Episode 13: Emotions: How can I eliminate the sin of irritability?

Episode 13: Emotions: How can I eliminate the sin of irritability?

Sept 16, 2020 | Susie Rock

All right, welcome to Soul Talk. This is actually our last session of Soul Talk for this summer. It’s been a great summer, just working through some real-life issues and looking at what Scripture has to say about it. It’s been a good experience for me to think through these things and to remember what God’s word has to say about who we are and what He’s called us to, and just finding our ultimate love, worth, and purpose in Him. It’s just a great reminder that we always need to be realigning ourselves. There are so many things that we hear from the world, from media, from our friends, from popular speakers that are contrary to what God’s word says. So, this is a regular habit that we should have: to realign what we hear, what we’re exposed to, with what God’s word says. We want to be thinking critically and biblically in all the things that we’re thinking and how we’re responding, what we’re believing, teaching, and talking about. It’s so easy to become desensitized to what the world says and begin accepting the things that we hear because sometimes initially they actually sound pretty good. But if they’re not scriptural, even if they’re just a little bit off, we have to be very, very careful.

 Today, we’re going to continue talking about our emotions. Last week, we talked about emotions and answering the question, “How can I keep the peace when I just want to scream?” Today is similar to that, but today’s question is, “How can I eliminate the sin of irritability?” Last week, I mentioned that both last week and today’s episodes were not really things that I have generally struggled with as a person, and I did confess last week that with COVID and everything going on, I have had these moments where I just want to scream. Not necessarily at a person, but at the situation, because I felt out of control. Then, learning just to surrender that back to the Lord and be responsible for my own behaviour, my own attitudes, and how I’m going to respond in these difficult situations, whether it’s a difficult situation or a difficult person that I am dealing with.

Today is similar: “How can I eliminate irritability?” This is hard. I would say, once again, I’ve not really considered myself to be an irritable person; I’m just naturally, by God’s grace, a person that is long-suffering and patient. And yet, once again over the last couple of months, and maybe the last couple weeks more specifically, I have found myself being very irritable. I’ve had to ask myself, “Is God proving and testing me so that I’m ready to do this talk? Is it because of all the crazy things happening in our society that I’m finding myself more irritable? Is it because I’m thinking about it more, and so I’m more aware of how irritable I actually am? Is it that new medication that I’m on? I don’t know, but I have had to wrestle with this inner attitude of irritability.

 So, we’re going to talk about that today. How do we respond when we do start finding ourselves feeling very irritable? The truth is, the Bible is actually very clear on how to eliminate the sin of irritability. The big idea that we’re going to talk about today is very simple. A very simple truth, probably a little more difficult to put into practice. Irritability is overcome by love. You might be feeling frustrated and irritated with me right now, thinking, “That is too simple of an answer. I already know that.” We know that, but it’s so much harder to put into practice, and sometimes we forget that we’re actually not being loving in these situations.

So, even though you might be familiar with this passage, let’s all turn to 1 Corinthians 13 and, very clearly, let’s see what God’s word has to say about love, and specifically about irritability. In verse 4 of chapter 13 in 1 Corinthians, it says, Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, love believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. When you find yourself being irritable, can you say that you’re actually living this way? I can’t say that I can. We have to recognize that first and foremost, the only way we can love in this way is to learn from perfect love, and perfect love comes from God. So, that means we need to be spending a lot of time in His presence. We need to be spending a lot of time in His word because this is His message, His way of communicating to us. We have to spend a lot of time practicing this because practice helps us to become more like Him. And we have to do this knowing that even when people aren’t perfect, we are still called to love in this way. After all, we do know that God loved us in this way.

Romans 5:8 is probably another passage that you’re familiar with, but such a good reminder that keeps us humble: But God showed His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. God loved us while we were sinners, and He went to the extent of showing that love to us. We too, if we are followers of Christ, if we’ve been born again, if we are called to live in His image, that means we are to love people even while they’re sinners. Not only love them in our hearts, but actually demonstrate that to them in our actions.

We know that God’s love is not conditional on behaviour, and thank you Jesus for that, because if God’s love for me was conditional on who I am and how I behave, I would be very unloved. But I didn’t have to meet any expectations for Him to love me, and to send Jesus to die for me so that I could be forgiven and have a relationship with Him. He just loved me. He just loves you. And in the same way, we are called to love one another. We can only do this knowing that we’re equipped to do this. Not only have we been called to do this, we’ve been equipped. Because He loves us, we’ve actually been equipped to love like Him as well. Once again, another favorite passage of mine, 1 John 4:19: We love because He first loved us. We can love like that because we’ve already experienced it personally firsthand by God’s amazing and perfect love.

When I am being irritable, I’m lacking in love. I have to admit that. It’s a heart issue, and that means I need to humbly go to the Lord and ask Him to soften my heart. He needs to knead my heart, making it soft and flexible, and ready to be worked on. Kind of like if you’ve ever made bread dough by hand, you will know that first it’s sticky and gooey, but as you knead it longer and longer, it becomes this nice soft ball of dough that is no longer sticky, but it’s pliable. That’s exactly what God wants to do in our hearts. He doesn’t want us to have sticky hearts, but He wants us to have hearts that are soft and pliable, able to be shaped into a heart like His. And this is hard. When He’s overturning my hard heart and making it soft, that is not an easy process because it hurts my pride, and I have to admit my own wrongdoing when I just want to blame it on the other person. But that’s what I need to do. An irritable heart is one that resists the love of God because it’s a hard heart. But when it’s soft, we can work with it. It’s only as we draw near to Him that we can once again be soft. We draw near to Him by repenting of our own sins, not just blaming the other person, but in true repentance for what’s going on in our hearts, and then surrendering to Him. Even if things aren’t the way we wish, or maybe even the way that God has outlined it in His word, we can surrender the outcome to Him, knowing that He is good, He is faithful, He loves us, and we have worth and purpose no matter what the situation around us is saying. We want to be soft so that, once again, He can shape us and help us to love like He has loved us.

