Anger is like holding fire in your hand

I have been frustrated. I’ve been disappointed. I’ve been tense. But I can count on my hand the number of times I’ve been angry. It just doesn’t happen often. It’s not my personality. But when I do reach the point where anger hits me, I have a hard time getting rid of it.

Maybe it’s a lack of experience. Maybe it’s a character flaw. Either way, I don’t like it.

And while I hate to admit it, I’m angry. And I’ve been angry for several months, no matter how hard I’ve tried to let it go or give it to God or stop fixating. The anger just stays, cemented in my heart, strapped to my shoulders.

Anger is like a dark, stifling cloak that weighs you down. Have you ever worn a woolen coat in summertime? That’s what anger is for me. It’s vexing, exhausting, and it makes me say and do things I would never say or do. Anger turns me into someone I’m not, even if it’s righteous anger. Regardless, once it gets its hooks in me, how do I escape?

Ephesians. That’s all I really need to say. I never thought Ephesians was a book about anger management, and maybe it’s not. But it has a lot to say about being angry, and it has even more to say about being in relationships with people who make you angry. The chiefest of which is the fact that people aren’t our enemies (Ephesians 6:12).

For a moment, set aside the emotion. Push the crushing hurt and the sting of betrayal aside. Let the memory of what people have done to you fade for a second. And think.

Anger is like holding fire in your handChrist-followers have an enemy, and it isn’t each other. The enemy hates us. He will do anything to get us to destroy each other, to turn against each other, to wreck each other’s testimonies. And the most effective weapon to hurt a Christ-follower is another Christ-follower.

Show me a damaged Christian, and I’ll show you another Christian who thought they were doing the right thing.

But once you’re hurt, once the damage is done, what do you do with the anger? It doesn’t matter if they were right or wrong. That’s no longer the issue. The issue you’re facing now is how do you move on? How do you recover? How do you heal? And how do you forgive?

First, recognize that your anger can control your actions, but you don’t to let it (Ephesians 4:26). You always have a choice. You can be angry but refuse to act on that anger. You can choose to do what is right, what is good, what is honorable, and what brings glory to God even if you’re angry.

Second, be kind (Ephesians 4:31-32). Be kind to the people who hurt you. Be kind just in general. You won’t want to be. You’ll want to snap at everyone. You’ll want to hurt other people so that they feel what you feel, whether they’re the ones who hurt you or not. But think about that sort of behavior. If you use your anger as an excuse to attack other people, you’re saying that you deserve better treatment than Jesus.

Jesus had every right to demand honor and glory, but He didn’t. He could have commanded all mankind to bow at His feet, but He chose not to. Jesus was God. Jesus is God. But when people lied about Him, tried to ruin His reputation, hurt Him, and betrayed Him, did He turn against us? Did He lash out against His accusers? Did He snap or speak harshly to His followers? (Philippians 2:5-11)

No. So if Jesus didn’t get special treatment, you shouldn’t expect it either. (John 15:18)

James 1:19We should never aspire to anger, and we should never seek to be angry (James 1:19). Anger can be useful in certain circumstances, but it’s like trying to hold fire in your hand. It’ll spur you to action, but it will leave scars. Even passive anger, which is a thing, can cause damage—sometimes more than anything else, because passive anger can be passed off as concern or even love. But you can always tell the difference. Love always wants the best for someone else, and anger never does.

It’s not easy.

Choosing to put away the hurt inside should be easy, but it’s one of the hardest things you’ll ever do. It feels like giving up. It feels like letting the bad guy win. But that’s not what you’re doing. What you are doing by setting aside the anger and choosing to be humble is obeying (Colossians 3:12-14). And if there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that God blesses obedience.

Are you angry today? I hear you. But you don’t have to stay there. Those people who hurt you, who made you feel this way, they aren’t your enemies. Our enemy isn’t someone we can see or touch, and that means we can’t fight him in our own power. That’s why we need God’s help. So instead of fighting back against what you can touch, fight back using the tools God has given you.

You have a choice. You can act on your anger, or you can be kind. What do you think Jesus would do?

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The double-edged sword of a bad decision

At first, I thought someone had turned on a television set somewhere. After all, it’s not normal for people to just start screaming in the middle of a restaurant. But it didn’t last long, so I went back to my hummus and my conversation with my friend across the table. Only moments later, the woman at the other side of the restaurant started screaming again.

From the angle where I was sitting, I couldn’t see her well. But she was pretty much just telling someone to leave her alone. I don’t know who it was. Honestly, I was a little hesitant to look. It went on for a little while until she left, pushing someone out the door with her. Again, I was trying not to pay too close attention.

The only think I could think and say when she left was that somebody was having a really bad day. I’ve had days like that, where I really just wanted to scream at everyone. But does screaming really help?

