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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Listening

Verses like the one this morning make me cringe. Actually, most verses out of James make me cringe because so much of what James writes about is what I struggle with. And this morning is one that truly throws me for a loop.

James 1:19

19 Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.

As I was reading this today, I realized something I never saw before. I always considered these three instructions to be individual. As in, we need to make sure that we are good, attentive listeners. We need to make sure we don’t talk too much. We need to make sure we don’t lose our temper. But as I was reading this morning, I started to wonder if instead of individual commands they’re actually connected.

How many times have I sat and listened to someone speak without interrupting them to tell them that they’re wrong and getting angry about it?

Listening is a sign of respect. Listening demonstrates that you love someone else more than you love yourself, that you’re more concerned about what’s going on in their life than you are about what’s happening in yours. Listening is hard. But that’s probably becuase it’s a good thing to do.

So what do you do when you’re listening to someone and they say something wrong? Or they say something offensive? What do you do? Do you jump all over them? Do you interrupt them and tellt hem that they’re wrong?

If we think about these three commands as though they are all connected, what are they saying to do?

Be quick to listen. That means we need to be eager and excited to listen to someone else’s story. But once they get started, let them finish their thought without interrupting them. And then, don’t get angry at them for expressing beliefs or opinions that contradict your beliefs or opinions. Let them finish their thought. Let them have their say. And then — calmly and without anger — explain your position. Explain your beliefs. Explain your opinions. And explain why you feel that way.

I struggle with this enormously, especially if someone is telling me something I have already heard before. If somebody is repeating something I’ve already heard, I usually interrupt them and finish the thought for them. And, honestly, that’s just rude. I should care more about the people who are talking to me than I do about what they’re telling me. So what if I heard it before? I shouldn’t be in such a hurry that hearing it again bothers me.

I am always quick to listen, but I’m not always slow to speak. And that’s something I need to work on.