"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." (James 1:19–20 NLT)
I had been lied to, betrayed, and hurt. I was angry and felt I had every right to be. Anger crushed my desire to forgive. Although I'd asked God to fill my heart with mercy, I kept a running mental list of justifications for my anger that overrode my empty prayers.
My internal dialogue was one big argument. One voice tried to convince me I was justified in remaining angry; another voice tried to persuade me that mercy was the right choice. For months, the loudest voice was the one that indulged my damaged emotions: Yes, I have a right to be angry. Anyone would agree.
Listening to the voice of bitterness and unforgiveness, I often lashed out with impatience and meanness. I could play the good Christian girl for short periods of time, but if something triggered my suppressed emotions, hostility and resentment catapulted to the surface.
Reading Scripture one morning, I sensed God inviting me to consider the direction my anger was taking me and the damage it was doing. As I read the words from James 1, I couldn't help but notice how it says "everyone" should be slow to speak and slow to anger. This truth from God's Word left no room for my excuses or righteous indignation, even though I felt like my anger was justified. And then a few verses later, I read this: "Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says" (James 1:22).
From a worldly perspective, I knew I had every right to be angry. But from God's perspective, my anger only added to the sin of the situation. My refusal to extend the same mercy and forgiveness God had given me was preventing me from living out the gospel.
Through the words of James, God softened my heart. I acknowledged that although I said I'd forgiven this person with my words, I had not forgiven with my heart—and it was time to do so and move on.
In every area of life, including managing our most powerful emotions, God tells us to be quick to listen (to Him and others), slow to speak, and slow to become angry. As we apply these practices in our relationships, we become doers of His Word, not just hearers, and that leads to the righteousness God desires.
Dear Lord, please forgive me for harboring anger. Equip me with a supernatural ability to forgive those who have hurt me. Guard my heart when old emotions threaten to surface. Strip my heart of anger and replace it with joy. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Has anger taken hold of your heart and you're not sure how to release it? Find freedom and hope in our newest book, Encouragement for Today: Devotions for Everyday Living.
You may notice the sections below differ from our normal format. That's because today's devotion is a sample pulled directly from Encouragement for Today. We've put together 100 devotions in which you'll find courage to rise above life's challenges and defeat lingering anger. Click here for your copy.
Visit Tracie Miles' blog to read about 5 ways to handle anger in a biblical way.
Anger only worsens any situation, but selfless forgiveness brings freedom. We are all called to forgive even when wronged, just as God forgives us.
Whom have you been harboring anger toward or withholding forgiveness from? Have these feelings caused you to feel bitter?
Pour out your heart to God today, telling Him how you feel. Then write out a prayer of forgiveness for the one who hurt you, surrendering that burden to God, and asking Him to replace your feelings of bitterness with peace and joy.
Ephesians 4:26–27; Ephesians 4:30–31
Taken from Encouragement for Today: Devotions for Everyday Living by Renee Swope, Lysa TerKeurst and Samantha Evilsizer and the Proverbs 31 Ministries Team. © 2013 Proverbs 31 Ministries. Used by permission of Zondervan. www.zondervan.com.