“I wanted to hurt the man badly.
One day I came home from the church office and learned that our across-the-street neighbor had come to our door about an hour earlier and berated my wife because our dog had been barking too much. To be fair, a week earlier, he had called and left a message on our answer machine voicing his concern. But with my busy schedule, after I heard it, I forgot about it.
We only had one dog, and with me and my wife gone most days, our pet became lonely. Every time someone would walk by, bicycle by, or drive by; or any time the dog had a whim to bark, he became vocal about his loneliness. And apparently that was often. However, my wife didn’t know about the dog barking or the neighbor’s call, because I had forgotten to tell her about it. In fact, I had forgotten all about the call until this man dumped his truckload of resentment on her.
My wife had been gone most of that day as well. Apparently, the neighbor was watching and waiting, because she had no more entered the house and placed her purse on the table, but there was a knock on the door. When she answered it, our neighbor began to scream and curse at her for our insensitivity to allow our dog to disturb our whole neighborhood.
He was outright cruel and frightening. When he left and she turned from the door so emotionally upset over the man’s fury, she was shaking. She fell onto our couch and was overwhelmed to tears.
After she described her encounter with him, I wanted to hurt the man badly. How dare he assault a woman when he could have waited to face me, man to man.
I paced in our living room for about fifteen minutes firing myself up and rehearsing what I was going to say to him. Then I burst through our door and headed straight across the street to his house.
But in the short walk from our front door to his, God spoke to me. He planted five thoughts in my head.
First, “You are a pastor and a Christian. You don’t have the Holy Spirit’s permission to do what you are about to do.”
Second, “The man you are about to attack is not a Christian. He doesn’t have access to the Holy Spirit to lead him to be kind as you do.”
Third, “He is compelled by his nature to berate, while you are constrained to love.”
Fourth, “Cast coals of fire on him by loving him.” Romans 12:20
And fifth, “A soft answer turns away wrath.” Proverbs 15:1
Don’t ask how this much dialogue between God and I took place in such a short amount of time. But it did.
When he opened the door, I could see the fight in his face as well. He was seething, breathing hard and armed for battle.
I took a deep breath; readying myself to verbally attack but instead said,
“I am so sorry our dog has been disturbing you.”
“We didn’t realize he was doing that much barking.”
“I forgot to return your call last week.”
“Please forgive us.”
“We will try to resolve the situation.”
I remember almost feeling that I was outside of myself as I talked to him; because what was in me was pulverization. But the words that came out were from a completely different vein. They were, instead, loving and tender. And I remember feeling as I talked, “What are you doing Chris? Let him have it. He deserves it. You’re blowing it.”
However, in those five short sentences, I watched the hardness in his heart and the fight in his face; soften to a place of apologetic gentleness.
He responded, “I guess it’s not that bad. I probably was way too hard on your wife. I’m sorry for coming on so strong.”
And that was that. I agreed to work on our dog. He agreed to work on his tolerance. We shook hands and it was over. It was an incredible result. It reminded me of the verse in 2 Corinthians 5:14 (KJV) “the love of Christ constrains us,” which means: It controls us. It restrains us. It holds us back. It pulls back the reins on us.
That day I felt the Holy Spirit pulling back His reins on me almost saying, “Whoa Chris. Slow down. Don’t say what you are about to say. Say the right thing.” And I did, though not very willingly. But it was the key to a wonderful and God-glorifying result.
How well do God’s reins of love work in your life?