Several years ago I became aware of how petty and impatient I can be. Most of the time it has to do with people that waste my time. One day it hit me while waiting in line to pay for something that I had a pattern in my life where I was getting aggravated.
When I arrive to the cashier I have my debit card out ready to pay and get out of the way of the people behind me. My frustration came from two scenarios. I would be in the line waiting (I don’t mind that as much) and I would note the cashier give the customer the total. Then the internal churning starts for me.
The customer after being told of the cost begins to dig in her purse for a debit card or a check to pay for everything. I’m thinking, “Did you not know at some point you were going to have to pay? What have you been doing while they were ringing your items up? You could have at least have had your card in your hand or made out the date, vendor, and signature on your check?” I’ll be honest, even as I write this I still don’t understand that behavior.
Another aspect of waiting in line that would irritate me is when there was a long line and the cashier and the customer are enjoying a leisurely conversation making the rest of us wait. It’s like they are totally oblivious to everyone else there.
I suppose one reason that it bothers me so much is the thoughtlessness of it. I try to be considerate of making people wait unnecessarily. However, that doesn’t get me off the hook from being so easily provoked. Now I use those times to remind me of my proneness to complain and to ask God to help me with it. I’m not there yet, but I’m making progress.
The most practical book in the world is the Bible. It gives us solutions to our challenges that hinder our relationships within our family. One characteristic of love is that it is “not easily provoked” (I Corinthians 13:5).
At the root of being provoked easily is a lack of love. However, we cannot simply work up love for people that are difficult to love and abrasive. So the answer is not to just purpose to love deeper. We must have God’s enablement to help us.
The term for this in the Bible is grace: God giving us the desire and the ability to do what He has asked us to do. What does this look like in practical terms?
Hear the words of Jesus about this lifestyle of grace – “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you. That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust”. (Matthew 5:43-45)
To live this way is not natural, but supernatural. Not reacting negatively when being provoked is being like Jesus. Jesus Christ, the Creator of the universe, had every reason to destroy us when we provoked Him in the most wicked ways. We spat on him, plucked His beard, mocked His name and assaulted His character.
He could have slain us in a nanosecond. But he didn’t. Why? It was not because He is unable or weak to exact justice, but because He is “slow to anger” and “rich in mercy” (Psalm 103:8). It is Christlike to restrain your displeasure and wrath.
No one can rule their spirit apart from surrendering their rights to God. Subduing an angry spirit doesn’t come through sheer determination, but through yielding your spirit to the Lord.
One that rules their spirit is a powerful person, though they may initially appear weak to others. The Bible says, “The that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city”. (Proverbs 16:32) Don’t ever confuse a meek person that is withholding their temper with a weak person. The weak person is the one that cannot rule their responses when provoked; they just say whatever is on their mind.
Surface indicators that we are provoked are exasperation, irritability, and explosive anger. At the root of this is a simple cause – a lack of love. The Bible says that love is “not easily provoked” (I Corinthians 13:5). Love will prevent us from responding quickly and harshly when we are aggravated.
We cannot change in our own energy to becoming patient when provoked. To try to do so, no matter how sincere, will only lead to more frustration. One of the greatest days in your life is when you realize it is impossible live the Christian life. The only One that ever lived the way a Christian is to live is Christ Jesus.
Apart from the Spirit of Christ living in us and controlling us we will continue to be angry. To conquer our natural propensity to anger we must yield ourselves to the Lord and allow Him to live through us. God not only gives us the desire to do right, but also the ability. This is good news!
We don’t have to be in bondage to habits and destructive behaviors and responses. I love what Adrian Rogers said, “Living for Jesus is not your responsibility, but your response to God’s ability”. It is not in us to do right, but we can do so with His help.
The Bible reflects this truth from Christ’s words – “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine, no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing”. (John 15:4-5)
The branch is powerless to bear fruit apart from the sustaining life-producing nourishment from the vine. This is a metaphor of Christ’s life in us. Abiding in Christ is including God in on everything we do.
The old-timers used to call this the “exchanged life”. That is, Christ’s life is expressed through my life as I yield my will to Him and rest in Him. This truth is taught in several places in the Bible.
“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)
Perhaps you feel that your temper is such a part of your life that you can never change. If you are a believer that is not true. God will give you His strength to be slow to anger and be gracious and meek instead.
“I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” (Philippians 4:13) It isn’t what I can be and do for Christ, but what He can be and do through me as He gives me His life and strength. Conquering a quick temper is not impossible with God’s help. “I can” love the unlovable because it is “Christ which strengthenth me”.
Going to church won’t give you a loving heart, though you can find helpful instruction and good models there; but church attendance alone will not change a person. Bible reading alone will not change a person; it can provide instruction, but just reading words, even God’s words, is not sufficient to produce love in a person. Only allowing Christ to live His life through us will allow us to live like Him and to love people, even when they are difficult to love.
As a cup filled to the brim when jostled overflows with whatever is inside so a person when provoked will respond with whatever is inside of them. True spirituality is not expressed through our actions, but our reactions. We can rehearse and guard our actions, but not so much our reactions.
What sloshes out when we are provoked is what we really are. Under pressure, what is in us is going to come out. “Our of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh….” (Matthew 12:36)
I have spiritual life because Jesus died for me and rose again. As a boy of nine years old I trusted Christ as my Savior and at that very moment Christ came to dwell in my heart. I now had the ability to obey Him and to live like Him. Sure, it wasn’t automatic and I had to yield to Him, but the resource of victory, His life, was there. When I fail to do so, it isn’t His fault, but my own lack of surrender.
Who provokes you? What situations aggravate you? All of us are provoked at times and have certain individuals or environments that irritate us. Even in our families we have situations that cause us to react. The quality of our family life is related to how we respond when we are provoked.
The next time you sense your spirit rising in anger or frustration, ask God to help you respond correctly. Rather than just saying “I love you” to your family, stop being “easily provoked”. That’s what real love is.
“Our patience will achieve more than our force”. (Edmund Burke)