How can I deal with. my anger? Condensed Edition

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1 How can I deal with my anger? Condensed Edition

2 Condensed Edition How can I deal with my anger? We often think of anger as being explosive and aggressive. When it hits, it can feel like an inner fire. We see red and feel hot and sweaty. Our stomach churns, our blood pressure rises and we prepare to do some serious damage to whoever s responsible for our pain. At other times we keep our anger locked up inside, burying it deep and hoping it will go away. That response to anger results in a silence that can isolate us from the people around us.

3 As we live in a world of conflict, misunderstandings and messy relationships, there are many triggers that can push us to angry responses. Is it possible that, though appropriate at some times, our anger could be very dangerous at other times? How can we know when anger is right or wrong? How can we be wiser in our responses to life s triggers? This short booklet is intended to help us sort out some of the issues of anger. No matter what our anger How can we know when anger is right or wrong? looks like or how justified it may sometimes feel, it has the potential to damage us and those around us. This booklet won t answer every question you might have about anger. The subject is far too vast and individual. But this introduction will hopefully provide a starting point for thinking about what anger is, where it comes from and some of the ways we can learn to deal with it. [2] HOW CAN I DEAL WITH MY ANGER?

4 Is anger always wrong? Anger is often assumed to be wrong, leaving many of us feeling overwhelmed and guilty because of our angry reactions. The Bible is very honest about anger and how dangerous it can be. However, it also tells us about the importance of anger. Anger is not necessarily a wrong or bad thing. In fact, sometimes anger is very good. For instance, Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus: Be angry, and do not sin : do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil (Eph. 4:26-27). Rather than saying never get angry, Paul surprisingly says be angry. God, our Creator, knows that anger is an important and necessary emotion for us to have in a broken and hurting world. Clearly this Bible verse shows that there is such a thing as good or acceptable anger. However, Paul gives a couple of qualifying warnings to help us understand the challenge: do not sin. Do not let the sun go down on your wrath: Paul tells us to deal with anger as soon as we are aware of it (even if the reason for the anger seems good). If we dwell on it, anger can take over and make us bitter. Do not give place to the devil: he knows how to turn even the most justified anger into a consuming hatred that distorts our view of God and those around us. So we must be careful to test our anger and any actions we want to take against the loving and patient character of Christ. IS ANGER ALWAYS WRONG? [3]

5 When is anger a problem? Like most of our emotions, anger is complex. While Paul s letter to the Ephesians seems to make it clear that anger doesn t have the default position of bad, we are warned elsewhere that the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God (James 1:20). God s righteousness refers to His perfect, loving and fair character. And we are promised that, though we cannot achieve righteousness on our own, Jesus is our righteousness (1 Cor. 1:30) and the Holy Spirit is working in us to make us more like Jesus each day (Rom. 8:9-17; Eph. 4:13-15). So, our anger is wrong when it doesn t display the concern, nature and purpose of Jesus Christ. Left to our own devices, our anger can quickly become about ourselves as a self-protective or selfreliant response. When we instinctively trust in ourselves and our view of fairness, we can get angry when things don t go how we want. This kind of self-centred anger isn t for the benefit of others. If our anger is all about ourselves, it won t reflect Jesus priorities or concerns, but our own. This kind of anger only produces pain and distance in our relationships. Sometimes we get angry because it is easier to explode at someone rather than say sorry for something we ve done wrong. Other times anger allows [4] HOW CAN I DEAL WITH MY ANGER?

6 us to remain hidden. We use anger as a shield to make us seem strong or fierce, so that our weaknesses and insecurities will be kept out of sight. And, of course, we get angry when we are treated badly or hurt in some way. Whilst sometimes anger can be an appropriate response in some situations, if we act on that anger according only to our own instincts of fairness or justice, it can lead to more harm than good. So, for the most part, if our anger is about ourselves, our interests, our protection or our agendas, it will not produce the righteousness of God, which is first concerned with making Jesus known in this world. Cain is a prime example of a man in the Bible angrily protecting and providing for himself, rather than humbling himself under the all-sufficient provision and love of God. Genesis 4 tells the story of Cain s anger at his brother Abel when Abel s sacrifice was preferred by God. God said to Cain, Why are you angry?... If you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it (Gen. 4:6-7). God presented Cain with the choice he had to make about his anger: he could rule over it by saying sorry to God and lining up with God s right purposes, or he could brood over his wounded pride until the anger took over, resulting in destructive action. He chose the latter path, killing Abel in cold blood (v. 8) and so receiving God s judgement (vv ). Cain s story reminds us that anger rooted in selfcentred motives doesn t work. Such anger doesn t lead to love but destruction. WHEN IS ANGER A PROBLEM? [5]

