What we can learn from Jonah about anger

Jonah had an anger problem.  A really big one. Sure he could push it down for a chapter or two (his book only has four chapters), but before long it would come roaring back again. The final chapter closes with Jonah sitting on the side of a mountain, being good and angry at God’s gracious ways.

It actually appears that a bad case of self-pity brought it on. You see, Jonah wanted the Ninevites destroyed, but God granted them a stay of execution. Something that’s allowed if you’re the judge and your heart is gracious (Ps 100:5). But Jonah wanted their punishment bad.  Wanted is the key word here.  When we struggle with self – pity it is always our unmet desires that push the door open; before long we can’t get the focus off of ourselves, no matter how hard we try. 

Self pity says, “I believe that something I wanted and deserved was unfairly kept from me” (Jonah 4:1).

This is where Jonah finds himself. He believes he deserves to see the Ninevite’s destruction. With the destruction of nearly 50 Jewish cities on the Ninevite’s resume, Jonah figures they had it coming. Notice Jonah’s words when God backs off on the initial plans for destruction.

But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? . . . for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love” (Jonah 4:1-2).

Jonah believed that something he wanted and deserved was unfairly kept from him. Think about the word deserved. Did Jonah really deserve to see their destruction? Was he really given the role of both judge and jury?  Had God called him to  prophesy the message and mete out the justice too? The after-effects of a bout with self-pity are anger and the controlling of others.

Because self-pity has its underpinnings in pride its helpful to contrast it with humility. The change of words in the definitions is subtle but essential.

Humility says, “I believe that something I didn’t want, but deserved was graciously kept from me” (1 Cor. 15:9-10).

Paul points this out in 1 Corinthians. He writes,

For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace towards me was not in vain. (1 Cor. 15:9-10).

Because humility believes it doesn’t deserve God’s grace and forgiveness, its after-effects are gratitude and the serving of others.

I don’t want the last chapters of my life to read like Jonah’s–stuck on a mountain and seething in anger. I want them to read like Paul’s–free, though in prison, and thankful for God’s grace. I’m betting you do too.

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Jesus was led by the Spirit

Jesus stepped out of his sandals and into the muddy Jordan. For the first time he noticed the weariness of his feet as the river drifted lazily over them. He had traveled south for three days to get to where the baptizer was working.

 “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness. Make straight the way of the Lord!”John’s voice stirred the crowd that had gathered. Jesus stepped forward into the deeper water drawing ever closer to the one who was baptizing. There was a hint of wonder in John’s tone as he asked Jesus the question, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Jesus smiled and answered, “This is the proper way to do everything God requires of us.”

Descending into the water, Jesus felt the urge to pray.  His lips were moving in a prayer even as he was going under. As he came up from the muddy water, he lifted his face to heaven and kept praying. Earlier he had discovered some of what his Father was asking him do, and now he was affirming his willingness . . . and waiting.

The clouds parted. The sun shone brightly. Or was it more than the sun? For those standing on the shore it appeared as if heaven’s light was shining only on a man in the middle of the river. His face and hands were uplifted in prayer . . . still waiting.

John stepped back, his eyes drawn heavenward in wonder. He had baptized hundreds before, but the likes of this he had never seen. The light was descending. Slowly. Holding . . . Holding . . . Holding. Floating like a dove over the waiting man. Then suddenly the light was gone — almost as if it had entered the man standing waist deep in the river.

It was only then that they heard his voice, the source indistinguishable, but not the words. “This is my Son, my beloved, in whom I am well pleased.” Still standing in the river, Jesus lowered his hands. He looked around at the people’s faces and smiled. They were the reason he had come. He began to move towards the shore. As he did, he felt within him a power he had not previously known. It was through this power that he could help them in their greatest need.

For those who were watching from the shoreline, it appeared as though he left the river differently than he went in. He had gone in of his own accord, but as he neared the shore, it was as if someone was leading him.  Like a guide, but invisible to the eyes of the watchers. . .