Shouting womanToday’s verse is Proverbs 9:13.

The woman named Folly is brash.
She is ignorant and doesn’t know it.

As far as I know, there’s no particular reason that Folly (or foolishness) in this passage is personified as female. That’s not a sexist statement. Actually, Wisdom in the verses just before it is also personified as female. Both men and women can be foolish or wise. It has nothing to do with gender.

Now, I didn’t know the woman who was at the restaurant. I’m sure she was having a really hard time, otherwise she wouldn’t have reacted the way she did. But I can tell you the times when I’ve snapped or shouted at someone else because I was having a bad day, it never helped the situation. It usually just made it worse.

In the heat and emotion of the moment, anger makes us feel better. Shouting makes us feel stronger. But it doesn’t actually change anything about us. It really just draws more attention to ourselves.

That’s the double-edge sword of poor choices. When you make your decision, you think you know what you’re doing. But it turns out that you don’t. You just didn’t realize it.

Again, nothing against this poor woman, but I’m pretty sure that blowing a gasket and screaming her lungs out in the middle of a restaurant didn’t end up making her problem go away. I wasn’t privy to the conversation, so I don’t know. Maybe I’m generalizing.

But I know what happens when I react that way. When I’m faced with the option of losing my cool or staying calm, and I lose my cool, I end up hurting people, and I generally make life more difficult for myself.

Life is tough sometimes. And there really are moments when it feels like you just have to scream at someone. But you know what? Maybe it’ll make you feel better for a moment, but that kind of satisfaction is fleeting. And in the process, you’ll run the risk of ruining someone else’s day. Are you really so selfish that you would sabotage someone else’s day just to make yourself feel better for half a second?

That’s not a good trade. It’s not worth it.

Take a deep breath. Get your perspective straight. Sing a song, say a prayer, do something. There are other ways to deal with a bad day or difficult circumstances than going around screaming at people. Do yourself (and everybody around you) a favor and try to think of some. Who knows? You might come up with a solution to your own problem.

Lion roaring about something at the Omaha Zoo, Omaha, NE

Sometimes you gotta explode

Maybe it’s different for extroverts, but when I get really upset about something or when I am really disappointed about something or really hurt about something, I don’t blow up. I simmer. I’m like a bottle of soda pop that you shake up but don’t open—you can see the bubbles threatening inside, but they have nowhere to go, so they stay put until they settle down. And I suppose that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with being that way.

Except what happens if someone opens a bottle of pop right after it’s been shaken up? Or dropped?

Yeah. It explodes. And makes a mess. So what’s better? To explode first? Or to explode later?

I wish there were an option to not explode, but—just being real here—everybody explodes at some point. Or at least everybody hits a breaking point at least once in their lives, though whether you explode or not depends on your personality.

So, is that okay? Is it okay to hit the point where you can’t take it anymore? And when you get there, what do you do about it?

Well, I think the number one thing you can do is talk about it. And don’t feel like you have to go to a therapist. You don’t even have to go to a friend or a family member. You don’t have to go anywhere. You can stop what you’re doing and tell God about it.

Today’s verses are from Psalm 13.

Lion roaring about something at the Omaha Zoo, Omaha, NE

Lion roaring about something at the Omaha Zoo, Omaha, NE

O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever?
    How long will you look the other way?
How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul,
    with sorrow in my heart every day?
    How long will my enemy have the upper hand?

Turn and answer me, O Lord my God!
    Restore the sparkle to my eyes, or I will die.
Don’t let my enemies gloat, saying, “We have defeated him!”
    Don’t let them rejoice at my downfall.

But I trust in your unfailing love.
    I will rejoice because you have rescued me.
I will sing to the Lord
    because he is good to me.

The Psalms amaze me. Sometimes they disturb me. I can’t believe that David or the other Psalm writers would commit some of these thoughts to paper. But all I have to do is think about some of the things I’ve accused God of doing (or not doing), and I feel just as verbally abusive toward God as the Psalmists.

Here’s the point. God knows that we aren’t perfect. He knows our stories. He knows our personalities. And He knows how much we can take before we snap. Sometimes we need to snap because that may be the only way we get the picture that we’re not in control of our lives.

David snapped. More than once.

David accused God of lots of things. David wailed in his despair. He hurled emotional statements at God and at others and at himself, and if he hadn’t been in such a state, he probably never would have said any of it.

Did God strike him with lightning? Did God give up on him? Did God abandon him?

No. Even when David’s life turned upside down because of his own sins, God never left him. So why do we think that God will leave us?

What I find most fascinating about the Psalms is that so many of them begin with the writer crying out to God for help or out of despair and depression. So many Psalms start with the writer acknowledging how lost he is. But every Psalm usually ends with the writer—the same one—cheering and rejoicing and praising God.