7 When is anger good? The solution to our anger is not to simply stop being angry. Anger is too complex for that. Merely trying hard to not be angry can fill us with despair as we fail again and again. As Paul said to the church at Ephesus, allowing ourselves to feel anger is part of a rounded and healthy life. But, since our instinct is often towards self-centred anger, like Cain, when is anger actually good? One way to think about this is to consider God s anger. For many of us, just talking about the anger of God can be disturbing. We want to see God as love and not as an angry, all-powerful being. But, what if God s anger is different from our anger? What if His anger is actually a reflection of His love? How might that change our perspective? There is much we can learn about our own anger by carefully studying God s anger; both what makes it different and what it looks like. The Bible makes it clear that God is slow to anger. What makes God s anger different? As we have already seen, our anger is often an immediate reaction against things that don t go our way. By contrast, the Bible makes it clear that God is slow to [6] HOW CAN I DEAL WITH MY ANGER?

8 anger (Ex. 34:6-7; Psalm 103:8; Jonah 4:2). And, because He loves us, His anger is stirred by whatever brings harm to those He has made in His own image; things like poverty, injustice and bullying. He hates to see people suffer. That makes Him angry. And what makes God most angry is the cause of these things: our sin. We see what God s anger looks like in the Person of Jesus. While on earth, Jesus got angry with the Jewish religious leaders (Matt. 23). Why? He was angry with them because instead of leading the people in mercy, kindness and truth, they were primarily serving themselves. They weren t helping others to find God; instead they were making up complicated rules to keep the people in line and make themselves look good. God s anger isn t simply about Himself or His honour. It comes from His desire for all of us to know Him and enjoy a personal relationship with Him. When we make our own selfish desires more important, we miss out on His personal love, care and compassion. We end up lost and alone. And this makes God angry; it is not how He created us to live. His anger is not the opposite of His love, but an extension of it. How can He tolerate the things in our lives which distance us from Him or hurt the people around us? If we love God and love the people He has created, we should resonate with His anger against anything that stands between Him and His rescuing love for those around us. What does God s anger look like? God s anger against all that separates us from Him is totally opposite WHEN IS ANGER GOOD? [7]

9 to the anger we often express! Rather than taking His anger out on others, He took the pain and wrong of our anger on Himself. In an act of amazing self-sacrifice, Jesus gave up His life in our place. He chose to take on our failings, selfishness, guilt and shame. God accepted the death of Jesus as the finished payment for our sin (John 19:30) and Jesus resurrection became our invitation to a new, forgiven life with Him. One example of this might be Zacchaeus (the full story is in Luke 19). Even though Zacchaeus was a despised tax collector who exploited people by overcharging them on their taxes, Jesus invited him into a relationship, saying today I must stay at your house (v. 5). After spending time together, Jesus declared that Zaccheus was a changed man, affirming, Today salvation has come to this house (v. 9). Why did the religious leaders receive indignation from Jesus for their wrongdoing (Matt. 23), yet Zacchaeus, equally guilty of mistreating people, enjoyed Jesus company? Simply put, the religious leaders did not repent for their poor treatment of others, whereas Zacchaeus joyfully (v. 6) turned away from his self-absorbed greed! He accepted Jesus invitation to a new kind of life where he would imitate Jesus generosity and mercy to those in need (v. 8). So what does this teach us about how we should treat our own anger? And is there ever any room to express these feelings? [8] HOW CAN I DEAL WITH MY ANGER?

