Winning the anger war
By Jeff Brawner
Down through history, we’ve had the Age of Reason and the Age of Enlightenment. We have even made it through the Age of Aquarius! There are many who believe that historians will someday call our era the “age of rage.”
They may be right. Almost every day we hear about (or witness firsthand) an incident of road rage, airline rage … even supermarket rage. Be honest. Haven’t you ever been stuck in the “12 items or less” line directly behind a person with a cart full of groceries? Doesn’t it make you want to count their items out loud as they pull them out of the basket?
The fact is, we all find ourselves on the giving or receiving end of anger from time to time. But we needn’t become victims of the anger war that is raging around us — or perhaps within us.
Appreciating our anger potential
It is important to realize at the outset that anger is not a sin. Ephesians 4:26 makes this clear. The New American Standard Bible translates it “be angry, and yet do not sin.” The Message paraphrase is even more direct: “Go ahead and be angry. You do well to be angry — but don’t use your anger as fuel for revenge.”
Anger can be a positive or negative force in our lives; it all depends on how we use or misuse it.
As radical as it may seem, Scripture teaches that anger can be an enabler, the fuel we need to propel us to right actions.
Consider an example from 1 Samuel 11:1-6. After laying siege to Jabesh Gilead, the Ammonite invader insisted on a grisly condition for peace: gouging out the right eye of every Israelite in the city. When the news made it back to King Saul’s hometown, all the people wept — all except Saul. The Scripture tells us that “the Spirit of God came upon him in power, and he burned with anger” (v. 6, NIV).
Clearly, Saul’s anger was Spirit-led. It was not only the appropriate response, it gave him the focused energy he needed to rally his nation.
A Los Angeles resident named Deborah had an experience with enabling anger. She had long felt that her community was losing the war against violence. Her friends and neighbors were afraid to walk around in their own neighborhood. One day, Deborah looked out her window and witnessed three teenage boys attempting to steal her neighbor’s car in broad daylight. The boys saw Deborah in the window, but didn’t seem to care.
Deborah later told the L.A. Times, “I went out there with a stick and I told them, ‘How dare you insult me that way, stealing this car right in my face as if I didn’t exist?’ ” The teenagers ran off, but Deborah wasn’t satisfied. She gathered her neighbors together, worked with the Police Department and organized a neighborhood watch program. Crime is now virtually nonexistent on her street.
The capacity to get angry is not a defect in our nature. It is a God-given ability designed to be used in a God-given manner. Unfortunately that’s not always the way it turns out.
Most of us are more familiar with the down side of the anger equation.
“People with quick tempers cause a lot of quarreling and trouble” (Proverbs 29:22, TEV).
I read about a man who got his car hopelessly stuck in a snowbank. After repeated efforts to get it free, he became so enraged that he took out his tire iron and smashed all his windows. He used the shotgun in his trunk to shoot out all his tires. Then, after reloading, he opened the hood and fired several fatal shots at his engine. The police were called, but “autocide” is not a crime when the “victim” is your own vehicle.
Inappropriate, misused anger not only destroys cars. It can destroy us.
Besides the obvious damage it inflicts on our most precious relationships, unresolved anger is linked to more than 20 physical maladies including headaches, stomach distress, hypertension, colitis, even colds. Since unresolved anger is known to weaken the immune system, it can be linked to a host of other dangerous — even deadly — diseases.
God’s anger prescription
“My dear brothers, take note of this: 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, NIV).
This short passage outlines three keys that will set us free from destructive anger.
Being “quick to listen” begins by tuning in to others with our ears, eyes and emotions. What are people really saying to us? What are the intentions behind their words? What are their body signals telling us?
The young preacher of a troubled church paid a call on an elderly member of his congregation who was known for her unfailing kindness. During the course of their conversation, he asked her bluntly, “How do you do it? How do you keep smiling in the midst of so much bitter talk and backbiting?” The woman’s answer was very wise. “Everyone falls into one of two categories,” she said. “Either they are trying to hurt me or they are not. If they’re not, there’s no sense getting upset about it. If they are, I’m just too old and stubborn to let them get away with it.”
When we listen with spiritual ears, we are less likely to waste our anger on situations that don’t warrant it.
We also must listen to our own thoughts and emotions. We must stop and ask ourselves why we are feeling anger. Are we falling into a pattern we learned in childhood? If we got what we wanted as a child by pouting, we will likely continue to perfect our pouting skills as the years go by. The same is true for tantrums, emotional explosions and so on. Are we repeating behavior that we have observed? Proverbs 22:24,25 says, “Do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn his ways and get yourself ensnared” (NIV). Are there deeper emotions or unconfessed sins hiding behind the anger? Anger is often the fruit of a deeper root. It may be nothing more than a mechanism we use to avoid having to deal with more painful emotions like hurt, humiliation, guilt or frustration.
The answers to these questions are important as we “tune in” to God. He will give us the insight we need into ourselves, our situation and the people around us.
James admonishes us to be slow to speak and slow to “heat up.” Why would he say that unless he knew that we have the capacity to put the brakes on our anger?
You may have no choice about the feelings that well up inside you after being given a traffic ticket you don’t think you deserved. Deciding whether to hit the policeman is another story.
The fact is we have far more control over what we say and do than we sometimes recognize or admit.
James points out that “man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” Clearly, if we are to win the war with anger, we must begin to ask ourselves what God desires for us, for our situation and for the other people involved.
David Jeremiah told the story of a young man named Peter who had struggled with anger for as long as he could remember, even though he had been raised in a Christian home.
Just as he and his wife were expecting their first child, Peter found something extra in his pay envelope: a pink slip saying that his services as a police officer would no longer be needed. No explanation, just termination.
To say Peter was angry was an understatement. He lay awake at night fantasizing about murdering the police chief who laid him off. After all, he thought, who better than a cop to commit the perfect crime? Soon, his thoughts turned into plans. He briefly pondered what might happen if he were caught, but decided to risk everything to get even.
As Peter stood in front of his gun cabinet, his mind was filled with angry voices, urging him on — except for one voice, different from the rest. There was the sound, the feeling, of prayer within the buzzing of his head. It made no sense at all. Somehow, some part of Peter was praying as the rest of him was plotting. “Please God, stop me! Don’t let me take this man’s life. Don’t let me dishonor my wife and my unborn child. I ask You now, Lord, restrain my hand.”
Just like that, the spirit of vengeance was broken. Peter knelt, trembling, and wept. Then he put away the guns and the plans and the rage and he walked out the door to find a new job.
When the baby arrived, Peter tried to call his parents to share the good news, but accidentally dialed his own number instead. There was a message waiting from a man offering him a job. His new supervisor turned out to be a committed Christian who not only nurtured Peter in his work, but in his faith.
Peter won his war with anger not because of his willpower, but because God’s power was set free to work when he surrendered his will. The same God who came through for Peter will come through for you. You need not become a victim of the “age of rage.” God has a better plan for your life!
Jeff Brawner is senior pastor of Bonita Valley Community Church (Assemblies of God) in Bonita, Calif.
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