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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Getting angry doesn’t make a bad situation better

I struggle with bad drivers. It’s really the one thing that gets me unreasonably upset. I’m not the greatest driver in the world either, but it just makes me really really angry when other people on the road don’t take it seriously. It’s like they don’t understand that they’re controlling a giant killing machine. A car is a weapon, yet many drivers treat it like a toy.

I get angry. And I know I’ve said some things (my passengers can attest) that weren’t very flattering about other drivers on the road. But can you think of a time when yelling at a bad driver actually made them a better driver? Can you actually think of a time when yelling at anyone actually helped them?

man-couple-people-woman_1523x1016Today’s verses are 2 Timothy 2:25-26.

Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth. Then they will come to their senses and escape from the devil’s trap. For they have been held captive by him to do whatever he wants.

It’s tempting to yell and get angry, especially when we’re mad, but in my experience, losing my temper with someone else never fixes a bad situation. It only makes it worse.

Maybe it’s driving. Maybe it’s schoolwork. Maybe it’s a work project. Whatever situation you’re in, if you’re shouting and getting upset at the people around you, that won’t make them work harder. If anything, it will make them want to quit. It will just put distance between you and them.

Now, don’t get me wrong. You still need to speak up for what’s right. You still need to communicate with other people about what you’re thinking and feeling, but you should do it it in a way that is respectful. Be gentle about it.

Being gentle isn’t be weak. That’s an important thing to remember. Being gentle just means you’re taking their thoughts and feelings into consideration. You aren’t behaving like a bulldozer and steamrolling everyone in your path. Oftentimes being gentle actually takes more strength than letting loose on someone does.

If you know someone who believes a lie or who is antagonistic to the truth or who is just being stupid, regardless of how angry you are at them, it’s your job to love them. That’s our job. Period. Love people, in spite of how they act. Don’t pull punches, though. What’s true is true, whether people believe it or not, and as a Christ-follower it’s your job to be right. You should know what God says and so it. But that doesn’t mean you have to pummel people over the head with clubs. We don’t use the Bible to beat people up. We use the Bible to teach ourselves how to live, and in the peace of the life we life with Christ, other people come to Him.

Remember, it’s not up to us to save people. It’s up to us to live the way God says, and people around us will be drawn to that.

So don’t put it on yourself to bludgeon people into submission. If you’re going to bludgeon anyone, bludgeon yourself.

You can fight someone else all day long and have nothing to show for it but a fractured relationship. Instead, speak what’s true with love. You can tell people what God says without being hurtful. Do that instead. Leave the rest to God. He’s the only one who can change hearts, and that’s where the root of all our problems starts anyway.

Sun setting at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

How can you stop being angry?

I don’t get angry easily. It takes a special person to really make me mad. I get frustrated, sure. I get snappy, yeah. But angry? Not usually. Unless the situation is just right or (and this is more likely) my current problem is a result of my own actions.

This happened the other day. Without going into the gory details, let’s just say I got mad. I got really mad. It’s been a long time since I’ve been that upset. And the day didn’t get any better. It just kept getting worse. I couldn’t fix anything. I couldn’t find a solution. I couldn’t do anything about any of it. And the more I kept messing things up, the more angry I got.

When I get that angry, I tend to shift blame. That’s my first response. Isn’t it everyone’s? It’s not my fault. I’m not the one who such-and-such. Or if he/she would just let me do my job, this wouldn’t have happened. Anyone else ever experience that?

Well, I hate to tell you this, but getting angry about it isn’t the right way to handle it.

Sun setting at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Sun setting at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are James 1:19-21.

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. So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls.

God has some harsh things to say about anger. He doesn’t say it’s wrong. No, anger can be useful at times to stimulate us into action. But anger can rapidly rage out of control, especially when the focus of your anger is wrong.

Don’t ever make anger your first response. Maybe it’s what you feel first, but that doesn’t mean it’s what you have to express first. First, you need to listen. You need to take a deep breath and slow down and refocus. Then, when you’re calmer, pay attention.

In my situation, I was ready to blow up. Seriously. Those of you who know me know how rare that is, but I was totally on the brink. Absolutely ready to chuck it all in the corner and give up completely.

But a nagging little voice at the back of my brain started whispering louder and louder until I couldn’t ignore it. The voice kept asking the same question: “Who are you really angry at?”

It’s a good question to ask when you’re angry because most of the time the people we take our anger out on aren’t the people we’re actually even angry with. They’re just convenient targets.

So I took a deep breath. I hid in a quiet place for a little while until I could think straight. I asked God to take the blinder off and give me courage to face the truth.

I was angry at me. Because I was in a situation of my own making. Unwise choices. Consequences. Nothing earth shaking. Just irritating. And absolutely, 100% my fault. No one else’s.

