These are my notes for teaching at the Cornerstone on Sunday, May 31, 2020 - Pentecost Sunday.
Part 3 of Untangling Emotions
ANGER IS LIKE FIRE
The Great Chicago Fire burned in the city of Chicago during October 8–10, 1871. The fire killed approximately 300 people, destroyed roughly 3.3 square miles of the city, and left more than 100,000 residents homeless.
The destructive power of fire is a vivid illustration of the chaos and destruction caused by angry people. If fear is the most common emotional struggle, anger is the most dangerous. It is a wildfire that never goes out, consuming everyone it touches.
(James 3:5-6) Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. 6 The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one's life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
The problem is that many angry people don't even know they're angry and they can't understand why they tend to drive people away or why their families and friends seem hurt and upset.
There's a very good chance that I'm speaking to some angry people and I want you to know that I have very good news for you. There is a way out. You can repair the damage, rebuild relationships, and replace your anger with more positive emotions. That's our focus today. Here's how to confront your anger and come out victorious.
WATCH FOR ANGER'S WARNING SIGNS
God cares about relationships, so it's no wonder that the Bible has a lot to say about anger. Ephesians chapter four has a section on anger. What I want you to notice are all the different words it uses:
(Ephesians 4:31) Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.
Those are the warning signs of anger in our lives. What does the diverse list tell us? Anger comes in all shapes and sizes.
Someone might say, I'm not angry, I haven't hit anyone. No, but have you bad-mouthed them? That's slander and it's a sign of anger. Or is your heart scheming up ways to hurt someone or get even? That's malice and it's just as much anger as hitting someone in the face.
There are so many ways to be angry and not know it. Did you know that irritation is a sign of anger. So's frustration and impatience. I read the other day that angry people may be critical, or judgmental, or passive aggressive. Addiction to alcohol or drugs can be a way to hide our anger. They numb the rage but turn the destruction on ourselves.
Anger, then, spans the spectrum of behaviors from nit-picky to name calling to addiction to shouting to abuse and physical violence.
Take a moment and ask God, "Father, am I an angry person and I don't know it? Are there warning signs of anger in my life? Please point them out to me." Admitting there is a problem is the only way to get free from it.
SEARCH ANGER'S HIDING PLACE
Our emotions start in our hearts - our deep, inner, control center. Emotions are the outward signs of what out hearts love and worship. Jesus said it this way:
(Matthew 15:18-19) But the things that come out of a person's mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.
Anger is always caused by something in our hearts, never by what's going on in our lives. It's not what you say that makes me angry. No, my heart is angry because you threatened what my heart loves.
The other night, I was getting into bed when Kalie yelled, the dog just pooped on the carpet. Sure enough. Disgusting. I cleaned it up, but I wasn't happy and I called the dog an idiot. "Idiot dog." Why was I angry with the dog. Well, I had just taken the dogs outside. They know the routine. But honestly, that's not where my anger came from. It came from my heart that loves peace and comfort. The mess on the carpet threatened my peace and comfort and beauty rest.
So, when you feel anger stirring inside, press the pause button and search anger's hiding place. What does your heart love that is under threat? That moment of reflection can save you from a world of pain.
(James 1:19-20) My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.
APPLY ANGER'S CURE
We can confront our anger and get victory over it. It's a process and it's not easy. Take it one step at a time.
Come clean to the Lord. "Father, my name is Peter and I am an angry person." When you do that, God will partner with you in your fight against anger. Psalm 51 is the model prayer:
(Psalms 51:3-4, 17) I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. 4 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight ... 17 a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.
Count on supernatural resources. Jesus doesn't beat you up for your sins. No, he helps you beat up your sins by giving you supernatural power. Every follower of Jesus is joined to Jesus in his death and resurrection and indwelt by his Spirit so that we can live a God-centered life.
(Romans 6:4, 6, 11-12) ... just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life... 6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin... 11 Count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.
Cancel anger by practicing humility. Experience tells me that when I focus on not doing something, doing it becomes an obsession. It doesn't work to say, don't get angry, doin't get angry, don't get angry. Result: I get angry. There is a better way.
When the first church in the ancient city of Philippi was under persecution, the stress caused people to fight with each other. It became an angry church. The apostle Paul wrote to show them a way out of chaos:
(Philippians 2:3-5) In humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. 5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
The antidote to anger is humility - putting others first, considering their best interests, loving and protecting them. The model to follow is Jesus:
(Philippians 2:6-8) Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!
We get angry because our hearts love respect, or safety, or getting our own way, or acting like a god. The antidote is humility because a humble heart makes itself nothing, loves others, and obeys God.
Replace your anger with such loving actions as patience, forgiveness, the benefit of the doubt, mercy and grace. Speak life and blessing. Again, the model is Jesus:
(Ephesians 4:32) Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
TAKE ACTION TODAY
It is possible to get angry and not sin (Ephesians 4:26). But it's rare. Just because we can do it, doesn't mean we should.
Anger is radioactive and very unsafe, so my advice is to avoid it altogether. And don't just avoid it, kill it using the steps we've discussed today. Nail your anger to the cross of Christ and let it die there.
This is urgent because your anger is hurting the people you love. It's destroying friendships. People think you're unsafe. Your kids and co-workers tiptoe around you and avoid you. There's a circle of scorched earth around you. This has to end. Now!
Use this prayer as a first step:
"Father, I confess to you my angry heart and I claim the cleansing, forgiving, power of Jesus Christ and his cross. I'm sorry for my sinful anger and for all the people I've hurt. Please change my heart so that I die to my selfish ambitions and live to love and help others. Fill me with your Spirit and lead me to do what is right for your honor and glory. Amen."
Join me next time for a teaching on confronting the emotions of fear and anxiety.