Here are three questions to ask yourself next time you’re angry or you notice afterwards that a recent outburst was not God honoring or very loving to the person on the receiving end. These questions will hopefully strike a cord and they don’t only apply to those who might be outwardly and obviously upset. These questions apply just as much to the person who “keeps their emotions to themselves.” We know this person – maybe you’re that person. You brew and brew, mumble and grumble. Even if you have some capacity to moderate your emotions and behaviors, you know your heart isn’t in the right place, and something needs to change. So next time you’re angry, ask yourself:
Next time you’re in the recovery phase of being upset and angry, ask yourself if your anger helped you or not. My guess is no. Why didn’t it help you? Probably because you discovered that there was more at play than the thing you were just angry about. If it did “help you” then discuss with someone close to you how. How exactly did your anger help you?
Admittedly, I experience this quite frequently when my wife asks me to do something that I don’t really want to do. It will take multiples times before I finally do the thing, meanwhile I develop what amounts to a passive murmuring and a quiet grumbling in my heart. I am not exploding on anyone but I am not joyful or content, and I am definitely not pleasing the Lord with what really turns out be an undercurrent of brewing self-righteous anger. So no, this does not help.
If possible, either in the heat of the moment or after the dust has settled, reflect on what exactly is it that you’re after. I suspect in many ways you will be tempted to believe the surface stuff was all you really wanted: Obedience from your kids the first time you asked or no “irrational” questions when you ask your spouse for something. Perhaps your rationale is something more simple like putting the dishes in the dishwasher or closing the cabinet doors or hanging up the bathroom towel when they’re done. After all, you’ve agreed and explained why all this makes sense. You say to yourself: So-and-so is an adult – they should know better. They agreed to this – what’s their problem?
For instance, if compliance is all you really wanted then I will suggest to you that you’re aiming too low and giving up too soon. What I mean by that is this — Even if everyone agreed to a certain set of household rules, we must be honest with ourselves that even we are unable to keep these rules, much less, keep them perfectly. So now that you know this (in your head) next time you’re tempted to believe that compliance is the ideal outcome and you’re anger appears to be the appropriate response, try to pull back and ask – what do I really want in this situation.
By the time you’re able to maturely and honestly look back on your anger-episode, I want you to ask – was it worth it. Was the thing you got or the thing you learned you were really after worth your being angry? Here’s another way to think about this – does your child’s compliance actually induce within you a greater love for them; does your husband’s non-questioning posture toward you enable you to submit to him more boldly and in greater faith; does your wife’s ( fill in the blank ) move you lay down your life as Christ laid his life for his church? If it doesn’t produce these outcomes, then was it really worth it? P.S. Anger cannot produce these outcomes as we’ll see why below.
Counsel for the Angry heart
These questions are designed to be simple and point out the obvious or not-so-obvious: No, my anger did not help because what I really wanted was more about me than about Christ. Thus, it was not worth it and it never will be.
There are a few other questions we can ask ourselves when the heat is on and our anger is in full swing but I hope these questions start a deeper conversation within yourself, a friend or with God. Anger is a serious problem that besets us all. The degree to which we struggle is on a spectrum. Meaning, I don’t think everyone battles anger in the same degree all the time, but I do think we all battle with anger in some degree. Some seasons of our lives the degree may be more outwardly or inwardly problematic than other seasons. Some individuals are more mature than others. But what is true of us all is that we all struggle to some degree. We struggle because we are sinners. We are born into a state of unrighteousness and though Christ’s atonement make us righteous as he is righteous, anger has a particularly insidious a way of undermining the righteous life that God desires.
A righteous life
In the whole of James 1, we see a connection between our vulnerabilities toward not listening very well, saying things we ought not to say and the inclinations toward anger as being born out of larger and more pervasive trials and hardships. James actually says to us to “consider it pure joy when we experience trials of many kinds.” (Like the one’s discussed above).
By the time we reach verse 19 &20, however, we learn that despite the difficulties we endure as Christians, the high aim of the Christian endeavor is to live a life consistent with the righteousness of Christ. The degree to which we give-in to the whims of our own views of anger, we are not living or producing the righteous life that God requires. What is the righteous life that God requires?
JOY INSTEAD OF ANGER
Simply put, the righteous life that God requires is joy over anger. When looking back at your last anger-episode, what larger trial were you enduring? Think of the whole of your life. Is it financial set-backs, a medical diagnosis, unsettled relationship difficulties, job insecurities, burnout and exhaustion, perhaps even persecution for being a Christian. Imagine looking back at those moments when you were most angry in your heart and begin considering the prospect of having considered it “pure joy” whenever experienced that trial that made you angry.
I think James would have us realize that our long term obedience as a Christian (Vs 21 and beyond) is tied our understanding of God’s work in our lives during hardships and trials.
Joy during trials and hardships is the tail-tail sign that not only are we aware of God’s work in our life writ-large, but we can put our finger on specific things or areas of our life that He is at work within.Tweet
This is partly why sheer hard-work-obedience in-and-of itself does not work in the Christian life; that is a kind of “obedience” that is commensurate to of the pharisee. God is after your heart and the state of your heart at all times, especially during trials. It matters so much to him that you consider it joy, that he would laid down his life for you as the gospel testifies.
I wonder what this does to you. Are you indifferent to God’s work in your life or does it pique your interest to think hmm, joy…I’d like to have joy instead of anger. In part two, I will unpack this alternative to anger.
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