Little things

It’s funny — I’ve been pondering a post about my tendency to overreact get frustrated and upset over little things, and I was trying to find the quote below by Amy Carmichael. I thought I had written about it before, and when I searched and found this post, I was convicted and instructed all over again. This was better than what I had in mind to write now. This is from August 2007. Obviously I haven’t completely learned the lesson yet. Maybe I should read this regularly.

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Sometimes it seems easier to trust the Lord for the big trials of life rather than the little things.

When a major crisis comes my way, I realize it’s too big for me. I’m acutely aware of my need for God’s grace and strength. I feel myself sinking, like Peter, and cry out for help almost instinctively.

But when I encounter some smaller provocation — when someone interrupts what I am doing; when I’m trying to wrap up computer time or I’m just logging in for something quickly and my computer decides to run extremely slowly or “time out” on the connections I am trying to make; when I am running late to an appointment and hit every red light along the way; when another driver cuts me off; when I am in a hurry at the grocery store and find the shortest check-out line only to have the customer in front of me encounter some time-consuming problem; when I give dinner a quick stir and slosh red sauce over the side of the pan and onto the stove, the floor, and/or myself — then too often I react with simmering impatience, carnal anger, unloving harshness, discouragement or depression.

Amy Carmichael once wrote:

The hardest thing is to keep cheerful (and loving) under little things that come from uncongenial surroundings, the very insignificance of which adds to their power to annoy, because they must be wrestled with, and overcome, as in the case of larger hurts. Some disagreeable habit in one to whom we may owe respect and duty, and which is a constant irritation or our sense of the fitness of things, may demand of us a greater moral force to keep the spirit serene than an absolute wrong committed against us. (1)

“Well, I was provoked.”

Love…is not easily provoked. I Corinthians 13:5

“I’m only human.”

Yes. That’s the problem, not an excuse. With the exception of One, all humans have a sinful nature. Our natural reaction is likely to be a selfish one. As Christians we’re called to have a supernatural reaction.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance. Galatians 5:22-23.

Even on the highway or in a check-out line.

Thank God there is forgiveness with Him, His mercies are new every morning, and if we confess our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness(I John 1:9).

But how can I get the victory over wrong reactions to little provocations and react in a right manner the next time?

  • I think first of all by not excusing it, but recognizing it as sin and confessing it to Him.
  • A careful evaluation of using my time better is a good practical solution to some situations, such as stopping whatever I am doing soon enough to leave early enough for an appointment so that a few red lights (which really don’t last as long as they seem to) will not cause me to be late (or agitated).
  • Putting it into perspective. A little thing is just a little thing. Being a Christian doesn’t mean every little bump in the road is going to be removed.
  • Then relinquishing control of my life and time and schedule into the Lord’s hands will help me to handle interruptions better. Have you ever studied the life of Christ with an eye toward how much He was interrupted? It’s enlightening. Even when He was interrupted during prayer or on his way to perform a miracle, He never reacted harshly or impatiently.
  • I need to relinquish the “I” factor as well. Some of the agitation I experience is simply my thwarted desire for things to go my way. I mentioned in an earlier post that another of Amy Carmichael’s experiences that helped me was when she felt the “I” “rising hotly” in her toward one who was unfair and dominating, and she realized that moment was a chance to die to self. “See in this which seems to stir up all you most wish were not stirred up — see in it a chance to die to self in every form. Accept it as just that – a chance to die.”
  • Remembering that my testimony before others is at stake helps as well. “That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:25). I sometimes think of Satan standing before God and accusing that Job only served God because God blessed him, but let Satan take away Job’s blessings, and he would curse God. I envision him saying of me, “Yes, she acts like a nice Christian at church, but let me trip her up here and there and see how she reacts.” We not only forget that we are a testimony to others in our homes and at check-out lines, but we forget that our testimonies are as far-reaching as heaven. Rosalind Goforth was a missionary wife to China during years in which the Chinese were quite suspicious of and disdainful toward “foreign devils.” To try to alleviate those feelings and establish relationships with the Chinese, the Goforths would allow crowds of the curious into their home to look around and to talk with them. This resulted in some agitation and disruption as well as theft of some of their belongings, but overall they felt it was worth it. Of one particular day, Rosalind writes:

The day had been an unusually strenuous one, and I was really very tired. Toward evening, a crowd of women burst through the living room door and came trooping in before I had time to meet them outside. One woman set herself out to make things unpleasant. She was rough and repulsive and– well, just indescribably filthy. I paid no attention to her except to treat her as courteously as the rest. But when she put both hands to her nose, saying loudly, “Oh, these foreign devils, the smell of their home is unbearable!” my temper rose in a flash and, turning on her with anger, I said, “How dare you speak like that? Leave the room!” The crowd, sensing a “storm,” fled. I heard one say, “That foreign devil woman has a temper just like ours!”