And when God gave me the strength to face that fact, my anger actually went away, and it turned into a fierce desire to make things right again, to never get to that place again, to make the decisions I need to make and act on them immediately.

So who are you angry at today? Who made you angry? Who are you dealing with in your life who you think is the central focus of your anger? Are you sure that’s really the person you’re angry at?

Whoever you’re angry at, figure out a way to sort it out because anger left to simmer gets stronger and hotter as the years go by, and before you know it, that little bitty flame will grow into something you can’t control, a fire that blazes and destroys everything in its path.

Don’t be afraid to discover it’s yourself you’re angry at. Being angry at yourself is actually the best possible outcome because with God’s help, you can change your attitude. And our attitude is usually where everything starts.

Sunset at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Angry thoughts make an angry life

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve grown more careless about what I say. When I was younger, I guarded my tongue 24/7. I never said what I thought. I was afraid to even raise my hand to answer questions in Sunday School because I didn’t want to get an answer wrong. But something happened as the years passed and the careful watch over what I say has begun to fade. No, I don’t go around just spouting off, but I certainly will tell you what I’m thinking now.

And that’s good and bad. Both. Yes, it’s good to be confident enough to speak your mind, but speaking your mind isn’t always wise. Sometimes it’s better to remain silent. Everyone knows that we can get in trouble for the things we say out loud, but there’s never been a muzzle for our minds. Maybe there should be, because that was one of the things Christ talked about in the Sermon on the Mount.

How do you think? Are your thoughts full of selfishness? Are your thoughts full of anger and pride? Maybe you’re a master of keeping your thoughts to yourself, but eventually what you think is going to affect the way you live.

Sunset at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Sunset at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Matthew 5:21-22.

“You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.”

This statement was revolutionary, and it still is. Of course, killing someone is wrong, but just being angry at someone? And I should clarify. The Amplified Version is a little more specific on this. This is today’s passage in the Amplified Version:

You have heard that it was said to the men of old, You shall not kill, and whoever kills shall be liable to and unable to escape the punishment imposed by the court. But I say to you that everyone who continues to be angry with his brother or harbors malice (enmity of heart) against him shall be liable to and unable to escape the punishment imposed by the court; and whoever speaks contemptuously and insultingly to his brother shall be liable to and unable to escape the punishment imposed by the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, You cursed fool! [You empty-headed idiot!] shall be liable to and unable to escape the hell (Gehenna) of fire.

The anger this verse is talking about refers to a consistent state of anger or the act of harboring malice against someone. Anger on its own isn’t bad or wrong, but what anger forces you to do in many instances is. The Bible does say it’s all right to be angry, but it doesn’t say that doing something wrong is right–ever.

Notice it doesn’t say that harboring anger against someone is all right if they deserve it. Believe me, I know a lot of people who deserve my anger, but the Bible doesn’t say I can be angry at them if they deserve it. It says not to be continuously angry at all. Well, I guess it doesn’t say not to be angry. But it does say that if you are, you’ll face consequences.

Why? Well, how you think has a huge effect on how you live. Eventually your outside life is going to match your inside perspective, so you’d better make sure that your heart is straight so the rest of you will be too.

I just came off four very long days. I had to be in downtown Wichita starting this past Sunday at 2:30 p.m. I didn’t get a chance to take a breath until last night at 9:00 p.m. when I walked in the door of my house. My company’s national sales meeting is a big deal every year. It’s one of the biggest things we do as a marketing department, and this year it was even crazier because our department was in charge of a breakout session (that I somehow ended up responsible for). So I logged about 7 hours on Sunday, and then on Monday I worked 14 hours. Tuesday, I worked 17 hours. Wednesday I worked 12 hours. And on Thursday, I was really hoping to be able to catch up with everything that had stacked up while I was out, but I didn’t get to. Why? Well–let’s just say, a project popped up that demanded my attention whether I wanted to give it or not.

I’m not going to go into details because it’s not important. What matters is that I was angry about it. Oh boy, was I angry. And most of that anger stemmed from the fact that I was exhausted and overwhelmed and frustrated. I would have been better served just going home, but I had too much to do. So I stayed and kept getting more and more frustrated and more and more angry. And I couldn’t even finish it because I ended up needing input from someone who wouldn’t answer their phone. (And that’s when my director intervened and told me to go home because I looked exhausted. Thank God for bosses who notice those things.)

But even as I left, I was still angry. Almost at the verge of tears because now not only did I have to do this stupid project that didn’t matter, I couldn’t even do it without help. And for a performance-driven perfectionist like myself that’s the last straw.

So I did what any other single, self-sufficient, independent-minded, 21st Century working woman would do in these circumstances … I went to my parents’ house and took a nap.

And I woke up and felt much better. But I was still angry.

