“Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war . . .” (James 4:1,2).
THE MORE SELF-CENTERED OUR DESIRES ARE, THE MORE FRUSTRATED OUR RESPONSE WILL BE WHEN THOSE DESIRES ARE BLOCKED OR DENIED. James pinpoints this problem when he says that even among fellow Christians “wars and fights” result from the inability of people to get what they lust for. When what we want is the mere fulfillment of selfish demands and those demands are not met, we often react with a range of soul-shriveling emotions, including anger and anxiety.
First of all, consider anger. If our focus is purely on the accomplishment of God’s purposes, there will be little anger in our response to obstacles and delays, simply because we know that nothing can ultimately block God’s purposes from being achieved. If, however, what we really want is the satisfaction of our own selfish will, our reaction will be very different when someone stands between us and what we want. The response that has aptly been called “demandingness” is a sure symptom that our desires are centered on something other than God.
But think also of fear and anxiety from this perspective. Is it not a fact that our tendency to worry stems from uncertainty that we’re going to get what we want or that our goals are going to be reached? And if our goals are self-centered to start with, isn’t the likelihood of anxiety much higher than if our goals were God-centered and depended on His power for their accomplishment?
These are important considerations for every person whose purpose is to seek God. If we find ourselves frequently experiencing either anger or anxiety, it is probably time to ask ourselves whether it is really our Father whom we are seeking. We must have the honesty to admit how often emotions like these are the result of frustrated self-seeking. And we must replace our demandingness with a sincere delight in the certainty of His will.
“When my sense of self depends on what others say of me, anger is a quite natural reaction to a critical world. And when my sense of self depends on what I can acquire, greed flares up when my desires are frustrated. Thus greed and anger are the brother and sister of a false self, fabricated by the social compulsions of an unredeemed world” (Henri J. M. Nouwen).