A LITMUS TEST FOR CHRISTIAN LIVING
Lloyd C. Allen
June 23, 2014
As I approach the 87th year of my pilgrimage on planet Earth, I find myself still trying to sort the myriad surge of emotions I experience as I encounter yet another form of adversity, and what seems to be the never ending variety of changes in life circumstances. I puzzle over which emotions are godly. Which emotions are destructive and self serving? This is not an easy task, and trying to identify and untangle my emotions is difficult and full of pitfalls.
As I pour over these thoughts, the idea of a litmus test occurred to me. The first time I encountered a litmus test was way back in a high school chemistry class. I vaguely remember how specially treated paper reacted in a predictable way, changing colors when exposed to an acid or alkaline solution. It also occurred to me that the expression, “litmus test,” is figuratively used and bandied about in our culture today. For example, a litmus test may be used on an individual running for public office, which would expose their past voting record, their conservative or liberal views. The purpose being to identify what the individual has done in the past, what they are doing presently, and how they might perform in the future. I have seen the “litmus test” used in many walks of life, professions, and vocations to get a quick fix or feel for the individual.
As an aside, as I continue this train of thought, it occurred to me that I want to be sure that whoever ends up reading this “article” will realize that my intent is not to preach to anyone. In fact, I am actually digging and writing from my own experience and for my own benefit to enhance my own perspective on this subject. If someone should benefit by reading this article, I would be pleased and it would be a plus for me. So, onward and forward…
I wonder if the idea of a Christian litmus-test would trigger me to take a good look at myself, comparing my emotions with the Bible in a time of crisis. There are so many emotions involved as I go from day to day. To name a few: love; jealously; anger; fear; worry; anxiety; kindness; and patience – I could continue and fill a page or two. We are truly complex human beings, fearfully and wondrously made by God in His image.
I strongly feel that I have been the beneficiary of the Holy Spirit’s sanctification over the years. I consider myself a work-in-progress and have a good feel for who I am. I have emerged in life with my own personality. I am comfortable in my own skin… most of the time. I have faith in the finished work of Christ, and a world view that I pray pleases the Lord. And I view all of life through this filter. I take my emotions with me – things, stuff, new places, new jobs – none of these situations seem to changes how I feel. This, in general, is my take on myself and, at the risk of being presumptuous, maybe many of my brothers and sisters in Christ feel the same way. Trying to say that, in general, I feel I know myself, but there are times when the storms of life overwhelm me, and sorting out my emotions becomes more than difficult, such that I no longer feel self-sufficient. I need help.
As an example, I would like to single out the emotion of unrighteous “Anger,” and do a spiritual litmus test on it. I chose anger because it is one of the most difficult and destructive emotions that I have had to deal with throughout my life – both personally and with individuals close to me. Anger can be caused by pressures of work, stress, family, or even being the innocent victim of wrong doing.
There are many examples in the Bible on the righteous anger of God, but the overriding theme throughout the Old and New Testament is that God is full of compassion and mercy, long suffering, and slow to anger. The length and breadth of His grace leave us speechless.
My litmus test for anger will include my personal perceptions of the emotion, and what the Bible says about it, specifically “unrighteous anger.”
1. My Personal perception of the emotion “Anger”
Over the years, I have come to the conclusions that there are three levels of anger. The source of these conclusions has been lost over my lifetime. Certainly I must credit my conclusions to the hundreds of sermons, Bible study groups and books I have heard and read, plus Holy Spirit. (There is a good chance that I never had an original thought in my life.) As you read the three levels of anger, you will note that deeply entwined in the emotion of anger is the sin of unforgiveness.
Level 1. The type of anger that one experiences with loved ones, close friends and individuals in the work place or even church. Caused by annoyance or misunderstanding, it flares like a match and then quickly goes out. This type of outburst is usually followed by immediate regret and an attempt at forgiveness and reconciliation (hopefully before I go to bed that night.)
Level 2. The anger against someone or something that lays within, smoldering and unforgiving. It lies just below the surface and takes control over your consciousness throughout the day and often during the night – an anger that literally consumes. Dark thoughts that obsess as we conjure up scathing rebuttals; a desire to do something physical as we imagine a face-to-face encounter. This type of anger creates a desert, a barren place where nothing grows, and it becomes difficult to get through your devotions, difficult to pray. If I find myself in this place, I need help. This may be the litmus test.
Level 3. The anger that is unchecked, unrestrained; it no longer smolders, but bursts into flames fueled by sinful dark thoughts. Thoughts that become acts; acts of vengeance; violence, as in assault, road rage and murder – an anger that literally destroys.
2. What the Bible says about the emotion “Anger”
JESUS – Sermon on the Mount – Matthew 5:21-24
You have heard that the ancients were told, you shall not commit murder and whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court. But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, you good for nothing, shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, you fool, shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. Therefore if you are presenting your offering before the alter, and there remember your brother has something against you, Leave your offering there before the alter and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.
Jesus, forgive me for my anger, I can’t seem to turn it off. Teach me to forgive as you have forgiven me. I want so much to please you – help me Jesus, help me.
PAUL – Letter to the Galatians – 5:19-21 and 5:22-26
Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissention, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
But of the fruit of the Spirit is love joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, against such things there is no law.
Jesus, take away my bent for sinning, keep my tether short lest I stray back into the pathway of the flesh. Cover me with the gifts of the spirit that my thoughts, words and deeds will be pleasing to you
JESUS – Sermon on the Mount – Matthew 5:14-15 (Unforgiveness)
For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, your Father will not forgive your transgressions.
Jesus, give me the strength of will and the empathy to forgive those who have wronged me, so that my life will be free from lingering anger; I really want to be obedient, I want to please you. Help me to be quick to listen and slow to speak and react so that I do not grieve the Holy Spirit.
Closing Thoughts: This is actually the first time I have gone through a soul search on one of my errant emotions. Leaving the litmus test concept aside, for anyone attempting to reach out to the Lord when going through difficult times, examining our emotions and behavior, coupled with a search of the scriptures for answers, is just a good thing to do.