Now, I had not noticed that the door of my husband’s study was ajar, not did I know that he was inside, until, as the last woman disappeared, the door opened and he came forward, looking solemn and stern. “Rose, how could you so forget yourself?” he said. “Do you realize that just one such incident may undo months of self-sacrificing, loving service?”

“But Jonathan” I returned, “you don’t know how she — “

But he interrupted. “Yes, I do; I heard all. You certainly had reason to be annoyed; but were you justified, with all that is hanging in the balance and God’s grace to keep you patient?”

As he turned to re-enter his study, he said, “All I can say is I am disappointed!

Oh, how that last word cut me! I deserved it, yes, but, oh, I did so want to reach up to the high ideals he had. A tempestuous time followed alone in our inner room with my Lord. as I look back now, it was all just one farther step up the rocky hillside of life — just climbing! (2)*

  • The verses mentioned above in Galatians 5 say that gentleness, long-suffering, self-control, etc., are all a part of the fruit of the Spirit. Maintaining time in the Word so He can speak to me through it, yielding to His control throughout the day, memorizing verses in the areas I am having trouble with, sending out a quick prayer for help when I feel that agitation and frustration building up will all help in gaining the victory.

Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:16.

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(1) Houghton, Frank. Amy Carmichael of Dohnavur. (Fort Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade, 1983), 86-87.

(2) Goforth, Rosalind. Climbing. (USA: Bethel Publishing), 45-46.

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16 thoughts on “Little things

  1. *When I posted this the first time, someone took issue with Jonathan’s Goforth’s response to his wife in the illustration above, thinking he should have been a little more sympathetic and suggesting that the lost need to understand that we’re not perfect and sinless.

    1) Evidently what Jonathan said and how he said it were just what Rosalind needed to bring her to conviction. A theme she deals with all through the book is her lack of love and tendency toward wanting her own way, and by the end of the book the nationals they interacted with had a much different testimony of her.

    2) Yes, lost people or new Christians need to understand that though we are changed we’re not sinless, but this was a matter of first impressions. Jonathan was right that a harsh reaction could undo much positive ministry. Though understanding her annoyance, his point that it was not an excuse and she could have accessed God’s grace to react in a right manner. We’re too prone to excuse our sin, perhaps because forgiveness is so accessible. While God is willing to forgive true repentance, He wants us to grow in grace and learn and overcome.

  2. I too demand a good bit from myself and get upset over little things. Balance of striving toward the good, while admitting responsibility is necessary to achieve.

  3. I think we all do this from time to time. I have to say I used to be much MUCH worse about it — I have grown – but I’m still human – and this reminder of what SHOULD BE is certainly a good one! I absolutely agree with her husband’s response in the example — because so much CAN be undone by JUST such an incident — and especially on first impressions. Being a Christian will NEVER be an EASY thing! … but it is certainly a JOYOUS thing!

  4. It’s funny how we all react to the small things. I’ve been just as guilty doing that. I don’t like it when I do and the older I get I seem to get better at dealing with it. Excellent post my friend 🙂

  5. I once was the queen of impatience. If I had to wait, or if hurrying actually slowed me down, my temper would rise and my tongue would sharpen. I knew something had to change.

    I picked up my NIV study Bible and the matching Concordance and I did a word study on patience. There are 44 verses in the NIV Bible that directly discuss the virtue of patience. I meditated and journaled on one everyday — after first praying for God to help me understand how to control my impatience and to instead react as he would wish.

    In contemplating each verse I also read any included study notes and related verses. In this way I spent about a half an hour every day contemplating my need to remain patient — and by the end of the study I was much calmer and more in control.

    That was 10 years ago. I am currently thinking of doing the study again. It takes at least a half hour of every day and includes journaling one’s thoughts.

  6. Impatience is still something that bugs me but my family and friends say that I’m so much better now compared to last time. At least now my tolerance level has improved tremendously and I don’t snap at everything and anything that comes or blocks my way. I have God to thank for for that. And thanks for this post, Barbara!

  7. The first time I read this, I did not notice that yours was the first comment. I was in a rush this morning (which is why I’ve come back now) and didn’t read all the comments like I usually do. You know, it never occurred to me that her husband responded to her inappropriately. Amoeba and I rebuke each other. We else can better keep us in line with our own ideals than our best friends and mates?

    Do I like it when Amoeba rebukes me? No. But I can’t remember an instance when I didn’t deserve it.

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