Breaking the Anger Habit, Part 1

In the last series I wrote about my personal battle with anger. On a positive note, I pointed out that the passion which fuels anger can be harnessed for good as demonstrated in the lives of Christ’s disciples. But, uncontrolled, selfish anger is another matter. You must put it aside. Such a change in behavior requires you to stop reacting in anger and start responding in meekness to the people and circumstances that irritate you.

In this series, I’ll show you how to do that in a very practical way. You will be able to overcome anger as you identify your sin, yield to God and pursue meekness.

Identify Your Sin

  • What does God say about selfish anger?
  • Will I obey God in this area?

Anger nearly always takes a victim. Every time your temper flares, someone gets burned. Your child. Your spouse. Your employee. Yourself.

And that’s why Jesus compared anger to murder, “You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court and whoever shall say to his brother, ‘Raca,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever shall say, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.” (Matthew 5:21-22).

These are hard words to accept. But the message is clear: When you wound someone out of anger, you are actually killing that person on the inside. Note the progression. The punishment grows increasingly harsh as basic anger evolves into scornful pride, spite, and finally, hatred.
That’s the hidden cost of anger. It evolves. It festers. And it spins a web around your heart (Ecclesiastes 7:9). Because unloading frustration feels so good to the flesh, it masquerades as your friend, but in reality, anger is your worst enemy.

Cease from anger and forsake wrath,” wrote the psalmist. Why? Because “it leads only to evildoing” (Psalms 37:8). Once you give anger an open door to your heart, it will muscle its way into every room of the house and cause trouble in every area of your life! It will pollute your thinking and every aspect of your character and personality. “Watch over your heart with all diligence,” the Word says, “for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23).

Anger is lethal and you must recognize it as such. No matter how big or how little your anger problem is, you must overcome it before it overcomes you.

Obedience in this area is not an option, but a command from God. Colossians 3:8 says, “But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander and abusive speech from your mouth.”

John 14:15 says that if we truly love Jesus, we must keep His commandments. Uncontrolled, self-centered anger is a sin. Therefore, if you love Jesus, you must put anger aside. If you don’t, your love for Jesus isn’t love at all.

And how does a believer put anger aside? Start by identifying your sin.

  • Stop denying or rationalizing and justifying your anger—only then can you hear what God is saying to you about anger
  • Study what the Bible says about anger—its cost and its curses

Look closely at the verses that seem to jump off the page. Meditate on them in your prayer time. Write them on index cards and post them around the house to remind you of what God says about anger.

  • Saturate yourself with the Word of God until the scales fall off your eyes and the danger and ugliness of your behavior is clearly visible to you

You will hate what you see. The truth will disgust you, if not horrify you. But only then will you be motivated to deal with your anger.

Come back next week to read more from this classic teaching series

Taming Your Anger - God's Strategy for Change, Part 3

Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. James 1:19-20

Passivity Is Not Our Goal

You say you have a temper. You may find this surprising, but God has too many disciples who won’t get mad at anything! God wants men and women of temper; He hand-picks such individuals and makes them godly.

I can see this strategy at work in my life. If someone offends me, I may think bad thoughts about that individual, but immediately God’s harness pulls me back, and I feel compassion for that person—I want to help him and forgive him. My former drive to receive acceptance and approval (and punish those who don’t give them to me) is now a passion for helping others be the best they can be in Christ.

Does my story encourage you? I hope so. Hidden beneath your anger is a fervency—a drive –that can be redirected in positive ways when you yield to God. We’ll talk about the yielding process in a later blog, but before we do, let’s set the record straight on anger. You can’t deal with anger until you understand what it is—and is not—and how God wants you to deal with it. Here are nine key points:

Anger doesn’t have to be a sinful emotion

Most people assume that anger is a product of the fall, that God never intended man to feel anger. Why, then, did a sinless Jesus get angry and storm into the temple with a whip in hand and drive the money changers out of His Father’s house (Matthew 21:12-13)? And why did Paul write, “Be angry, and yet do not sin,” if anger and sin cannot exist independently (Ephesians 4:26)? Clearly he assumed that anger is not sin in and of itself.

Anger is an integral part of God’s divine nature

Dozens of times in the Old Testament, God’s anger burns. Check your concordance. You may be surprised to see how often God was angry with His people, for example. But the Bible also says repeatedly that God is slow to anger, and the Scriptures always tie God’s wrath to His love.

Because He loves us so much, God becomes angry toward anything that might deface or destroy us, namely sin. His death on the Cross demonstrates both the depth of His love toward us and the depth of His hatred towards sin.

Knowing that Jesus experienced anger suggests that anger doesn’t have to be sinful. It is a natural human emotion designed for constructive, spiritual purposes. We come into this world with a powerful set of impulses, which are the driving force of life. We didn’t create them. They were wrought in our nature by the hand of Him who made man in His own image.

