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