of the Lord – let the Lord be your strength and your power in moving forward.
  • Most of all, let all you do be done in love – Love balances everything else. 
    • Love keeps our watchfulness from becoming self-righteousness
    • Love keeps our steadfastness in the truth from becoming dogmatism
    • Love keeps our maturity from becoming brash arrogance
    • Love keeps our strength from becoming domineering.

This is what Burroughs calls for in his rebuke of Rigidness in the Christian life.  As Burroughs explores the Causes, Evils, and Cures of Heart and Church Divisions, he turns his attention to the “rigid, harsh, sour, crabbed, rough-hewn spirits.” Rather than obeying the Scriptures which teach, “Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor” (1 Cor 10:24), the Rigid spirit seeks its own pleasure, but is pleasing to no one else: “in their ways, they will [give up] nothing of their own, nor yield anything to others.”

This is the “my way or the highway” attitude. This is the person who, rather than consider the needs, preferences, or abilities of others, insist that all things be done his way or not at all. 

The Rigid spirit is convinced that his unmoving resilience flows from his strength, for he will make all things bend to his will. In reality, the Rigid individual is closer to death.  When does rigor fully set in? When are we completely unmoving? Only in death. 

“Men who are of austere spirits… think it to be the commendation of the strength of their spirits: no, that is but lightness, and weakness in men.”

“The strongest swords are not those which will not bend; but such as yield and bend with the most ease, and stand straight again.”

Those who are unmoving, fixed in their ways, and Rigid in their spirit will have a very difficult time fitting in to any fellowship of believers, let alone following after Jesus. 

In order for a craftsman to join two pieces of wood, “he must first plain them. Except our sprits be plained, they are unfit for joining.” Love is that great plain that smooths off our rough-hewn spirits and makes us pliable and ready for genuine, peaceful fellowship.  The love of God, demonstrated in Christ our Lord, who gave Himself for us, suffering on our behalf, putting our needs before His own in order to make us one with Him: this love transforms us. As we keep this love before us, we will consider first the needs of our neighbor before insisting upon our own preferences. 1 Corinthians 13:4 teaches, “Love does not insist upon its own way…” Oh how our fellowship and witness would be strengthened were we to put others before ourselves.

Grace and peace be with you. 

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Passion of the Flesh

As we continue to work through Jeremiah Burroughs’ Causes, Evils, and Cures of Heart and Church Divisions, we come to the fourth examined cause, Passion.

“Passion” is used here in a way that is lost in today.  We think of passion in terms of romance, but Burroughs employs the old use of the word which suggested a much more consuming desire:  emotions as devoid of reason; an intense, driving, or overmastering feeling or conviction.  

When James writes of the passions that divide us (James 4:1), the word he uses in Greek is where we get our English word “hedonism,” the pursuit of personal pleasure at the expense of everything else.  James says that these passions are the cause of quarrels, fights, and ultimately murder within the church – where we cut one another down with our words and actions.

It’s not just James who speaks so strongly against the passions of the flesh. Throughout the New Testament, these are the adjectives used to describe our passions: dishonorable, sinful, youthful, worldly, human, defiling, sensual, and ungodly.

When we put these passions above everything else, you can see then why Burroughs addresses them as a chief cause for our divisions.  Passions set us on fire.  We insist upon our way, upon our preferences; and when our desires are not met  “our hot passions cause the climate where we live to be like the torrid zone, too hot for any to live near us…”

So then, what is the cure for our worldly passions?  Burroughs offers thee:

