When life is most intense, when the pressure is on, we can be given to making excuses for losing our temper, talking over people, or just plain ignoring what others may be trying to tell us. I mean, can’t people see what we are dealing with? Unfortunately, this does not seem to be the way God intends for us to respond to the intense pressures of life. James, the brother of Jesus and the first bishop of the Jerusalem church, wrote to the early Christians about how to behave.
“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it -not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it- they will be blessed in what they do.” James 1:19-25 NIV
WHOA!! EVERYONE? Are you sure, James? I mean, I can’t imagine that James could understand the pressures we live under. Well, actually, he did and more. The people to whom James wrote this letter were being persecuted for their faith. You can read about their persecution in the book of Acts. The book of Acts tells us that the persecution was so bad that Christians had to leave Jerusalem to survive (Acts 8:1). The pressure they were facing was life-threatening, not unlike the life-threatening circumstances that present-day refugees experience.
So, yes, James’ instruction is for everyone, even us who are living a couple of millennia after his words were written. I’m currently a pastor, but for 15 years of my life, I was a stay-at-home mom. I had three kids in three years, and a few years later, the baby of the family came along. At the beginning of my journey as a mother, I felt the most intense pressure of my life. I was not persecuted for my faith, like the early Christians, and I had not run from my country like a current-day refugee. Still, many times, the pressure was so intense, I felt like those kiddos were hunting me down to take my life (just try going to the bathroom with a houseful of toddlers, or eating a cookie, or answering the phone, or anything that seemed routine before having kids). During those years, when I was at home and my children were very young, I often used the pressure of my life as an excuse for losing my temper, talking over my kids, and just plain ignoring what they tried to communicate to me. One of my kids even added me to their Sunday School prayer list. He asked his teacher to pray for his mom to have self-control.
When I think about James’ instruction to the early Christians in Jerusalem, I don’t see room for the excuses I once used for my bad behavior. In all circumstances, we are to be “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” Notice he does not say we should not become angry. Anger is appropriate at times. However, James does tell us that “human anger does not produce righteousness.” Human anger is self-centered and uncontrolled. It lacks the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Human anger gives an outlet for selfishness and usually produces fear or rebellion in the person we bestow it upon. No matter how high the pressure of life is, when we talk over, ignore, or lose our temper with our kids, spouses, friends, or co-workers, we are unlikely to get a good result.
So, how do we live under pressure and treat others well? James tells us to accept the word, or the message that we have been given. He tells us to not only listen but to do the message. He is referencing Jesus’ teaching seen in Matthew 7:21. There, Jesus teaches that it is not the one who calls “Lord, Lord” that knows God, “but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” Scripture tells us that God’s will is for us to believe in the one He sent, to believe that Jesus is the full representation of God to us. This is the message, this is the word that we are to build our lives upon. We must look “intently into the perfect law that gives freedom” on a daily basis. This is our only hope for living well under pressure. As we consider the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, His words and actions, His references to the Old Testament, His giving of the Holy Spirit, His working through the Holy Spirit in the lives of the apostles, we will become those who are quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.
We have tools to empower us to listen to Jesus and live as He lived. First and foremost, when we believe that Jesus is the son of God, the Holy Spirit comes to live within us. We then can approach the words of the Bible and join the community of the church where the Holy Spirit will continue to reveal more and more the message of Jesus. The daily choice to believe is the doing that results in a life well-lived. So, to all of you living under pressure, it may seem impossible at times to live well, but we can be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry under the pressure of life, as we look intently to Jesus, and be examples of righteousness to those around us.