Anger that’s under control can produce boldness and courage for the things of God

But this emotion can also be misused for sinful purposes. The difference? Control. Misused anger is under the control of self. It is a reaction to an external event that challenges or threatens your perceived rights.

Rage goes beyond anger. It’s an emotion that even self can’t control. And, because it can’t be controlled, rage provides neither power nor strength. In reality, it demonstrates weakness.

Anger is a trust problem

Anger may have numerous roots, but the central issue always involves your refusal to trust God with your future, your possessions, your time or your rights.

Parents grow impatient with their children because they don’t have time to dilly dally. I wonder, are they trusting God with their time, knowing that He will make a way for them to accomplish the things that matter most to Him?

People who experience rejection grow bitter and angry because they cling to their perceived rights to be loved or understood. Ironically, their anger only brings further rejection.

Ungodly anger always involves self

Much of our anger is petty, rising out of mere selfishness. If you fly off the handle when you don’t get your way, self is to blame. And self-assertion is the oldest form of idolatry on earth.

Unbridled anger is your enemy, not your friend

I can’t stress enough the importance of this distinction. Anger might feel good because it helps you to release tension or get your way momentarily, but giving your anger free rein is physically and emotionally destructive. So, to overcome sinful anger, you must first learn to hate it.

Suppressing your anger is not enough

Anger will always find a way to surface. Think of the husband who stays cool on the job only to unload his frustrations at home.

In Buddhism and Hinduism, the goal is to free yourself of all desires that might ignite your passions. But any method of self-control that relies on curbing your desires is not of God. Strong passions are not to be destroyed or suppressed, but harnessed by yielding to the Holy Spirit.

Keep your eyes on Jesus, not your anger

When you aspire to change the way you handle anger, don’t focus on removing the anger, but on becoming like Jesus. Make a commitment to please Jesus. Approaching anger from this perspective puts your struggle back in its proper context. Ultimately, it’s the meekness you’ll learn from Jesus that will steer you away from anger.

Anger is a snare (Proverbs 22:25)

Says Ecclesiastes 7:9. Do not be eager in your heart to be angry, for anger resides in the bosom of fools. A better translation of the word “resides” might be “deeply imbeds itself”. In other words, anger works its way into the deepest recess of your heart. And the deeper it goes, the harder it is to rout. That’s why you’ve got to break your anger habit now, before it gets worse.

Come back next week to read more of this classic series on anger

Taming Your Anger - God's Straegy for Change, Part 2

Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. James 1:19-20

God Showed Me the Ugliness of My Sin

I walked around the field behind our apartment for nearly an hour, crying out to God: “Lord, how could I have done that? That’s the way I used to be. I don’t want to be like that anymore.”

I couldn’t feel God’s presence or feel Him ministering to me. Then, finally, God spoke to me. “My grace is all that keeps you,” He said quietly. “For one brief moment I lifted the power of My grace from you. I did not leave you or forsake you, but I lifted the power of My grace just to show you that without My keeping grace, you would become seven times worse than you were or than you’ve ever dreamed you could be. I want you to realize that only My grace keeps you.

God’s words hit me so hard that I dropped to my knees. “Please, Lord,” I cried, “don’t ever let me trample Your grace again. Please don’t ever let me become controlled by this monster called anger.”

Consecration to the Lord is Required

That day I learned that anger is my enemy—not my friend—and if I don’t walk with the Lord, anger will take control of me. I’m still tempted to blow up from time to time, but I now find the strength of God on the inside because I hate anger. Occasionally I even feel rage, but I also feel the reins of God. It’s like His hand just takes hold of me.

When I consider the direction in which our world is going today, I do feel an anger inside. But it’s different now. That ball of fury is no longer there. God has tamed my anger. He’s harnessed it and transformed it into a passion for helping people experience the life-changing power of God.

Looking at my life, I am convinced that it’s not the temper or passion God seeks to remove from us, but the self-centeredness—the habit of loving oneself at the expense of other’s rights and feelings. Once self is abased, God can harness the “wild horses” within us and channel our passions in directions that are pleasing to Him.

God Hand-Picks Hot Tempered People

That’s what I see in the disciples. Most of them were hot-tempered people. Certainly, God humbled them until they learned to yield to Him, but He never changed their basic personalities. The religion of Jesus is no opiate. It will not put you to sleep or take the fight out of you. Look at the record. Jesus picked rough and profane men to follow Him—the sinners, the disinherited, the volatile. In His mind, they all made good prospects for Christian discipleship.

They were stormy men with turbulent, yet misdirected passions. But Jesus didn’t fear their enthusiasm, or even their fanaticism. He knew that torrents in men, like torrents in rivers, can be converted and harnessed, their power made to serve righteousness.