  1. Know that God is with us. You probably remember hearing as a child, “Wait till your father gets home.”  Something about the father’s presence corrects a child’s behavior.  In the worst case, it could be a fear his anger, in the best case, a love and desire to honor – whatever the case, knowing the father is near changes us.  Burroughs reminds us our Father is near to us. “God is come among us, we may see the face of God in what he has done for us, and shall we be quarreling before his face?  If we love and honor him, how can we fight amongst ourselves in his presence?” Knowing God is with us, how can we allow our passions to lead us to fighting among ourselves.
  2. Know God has called you to do His will.  Before knowing God and his grace for us in Jesus Christ, we were lost in following the desires of our own hearts, the passion of the flesh.  But in Christ, we have been brought from death to life so that we may live for God’s glory.  He gives us a new will, His will, that we may know Him, glorify Him, and enjoy Him forever.  Rather than continue to be consumed by our own passions, we are to “set our hearts and hands to the work of God – being willing to do His will.”  Is this not what Jesus said, in calling those who would be His disciples, that we are to take up our cross, die to ourselves daily, and follow Him?
  3. Know what Sacrifice Pleases the Lord. We must continually remember the mercy that God has shown us, and give to Him a sacrifice of praise.  Psalm 57:17 says, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” If we would honor the gift that God has given us in Jesus Christ “we would lay aside our divisions, our frowardness; we would abandon all contention and strife; we would put on [hearts] of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering, forbearing one another, forgiving one another, if any have a quarrel against any, even as Christ forgave you, even so do ye.” Later Burroughs writes, “God shows that he can own us, notwithstanding all our infirmities; why should not we own our brethren, notwithstanding their infirmities? Why should our divisions cause us to cast off one another, seeing our divisions have not provoked God to cast us off?”

The fighting and divisions that arise from our pursuit of personal pleasures are a scandal to the Church and to the name of Christ.  “Our hearts have been broken from one another in our unhappy divisions; O that they could break toward one another, in love and tenderness!”

May God continue to root out from us, and from our Churches, those dishonorable, sinful, and worldly passions from us; that we may demonstrate the unity of the body of Christ, and the world may marvel at how we love one another.

SDG

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Rotten Envy

“Envy makes the bones rot…”
Proverbs 14:30

A couple of weeks ago I started reading through and writing about Jeremiah Burroughs’ Causes, Evils, and Cures of Heart and Church Divisions – you can read the first two installments here and here.  So far in his writings, Burroughs has focused on those inward causes of division, Pride and Self-Love, sins that plague the heart and mind and bring terrible division and rivalry in the Church.  Today, he turns his attention might be considered the offspring of unchecked pride and self-love: Envy.

Aristotle defined envy as pain at the sight of another’s good fortune, stirred by “those who have what we desire for ourselves.” Envy only awakens in us when, from a lack of contentment with God’s blessings, we see the success and achievement of those around us and become embittered and resentful. Burroughs points out that envy was the first sin, “not the first-born of the devil,” but that which caused the division between Cain and Abel. 

Envy is born in a heart that looks more to man than to God.  Jerry Bridges writes in his book, Respectable Sins, “An insurance salesman is not likely to envy a professional athlete who earns a multi-million dollar salary. But he may well envy another salesman who sells more insurance than he does. A pastor of a small- or medium-size church is not likely to envy the mega-church pastor. But he may be tempted to envy the pastor down the street whose church is growing more than his.”  When we compare ourselves to those around us, rather than looking to our God, the source of every good and perfect gift, then envy emerges. Burroughs goes on to show the ramifications of envy in our hearts: 

“Envy divides counsels, in instruments, actions, and in all proceedings; she will make use of good to oppose that which is good; if she cannot raise evil men to oppose good, she will seek to get good men to oppose; she would make God contrary to himself, she would strike at God with his own sword. “Some preach Christ out of envy (Phil 1:14).”

What really caught me was a quote at the beginning of this chapter, which led me to find other old proverbs on envy, which I thought I’d share a few here:

  • Envy is a squint-eyed fool.
  • As a moth gnaws a garment, so does envy consume a man – Chrysostom
  • Envy is blind and is only clever in depreciating the virtues of others – Livy
  • The envious man grows lean on the success of his neighbors – Horace
  • Envy is the art of counting the other fellow’s blessings instead of your own – Coffin

What then, is the cure for Envy? Burroughs first has us look to Barnabas.  In Acts 11, certain men from Cyprus and Cyrene traveled to Antioch and began to preach the Lord Jesus to the people there, and a great number of people came to the Lord.  Barnabas was sent by the church in Jerusalem to Antioch to see this for himself.  Rather than grow resentful and envious of their success, we are told that Barnabas rejoiced, for he saw the grace of God, and encouraged them to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose.  Barnabas was free from envy, the Scripture says, “he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.”