Taken from Just Like Jesus-biblical strategies for growing well by Phil Moser, pages 39-40. Available at www.biblicalstrategies.com

Learning to pray like Jesus

Perhaps you’ve seen the picture of Jesus kneeling by a rock in the garden; hands folded, eyes turned upward, the perfect picture of serenity. The gospel writers paint a different picture; it doesn’t include serenity. Mark records that he “fell to the ground” in distress. Luke describes a dangerous condition known as hematidrosis in which, under extreme anguish or physical pain, the capillaries beneath the skin dilate and burst, mixing blood with perspiration. Luke also records that an angel came to strengthen him. Matthew tells us that Jesus pleaded three times that the “cup pass from me” – an Old Testament reference to drinking the “wrath of God.” While Jesus didn’t fear the crucifixion or death, he did fear—and for good reason—the judgment of his Father’s righteous anger against our sin that he was about to embrace.

There is nothing peaceful about this scene. The only one praying was sweating blood, physically exhausted, and emotionally drained, but still clinging to prayer in spite of heaven’s silent answer. In his greatest hour of need, Jesus found prayer to be a sustaining resource, enabling him to do the will of his Father. Having prayed, he knew that his Father knew and that was enough.

Sadly, if you could have joined the prayer meeting in the garden that night, you would have heard more snoring than praying. While the disciples had been taught how to pray, they had not faithfully practiced the truths they had learned. Only Jesus had grown and progressed in his prayer life to the point where he could pray with clear focus in spite of his deep distress.

Taken from Just Like Jesus:biblical stratgies for growing well by Phil Moser, pages 19-20. Available through www.biblicalstrategies.com

Memorizing the Word

Here’s a question: if the Son of God deemed it necessary to memorize the Scripture to defend himself against temptation, why would we think we’re exempt?

Memorize Phrase by Phrase

The Scripture provides the method for memorizing its rich truth. Isaiah recorded, “To whom will he teach knowledge . . . For it is precept upon precept . . . line upon line . . . here a little, there a little.”  The best way I have found to retain biblical passages is to learn a phrase, repeat it until I’ve mastered it, then move on to the next phrase. Once I have the phrases mastered, I begin to link them together. Sometimes I will alter my emphasis on certain words in the phrase; other times I will alter the location where I’m memorizing (my office, the car, my home), but always I am working the phrases and adding the subsequent phrase. As the Scripture says, line upon line, here a little, there a little.

Memorize Day by Day

When it comes to memorizing, I have found it to be more effective to spend a few minutes several times a day, as opposed to a lot of time one day during the week. Simply put, for your mind to permanently retain a truth, you will need to learn it more than once. For me the pattern works like this: Learn it once. Forget it. Relearn it. Forget it again. Relearn it again. Forget less. Relearn it again. Retain it.

While it may sound odd, forgetting is actually a significant part of memory retention. Remembering my need to forget keeps me from growing discouraged. Scripture memory is more of a process than a single event. Having worked on a verse for several days doesn’t mean I will remember it tomorrow morning. I now see the process of forgetting as an essential part of learning the verse.

 Taken from Just Like Jesus: biblical strategies for growing well byPhil Moser, pages 35-36. Available though www.biblicalstrategies.com

Being led by the Spirit

My friend Mike is training to run a marathon. He’s in his fifties, so he watches what he eats and gets up early to run several days a week with friends. He’s always loved running. He once told me that he feels total freedom when he runs, but you’ll never see Mike run alone. He always runs with friends. He’s up to a half marathon now – running with a friend on his left and a friend on his right. It’s not that he lacks the courage to run alone; on the contrary, he has exceptional courage. Mike is legally blind. When he runs, he holds on to one end of a shoe string and his friend holds the other end. So while he cannot see where he’s running, he can still know the freedom he knew prior to losing his eyesight in his twenties.

Running for Mike is only possible because he is willing to be led. His willingness to follow another communicates a tremendous amount of trust in his running partners. He needs them. He depends on them even if they lead him down a path he may not have chosen for himself. He pays a great deal of attention to the slightest movement of the shoe string.

It is said of Jesus that he was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. Jesus was willing to follow, even when it meant going to a place that he might not have chosen for himself. . .

