Monday, February 23, 2015

Good Stuff To Give Up in Lent: Series #1 - Anger

Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires.  James 1:20 (NLT)

We encounter so much anger in everyday life that most of us have become somewhat desensitized to it.  Everywhere you go, and in every realm of existence there is anger – some is miniature in its impact, some wildly excessive.  And some of it is our own!

     ·        It is a fact of life in business places and schools.
     ·        The media – TV, Internet, Cell Phones – all filled with anger.
     ·        Wherever you find yourself you cannot miss the road rage of the highways, lines at stores, and even in churches, families and close relationships.
Anger is “number 6” on the list commonly known as the Seven Deadly Sins (lust, envy, gluttony, sloth, greed, anger and pride).  Our question today is

Why Is There So Much Anger?

In order to begin to talk about why there is so much anger you have to address the question’s forerunner – where did anger begin?

I watched a History Channel presentation last month called “The Seven Deadly Sins”.[2]  The episode on anger gave God credit – starting in Genesis 6 where God’s wrath (anger) destroyed all the earth.  But the very first reference to anger in Scripture predates the flood; it’s in Genesis 4, where God asked Cain why he was so angry.  Cain responded to God’s questioning by acting out his anger; he killed his brother!  We have been angry and killing each other in various ways ever since.  There are so many references to angry persons in Scripture that I stopped counting after 100.

One side-road about anger in the Bible.  There is a difference between the anger (wrath) of God and human anger.  God’s anger is always righteous; man’s is not.  There is a different quality to God’s anger than just being “ticked-off”. 

I would be hard-pressed to stand here and recount all the ways anger evidences itself in our world.  However – let me just mention these few to set the stage for our exploration of why there is so much anger in our society.  Let these words open the door in your memory; let them relocate some images for you:
     ·        Columbine, 911, Iraq, Jihad
     ·        TV – CSI, NCIS, Criminal Minds
     ·        Wal-Mart at Christmas where shoppers can be trampled in the name of the baby Jesus
     ·        Drunk drivers
     ·        IRS, Bernie Madoff, Insurance companies
     ·        Sports images from years ago –                                                                  
NY Yankees’ manager Billy Martin and umpires; College basketball coach Bobby Knight throwing chairs at referees.  Mike Tyson’s teeth biting-off Evander Holyfield’s right ear!

It’s not hard to come up with a list much longer than that.  If you simply open the newspaper or just turn on Jerry Springer you don’t have to wonder if there is anger lurking at every corner.

It would be easy

Now, I’d like to be able to say it’s someone’s fault – blame it on the Republicans or Democrats – the President or Congress makes me angry! 

It would be easier to blame society and the economy – my next-door neighbor.  It would be really easy to simply say “well, it’s my nature; I can’t help how God made us.” 

It would be easy, indeed; it would also be wrong. 

Anger is not in the genes – it resides in the spirit.  Anger defined is a desire for revenge.  With Cain it was the fact that he brought an offering and God rejected it (because it was not what God had required).  Cain got even with God by striking God’s creation.  That’s anger!

When I was six or seven my mother and aunt took the kids to the lake to swim.  My younger cousin Gary spent half the afternoon building a magnificent sand castle.  I was envious and wanted to play with it; he told me to get lost! 

Mom got tired of our ruckus, and told me to leave Gary alone.  I looked at Gary like Cain looked at Able.  I left, but I stepped right on his sand castle as I walked away! 
Anger is part of our existence because deep down in the spirit:
if we want something and can’t have it,
or someone says something and we don’t like it,
or she’s prettier than most and we can’t stand it……
…we get angry, and we want to get even.  It is born of a kind of arrogance that demands our own way – and plots revenge if we don’t get it!  Anger is one human’s attempt to punish another. 

It is wrong precisely because God has said so;

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”                   
Romans 12:19 (NRSV)

The Old Testament prophet Jonah is well-known for his submarine ride; but most people tend to forget the question God asked him:  Is it right for you to be angry? [3]  The way the question is asked leaves no doubt about the answer!

The Result of Anger

There is only one result of human anger – division of souls.  We divide ourselves from one another with our anger.  That is largely because anger clouds judgment and we do things we’d never ordinarily do when we are angry.  This is why the LORD inspired Paul to write a prohibition against unchecked anger for Christians:

Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, Ephesians 4:26 (NRSV)

God knows that anger will creep in – it’s a human emotion that builds inside because we are a fallen people.  But he forbids us to let that which creepeth-in to be that which is allowed to stayeth around!  Don’t let the day pass without dealing with your anger; don’t let it fester and destroy relationships.  I’ve known people who buried their anger; years pass, until just the right time, and – wham – they let the object of their grudge have it right between the eyes.  

