The thought of having to wait for a slushie to be made appears to have been just too much to endure recently, so a McDonald’s customer physically assaulted the fast food worker. In another culinary conflict, an employee started punching a customer who had allegedly thrown a milkshake on her. We’re living in a day when passions are running roughshod over reason, where tantrums erupt over trivia, and where thoughtful debate has been tossed aside in favor of blaring out intractable demands with bullhorns. It seems as though qualities like social courtesy have slipped into the category of whimsical nostalgia, joining the list of things we enjoyed back in the “good ole’ days.”
Overworked Emotions ~
With so many issues from politics to the plastic straw crisis pulling at our emotional apparatus, exploring how to deal with passion from God’s point of view is worthwhile, and some admonitions from the book of James are especially helpful. On the one hand, God offers positive approval for passion with James’ affirmation that the effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much (James 5:16, NKJV). But He also discourages yielding to our impulsive natural tendencies when things don’t go our way and calls us to a “counterintuitive” response with counter-cultural potential.
Most of us consider trials to be unwelcome and sometimes painful intrusions into our lives, and we don’t tend to react to them favorably. Whether physical, emotional, spiritual, relational, or legal, they aren’t usually greeted with an impromptu rendition of Snoopy’s “happy-dance of joy.” But like it or not, trials that deplete our resources and test the limits of our capacities are unavoidable. In the face of our trials, God advocates a response that is so radically unnatural, it demands supernatural assistance. James presents it this way:
My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. (James 1:2-4, NKJV)
But How Do We Get There?
That may be easy to say, but how in the world do we get to a point where we can look at something that may be painful and unfair and consider it beneficial? James offers another helpful admonition in that regard.
So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God. (James 1:19-20, NKJV)
This directive isn’t intended to totally impede a response. It’s an encouragement to investigate what’s really going on before we pull the trigger on some impulsive reaction that we might regret later. God wants us to understand that there is a resolution that is best both for us and for our representation of Him. In every conflict or confrontation, there’s a “right” outcome to be sought, and our unbridled anger isn’t going to produce or reveal it. Devoting our passions to vindictive counter-attacks is more likely to exacerbate the problem and add fuel to the fire than to resolve the instigating issue.
Focusing the Energy ~
God isn’t saying that there’s no place for anger. After all, He himself experiences it. Neither is He saying that we cannot or should not speak out against evil. Jesus did and so should we. God’s intent is to drive the energy latent in those natural responses toward the place where they can do the most good. He wants the powerful forces that energize our impassioned speech to target an outcome that He would consider “right;” i.e., an outcome that opens the door to actually solving the precipitating problem.
Finally, James suggests that we look to the example of the Old Testament prophets for guidance:
My brethren, take the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience. Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord–that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful. (James 5:10-11, NKJV)
When our hearts are crying out for some kind of payback, some powerful, vindicating act of judgment, we’re invited to emulate the prophets. Before making public display of the passions raging inside us, we’re to bring it all into our personal engagement with the One who sent us. We can unload our agonizing words and our exasperating, inexpressible pain, grief, anger, and confusion before Him. Then, as tears flow along with our words, God offers to do something powerful. James likens it to putting a “bit” in a horse’s mouth. Now, obviously, we aren’t horses, but there’s a similar principle full of incredible potential in what God seeks to do: Indeed, we put bits in horses’ mouths that they may obey us, and we turn their whole body. (James 3:3, NKJV)
An Equestrian Example ~
I haven’t ridden a horse very often, but I’ll never forget the feeling of having that huge, powerful creature under me and the ease with which I could direct him with a simple tug of the reins in my hands. The bit didn’t weaken him, and the bridle didn’t imprison him — quite the opposite. It was the application of the bridle that turned him loose and set him free from the corral. God doesn’t want our hearts muffled and our mouths muzzled. He wants them “bridled” — free to go where He leads, free to feel whatever we’re capable of feeling and free to unleash our hearts with all the passion inside us . . . but only with the reins in His nail-scarred hands, and only with the outcome in view that He considers “right.”
Passion can be frightening when unrestrained because passion and power are connected. For good or for evil, they come together. The great redemptive movements of God have always been accompanied by at least two things — prayer and passion. Prayer is where God applies the “bridle,” and it doesn’t minimize our strength or hamstring our opportunities to affect change — it’s an invitation to be free to use all we have to do exactly that.
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- “In every #conflict or #confrontation, there’s a “right” outcome to be sought.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “Devoting our #passions to vindictive #counter-attacks is more likely to exacerbate the problem and add fuel to the fire than to resolve the instigating issue.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “#God doesn’t want our hearts muffled and our mouths muzzled. He wants them “bridled.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “The #GreatRedemptiveMovementsOfGod have always been accompanied by at least two things — #PrayerAndPassion.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
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When I was a youth I had ridden horses a handful of times when I went to a riding trail with a girl I was interested in. When the instructor asked for my level of competence on a horse, I filled in “expert” (after all, I had ridden before more than once, right?). They gave me the meanest, nastiest, ornriest nag in the stable. That horse tried to kill me and almost did. My legs, back and fingernails hurt for weeks. The problem was captured by Moses on the Mount: “Thou shalt not lie.” Yep, there’s consequences to one’s words. Oh, BTW, the girl was never impressed.
Thanks so much for the encouraging comment, and thanks sharing the story–I loved it. God bless you for the bright spot in our day.
Wow, this was so powerful today, Ron. You’ve definitely made me want to pull out my Bible and read James all over again. In contrast to the incidences in your opening paragraph, I wrote recently about a blessed encounter I had at McDonald’s. You can link to it here: https://marthaorlando.blogspot.com/2018/10/they-put-happy-in-happy-meal.html
Thank you, Martha! What a delightful little story–and what an uplifting example of God’s power to take a simple gesture and use it to take blessing and encouragement and extend it beyond those who were directly involved. It reminds me of an episode that I read about a few weeks ago that stands in stark contrast to your story. In that situation, an irate customer apparently threw a milkshake on a McDonald’s employee because she didn’t like something about how her order was handled. The distinction between that story and yours is remarkable and very instructive. The other situation was characterized by contagious anger, hateful exchanges and ultimately the loss of someone’s job. Not only did no one in that story get anything they wanted, some even lost what they already had. In your story, your granddaughter not only got the lunch you promised, but people not even involved were blessed with more than they expected–including people like me who were blessed with the privilege to read about it. Now… I think I’ll pause and run out to “Mickey D’s” and get me some chicken nuggets.