How does that happen? How can you start out piteously and end up victoriously?

Well, first you have to get piteous out of the way. And you can’t do that until you accept that you feel it and face it with the truth—God is stronger than any trouble you’re facing.

Many times when I’m crying out to God on the bad days, I’ll draw myself up short because my brain reminds me just how much God has done for me. I’m in the middle of bemoaning my present circumstances, and it’s like a little voice whispers: “Hey, dummy, what about last week when He did something impossible for you?”

Or not even impossible. Something kind.

Why does God allow horrible things to happen in our lives? I don’t pretend to know, but I do know that no matter how awful it may be, He can turn it into something good—something better than it ever could have been by itself. And He never will abandon us, no matter what we say or do. If you truly belong to Him, you’re stuck with Him for eternity.

So don’t bottle it up. Or do. Either way, when you explode, make sure you take it to God first. He’s big enough to take it, and he’s patient enough to love you through it. There’s nothing you can do to change that, for better or for worse.

The dread mulberry bumper smasher at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Anger causes more trouble than it fixes

My driveway is still full of snow. I guess 17 inches doesn’t go away as quickly as you’d expect. The road graders have come through at least, so the dirt road and the blacktop are clear, but to get out of my driveway you have to plow through a drift as high as your waist.

I tell you all that to explain the photo I picked to go with the devotional today. Because my driveway is still covered in knee-high drifts of snow, I can’t get back into my garage. So I’ve been parking under the tree in the photo. It’s a lovely male mulberry (yes, trees can be male or female, did you know that?). And yesterday morning, in the dark and the subzero temperatures, I struggled out to my car and got in. And it still takes some doing to escape, so you have to go forward and go backward. Well, because it was dark and early and my coffee hadn’t started working yet, I neglected to remember that there was a tree behind me as I was backing up.

Yup. Backed right into it. Put a nice big old dent in my trunk and a crack in my bumper. This makes the second stationary object I’ve backed into in a year. There’s nothing that makes you feel like a worse driver. And there’s nothing that can make me angrier at myself.

Everyone has their buttons that shouldn’t be pushed. Everyone has that breaking point in their lives that just requires the right amount of prodding to send them into a fury. Do you know yours? Some anger is okay. Anger on its own isn’t a sin. On the contrary, anger can sometimes be useful in getting things done. But lingering anger? Lasting anger? Not such a good idea. And anger shouldn’t be our main motivation anyway.

The dread mulberry trunk smasher at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

The dread mulberry trunk smasher at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are James 1:19-20.

Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires.

I was so angry at myself yesterday, but my first inclination is to do what everybody does. Not blame myself. I don’t want to take the blame for neglecting to notice that tree. So I started hurling accusations, but that didn’t last long because the only others that could possibly be blamed for the whole thing was whoever manufactured my car with such a small back window and God for making it snow. So as you can imagine, my accusation hurling didn’t last very long before I realized I was being ridiculous and just needed to accept responsibility.

But that’s what anger does. It sharpens your tongue while it dulls your mind. You don’t think about the blame you’re placing; you just don’t want it to be your fault. And that’s where we lose track of God’s righteousness.

The trouble with anger is that developing the wisdom and patience to overcome it takes a long time. Anger is like a fire or like a blizzard–it’s overwhelming, relentless, and usually shouldn’t be braved alone. Being slow to anger, as James puts it, is a habit. It doesn’t happen automatically. It’s a choice you have to make over and over again until it becomes second nature.

It’s not impossible. It’s just hard work.

So the next time you’re tempted to get angry, take a moment and think. Ask yourself what you’re really angry about because half the time our anger stems from something completely unrelated to our current situation. So identify it. Figure out what’s making you angry. And then face it. Don’t hide it or stuff it in a closet. Don’t deny it. Deal with it. Understand it. And if it really is something you have done, don’t shift the blame to someone else. Don’t pass the responsibility on to another person if it’s yours.

We all make mistakes. That’s how we learn. Getting angry about those mistakes turns you into a fool because you’re too busy trying to pin the blame on someone else unfairly to learn the lesson you need.

What did I learn? Check the flippin’ back window before I back up. We’ll see how well I learned when I go to work this morning because I’m still parked in the same place.

Don’t get angry. Learn your lesson and move on.

 

Dandelions in the yard at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Nobody wants to kill a pansy

I don’t know when, but something happened in our culture that changed our perspective of what a Christian is supposed to act like. People look at the way someone acts and determines from their behavior that “they’re not very Christian” or they’re not a “good” Christian simply by merit of how they behave, when the truth is that being a Christian has less to do with our behavior and more to do with the state of our heart.