That’s shameful for a Christian!

A woman was hauled into court and told the judge that her husband is a horrible neat freak and he drives me nuts about keeping everything tidy.  After the  couple argued about the proper alignment of table place settings, [she] rented a 3,000-pound, pneumatic tire forklift…and drove it through the front wall of their one-story frame house.  According to neighbors who witnessed the incident, she used the machine to smash the dining room table.  "[He] yelled at me about where his fork was supposed to go," she said, "and I figured I’d fix it with a forklift."  Neighbors said [she] seemed "wild-eyed" and distraught during the attack and kept screaming…at her husband, who took refuge in the kitchen.  The moral of that story is:  never marry a woman who knows how to operate heavy machinery.[4] 

Not letting the sun go down on your anger doesn’t mean taking it out on the closest target before dark.  It means dealing with your anger honestly and with humility.

The Remedy for Anger

Let’s talk about what to do if you’re prone to anger.  First of all, God says we must get rid of our anger – along with a lot of other things that have no place in the Christian walk. 

This is what sets the scene for genuine Christian maturity:

And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption.  Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.  Ephesians 4:30-32 (NRSV)

Now, most of us would agree with that – we agree with what Scripture says about being tenderhearted instead of angry; we want to de-fuse the bomb of anger.  But the question still looms; How do I do that?

Where To Go For Help

You can start with the Psalms.  I know, I know….comfort and pastoral settings!  But if you have this image in your memory that the Psalms only has “give us this day our daily bread,” you really don’t know the Psalmist.

In Psalm 109 David pleads his case before the LORD against some enemies.  They have set him up, framed him with lies and are pushing for his removal from the throne.  They want him in prison or executed.  If it happens David’s family will be destitute, shamed in the community, cursed and endure suffering beyond imagination.  David is ANGRY!  His anger, and how he deals with it, are of tremendous benefit to us as an example of how to deal with our own anger.

Step One – Perceive

In the 20th verse David has an outburst of anger – retaliation is on his mind and heart – a seeking of vengeance on his enemies:

May that be the reward of my accusers from the LORD, of those who speak evil against my life.

David’s desire is that all the evil his enemies plotted against him would come back on their own heads.  Most of us have felt that way.  But in David’s case he is doing the healthy thing – acknowledging before God his own anger for what it is.  There is no candy-coating here; he prays, God, get those suckers!  And he put it in writing!  In so-praying, David is acknowledging his sin of anger.  And you have to do that if you’re actually going to get forgiveness and help.  Perceive your anger!

Step Two - Pray

Notice David’s prayer in verse 21:

But you, O LORD my Lord, act on my behalf for your name’s sake; because your steadfast love is good, deliver me.

David’s prayer takes David out of the equation – no retaliation in David’s hands, no vengeance.  He simply asks God to straighten out the offenders.  David’s prayer is for deliverance.  There is no instruction for God, only a plea that righteousness would prevail.  David leaves it open for God to straighten-out whoever might be the cause of all the trouble – even if the troublemaker is David!

Can you pray like that?  That is the only true way to pray when it comes to getting rid of your anger – with the humility that trusts God to right whatever is wrong.  Sometimes – no, most times – when there is trouble and anger there is enough wrong to go around.  Occasionally, in marital disputes for instance, there might be a husband who is 100% wrong or fault that lays completely on a wife’s shoulders.  (I’ve never found such a situation, but there might be ONE IN ALL THE WORLD). 

Perceive your anger; Pray with humility, and…

Step Three – Proceed with Your Life

With my mouth I will give great thanks to the LORD; I will praise him in the midst of the throng.

To “proceed” is to go about your life, giving thanks to God for what He will do, publicly and privately.  This doesn’t guarantee a smooth life, one without difficulty; friends, that does not exist! 

What this constitutes is a life obediently staying in the will of God to deal with anger the only appropriate way – see it as YOUR anger, confessing it to God and trusting God to right the circumstances, even if it’s painful for you. 

The key to getting help is trusting Him, and He IS trustworthy.  It’s always your choice – you will be angry sometimes, but you don’t have to be sinful.

[1] Title image:  Carl Spitzweg, via Wikimedia Commons
[2] © 1996-2010, A&E Television Networks. All rights reserved.(Premiered Dec 29, 2009 – January 4, 2010)
[3] Jonah 4:4,9(NRSV)
[4] Tim Harlow on

No comments:

Post a Comment