Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires. So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls. (James 1:19-21 NLT)
These verses hit me smack dab in the middle of my heart one afternoon. I had been struggling with discouragement after seeing a bad parenting habit form: getting angry, frustrated, and impatient with my children. Every time my angry heart reared its ugly head I was filled with shame and discouragement.
“This isn’t the type of mom I want to be,” I would think to myself. “Come on, Trisha, suck it up. Just quit getting angry. Just stop it!” But no matter how hard I tried I found myself failing day after day, snapping at my children in a power struggle to get them to obey.
Little by little, God began chipping at my heart. Truths like, “This is an opportunity to train. My children aren’t to blame for my anger. My heart is to blame for my anger,” replaced my old thoughts of, “If they weren’t so rebellious I would be patient! If they obeyed all the time then I wouldn’t get angry!” Anger began to feel enslaving and weighed me down, which is exactly what I needed.
“So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives…”
After a frustrated moment with my daughter, as she was attempting to dress herself, my heart was broken. My heart was filthy, evil, and angry, but also broken. This anger had to stop, and I knew that I alone couldn’t make myself less angry. I knew the only way that I could ever change is if I confessed my sin to God and surrendered to Him. Later that morning, I asked my daughter’s forgiveness and then prayed aloud for God’s forgiveness and rejoiced in His promise in 1 John 1:9 to not only forgive, but to cleanse me from all unrighteousness. This angry part of my heart will be cleansed.
Next in these verses, God gives the solution to anger: humility.
“and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls”
Pride says that my way of anger is better; but humility accepts God’s Word.
Humility says, “God, Your way is better,” and, in the moment that I agree with God, change happens. My relationship with God is strengthened because, in that moment, I am trusting God above myself. Every good relationship is built on a deepening and growing foundation of trust; and, each time I live my life according to God’s Word, my trust in Him increases.
These verses in James weren’t new to me; I’d known them before. In fact, in the midst of temptation to anger, I had even mumbled them under my breath hoping they would supernaturally take away the urge to lose my temper. But it didn’t work that way because God doesn’t work that way. He doesn’t want “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” obedience. He wants our hearts. He wants to free us from our pride and enable us to humbly accept His word which has been planted in our hearts. He wants to save our souls, piece by piece. Mumbling a verse on anger under my breath may remind me of God’s Word, but it lacks power to change unless I admit my sin of pride in thinking that my way is better than God’s way. In reading these verses I was convicted at how quick I am to get angry to produce obedience in my children, and how God’s way of lovingly and patiently teaching and training to produce obedience is so far superior. These verses actually say that anger doesn’t even achieve the righteousness that God desires. It might produce obedience motivated by fear, but if I am striving to be more like Christ then I should be striving to lovingly and patiently teach and train my children so that their obedience will be motivated by grace and love. If I am to be a visible representation of the invisible God to my children then I need to do this God’s way!
I’m so thankful for a God who desires a relationship with sinners and promises to radically renovate our hearts. He takes us, anger and all, and transforms us to be unique reflections of Himself, and does so through a gracious and gentle relationship of trust. To God be the glory! Amen!