I was driving home in the dark last night just thinking about my anger and where it was coming from and why I couldn’t let it go. And so much of it came from my own frustration and my irritation at the whole situation. And, yes, there are some issues that need to be addressed, but being angry about it doesn’t help. And I’m not an angry person by nature, so anger turns me into someone that I’m not. And it’s someone that I don’t like.

So as I was drifting off to sleep (deep, wonderful, blissful sleep in my very own bed in my very own room) last night, I let it go. When compared to everything else that’s going on in my life right now, this whole situation is minor. It’s small. It’s not worth the effort of holding on to it. And I woke up this morning feeling like a new person, ready to go in and face this situation with a clear head and a calm spirit.

Am I going to get angry again? Well … if you know me and you know the situation I’m dealing with, you’ll understand when I say: Probably. But I’m going to try not to. And I’m not going to hold on to it. I’m going to let it go. Because if my thoughts are angry, my actions will be too. And that’s not right. It’s not fair to people around me, and it’s not a very good way to show how much Christ loves people.

Yes, anger has its place, and yes, anger is useful in some instances for motivating people. But it’s not the life we’re supposed to live. And it’s not the way we’re supposed to think.

So if you’re angry today or if you’re facing a circumstance that is probably going to make you angry, let it go. Be angry, recognize that you’re angry, and stop. Tell God about it. Even if you can’t tell the people around you about it, tell God. Yes, He already knows, but talking about it always helps me. And once you’ve got it off your chest, release it and don’t take it up again. Don’t let it penetrate your thoughts because your thoughts have an impact on how you live. And Christ-followers are called to live differently.

Pincushion flower (I think) - Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

It takes two to stay angry.

We live in an angry world. Have you noticed that? Everyone is angry. Everyone has a short temper. We all lose patience with each other far more easily than we should, and there’s always someone to blame.

Anger isn’t wrong on its own, of course. Anger itself isn’t a sin. On the contrary, anger is useful in some instances to spur action. There are times when anger is necessary. Even Jesus got angry. But anger is one of those emotions you have to guard very carefully because what we tend to do as a result of our anger is often sinful. So, yes, anger can be useful in small doses, but who wants to live that way?

How do we survive in an angry world full of angry people? Do you answer anger with anger?

Most of the anger people in our world are feeling right now isn’t useful anger. It’s self-absorbed indignation. It’s hatred or rage because they feel they’ve been mistreated. Or they feel like life isn’t treating them fairly. Or its directed at a person or a people group. Or it’s anger for the sake of anger.

Some people just like to fight. And I’m not talking about cheerful debate. I mean out-and-out quarrelling. And they’re not happy until they can have a good old-fashioned knock-down, drag-out fight.

I try to stay away from people like that. But what happens when avoidance doesn’t work? What happens when you work with someone who likes to fight? What happens when you live with someone who likes to fight? What do you do then?

Centurea flower - Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Centurea flower – Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verse is Proverbs 15:1.

A gentle answer deflects anger,
    but harsh words make tempers flare.

This is one of those verses that doesn’t really make sense straight off the bat. Frankly, from our perspective, if you answer an angry person with kind words, you’re going to be steamrolled. They will just roll you over and keep going, and all you will have accomplished is to provide them with a target.

Right? Has anyone else ever thought that about this verse?

But here’s the thing about human relationships: it takes two.

Relationships, whether they are romantic or friendships or familial or whatever, require that at least two people interact with each other. That’s what a relationship is. If you’re just by yourself, that’s not a relationship. You have to have someone else with you. Kind of like you can’t have a real conversation by yourself (unless you’re an author, and you’re just talking to yourself … but even then you likely are creating a conversation between two characters).

If you start a conversation with someone, the tone of that conversation doesn’t just depend on one person. It depends on both of you.

If both of you are saying kind things to each other, the tone will remain kind (and probably very mushy). If both of you are yelling at each other in anger, you both will continue to be angry. But if one person is angry, and the other remains calm and kind, eventually the anger will run out.

A speaker at a conference I attended said that the limit that one person can yell at another person without response is two minutes. Granted, that two minutes will feel like an eternity, but that’s as long as they can go without having someone yell back.

Anger is exhausting, emotionally and physically. And if there’s no anger in response, it starves. If someone pushes you and you push back, you will feed each others’ motion indefinitely. But if only one of you is pushing, eventually they’ll run out of steam. And they’ll stop.

And it’s the same thing with anger.

So if someone yells at you, don’t yell back. If someone pushes you (emotionally or physically), don’t push back, although if they physically push you, you might want to consider calling the police. Obviously I’m not talking about issues of domestic violence. That’s another topic altogether.

But in normal interpersonal relationships, answer angry words with kind words. It’s difficult. It’s not instinctive. Instinct is to snap back. But instincts are usually sinful because we are sinful people. Don’t run away from it. Yes, step back from it, but always answer, always give a reason for why you’re stepping back and be kind about it. And if see how long that anger lasts.