A few years ago, my parents were visiting my wife and I (Ezra was not here yet) here in Picayune, Mississippi. During their stay, I received a phone call informing me that a couple of my youth leaders at the time had given a teenager some alcohol. I was enraged. What a lapse in judgment! How could one of my leaders do such a thing? Though the Bible does not speak against drinking alcohol (it does speak against getting drunk and it also speaks against using our liberty in such a way that weaker Christians stumble), few would argue that it was extremely inappropriate to give alcohol to this teen. She was underage.
In a fit of fury, I picked up my phone to call this leader. At that moment, my older, wiser dad, said, “Can I give you a piece of advice?” this was such a humble and disarming approach and was probably what made me willing to pause and listen.
He proceeded to tell me, “B.J., you are a lot like me. You can get really angry in the moment and say or do things that you will later have to apologize for. Do what I do. When you get this angry, make yourself wait 24 hours before you address the person (he admitted to not always following his own rule and then wishing he had). Then, after 24 hours and some time with the Lord, move forward.”
I followed his advice that day. I have done so since. The other day I joked with my wife that I am not nearly as spiritual as my dad because I have to wait 48 hours to a week. All jokes aside, this “rule” has saved me from impulsive, sinful behavior and a multitude of uncomfortable apologies. What I find is that when I stop, breathe, and take some time to bring the issue to the Lord, one of two things happen:
- I end up confronting the person days later, but my heart is in a completely different place. As Paul wrote, I am able to go to that person and actually “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). The interval of time allows enough space for the Holy Spirit to speak to my heart so that I do what is right rather than what I feel. This is crucial. Besides, is not love to be our every motive? If you and I are honest, the initial anger is usually void of any redemptive element.Or,
- I end up not confronting the person at all. This actually happens more often than the first option. Sometimes I am to pray for the individual. At other times, I am to forgive and let the issue go. Love does not require me to confront every person in every situation.
If you are in leadership, this rule can be especially beneficial. Think about it. If you address the person in anger, he or she will probably not hear the heart of what you are saying. You may later have to apologize for how you treated her and that will make it easier for her to dismiss what you said though the content of what you said she may actually need to consider.
So enact the 24-hour rule. It may very well be what helps you “be angry and “not sin” (Ephesians 4:26).
One note: I am not yet sure how to square the 24-hour rule with the second half of Ephesians 4:26 that states, “do not let the sun go down on your wrath.” God knows my heart.