James 1:19-20 says, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” What a profound statement and one that has not been true for much of my life.
Growing up with two older brothers and one younger brother, I spent most of my childhood “hiding in the shadows.” Being a middle child meant the focus was not on me. My older brothers got most of the attention because they were just that… older. My younger brother, the “baby” of the family, typically got away with everything and did a myriad of things to provoke me. You see, I had, and to a lesser degree today, a very bad temper. My mother would always tell people that of all the boys, I was the one who would explode. And more often than not, it was over seemingly trivial things.
These verses in James speak so much to me. James is saying man’s anger does not achieve God’s righteous purpose. So often, my anger was not so much about my justification or being right. It was rarely about being right, rather it was the tendency to let my emotions get the best of situations. I was an angry young soul. Now, as a caveat or disclaimer, I was not a believer then, but I have noticed that many Christians still operate under similar principles and practices.
But for many, anger is usually expressed in response to something. There has been an injustice of some sort or the other, and we want it righted. But anger will never be the solution to any righteous cause. God does not use the vehicle of our rage to serve His purposes. The truth is, we have tried to use our rage to serve our purposes. We mistakenly thought it would protect, provide, guide, and empower us. Instead, it has turned on us and attacked, robbed, misled, and isolated us.
So how do we as believers, deal with anger and its consequences? The key is we are believers. We know the Truth because we know Jesus Christ who calls Himself the “Truth” in John 14:6. Jesus also tells us in John 8:31-32, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” We know the truth, and now it is time to walk in it and be set free. It is my prayer that as you read this, God will equip you to structure your study of the Word and give you practical and personal applications that will transform your life.
I believe there are many practical things we can do that can help us put things in perspective and bring us back to a place of seeing things in the right light. The first is, make the choice not to overreact in anger. Anger can be expressed in both destructive and constructive ways. It can motivate or cause us to react. This must be a conscious choice and decision. You must set your heart and mind to change, to turn from your old ways, patterns, and habits, and to allow the Word of God to transform you. This is not unlike when you decided to follow Jesus. The first step is repentance or turning from one path to another. The children of Israel were given a similar choice in Deuteronomy 30:19. “This day I call Heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.”
At first, this will be a deliberate, almost mechanical, decision you’ll make in response to every situation you encounter that anger or upset you. Let me illustrate this with something all of us are not looking forward to. In a few months, winter will be here. Driving in the snow requires us to change our habits. But for many of us, it takes a few weeks to get used to driving in it. We need to be more attentive because when our vehicles lose control, our response will either lead to accidents or safety. There is almost a period of reprogramming how we respond but after time, it becomes natural and we can handle the weather and driving conditions with better control.
Secondly, we need to be able to move from reacting to responding. Proverbs 29:20 warns us saying, “Do you see a man who speaks in haste? There is more hope for a fool than for him.”
As a Christian, I have become a student of the Scriptures and have learned that God does not offer much hope to fools. When we find ourselves in situations where there is that temptation to react, we need to pause and ask, “Why?” What is it about this encounter or situation that upsets you so much? Is it a control issue? Is it a fear issue? Is this an unresolved hurt issue? Do you feel violated? Often the reason is an obvious one and there is no need to dig deep for the answer, but you still need to regroup before you respond.
Working in a group or with a team can be like that. Sometimes we do not agree with decisions and in our zeal, we can react with anger or contempt and in some cases, passive aggression. Being angry and disrespectful in return will not model godliness. Responding requires us to see the bigger picture rather than our own and to act accordingly.
Another way to deal with anger is to take responsibility. If you ever read “Family Circus” cartoons, you knew the person responsible for everything bad was “Not Me!” But taking responsibility for one’s actions, words and attitudes is a powerful tool. When you blame others for your reactions, you are reduced to a slave of their whims or actions. Be responsible and own up to both your good and bad responses. First Peter 5:6 says, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time.”
Taking responsibility is a combination of humility and confession. Confession means to own up to something, to humbly say it is your fault, and to resist the ever-present temptation to lay blame on the back of another. Humility deals with your part of the puzzle without worrying about anyone else’s reaction. It is also an abandonment of yourself to God. You are saying, “God, I trust You that if I humble myself, You will lift me out of this situation and set my feet on higher ground.”
The next lesson is one that is not an option for Christians. Forgive yourself and others. Forgive those who have hurt you. In Luke 17:4, Jesus tells us, “If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.” Other places put the number at four hundred and ninety. Forgiveness is to be given to those who repent even if they repeat their offence.
Because God is the only true righteous Judge, and He has forgiven us of our transgressions, we must forgive others. Have we not many times repeated our sins against God? We are forgiven the way we forgive. When we do not release others through forgiveness, we find it difficult to release ourselves. When we freely release others we will find it easier to release our own mistakes. But what if they fail to repent? Do we still need to forgive? It is hard to pray Matthew 6:12, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtor,” but we must.
Lastly, we need to learn from our mistakes. This is a natural progression of taking responsibility. Whenever you take responsibility you are in the position to grow from your mistakes. Proverbs 24:16 tells us, “For though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again, but the wicked are brought down by calamity.”
The wicked do not choose to get up; they remain in their fallen state. Their mistakes are not their instructors; they are their downfall. They do not learn from their mistakes; they become entangled and overcome by them. It is not so with the righteous. They humble themselves and grow stronger from each fall.
In the end, God will accomplish His plan in our lives. We will live in frustration and anger if we think we are ultimately in charge. Rage seeks a target or payment for wrongs done. Fury and wrath seek revenge. But this is an area God does not want us to touch. God’s Word tells us in Hebrews 10:30, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ and again, ‘The Lord will judge His people’.”
God wants His people to be passionate and powerful. If you are not constructive with your anger, if you turn it in on yourself or lash out at those around you, you will lose your passion and become depressed or oppressed. Freedom is not found in rebellion to God’s ways and wisdom. Freedom is found when we operate within His life-giving instructions. It is then we can live life without regret, without fear, and without dragging along the chains of our past.
Anger will never be the solution to any righteous cause. Yes, we will get angry when we are wronged, but what we do next matters! What are you going to do when you are righteously angry?