Life + Culture

You Can Forget to Be Irritated

You Can Forget to Be Irritated

The more I remember God’s lavish, unwavering, inexhaustible love for us in Jesus, the more I forget to be irritated with others.

Unfortunately, I often remember to be irritated. But where I am weak, God is gracious to remind me of what I need to forget.

In any given day, hour, or moment, our thought-life greatly determines our heart-response (which flows out in our words and behavior). Being a broken person in a broken world among broken people, provocation is inevitable. What isn’t inevitable is a godly response. Thus, “fools show their annoyance at once” (Proverbs 12:16 NIV) and are “quick in (their) spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the heart of fools” (Ecclesiastes 7:9).

Anger lodges in the heart of fools — the Holy Spirit used that phrase recently to convict me about the way I’d been rolling out the welcome mat, providing hospitality, a warm bed, and nourishment for thoughts that always prove to be horrible houseguests.

Weapons Against Irritation

I’m not a loud, fist-pounding, explosive type. But I can easily drift (at times even jump) into passive-aggressive, actively-harmful, joy-pillaging attitudes. Inevitably, I can trace those attitudes back to gospel-amnesia. What I mean is, in any given season (or second) of life, I’m either remembering the gospel and marinating in its implications, or I’m forgetting the gospel and letting my thoughts get hijacked by all kinds of foolishness and sin.

Writing to believers in Corinth, the apostle Paul described this dynamic in the language of warfare:

The weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ (2 Corinthians 10:4–5)

Indeed, to work for one another’s joy (2 Corinthians 1:24) is to wage war for each other’s thinking and feeling.

Here’s how I’ve learned to apply this text to the daily issue of my attitude, specifically to irritation, and its ugly siblings (aggravation, grumpiness, self-pity, resentment, and more). Notice three elements in this passage: strongholds to be named, opinions to be destroyed, and thoughts to be captured.

Name the Strongholds

I wish bad attitudes were only episodic “oops” moments or “loose-holds,” rather than strongholds. But the truth is that bad attitudes often reveal that something or someone has more power over our hearts than the glory and grace of God. Some expression of the stronghold of self-idolatry is on display.

What kinds of things have irritated me? What moved my wife of 46 years to ask me the same question Paul asked the Galatians, “What has happened to all of your joy?” (Galatians 4:15 NIRV). It’s not a very noble list, so here’s to transparency and vulnerability.

  • The colorful spinning disk on my computer screen, mocking me with, “Not yet”;
  • Road construction on my main route interfering with my precious schedule;
  • An empty peanut butter jar on the pantry shelf and empty milk carton in the frigde;
  • Loud talkers in a quiet restaurant, and slow waiters fishing for a big tip;
  • Delayed flights and deflated bike tires;
  • Forgotten passwords and anonymous critics;
  • Misplaced stuff and hidden charges.

What might your list of idolatrous provocations look like? It helps to name them.

Destroy the Opinions

So how do these normal, daily incidents of life in a broken world generate super-sized irritation? What was I remembering (believing) during that stretch? Notice, in our passage, Paul says certain opinions need to be exposed and destroyed, not ignored or coddled.

In context, he was talking about false teachers who infiltrated the church of Corinth. But all thinking that contradicts the gospel falls under the same judgment. To a certain extent, I was functionally believing that

  • I’ve earned the right to an uninterrupted, manageable, and hassle-free life;
  • If people would just do their jobs, and be responsible, my life would be easier;
  • When it comes to my plans and preferences, the effects of the fall should be suspended;
  • I’m a spiritual orphan, without a sovereign heavenly Father.

What might your list of functional beliefs look like? It helps to name them.

Capture the Thoughts

What do I tend to forget (or refuse to believe) when I lapse into irritability? Notice the main thing Paul emphasizes in this passage is the ongoing discipline of obeying Jesus with our thinking — that is, having our thought-life captured by Jesus and captivated with Jesus.

We will “forget to be irritated” to the extent we are remembering Jesus. Our primary calling is to “remember” Jesus — to re-member, to reconnect and stay connected with Jesus. We who are in union with Jesus must stay in communion with him.

Jack Miller, my spiritual father of 21 years, referred to this as the discipline of “preaching the gospel to your heart.” That is, cultivating a fascination and preoccupation with the person and work of Jesus.

This isn’t “mind over matter,” but Jesus over all things — Creator and Sustainer, Lamb of God, Lord of lords, Lamp of the city. It’s not “the power of positive thinking,” but the joy of focused gazing — seeing and savoring more of Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. It’s not denial of pain, but delight in the Lord; not the absence of storms, but the presence of Jesus in those storms. It isn’t stoic resolution, but grateful adoration. Indeed, the gospel doesn’t make us less human or superhuman, but fully human.

Our ultimate goal is not being less irritated, but more like Jesus. It isn’t the promise to do better, but the commitment to repent quicker. The more we are remembering Jesus, our repentances won’t be fewer, but quicker, and more joyful.

What do you need to remember about Jesus when you are tempted to irritation? Once again, it helps to name those truths.

If you, like me, struggle with sinful irritation, name the strongholds, destroy the idolatrous opinions, and recapture any wandering thoughts for Christ. Ask God to remind you of what you need to forget, and then ask him to show you all you need to remember.

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