When we rest and are secure in our salvation in Jesus Christ, knowing who we are in Him and how our salvation is the gracious gift of God for us, all envy and bitter rivalry will fade away.  

“No men are so fit for public service as those who can bless God that He is pleased to make use of others as well as them, even beyond themselves.  It was a good spirit of that gracious, holy, old disciple, Mr. Dod, “I would to God,” said he, “I were the worst minister in England;” not wishing himself worse than he was, but all ministers better.”

SDG

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The Sin of Self Love

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”
(Philippians 2:3)

Last week I began reading and commenting on Jeremiah Burroughs’ book, Causes, Evils, and Cures of Heart and Church Divisions, exploring the destructive power of the chief sin of Pride. Continuing to examine the causes of divisions in the Christian’s heart and fellowship, Burroughs next turns to the dividing distemper of Self-Love.

I think this chapter is particularly relevant today. Our culture encourages “self-love” as a base of therapy. How often have we heard it said, “you have to learn to love yourself before you can love others”?  The popular mantra of the day is that healthy self-esteem is a prerequisite for a healthy relationship; that without sufficient self-love, we’re not capable of truly loving others.

The problem is, this is exactly the opposite of what the Scriptures say.  It’s not that we have to learn to love ourselves more, but that we loves ourselves too much.  Please understand me, I don’t mean that we should become self-loathing people without any self esteem. Indeed, the Scriptures show us that we were created in the image of God (Gen 1), with dignity and honor just below that of the heavenly beings (Psalm 8:5), and for those in Christ Jesus, God has set His love and affection on us since before the world was created (Eph 1:3), and has demonstrated that love by sending His Son to redeem us, even when we were dead in our trespasses and sins (Rom 5:8).  As comedian Brad Stine once said, “If the creator of matter thinks that you matter, that is the source of your self esteem.”

The problem of the human condition is not that we love ourselves too little, but that we love ourselves too much.  This self-love is the root and cause of nearly every public strife.  When we are motivated by self-love, Burroughs says, we have “no common ends to join us.”  If two people are filled with self-love, they will both be seeking their own ends, and therefore will eventually be at odds with one another.

It’s very interesting that Burroughs fills this chapter with illustrations from those serving in the public/political arena.  He writes of politicians who start with great intentions, saying they are there to serve the people, but end up serving only themselves.  (It’s a good thing that doesn’t happen these days.)

How does this Self-Love show itself?

  • Self-Love results in wickedness in men’s hearts: “Even those things that men acknowledge to be right and good in the general, yet if they shall not particularly suit with something they would have, it will put men upon the opposing.”  Driven by selfishness, we will abandon what we know to be right and good if it stands in the way of personal gain.  We will do wrong to get what we want rather than to do what is right and learn to be content with what we have.
  • Self-Love leads to blindness: “It causes men not to see their own evils, or if they do, to indulge themselves in them; but to be quick-sighted and severe in the discovering and opposing those evils that are in others, and this causes many breaches and fallings out.”  Think of Jesus in Matthew 7, all we can see is the speck in our brother’s eye, while we are blind to the plank in our own.
  • Self-Love makes us schemers: “It sets men’s wits on work, in all cunning craftiness, to fetch others about to their own ends.”  We use other people to achieve our selfish desires, and see others only as a means to our own ends, then discard them as soon as we have reached our goal. “Crooked windings are the goings of the serpent: but if a man shall not only seek to make use of another to serve his own turn by him, but after he hath done that, then to cast him off to shift for himself; this is so provoking a thing, that it makes breaches irreconcilable.”

This Self-Love, rather than being a cure to our personal problems, leads only to broken relationships.  “It is vile,” Burroughs says, “in the eyes of God.”

