“My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” (James 1:19,20)
One of the basic skills we must acquire to meet life’s challenges successfully is learning how to respond in God-honoring ways to hurtful people, devastating circumstances and crushing disappointments. How we handle our experience of pain in life will lead either to bitterness or it will open the door to blessing.
I find it interesting that this is one of the first lessons God teaches us in Genesis through the example of Cain and Able. In Genesis 4, these two brothers, Cain and Able, offer their sacrifices to God. However, for a reason unknown to us, God finds Able’s sacrifice acceptable, but not Cain’s. Cain is so thoroughly upset over this he sinks into depression, seethes with anger and begins to plot violence against his brother.
God knows the wrestling match going on inside of Cain and comes to him with some life-giving advice:
Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.”
It is important to note that God didn’t explain his reasons for not accepting Cain’s sacrifice and he didn’t address the fairness or unfairness of it, but he focused in on Cain’s heart and challenged him to offer a right response: “Cain, do what is right, then you’ll get rewarded—the choice is yours. But know this: how you choose to respond will either lead to blessing or bitterness.”
The lesson is clear: We cannot always control or even change our circumstances, but we can choose how we are going to respond to them. And how we respond is of utmost importance of God. What happens in us is so much more important to God than what happens to us.
Now fast forward to the ending chapters in Genesis to Joseph’s story. The mistreatment of his brothers and the false accusations of Potiphar’s wife lands him in jail. When, after years of enduring this hardship, he is elevated to the highest position in the land and now has a chance for revenge, how does he respond?
With bitterness? Anger? Retribution? No. His response is one of grace, and grace of the highest order. Why? Because Joseph was convinced that God had ordered his life and therefore could bring good out of his circumstances—if he remained faithful and patient. Here’s Joesph amazing response in Genesis 50:20,
“Am I God to judge and punish you? As far as I am concerned, God turned into good what you meant for evil, for he brought me into this high position I have today so that I could save the lives of many people.”
Are you tempted to complain about your circumstance today? Is there someone who has hurt you deeply? Are you enduring unfair treatment or false accusations? This could be your finest hour…or worst. It all depends on your response. How you handle this will either lead to blessing, or bitterness.
Put your life and circumstances in God’s hands. Be faithful and patience. Offer him your trust and let him work the details out to your advantage. He knows what he is doing. As David said in Psalm 139:16,
“Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.”
Since that is the case, I think we can trust Him! Don’t you?