The Mathematics of Spiritual Growth

Posted by: Amanda Bridle | Thursday, May 16th, 2024 (11:55am)

Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior.  Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. 
Ephesians 4:31-32 NLT

The curious thing about this verse is that it encourages us to both subtract and to add.

Just like replacing a Netflix habit with an evening walk, we too must be intentional with replacing our negative thoughts and words with positive ones. Without doing so, I suspect in our sinful states we’d simply revert back to our negative habits!

Of the three challenges below, which one hits home for you? If one of them jumps out as feeling kind of personal, that just might be the Holy Spirit giving you a nudge! I invite you to go to God in prayer about how you can remove the negative and add the positive.

Challenge: Remove bitterness, add forgiveness

Bitterness can be defined as refusing reconciliation. Usually it occurs in a situation that hasn’t been properly addressed. Matthew 18:15 that begins “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you.” Whenever I’ve read that, I have thought to myself “What great advice!”

However, when someone angers me, I struggle to put this in action. Complaining about the person to everyone else feels a whole lot easier than initiating a face-to-face conversation. I can think of one circumstance that led me to feeling bitter over time. When I finally had the hard conversation with the other person, I immediately felt better. Not surprisingly, I also better understood the other person’s perspective. We were then able to work through next steps.

If you’re feeling the heaviness of unresolved conflict or bitterness, pray about what your next steps might be.

Challenge: Remove anger, add kindness

In my experience, rage and anger produce harsh words that I regret speaking. They’re often words that aren’t “kind, helpful, or necessary” (to name three of the four I quiz my own children on; the fourth being “true”). Harsh words always damage relationships.

I’ve put thought into the root of my own anger (is this really about the dishwasher?). I often think it stems from things not going how I expect or want. This desire to control circumstances and people stems from a deeper fear in which I do not trust God with my life and well-being. I fall into the habit of thinking I must handle things when the truth is that I can trust my good Father to handle everything with much more wisdom.

Have you thought about what lives underneath your anger? My experience is not yours; there may be past hurts or other fears beneath your anger. I encourage you to take this issue to the Lord in your prayer journal or out loud in prayer. Take the time to sit quietly and see what Holy Spirit speaks to you.

Challenge: Remove slander, add tenderheartedness

Slander, a particularly malicious form of gossip in which a person lies about another in order to damage their reputation, is clearly prohibited by the Lord. In Exodus 20:16 God proclaims “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.” Not only is slander prohibited by God but we can agree that it is not kind or tenderhearted.

If you find yourself gossiping, you might take a step back and access whether you’ve dealt with the conflict directly (see my own experience above under bitterness!). I also pray for God to give me eyes to see the other person as He sees them. I’ll often ponder the fact this person was once a tiny baby in someone’s arms. Imagining the difficult person as a child often leads me to a place of tenderheartedness where I can see them as a hurting person who is also a beloved child of God.

Thank God we are a new creation!

As Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 5:7 “… anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” Be comforted to know that with the power of the Holy Spirit we are able to leave behind our sinful behaviors and adopt new ones.


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