It is significant that both times Paul uses the phrase “led by the Spirit” it is in the context of one’s battle with temptation. This is the context for Jesus as well. Clearly the lesson is this: our greatest need for dependence on the Holy Spirit takes place during our greatest times of temptation.

How might that change the nature of your battle with temptation? What if, when the desires of your heart began to heat up, you gave your undivided attention to the leading of the Holy Spirit? Like Mike, my marathon-running friend, your mind would be focused on the slightest movement of the shoestrings.

The Holy Spirit didn’t lead Jesus into temptation; he led Jesus through the temptation. Jesus needed to be willing to let him lead. So do you, and so do I.

Taken from Just Like Jesus – biblical strategies for growing well by Phil Moser, pages 50-51. Available for purchase at www.biblicalstrategies.com

biblical strategies for growing well

For those of you who are kind enough to follow my blog or receive my emails I’m certain that an explanation is in order for my absence of communication for the past several months.  My writing efforts over the course of the summer have been directed to publishing a small book entitled: Just Like Jesus: biblical strategies for growing well (ISBN: 978-0-9881942-0-5). It was released several weeks ago and is available at the biblical strategies website. www.biblicalstrategies.com Here’s a taste of what you’ll read in the first couple of pages.

Mary fought back the fear rising in her chest. She could feel the muscles in her back tightening uncontrollably. Frightened, she tried to recite the verses she had learned as a child. The contraction subsided, and she rested. There was cause for the fear she felt. Having never known a man, she was about to give birth to a son.

Joseph’s deep voice began to hum a familiar melody. It was just like him to hum only the tune so she would have to voice the lyric. Between contractions, she quietly sang along to the song she had written months earlier: How my soul praises the Lord. How my spirit rejoiced in God my Savior! For he took notice of his lowly servant girl, and from now on all generations will call me blessed.

But Mary’s sweet song was driven from her mind with God’s promise to Eve, “I will sharpen the pain of your pregnancy, and in pain you will give birth.”

The final contraction was the worst. The young girl’s body stretched between time and eternity. Satan was insistent upon the child’s destruction, but the Father’s desires would be accomplished precisely on time.Mary pushed hard and heard her newborn son’s first cry. His tiny lungs inhaled earth’s air as a human being. Amidst the chaotic noise of an overcrowded Bethlehem night, she heard her husband’s gentle voice, “We will call Him Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”

Years later, the apostle John would capture this event with nine simple words: “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.”

Jesus Christ, although fully God, was born fully human. If you embrace this truth, you will desire to follow his example. If you do not, living just like Jesus will seem beyond your reach. You might even wonder if it’s possible. After all, you might reason, “He is God and I am not.”

Yet, the Scriptures don’t let us off the hook so easily. John, who defended both the humanity and deity of Jesus, charged us to live just like Jesus. He wrote, “Whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.”

When I study the deity of Christ, I am drawn to worship him, but when I study the humanity of Christ, I am inspired to live like him. The first causes me to realize what I am not, but the latter causes me to realize what I should be. When I confuse the two, I no longer see my need to depend fully on the resources Jesus used because I assume he used a resource unavailable to me—his deity.

Several years ago, I had two conversations that confirmed the importance of applying the humanity of Christ to the Christian life. The first was with my ten-year-old daughter; the second was with a man in his forties. Both individuals were different in every way, and both were struggling with different temptations. Yet when I encouraged them to walk just like Jesus, they gave the same answer: I’m not Jesus. Jesus is God. I am not. Both overlooked the simple fact that Jesus became man.

Here is a significant, yet forgotten truth behind the incarnation of Christ: Jesus walked where you walk so that you might learn to walk like he walked. Jesus communicates this truth further when he repeatedly uses the phrase “follow me.”Your thoughts, feelings, and choices should be modeled after him. No matter your age, growing well means learning to walk just like Jesus.

Taken from Just Like Jesus:biblical strategies for growing well by Phil Moser. Published by Biblical Strategies. Available at www.biblicalstrategies.com