Sometimes it seems easier to trust the Lord for the big trials of life rather than the little irritations.
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 my computer acts up; 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 the customer in front of me has 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?
- First of all, instead excusing it, recognize it as sin and confess it to Him.
- Carefully evaluate and use my time better, such as such as stopping whatever I am doing early enough for an appointment so that a few red lights will not cause me to be late (or agitated), slowing down and take the necessary time to accomplish something so haste doesn’t create more problems, etc.
- Fix the issue, if possible. Find out if there is something wrong with the computer, gently ask the other person to refrain from or change whatever they are doing, etc.
- Put 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.
- Relinquish 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.
- 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.” (1)
- Do unto others as I would have them do unto me. I need to remember that I’m probably unwittingly irritating someone else sometimes who is graciously (I hope) being forbearing with me. I need to handle the irritations that come from other people as graciously as I would want them to handle mine. Instead of focusing on the irritant, I need to focus on that person as another child of the Father whom He loves every bit as much as He loves me and seek ways to serve him or her.
- Forbear. A former pastor used to say forbearing was just good old-fashioned putting up with each other. In Ephesians 4:1-3, Paul says, “I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Not just forbearing, but forbearing in love. “Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins,” (I Peter 4:8). Colossians 3:12-14 says, “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.”
- Remember that my testimony before others is at stake. “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 Satan 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’re not only 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 when 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)*
One time when I posted Rosalind’s experience, a commenter took offense at Jonathan’s response to his wife, thinking he should have been a little more sympathetic and suggesting that the lost need to understand that we’re not perfect. But Rosalind felt that what Jonathan said and how he said it were just what she 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. 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 was that it was not an excuse and she could have accessed God’s grace to react in a right manner.
- 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.
- Pray. Part of a prayer I often pray from Colossians 1:9-14 is I might be “Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness” (verse 11). That’s also a reminder to focus not just on avoiding irritation but to also cultivate the positive: longsuffering and patience with joyfulness.
- Remember “we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us. (Romans 5:3-5, KJV). Even the little tribulations can be used by God to grow and sanctify us. Elisabeth Elliot wrote in A Lamp For My Feet (and it encourages me that she felt this way about some people, too, sometimes):
How can this person who so annoys or offends me be God’s messenger? Is God so unkind as to send that sort across my path? Insofar as his treatment of me requires more kindness than I can find in my own heart, demands love of a quality I do not possess, asks of me patience which only the Spirit of God can produce in me, he is God’s messenger. God sends him in order that he may send me running to God for help.
This is true of irritating situations and intimate objects as well as people. Like sandpaper they can help rub off our sharp edges.
- Behold our God. II Corinthians 3:18 says we’re changed more and more into Christ’s likeness as we behold Him. When I look inside and tell myself I need to be more kind, loving, forbearing, etc., I get discouraged and fail because I don’t have it in myself. “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not” (Romans 7:18). But when I look at Him, that irritability seems to just melt away. “The Lord is gracious, and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy. The Lord is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works.” (Psalm 145:8-9).
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.
(1) Houghton, Frank. Amy Carmichael of Dohnavur. (Fort Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade, 1983), 86-87.
(2) Goforth, Rosalind. Climbing. (USA: Bethel Publishing, 1940), 45-46.
(Revised from the archives)