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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading |James 1:17–27

Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.

You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing. If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.  (NRSV)

Over the years, I have valued the practical wisdom recorded in the letter of James. The author’s advice speaks in a very timely way to us in our current circumstances.

Several phrases struck me as I read these verses. We are to be “quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger.” How might our personal interactions, as well as our social discourse, be enhanced if we listened to one another first, retraining our impulsive responses and our angry outbursts? Furthermore, the author persists with an emphatic exhortation: “Bridle your tongues.”

Listening is a faithful discipline I struggle to cultivate. It is all too easy to interrupt with our own passionate perspective. And angry accusations seem to be the order of the day. Yet anger readily hurts others, impeding the opportunity for civil discourse and any chance we have to learn from those with whom we disagree.

Anger was clearly an obstacle in the early church, as it is today. Whenever we are tempted to let loose with our angry emotions, we are reminded that “anger does not produce God’s righteousness.” I know that I have a lot of work to do!

God of wisdom, God of reconciliation, thank you for challenging me and all your people to do the hard work of discipleship. Help me to listen ever more carefully to friends, family, and neighbors. Restrain me from taking the detours of a too-quick response or angry outburst. Amen.

Written by Jeffrey Doane, Parish Associate for Older Adults

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