So what is the solution to this Self-Love?  Quite simply, the cure of Self-Love is Christ.  Were we to fix our hearts upon Him, to make His glory, His honor, His Word, His pleasure our chief delight, then our hearts would be unified under one Lord, one Savior, one Spirit, one Love.  Jesus said in Matthew 6:33, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.”  Burroughs offers that as the answer to selfishness.  “If we owned [our selfish concerns] less; He would own them more. The more we deny them, the more hath he a care of them. We may, by our giving them up to the honor of Christ, make them to be among the number of his things, and then they would be precious indeed.  Let us make his things ours, and he will make our things his.”

Give your selfish cares to Christ, let Him attend to your every need.  Seek first Christ and His kingdom, and He will give you all things!


From the Pastor’s Desk – Some things I’ve been reading lately.

How the Two-Hour Marathon Limit Was Broken – Okay, so technically this is a video, and not something I read, but still very impressive. Consider, you have to run under a 4:35 pace per mile to do this. It is inspiring, and I can take comfort in the fact that my half marathon is still faster than this (barely).  Now it will be interesting to see if someone can break the 2-hour barrier in an actual race.

Disciple your Children – Here’s an encouraging and informative article for parents who feel unprepared to disciple their Children.

The Conversion of Kanye: There has been a lot of talk lately about prominent Christian leaders who have walked away from the faith.  Now there is news that Kanye West, hip-hop performer and producer, has come to faith in Jesus Christ.  This article is more about the Pastor who has been working with Many.  I think it is appropriate to rejoice when anyone who is lost comes to salvation, so I rejoice that Kanye has come to know Jesus as Lord and Savior.  Still, I am leery of any kind of “celebrity culture” in the Church, so I pray that God will sustain Kanye, and help him to grow in grace, giving glory to God in all that he does.

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The Perilous, Pernicious and Pervasive Problem of Pride!

Following the recommendation of a fellow pastor, I have taken up a book by the great Puritan writer, Jeremiah Burroughs, and committed to reading just a section of his book each day.  Burroughs (1600-1646) was one of the Independent members of the Westminster Assembly of Divines, and a Congregationalist. He was so highly regarded by his peers that they published 13 volumes of his sermons after his death. The book that caught my attention was “Causes, Evils, and Cures of Heart and Church Divisions.”   Like a good Puritan writer, Burroughs thoroughly explores each topic in depth before moving on to the next, but does so in a way that is relatable and applicable to our lives today.  

“Causes, Evils, and Cures of Heart and Church Divisions” examines the roots and effects of division in the body of Christ, and offers a forward-looking approach for healing the divisions. Burroughs’ study makes suggestions for greater unity, challenging the church to focus on moving ahead in its essential work. Just looking through the contents page will give some indication of where the book is going.  Under the Causes of Divisions, Burroughs addresses Pride, Self-love, Envy, Passion, Jealousy, Whispering, Meddling, and Revenge, just to name a few.

As I read through this work, I’ll give a brief reflection on Burroughs’ work, and I pray that God may bring healing, to our divided hearts and churches, through this study.

The first cause that Burroughs address is pride, which he calls “the chief dividing distemper.”  “It is the great incendiary in the soul of man, in families, in towns, in cities, in all societies, in church and state: this wind causes tempests to arise.” It is pride that hardens our hearts to the needs of those around us; pride that makes us blind to our own sinfulness; pride that keeps us from being useful to the Lord and His Church.  If we are to identify what causes divisions in our relationships and in the Church, the chief and underlying cause will always be our pride.

How does pride work in us? This is one of the great strengths of the Puritan writers: they don’t just name the sin, they examine how the sin really affects us.  Pride, Burroughs says, works in the following ways:

  • Pride makes a man think too great to be crossed:  its is beneath a proudful person to bear any injuries or offenses that others might cause.
  • Pride makes men swell beyond their bounds: “the way to keep all things in union is for every man to keep within his bounds: the swelling beyond tends to the breaking all in pieces.”
  • Pride hardens men’s hearts: “If you would have things cleave, you must have them soft; two flints will not join.”
  • Pride causes men to despise others: Seeking honor for himself, a proud man cannot tolerate other’s success, and cares nothing for others’ sufferings.
  • Pride causes every man to desire to be noticed: One way or another, either through good works that bring fame, or through clamor and opposition, a prideful person must be noticed.  “Proud spirits will venture the setting the temple of God, yea, church and state, on fire, that they may have a name; whatever they do or suffer to get a name, they will rather venture, than die in obscurity; that above all things they cannot bear.”
  • A proud man makes his will the rule of his actions, and would have it be the rule of other men’s too.