That’s not to say that our actions are meaningless. That’s the not the case at all. The distinction should be made that a Christian never loses his or her temper or never gets angry or never demands anything. The distinction comes with why and how. I’ve heard people say that Christians should never be angry. I’ve heard people say that Christians should never get upset. And part of me agrees with that, especially when you consider the reasons why most people get angry or upset.

Most anger in our world comes from petty unimportant things. We lose our tempers over the smallest problems, issues that don’t mean anything. And as Christians, we shouldn’t. But that doesn’t mean we’re not supposed to be angry about things that are worth it.

Dandelions in the yard at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Dandelions in the yard at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Matthew 21:12-13.

Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out all the people buying and selling animals for sacrifice. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves. He said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves!”

This passage out of Matthew is one I’ve turned to many times when I feel angry about something, strangely enough. It reminds me that being angry isn’t a sin, especially when that anger is just. But there’s a lot happening in this passage. This marks a time when Christ returned to Jerusalem, and what He found in the Temple was shocking. Culturally, I’m not sure if we can understand what’s going on here without taking a lot of time to do an in-depth study, but basically what’s happening is that the market people inside the Temple who were supposed to be fair when they sold animals for people to sacrifice were cheating people. That’s probably the easiest way to explain it.

And it made Jesus angry. The Temple was supposed to be a sacred place where people came to worship God, and because of greed and selfishness, people had turned into something it was never meant to be. Notice how He handled His anger, though. He didn’t curse. He didn’t lose control. He didn’t direct His anger at one person. He simply righted the problem, and He backed up His actions with Scripture.

Okay. Throughout the month of May, I’ve been studying the Fruit of the Spirit, as recorded in Galatians 5:22-23 (But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control). The Fruit I’m focusing on today is gentleness (πρᾳότης). But what does that have to do with anger?

The version of the Bible that I learned this passage in didn’t use the term gentleness. It used meekness, which honestly isn’t a term you hear in 21st Century America often. A more accurate definition is: “displaying the right blend of force and reserve, strength in gentleness, avoids unnecessary harshness, yet without compromising or being too slow to use necessary force.”

Meekness is quiet strength. It’s inner calm and humility that doesn’t hesitate to bash skulls when it’s needed. And it absolutely doesn’t mean that you take conflict lying down.

Too many times I think Christians get this idea that being gentle, humble, meek means that we don’t get to stand up for what’s right. Too many times I think we embrace this concept that Jesus was this soft-spoken pansy who never challenged anyone. And anyone who believes that hasn’t read the Gospels. Jesus challenged everyone. He challenged everything. He took the preconceived notions of how life was supposed to be and turned them on their heads. He angered the religious leaders to the point where they conspired to put Him to death.

Let’s face it, folks. Nobody wants to kill a pansy. If anything, people like that are ignored, written off, neglected. They’re easy to push to the sidelines. And nobody was able to do that with Christ.

Christ was a blue-collar worker. A carpenter. An average man like anyone else. Isaiah tells that He wasn’t even handsome, unlike the beautiful glowing portraits people have painted over the years. I guarantee He didn’t look like that.

But He wasn’t a zealot either. Christ is the best example of meekness in Scripture. He’s called the Lamb of God, but He’s also called the Lion of Judah. How can one person be both a lion and a lamb? That’s meekness. Maybe it sounds like a paradox, but it’s not. It’s a Fruit of the Spirit. It’s evidence that God is working in your life.

So what does that mean for us today? How do we demonstrate meekness in our lives? What’s worth getting angry about? And how do you show anger without sin? Because anger on its own isn’t sin, but anger can drive us to sin, and we need to deal with it before it gets to that point.

It comes down to Scripture and having a relationship with Christ. It’s okay to be angry when the church doesn’t line up with Scripture. It’s okay to be angry when God is misused in culture. It’s okay to be angry when Jesus is mocked and openly misrepresented, whether by believers or nonbelievers alike. But our response needs to be Scriptural too. Now, I don’t really think any of us can walk into a materialistic church and start kicking people out and turning over tables. I don’t think that’s necessarily a scriptural response, especially in our culture right now.

But there’s nothing wrong with speaking out. There’s nothing wrong with getting to the bottom of why people are doing what they’re doing. Maybe they’re doing these things out of ignorance, and then it becomes our duty to teach them. But however we choose to deal with a situation that makes us angry, we need to remember meekness. It’s that balance between anger and love. It’s the balance between standing up for what’s right and speaking truth in love, and that’s not something we can do on our own. That’s something God has to do through us. That’s something He has to speak through us.

And so when you get angry, first make sure it’s not coming from some unresolved issue in your own heart. And then, when you choose to act, make sure you ask the Holy Spirit to help you. Because while anger is a useful tool, it has done more damage in the church and in lives and in relationships than anything else. When we turn our anger over to God, He’ll take care of it, and when we trust our actions to the Holy Spirit, He’ll help us say what we need to say and do what we need to do.