One of the first things that God needed to deal with in my life was my temper. During my Army years, I witnessed many of my fellow soldiers throw first-class ‘dummy spits’. After three years of living in such an environment, I learned the art of tossing things while cursing colorfully. I was quite proud of my newly acquired ability to express extreme displeasure and agitation.
In retrospect, such displays are something that I am glad to have left in the past. About two years before I gave my heart to the Lord, I began to see the folly of such behavior. I had an old car that I treasured and I had spent quite a lot of money, making it look truly superb.
One particular day, I was refitting the chrome trim to the bodywork after has the car resprayed. One piece of trim was being uncooperative. The small spring clip behind the trim kept springing before I could get it into place. In frustration, I began cursing loudly and I grabbed the nearest thing I could and threw with all my strength. The object that I threw turned out to be a heavy hammer. The hammer struck the tin wall of the garage and returned straight back at great speed in my direction. Narrowly missing my feet, the hammer then bounced up from the concrete floor directly into the freshly painted door skin of my pride and joy.
Every day, until I sold that old car, I was visually reminded of how expensive and damaging a bad temper could be.
The Bible is a source of great wisdom, and my translation of Psalm 4:4 is sadly much too late for my car. This verse is translated with a couple of variations. The NIV renders this as ‘Tremble and do not sin…’, whereas the NKJV and ESV have ‘Be angry and do not sin…’. So which is it? The truth is they are both correct. The trouble is that we cannot properly translate the word this verse begins with. The Hebrew word here means to tremble with either fear or rage. The choice is driven by context.
The idea is that there are times when we become agitated inside by things we see. We want to explode in rage and yet we are also overwhelmed by the moment. We don’t know if we want to rush in screaming and hitting or race out fleeing for life itself.
Again there is a hidden clue found in the word we translate as sin. In its base form, it means to miss the mark or to fail.
To paraphrase this verse to bring out the full meaning, we would finish with; “When you quiver with anger and fear, do not act hastily and be left with the regrets of sin, but go to your quiet place and mull things over in your heart, still yourself and wait upon God.”
The Psalm itself is a plea to God in the time of distress. The writer is both fearing for his life and at the same time, he is outraged by the injustice of the situation.
At times like this, the instruction is to retreat to your safe place and mull over that which is consuming you. Nothing good ever comes from striking out in rage and indignation. This fits with the instruction on prayer that Jesus gave in Matthew 6:6. “But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.’
How many regrets could we have avoided if we had only learned this life lesson earlier?