For Some Reason, Anger Never Works The Way I Think It Will

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photo by Jelle

I have this idea that if I get sufficiently angry with a person, I can get them to change. If I raise my voice to a high enough decibel level, my children will get the point, repent of their sin, and be healthy, happy, productive members of the family. If I communicate forcefully, and with enough fury, my friend will stop looking at the porn that is destroying his life. If I give someone the silent treatment long enough, they will be brought to their knees in sorrow.

Yeah right.

Anger never works the way I think it will. It never produces the expected response. My anger makes my children more angry. My forceful, angry arguments, only push my friends further away. My silent treatment results in me further severing a relationship. Why is this the case? Why does anger feel so right and end up so wrong?

James nails it when he says, “…for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:20).

Bam. That’s it. The nail in the coffin.

Anger never produces godliness. Ever. Period. End of story.

Raise your voice all you want. Get all up in the face of your friend. Do the silent treatment dance for three weeks straight. It won’t work. Your child may shut up, but she won’t be brought any closer to Jesus. Your friend may be shamed into giving up porn for a time, but he won’t experience true heart change.

As parents, friends, and fellow Christians, we must resist the temptation to explode in anger. We must extinguish the idea that anger somehow leads to righteousness.

Anger doesn’t produce change. Rather, we speak the truth in love, letting our words be clothed in humility and gentleness. That’s how God’s kingdom works. It’s all backwards. Hearts are won with kindness and gentleness, not fury and wrath. After all, isn’t that how Jesus won your heart?

6 Critical Truths To Understand About Anger

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The Bible has a lot to say about anger.

I don’t mean righteous anger, the kind of anger we can experience toward injustice or evil but sinful anger. Many times we may feel we are “righteous” in our anger, because someone wronged us. Anger often involves our sense of justice.  But it’s very easy to slide into sinful anger, hatred and bitterness. Here are some Biblical truths and principles that God has used to help me make progress in conquering my own sinful anger.

Anger is not caused by other people or our circumstances. It comes out of our own hearts.

For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. MT 15:19

No one else can make you angry. Circumstances don’t cause your anger. Anger is your own sin. David Powlison says our hearts are like sponges. If I squeeze a sponge and black ink comes out, it might seem that the squeezing caused black ink to come out. Yet I might squeeze another sponge and have clear water come out. So it was not the squeeze that caused the ink to come out, but ink came out because that was what was in the sponge. The squeeze merely revealed what was there in the first place. Other people and circumstances can “squeeze” our hearts and if anger comes out, it is because that’s what was in our heart.

Anger is caused by our own unfulfilled desires.

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?  You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. JA 4:1-2

James says our own “passions” – cravings and desires – cause all our quarrels and fights. We desire and do not have so we murder, fight and quarrel. In other words, we want something and we don’t get it, so we get angry. Whenever you are angry ask yourself, “What is it that I want right now that I’m not getting?” Once I told my kids to go to bed and heard them wrestling and throwing things upstairs. When I went up I said, “You’re making me mad,” to which one replied, “But you have said no one else can make you mad.” I said, “You’re right. You are disobeying me, which tempts me (squeezes me), and it is my anger, my sin.” When I went downstairs I asked myself, “What do I want that I’m not getting?” My answer: I wanted to relax. I wanted kids who always perfectly and immediately obeyed. I wanted to watch TV not oversee bedtime.

Anger won’t make anyone do the right thing. 

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. JA 1:19-20

Many times we think anger will motivate others to do the “right” thing. Parents think anger will make their kids do the right thing, or act “righteously”. But anger won’t produce the righteousness of God. Anger might make kids outwardly obey, like little Pharisees, but it won’t change their hearts. Anger won’t produce inward righteousness in our spouse or coworkers. Anger does no good.

Anger toward another person is murder of the heart.

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brotherc will be liable to judgment; whoever insultsd his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the helle of fire. MT 5:21-22

We tend to downplay the seriousness of anger. “I was just venting” or “letting off steam.” But Jesus said anger is murder of the heart and a violation of one of the 10 commandments. It can make us subject to the very hell of fire.

Anger makes things worse. 

A harsh word stirs up anger. PR 15.1

A hot-tempered man stirs up strife PR 15.18

Not only does anger fail to produce righteousness, it makes things worse. It stirs up anger in others. It stirs up strife. It has the opposite effect to what we are desiring.

