My twelve-year-old self had a violent temper. My fuse was short, and my bursts of anger detonated at perceived-insults as unexpectedly as bursts of laughter explode at well-timed jokes. Without the mutually pleasant consequences.
I once chased my older brother Andy around the house with a knife. I don’t remember what he had done (probably something HEINOUS), but I remember him chuckling as he easily evaded my thrusts. His laughter did nothing to calm my storm.
I hated my uncontrollable anger, so I memorized verses about the angry man:
- A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.
- Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty.
- But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.
Whenever I sensed an outburst begin to rise, I tried to calm myself by repeating those memorized verses. It even worked a few times, but not for long. I soon boiled over again.
When I was thirteen, a friend offered to pray for anything I wanted. I asked him to pray for my anger problem. Six months later, he asked how I was doing, and I realized I hadn’t lost my temper once since he prayed. I hadn’t even had to fight it.
My explosive temper had been miraculously defused.
Since then, I’ve asked God to take away other bad habits, and he’s never acted again so instantly. He usually works slower, a little less dramatically, and (it seems) less miraculously.
When we first become Christians, we think all our problems will disappear. Some do, and some don’t. We still find ourselves anxious, thin-skinned, lustful, self-focused, or critical. But your daily problems and mine are different:
- Some of us live lives of daily anxiety; others worry once in a blue moon.
- Some of us constantly embellish stories to spotlight our greatness; others exaggerate our prowess only on leap-years.
- Some of us fly off the handle at the slightest hint of an insult; others explode only on the fourth of July.
But we all have some chronic habits. We know them as well as we know our best friends. (Our friends know them pretty well too.) We struggle to rid ourselves of these unwelcome guests: we memorize scripture, tell ourselves to stop being anxious, and berate ourselves when we fail again—for the third time this morning.
And sometimes God miraculously takes the problem away. Yippee! But most of the time, it doesn’t work that way. There has to be a reason.
Here’s What I Think
God himself wants to be our daily companion. If he removed our chronic failures in the blink of an eye, we would go on our merry way. (We do it in other areas; God gives us a blueprint for our lives, we say, “Thank you very much,” and we start building without him.)
God wants more than mere absence of sin. More than perfect robots, he wants us as constant companions. So he doesn’t just remove our chronic failures with the snap of his holy fingers. God could snap his holy fingers and I’d instantly be free of those frustrating habits that irritate me (and others). But he hasn’t. (Ask my family.)
More than perfection, God wants me to learn to dwell with his life in me.
Sometimes Slow-Cooked is Better
What triggers our habitual sins? We’re anxious because we “know” what we need and we believe God won’t get it right; we exaggerate stories about ourselves because we feel insignificant; we explode in anger because we dislike our circumstances, and we try to control them with blunt force.
Our anger, anxiety, and self-serving stories are symptoms of our deepest problems. If we really believed that God wants the best for us, anxiety would disappear. If we believed God values us and he’s orchestrating circumstances to bring about something glorious in us, our exaggerations and anger would evaporate.
More than the miracle of getting more sin out of our lives, we need the miracle of getting more of God into our lives. It is the life of God in us that brings healing.
Feel free to disagree. It won’t tick me off. And that’s a miracle.