As quarantine seems to be drawing to an end (at least round one!), let’s take stock of our situation. Many folks have observed that our homes seem to have gotten smaller over these past few weeks. When you are in close proximity to fellow sinners (even fellow sinners that you love a lot), it becomes challenging.
Let’s consider what is it about being so close to fellow sinner that makes things challenging, and what can we do about it?
Think about a sponge filled with liquid. When the sponge gets squeezed, what happens to that liquid? Of course, it flies out. Rubbing up against other people in close quarters creates pressure. That pressure squeezes out what is inside of us. Sadly, we often have liquid selfishness living inside of us.
Listen to these words from the Bible. “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (James 4:1-3).
If you don’t like the idea of being murderously angry, just change the terms to irritated, frustrated, or upset. I think every one of us has experienced at least one of those emotions recently. If you think about it, they are connected. The passionate anger of James 4 is only a difference in degree from everyday irritability.
If that is the case, what does this passage tell us is the source of our anger? We want something that we don’t have. We are selfish. The circumstances and people on the outside of us don’t create the liquid, they squeeze the sponge to reveal it. An important question to ask yourself when you are angry (or grumpy or frustrated) is: “What do I want right now?”
Sometimes the things that you want are not bad things. Perhaps you just want the WiFi to work. Maybe you crave quiet to get work done or enjoy a show on TV. You might just want your job to go back to how it was a few weeks ago. You want your kids to get along with each other.
The ugliness of our reactions to these desires (again, some of them are perfectly legitimate desires) is when we stack up our plan next to God’s plan for our day. In other words, when you factor in God’s sovereignty over the details of our lives, then you discover that your passions are coming from a heart that wants something different than God has for you.
I hope you would never verbalize this kind of thinking, but if you break down your angry reaction, couldn’t you be saying something like this: “No God! I don’t want my situation to be like you have planned it. I want it my way instead. And since my will is not being done, I’m really mad about it!”
Under quarantine, we’ve had other juicy selfish people bumping up on us far more than usual. Our plans have been wrecked. Some of us have lost wages or jobs. We don’t know what the future will hold. We are being squeezed, and we are found to be selfish.
James goes on in his letter to give a punchy solution to our selfishness––repentance. “‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (James 4:6-8).
God knows quarantine has been a tough squeeze. But God doesn’t do rivals. Your anger comes from your selfish heart. Your selfish heart thinks your plan for your life is better than God’s plan. Perhaps one of the results of this quarantine is God putting his finger on your infected heart. Yes, it hurts, but it is the kind of pain that urges you to seek treatment.
Tell God what he already knows about your sin (that is the definition of confession, by the way). Ask him to forgive you. Because God punished Jesus on the cross in the place of sinners, God can be just and still forgive you for every selfish thought you’ve ever had.
Next, you should seek forgiveness from the people your anger has hurt. Remember, how James started in James 4? Anger produces fights, murders, and even wars. Usually, even if you have lived more on the frustrated side of the anger spectrum, there have been casualties of your attitudes. Admit it to them and ask them to forgive you. Forgiveness heals.
To flush out the bad liquid of selfishness from your heart, you should replace it with good liquid of love. Our culture defines love romantically, but really love is about meeting the needs of someone else. Love is the exact opposite of selfishness. God’s love for us was not about romance, it was God giving us Jesus to meet our ultimate need (John 3:16).
So, as we come to the end of quarantine, who can you serve? Think for just a moment or two about some of the people who have been squeezing you. What do they need? What would make their day? How could you surprise them? It may not even take that much effort from you, but it could return a huge investment in your relationship.
Ask the Lord to help you see your selfishness. Ask for his forgiveness. Ask for him to fill your heart with love. Ask him for eyes to see new ways to do acts of love to those around you. These are prayers that the Lord loves to answer!
By John Crotts