Anger opens the door for Satan 

Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. EPH 4:26-27

When we “let the sun go down on our anger” or fail to deal with it in a timely fashion, either by asking forgiveness, forgiving others, or working things out with them, it opens the door for Satan to tempt us to bitterness, revenge, slander and a host of other sins. Cain’s anger at Abel led him to kill his brother. Anger is serious. We must deal with it quickly.

These truths have helped me numerous times when I’ve been tempted to anger.  I’m not saying I’ve conquered it and I never sin in anger.  But by God’s grace, understanding these things have helped me make progress.  I hope you too will find God’s Word and Spirit will help you make progress in overcoming anger.

It’s Easier To Kill People You Can’t See

photo credit: DVIDSHUB via photopin cc

photo credit: DVIDSHUB via photopin cc

In his book, What It’s Like To Go To War, Karl Marlantes, who served in the Vietnam War, talks about the danger of the “clean kill”. What does he mean by “clean kill”?

To kill someone with an almost effortless eloquent blow of the first two knuckles of the fist is aesthetically more pleasing than to bludgeon him to death with a rock. How much more pleasing, then, with a fine rifle? A precision-guided bomb? A ray gun that simply makes people disappear? One of the major horrors of war is the blasted bodies, rotting parts, and bloated intestines, and the stench.

A clean kill is when one person kills another person without actually seeing the death and destruction they are causing. Marlantes goes on to say:

This clean-kill fantasy avoids the darkness. It allows the hero trip without any cost, so of course we fantasize about it.

Marlantes is arguing that the notion of a “clean kill” is dangerous, because it allows a person to kill a person abstractly. It allows the solider to kill without also forcing the soldier to come face to face with the darkness of killing. Marlantes is not saying that it is wrong for a soldier to kill. He is saying that it is dangerous to allow a soldier to kill if that soldier can’t see the real effects of his killing.

As I reflected on this passage, I couldn’t help but think of how easy it is for us to “clean kill” someone online. 

Proverbs 18:21 says:

Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.

The words we speak and type are powerful. Our words can either be weapons of mass destruction, or instruments of God’s grace. We can impart life through our words, or we can impart death and destruction. Do we take our words seriously?

The computer screen gives us an illusion of safety. Someone posts something on Facebook that we don’t like. We post a hastily composed, somewhat harsh reply. Someone Tweets something that isn’t 100% theologically correct. We immediately reply with a snarky correction. Someone writes a blog post that we disagree with. In the heat of the moment, we rip off a mean, derogatory comment. Someone writes a blog post, criticizing another Christian for this or that. We hop on the bandwagon, posting our own angry criticisms of that Christian. We rant angrily about our political leaders.

The Internet makes it possible for us to speak without seeing the consequences of our speech. I can’t see the tears or sadness that my angry Facebook comment causes. I can’t see the turmoil that my hastily composed, overly-critical email causes. I can’t see the destruction caused by my angry blog post. I’m safe behind my computer screen. I can say whatever I want about a person without having to look that person in the eyes. I can spread whatever rumors I want about a person, without seeing the destructive effects of those rumors.

Are we hiding behind the false safety of our computer screens? Are we prepared to give an account on Judgment Day for every careless word we speak and type (Matt. 12:36)?

Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and Tweet, and status update, and email, and blog comment. Are we spreading death or life?

How To Beat The Big One

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A couple years ago I was having some slight burning in my chest when I’d jog.

So I went to my doctor, who scheduled a stress test which revealed I had a blockage in my heart. Went to Pittsburgh, got a stent, spent one night in the hospital, and was back home. A few weeks later, my doctor shook my hand. “We beat the big one,” he said, pumping my hand as if I’d just won a marathon. “It was so good that you came in as soon as you felt that burning. When that particular artery is blocked in most people and they have a heart attack, they die 90% of the time. It is so good that you came in quickly. We beat the big one!”

The secret to “beating the big one” was dealing with it while it was a “small one.” This applies to lots of problems in life. If we deal with them quickly, while they are small, we can often solve them quickly and easily. If we don’t, they can become bigger problems that cost us time and money. If we deal with that leak in the roof when it’s a few drips it will be better than letting it go until our ceiling caves in from water damage.

This principle applies to anger and conflicts as well.

Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. (Eph 4:26-27)

One of the best vows my wife and I made on our wedding day was that by God’s grace we would not let the sun go down on our anger.