Would you have chosen Matthew? He was a cheat, a gambler, a tax-collector for Rome. But Jesus knew that in every weed lies a potential flower when transformed by His glorious power. So Jesus laid His hand on Matthew’s powerful impulses, like anger, and harnessed them, transforming them from expressions of selfishness into spiritual devotion of the deepest kind.

Peter was no shrinking violet, either. Like James and John, the “Sons of Thunder”, he had a strong fighting instinct. Did Jesus take the fight out of any of them? No, He redirected it. Did He command them to get rid of their anger? No, but He encouraged self-examination. When Jesus predicted His horrible death, Peter became defiant, if not angry. 

“Get behind Me, Satan!” Jesus told Peter. No doubt this command had some shock value. Jesus was really questioning Peter’s motives. Who has control of your emotions, Peter, God or Satan? (Matthew 16:23).

Saul of Tarsus was also a man of temper—a born fighter. Until he met Jesus on the road to Damascus, Saul persecuted and killed Christians. After this humbling experience, he became Paul. Still a fighter, but now a soldier in God’s army.  At the end of his spiritual journey, Paul spoke of fighting a good fight. Always a warrior, he had allowed God to harness his temper for the purpose of taking the gospel to the Gentiles.

Come back next week to read more of this classic series on anger

Taming Your Anger - God's Stragegy for Change, Part 1

Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. James 1:19-20

Does this admonition make you squirm in your seat? Let’s face it: We live in an angry, stressful world, and it’s easy to justify a hot temper when tensions run high. We also live in a hurtful world. People say and do things that wound us deeply. Anger provides a handy means of self-protection.

So, if you’re thinking, “I don’t have an anger problem, this blog is not for me,” think again. Anger doesn’t always express itself with a booming voice. Ask yourself:

  • How do I react when someone treats me unfairly or disrespectfully?
  • How do I express my frustration when difficult circumstances can’t be changed?
  • Do I grumble and complain when I don’t feel like doing something?
  • Am I defensive, critical of others, or open to receive gossip or slander?
  • Am I always looking for someone to blame?
  • Do I have a short fuse? Do I use verbal assaults to intimidate and control others?

Jesus never promised us freedom from everyday tensions and strife, but a deep, controlling inner peace in the midst of them. If you’re not experiencing that peace, you have an anger problem.

Be honest: Is anger like an old friend—someone you go to when the going gets tough? Then take note: So long as anger remains your friend, you will never attain the righteous life God desires for you.

Worse still, your anger will lead to evildoing (Psalm 37:8). (Perhaps it already has.) It will become a weapon in Satan’s hand—a wedge—for enabling more damaging forms of sin to creep into your life (Ephesians 4:26-27). In the end, anger will destroy you, your relationships, and the people you abuse verbally.

Getting free of anger is easier said than done, however. Anger is like that stain on your carpet that just won’t come out. No matter how many cleaning solutions you try, nothing works. And no matter how many times you ask God to take it away, your anger persists.

One possible reason, I believe, is that your objective is not in line with the will of God. You’re trying to obliterate or at least suppress your anger when God wants to redirect it.

Drawing from personal experience, I’m going to show you how to approach the problem of anger from this direction. I want you to see how God can take a man or woman’s anger and harness it for his glory.

My Battle Against Anger

Before I became a Christian, anger was my biggest problem. People who know me now find that difficult to believe, but anger literally consumed me. I’d get mad and irritable for little reason. I’d hit walls and get into fights over trivial issues.

As a kid in school, I had learned that the best way to protect myself was to act angry, because the more I acted angry, the less people would want to fool with me. Anger also helped me deal with frustration and perform better in sports. If someone made me angry, I could run faster and play more aggressively on the football field. So I learned to treat anger as a friend, not an enemy.

But, when I came to the Lord, God delivered me of my anger. It was gone immediately. But, here was the problem. I didn’t take anger seriously after that. I played with it by allowing petty irritations to come into my life unchecked. I didn’t repent of them or even see them as sin. I justified irritability because my anger had once been so much worse.

Then one Saturday morning, my anger returned with a vengeance! I don’t remember why, but I was in a bad mood that day—and I took every opportunity possible to express my frustrations. I slammed doors and made cutting remarks to my wife. After hours of stewing, I finally exploded.

I was standing at the door of our walk-in closet when my wife said something I didn’t like. All of a sudden, I felt something burning in the pit of my stomach. Like a fire, it swept up over me and exploded out of me. Do you know the feeling? It’s called rage. I swung as hard as I could and I ran my fist right through the closet door. I looked at my wife. Her eyes were as large as softballs, because she’d never seen rage in me before.

At that moment, I felt dirty. I felt ashamed. Because I already knew what the Word said about anger. “Please forgive me,” I said. “I have to get out of this house. It’s not because I’m angry at you. I’m angry at myself right now.”

Come back next week to read more of this classic series on anger