This, then, the perilous, pernicious and pervasive problem of pride.  It is worked into each and every heart, and must be driven out by God’s redeeming and purifying Spirit of grace.  Burroughs calls “every man look into his own heart, and see what pride hath been, and still is there, and be humbled before the Lord for this. All you contentious, froward, quarrelsome people, you are charged this day from God with being men and women of proud spirits, and what evil there is in our sad divisions, that pride in your bosom is a great cause of it.”

As we allow the Spirit to show us how deeply pride has set into our lives, we know that God’s work is not merely to crush us under the burden of sin.  “The Lord humbles us, that he may reconcile us, not only to himself, but to one another.”  When we realize how pride as come between us, and between us and God, it is so that we may repent, turn from our prideful ways, and be reconciled and restored by His great grace for us in Jesus Christ.  

SDG

Burroughs, Jeremiah. Causes, Evils, and Cures of Heart and Church Divisions. New York: Carlton & Phillips, 1855. Print.
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Do You Do Well To Be Angry

And the Lord said, “Do you do well to be angry?”
(Jonah 4:4)

I began to write some reflections on this passage today, when it all started to sound somewhat familiar.  I did some searching through my old posts on the blog, and found this article from over 12 years ago.  Two things came to mind: 1) I am grateful for the way in which the writing has held up over the years, and 2) I am saddened that I still struggle with the same prideful heart these 12 years later.

We are all in the midst of God’s transforming work, He’s not done with us yet.  May this word be cause for reflection, and a source of hope in overcoming anger.


In C. S. Lewis book, The Great Divorce, Lewis has a dream in which he finds himself on a bus ride from hell to heaven.  Along the way, he observes as various passengers on the bus either decide to turn back to hell because the transition is too much for them to bear, or they are transformed into those prepared to dwell in heaven forever.

During one such encounter, Lewis watches as a woman passes by, grumbling and babbling about nothing consequential, while her angel companion cannot get a word in edgewise.  He writes,

The shrill monotonous whine died away as the speaker, still accompanied by the bright patience at her side, moved out of sight.

‘What troubles ye, son?’ asked my Teacher.

‘I am troubled, Sir,’ said I, ‘because that unhappy creature doesn’t seem to me to be the sort of soul that ought to be even in danger of damnation.  She isn’t wicked: she’s only a silly, garrulous old woman who has got into the habit of grumbling, and one feels that a little kindness, and rest, and change would put her all right.’

‘That is what she once was.  That is maybe what she still is.  If so, she certainly will be cured.  But the whole question is whether she is now a grumbler.’

‘I should have thought there was no doubt about that!’

‘Aye, but ye misunderstand me.  The questions is whether she is a grumbler, or only a grumble.  If there is a real woman – even the least trace of one – still there inside the grumbling, it can be brought to life again.  If there’s one wee spark under all those ashes, we’ll blow it till the whole pile is red and clear.  But if there’s nothing but ashes we’ll not go on blowing them in our eyes forever.  They must be swept up.’

‘But how can there be a grumble without a grumbler?’

‘The whole difficulty of understanding Hell is that the thing to be understood is so nearly Nothing.  But ye’ll have had experiences… it begins with a grumbling mood, and yourself still distinct from it: perhaps criticizing it.  And yourself, in a dark hour, may will that mood, embrace it.  Ye can repent and come out of it again.  But there may come a day when you can do that no longer.  Then there will be no you left to criticize the mood, nor even to enjoy it, but just the grumble itself going on forever like a machine.’

C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce.  (The Macmillan Co., New York, 1946)

I am always surprised to find how writers like Lewis, Brennan Manning, Blackaby, or Chambers seem to be writing specifically about me.  Perhaps Lewis struggled with grumbling and anger the way I do, that is how he could write with such wisdom.