As one person said to my wife and me early on, keep short accounts. And by God’s grace, that is what we have always tried to do. It wasn’t always easy to keep this vow, especially in the first couple years of our marriage. There were times we’d be up really late trying to resolve a conflict. I even remember a few times when I said, “Kristi, It’s really late and I have to go to work tomorrow. Maybe I’m wrong and just not seeing it, but I’m committed to you and committed to working this out. So we will definitely work on this tomorrow.” And by God’s grace we always did.

When we let the sun go down on our anger – when we don’t try to resolve conflicts quickly – our anger festers. It simmers. It grows. We give the devil an opportunity. He adds his lying thoughts and tempts us in other directions. Our offense turns to bitterness and resentment. The devil loves it when we give each other the cold shoulder for days at a time. He loves unresolved conflicts in marriages and families and churches. He loves to divide and conquer.

Over the years I’ve found it best to deal with conflicts as quickly as possible. To go to someone as soon as I become aware they are offended with me, or as soon as I am tempted to be angry with them. The same day if I can. Sometimes there’s simply been a misunderstanding that can be quickly resolved. Other times it’s been something that required multiple conversations. But tackling conflicts quickly has spared me lots of temptation and grief.

There’s a spectrum from “love covers a multitude of sins” to “if your brother sins against you go to him.” Some sins we can simply forgive and overlook – cover in love. But other sins need to be tackled together. But whether you can deal with it simply and quickly – “Father, I forgive them, they didn’t realize what they were doing” and forget it – or it’s a sin that needs discussion, don’t let it fester.

Is there someone you are offended at? Or someone you know is angry with you? Go to them. Or pick up the phone and give them a call. Maybe you need to ask their forgiveness. Maybe you’re the one with the log in his eye. Maybe you misunderstood them. Maybe they didn’t intend to hurt you. It might simply be a communication problem. Or maybe you need to get together for a more serious conversation. But keep short accounts.

Deal with your anger while it’s simply a burning in your chest. Don’t neglect it until it becomes a full blown heart attack.

That’s how you beat the big one.

Fretting And Fearful For Our Nation? Here’s Some Good Advice…

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Do you fret over the state of this nation? Get angry about Obamacare? Get worked up watching Fox News? Are you fearful about the way things are going with our government?

If so, Psalm 37 has some good instruction for you. For all of us. Psalm 37 tells us the wicked and the righteous live in society together. The psalm says the wicked hate the righteous, plot against them, gnash their teeth at them, and draw their swords and bend their bows to bring the righteous down. The wicked pursue the abundance of the world and enrich themselves by borrowing and not paying back. They unjustly accuse the righteous. The wicked gain power and “spread out” by ruthlessness and aggression.

The righteous are tempted to fret because of the wicked, or to respond to them with anger and aggression. To fight fire with fire. But God gives the righteous instructions which we are wise to heed when tempted to anger at the unrighteous, especially when we are affected by their sin.

Here’s what God tells us to do. Instead of fuming over the government, or anxious about our company or aggressive toward our neighbor, God says:

Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers! (1)

Three times in the Psalm God says, “Fret not.” Don’t be fearful. Don’t get anxious. Instead he tells us to:

Trust in the Lord and do good
Cultivate faithfulness to God
Delight yourself in the Lord
Commit your way to the Lord
Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him
Refrain from anger and wrath
Turn from evil and do good
Wait for the Lord and keep his way

God says if we do these things, he’ll give us all we need. The righteous will inherit the land. The wicked will be cut off, and the meek will inherit the earth. He promises this numerous times in the Psalm.

God says if we fret and fume over the unrighteous it will only lead us into sin and evil ourselves. If we trust God and delight ourselves in him, he will give us contentment and supply all our needs.

In essence, here’s what Psalm 37 says: The wicked focus on this world and aggressively go after all they can get of it by hook or crook, and it seems like they prosper. The righteous focus on God, who satisfies them with himself. The wicked, who pursue the world, eventually not only lose the world, but their souls as well. The righteous gain God who provides enough of the world to meet their needs and eventually they inherit the new heaven and new earth which God will someday create.

So don’t fret. If watching political news programs gets you agitated, or you’re tempted to anger at your rising taxes, read Psalm 37. Keep reading it. It’s rich and comforting and will help you trust the Lord.