10 How can we handle our anger? Since God, who is perfect, experiences anger, then we don t need to feel guilty about anger in and of itself. What matters is whether our anger comes from the same concerns that cause God to be angry. Here are some helpful ways to test and handle our anger: Tell God about your anger: First things first. We can t pretend that we don t get angry. We all do. Don t water down that anger by labelling it as frustration or irritation. Call it what it is. We must be honest with ourselves and with God. He knows anyway (Heb. 4:12-13) and He cares for us deeply (1 Peter 5:7). We should speak to Him openly and tell Him what we are feeling. Tell God you want to change when your anger is wrong: Repentance means to change from doing things my way to instead obeying and following God. When we react to things with self-centred anger, we need to admit this to God. As we ve already seen, the motivation behind our anger is often our determination to serve and protect ourselves, When we react to things with self-centred anger, we need to admit this to God. HOW CAN WE HANDLE OUR ANGER? [9]

11 rather than pursuing His concerns and the needs of others. This is why we need to ask for His forgiveness and seek His leading in situations that make us angry. Thankfully, because of Jesus death and resurrection, we can be confident that God will forgive us when we say sorry for our self-centred anger. As we better understand the nature of God s forgiveness (that Christ has paid for all our outbursts of rage and bitter feelings), it will become easier and more natural for us to want to also forgive others as we allow God to change us by His Spirit within us. Trust God with your anger: Handling our anger isn t just a one-time agreement with God. We will need to rely on God every day to help our anger change from a self-centred thing to a God-centred thing. This will not happen overnight. It will take time. But God understands and promises to be with us every step of the way. Part of this change may involve saying sorry to the people we have hurt or pushed away with our anger. This is a hard thing to do, but it is also a part of relying on God rather than ourselves. When we are confident that we belong to God and are resting in Him, we no longer need to hide from others and put up our anger-shields. Instead we can be humble and look out for others, rather than pushing them away. Trust God with how to express your anger: God promises that as we spend time with Him, getting to know Him through reading the Bible and talking with Him, He will transform us (Rom. 12:1-2). This means that [10] HOW CAN I DEAL WITH MY ANGER?

12 our anger, along with every part of our character, will start to reflect God s heart. We will join Him in being angry at sin and its effects. As Christ lives in us and we become more like Him, our anger will not result in us defending our rights or putting others down, but in helping us and those around us leave selfish, painful life-choices behind. Our anger at the pain of this world will produce a grief in us that will make us want to tell those we meet about Jesus and the new life He offers. Take your time: King David, who endured much pain during his life, said, Be angry, and do not sin. Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still (Psalm 4:4). If we feel angry, we need to make space and time to talk with God about whether we re angry for the right reasons. This is particularly true when we have been personally offended. Swallowing the instinct to instantly explode Be angry, and do not sin. Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still. Psalm 4:4 at someone who bad-mouths us will probably hurt to start with; but it is important that the first thing we do with our anger is bring it quickly to God before we do something we may later regret. There is no definitive guide about when to challenge others, how to speak to them lovingly but truthfully, or how to defend someone we HOW CAN WE HANDLE OUR ANGER? [11]

13 feel has been mistreated. This is why we need to make sure we don t simply rely on our instincts alone. Our emotions can be easily led astray, so we need to bring each situation and person to God in prayer. The Bible encourages us to live peaceably with all men and leave all vengeance to God (Rom. 12:18-19). We can do that by relying on Him to change our hearts and attitudes by His Holy Spirit. It might also be helpful to ask ourselves some reflective questions when we come before God in anger: What exactly am I angry about? Is my anger helping show people the concerns, love and salvation of Jesus? Should I speak to someone about this or should I trust the matter to God? Is my anger hurting or helping others? There is much more that can be said about living in peace with those around us and about dealing with our anger. You can find more in-depth Bible teaching at discoveryseries.org. It s also important to talk to your church leaders or other Christian friends if you are struggling with anger. It s essential that we don t face our struggles alone, but have fellow Christians to pray with us and encourage us as we rely on God to make us more like Jesus every day. [12] HOW CAN I DEAL WITH MY ANGER?

14 Looking Deeper The Looking Deeper series offers great Bible teaching for Christians. Whether you are a new Christian or a mature believer, we have a range of short Bible studies on many crucial topics and questions. At Our Daily Bread Ministries, our mission is to make the life changing wisdom of God s Word understandable and accessible to all. We re passionate about helping our readers draw closer to God and share their faith in Him with those they know. Please do share these Looking Deeper articles with others who may benefit from them. You can request print copies of any of the titles on the Looking Deeper website page. All our resources are available to all without any obligation to donate. However, should you wish to support Our Daily Bread Ministries financially, you can do so by clicking the link below. I WOULD LIKE TO DONATE

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