This doesn’t mean that I’m the only one with the problem. Sometimes, the other person also has a problem that needs to be addressed. But I need to deal with my own heart before I can go and confront or deal with the other person’s heart. Once again, we see this in Matthew 7:3-5 where it says, Why do you seek the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite. Oh, that hurts, right? To be called a hypocrite when someone has clearly irritated us. First, take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. Sometimes, after surrendering my own heart to the Lord- doing some business with the Lord and saying, “Okay, You need to help me see clearly here because I’m really offended or really irritated,”- I actually realize I have nothing to go back to that person with. It was just my own irritability that causes my own lack of love for that person, my lack of patience, my own desires or wishes or goals that were hindered, and therefore, I actually don’t have anything to go back to that person with.

But if I do, if there are biblical reasons why I should actually go and talk to that other person, there are some practical steps I can take:

  1. I want to step back and just speak the truth. What actually happened? I know that, as women, we can quickly jump to conclusions and interpret what they said as something completely different than what the message was that they actually wanted us to hear. Or the behaviour we interpret completely differently than what they actually meant.
  2. Let’s actually assess: “What did I feel about that? How did I interpret it? What was the message that I received? I could be wrong about that message because these are the facts, but what was the message that I received? How did I take it?” Let’s be honest about that.
  3. Acknowledge your feelings. How did that make you feel? Did it make you feel irritable? Did it make you feel hurt? Did it make you feel angry? Let’s admit that, and know that because of the facts that we interpreted, we are now feeling this way.
  4. Let’s share our desired outcomes. What do we actually want out of this relationship? Let’s be clear about that, because sometimes the other person might really not know. They might be confused about why our response was the way it was, and if we can explain it to them- what we want out of it- it might be very, very simple.

 Sometimes, you’re going to go through these steps and just process them and realize, “Okay, I just need to be quiet here. It’s just my own heart, and this is not worth addressing.” But if it is, prayerfully go through these four steps: 1. Speak the facts. 2. Admit your interpretation. 3. Acknowledge your feelings.  4. Share your desired outcome. And I will say that I’ve tried this. When you’re willing to say, “Okay, this is what happened and this is how I interpreted it. I could be wrong, but this is how I felt” or, “This is what I thought you said,” it immediately breaks down the walls, and you’ve actually built a better relationship and communication with them because they are seeing that you’re not just jumping on them, you’re not just accusing them, but you’re actually willing to say, “I could be wrong in this situation.” That usually breaks down their walls so that they’re willing to admit, “Yeah, I was wrong.” Or, “No, I’m sorry that you took it that way, but I totally meant something different.” It gives you that opportunity to actually communicate about it instead of just shutting each other down or yelling at each other, which never builds a relationship. So, at least you’ve done your part, once again, to build and strengthen that relationship. Their response is out of your control. Usually they will probably respond well, but even if they don’t, you still know that you are loved and valued by God, and you’ve been called to continue loving others.

 Will you ever fully eliminate the sin of irritability? When you get to heaven, when Christ has perfected you and brought you into His eternal kingdom, you will finally be rid of it all. Maybe you’re still going to be irritable, but I think if you take these things into consideration- if you learn to love like God loved you, if you learn to take the necessary steps (follow the four steps that I just gave you in handling difficult, irritable situations)- I think you will greatly minimize your sin of your irritability. I just want to mention that I have adapted these four steps from a conflict management tool that is called “Staying Clean and Clear Within.” I just love the terms of that. We want to stay clean and clear in our own hearts because we want to have pure and holy hearts for the Lord. You can look that up and try to find more information, or I can pass that on to you if you want to email me.

We do want to be responsible. We don’t want to just shove everything under the carpet but, first and foremost, we want to deal with our own hearts. Make sure that we are being loving, that we are loving like God has loved us, that we are first taking the log out of our own eye before we deal with the speck in another person’s eye. And then, if necessary, we go and talk to them after we have prayed about it and processed things in a biblical manner. I just want to encourage you and remind all of us that we want to continue to trust in the gracious, loving, perfect presence of our Lord Jesus Christ. He has extended so much grace to us. Let us extend that to others as well so He can continue to be glorified in our lives and our relationships.

Reflection Questions:

1.  Which characteristics of love, from 1 Corinthians 13, come most easily to you and which come the hardest?  Take a moment to process that and try to understand why this might be?

2.  Do you have unresolved bitterness that you have been storing up, that is making you more irritable?  If so, repent to the Lord and seek His grace to help you forgive.  Follow the necessary steps for reconciliation.

3.  How has God shown patient love towards you, instead of being irritable?

4.  Look for ways to show unconditional love to those around you this week.  Pray for those who usually irritate you and record any God stories in your journal.

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