It’s a new year! Do you have a New Year’s resolution yet? If not, let me invite you to join me in mine: as followers of Jesus, let’s resolve to reject anger in 2021.
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking in the last few months about James chapter 1, verses 19 and 20. In the NIV, these verses read: “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.”
Many of us are familiar with verse 19, and we know we should listen more, talk less, and control our tempers. The world would certainly be a better place if we in the church were known for being patient listeners rather than for shouting our opinions from the rooftops. But the words that have been ringing in my ears lately come from verse 20: anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.
Christians find it easy to justify our anger. We tell ourselves that our boiling-hot political posts on social media are like Jesus turning over the tables of the money-changers in the temple courts. Sure they are. We are quick to point out that Psalm 4:4 and Ephesians 4:26 say “In your anger do not sin,” which must mean it’s possible to be angry and not sin, and therefore anger itself is not a sin. This is true, but is not sinning really all we’re shooting for? Yes, we can and will be angry, and it’s possible to avoid doing damage when we are, but how much good are we doing? Dallas Willard, one of my favorite Christian thinkers, says that there is nothing we do in anger that we couldn’t do better without it. Anger may not be a sin, but it’s not doing us any favors either. And God’s Word tells us that it does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.
Think about that. There is a life that God desires for you, and it is the best possible life. There is no better life than the one God envisions for you. And anger will not get you there. There is a person God desires you to be. A year from now, God wants to see you more full of love, joy, and peace than you are right now. He wants to make you more like His Son. There is no better you than the person God intends you to be. And anger will not get you there. It does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.
If you’re like me, this past year gave you plenty of reasons to be angry. We’re tired of life being on hold, tired of fear, tired of uncertainty, tired of masks, tired of politicians, tired of the media, tired of people on the other side of the argument who are just as angry as we are. This past year our family had some really good plans cancelled. Our house took too long to sell, and then sold for less than we hoped. We moved away from good friends and then weren’t allowed to make new ones. We lost my father. It has been a year of setbacks, frustrations and disappointments. The kinds of things that make us angry.
But anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. Church, if we take God at His Word, then we will believe that anger is holding us back. When we choose it, when we give ourselves permission to wallow in it, we are not becoming more like Jesus. We are not displaying Him in all His glory to the lost world around us. We are missing out. God offers us a life of freedom and purpose and peace. Will we receive it? Then we must reject anger.
So how do we do that? The answer is Jesus. His cross shows us that we achieve victory through surrender and trust, not taking up arms. It shows us that we serve a just God who punishes every wrong in His perfect timing, so we don’t have to. His Spirit can remove our anger and replace it with His peace. He is quick to listen, and will hear us when we pour our our hearts to Him. He knows that much of our anger is really fear and sadness, and he alone has the power to heal those things, if we will let Him.
So will you join me? In this coming year, I want to receive and experience all that God has for me. I want the life He desires for me, and I want to become the person He desires me to be. I don’t want to miss out because of anger. Let’s bring our anger to Him and let Him replace it with something far better in 2021.
Jesus, I am angry about _________ and _________ and __________. I know that your anger is always righteous, but often mine is not. I want to live the life you want for me. Please heal my heart where it is sad or afraid. Please replace my anger with your love, joy, and peace, so I can shine with your light in this coming year. I love you. Amen.