I would not describe myself as an angry person.  I don’t yell and scream at people, I am usually considered pretty easy going.

But I know myself.  I know the rage that festers and fumes within, needing only the slightest catalyst to set it off.  Maybe its the lady at the grocery store with 25 items in the express lane, or the guy who parks his truck in the middle of the school parking lot, gets out of the truck, and casually walks his children to the door, meanwhile blocking the ten people behind him from dropping off their children and getting to the office on time.

I find myself fuming over the littlest of things.  It began as a grumbling mood, but I am afraid I have embraced it.  I pray I have not reached that day when I can no longer repent of it.  Then there will be no me left to criticize the mood, nor even to enjoy it, but just the grumble itself going on forever like a machine.

God warns us against rage and anger.  In Genesis 4, Cain is angry with the world because God has accepted his brother’s sacrifice and not his own.  Gen. 4:5-6 reads, “So Cain was very angry, and his face fell.  Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen?  If you do well, will you not be accepted?  And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at your door.  Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.’”

Wow – do I know that feeling.  Sin is crouching at the door, waiting to jump out and consume me.  God says I must rule over it, I must conquer this beast.  But it’s so difficult.  Part of me likes the rage, maybe I’m holding out for that moment when I get so mad I’ll start turning green, rip through my clothes and become the incredible Hulk (yeah, I read too many comics as a kid).

But getting angry at least gives me the feeling of having power.  I can fume and fuss and cut someone down and feel really good about myself – but that feeling is temporary at best.  I’ve held on to this anger for so long, now I don’t even know what I’m angry about, and the satisfying feeling that comes with the eruption is less and less each time.

I need a change of heart, a change of perspective.  I need God to soften my heart.  I need a little time under Jonah’s shade tree.

You see, I think Jonah had the same anger issues that I am dealing with.  Jonah was a prophet of the Lord God, and the Lord called Jonah to go and preach to the city of Nineveh.  As the story goes, Jonah refused to go and preach to his enemies, so he went the opposite direction, hiring a ship to take him to Tarshish.  While at sea, a terrible storm raged, and Jonah confessed his sin and was thrown overboard, only to be swallowed by a whale.  After three days, Jonah was thrown back out on the shore, and God told him again to go to Nineveh.

This time Jonah went, and he preached God’s message – a threat of impending doom if the people of the city did not repent of their evil ways.  Sure enough, the people repented, and God relented of the disaster.

Now, you would think that Jonah would be happy that over 120,000 people had responded to his message, but instead he was displeased, and angry with God.  He told God that he would rather die that see the Ninevites repent.  And God said, “Do you do well to be angry?”

So Jonah went out to a hill overlooking Nineveh, and he sat there, waiting to see what would happen.  As he waited, God planted a shade tree for Jonah, and this made Jonah really happy.  The next day, God put a worm in the tree so that when the sun came out, the tree withered and died.  Again, Jonah grumbled against God, “I would rather die…”  And God said again, “Do you do well to be angry?  You complain about a tree that you did not plant.  Should I not be concerned for Nineveh, for the 120,000 souls that are there?”

What Jonah needed was a change in perspective.  He was concerned with his reputation as a prophet, he didn’t want to be associated with these despised Ninevites. He was more concerned with his comfort and his reputation than with the souls that needed saving.

I need a change in perspective.  My anger comes from that deceptive and pervasive sin of pride.  I have put my needs, my comfort, my advancement, myself, above the needs of everyone else.  I only get upset because I don’t feel like I get the respect, the response I deserve.  God is saying to me again, “Do you do well to be angry?”  It is foolishness to hold on to this rage.  Prov. 14:29 teaches, “Whoever slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly.”  What a fool I’ve been.

‘Do you do well to be angry?”  I know the answer is “No.”  I pray that God will help me to rule over it.  This can only be done through the power of Holy Spirit – I can only conquer my fits of rage as the Spirit of God develops in me “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal 5:21-22).  While I hold on to my anger I cannot hold on to Christ.  When I take up my ax, I cannot also take up my cross.  As long as the greenie-meanie lives I cannot say, “I have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”

SDG

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