DEALING WITH YOUR ANGER
Most people with a problem with addictive behaviors also have an issue with anger. Some people are angry at God for the hardships they believe He has allowed into their lives. Others are angry at the people who they believe have hurt them and ruined their lives. Still others are angry at themselves for their moral failures. Some have anger issues in all of these areas. In addition, your anger can be explosive as you strike out at others or it can be turned inward upon yourself. Your problem with drugs, alcohol, food, or any addictive behavior is just your way of dealing with the rage and disappointment you sense inside. Therefore, learning to deal correctly with your anger issues is essential to overcoming your addiction.
I. You must first understand anger from a biblical perspective.
Anger is a normal emotion experienced by all people at various times in life. Some believe anger is always a destructive emotion, while others believe it can be used in a constructive way. Which is true? Is it possible to control anger, and if so how? When you don't control your anger, how can you resolve it?
A. Is anger always wrong or sinful?
1. Anger is not always wrong because Paul commands you to "be angry and sin not" (Eph. 4:26). This passage clearly makes a distinction between being angry and sinning. Actually, Paul is commanding you to be angry, thus revealing the fact that anger can be used in the life of a Christian without the necessity of falling into sin. The Bible also teaches that "God is angry with the wicked everyday" (Psalms 7:11). Jesus also spoke to the religious hypocrites "...with anger, being grieved by the hardness of their hearts..." (Mark 3:5). In 1 Samuel 11:6, we also see that the fruit of the Holy Spirit coming upon Saul caused "his anger to be greatly aroused," which then motivated him to be obedient to God.
2. Therefore, anger is an emotion that can be used in a constructive way if it is expressed in harmony with biblical limitations and principles. The problem is that many times anger is not expressed in a biblical way and results in great conflict between people.
B. How is anger expressed destructively?
1. Anger is very destructive if you allow yourself to be controlled by it. If you blow up and vent your anger in wrath upon another person this is obviously sinful behavior. Some people call this "letting off steam," when in reality, it is the sinful use of anger and wrath to destroy or manipulate another person. The Scripture declared, "The wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God" (James 1:20). David commanded, "cease from anger and forsake wrath; Do not fret, it only causes harm" (Psalms 37:8). Solomon also declared, "A fool vents all his feelings, but a wise man holds them back" (Prov. 29:11). Therefore, the venting of wrath and anger in this manner is clearly a violation of God's commands, which ultimately hinders effective communication and relationship with others.
2. A second way anger is used destructively is when you internalize or bury your anger inside. This action is just as wrong as blowing up and venting your anger. Paul taught in Ephesians 4:27, "do not let the sun go down on your anger." This passage commands you not to allow your anger to boil within your heart even for one night. God wants you to quickly deal with your anger and what is causing it, even before you go to sleep each night. This is what God was trying to get Cain to do when he asked him, "Why are you angry" (Gen. 4:6)? God knew that Cain was very upset and wanted him to identify what was causing his anger in order to help him resolve it. Without dealing with the causes of your anger, sin will ultimately gain control of you and eventually cause a new conflict.
3. If your anger has caused you to sin, seek God's forgiveness and the person's you have offended by your anger. "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (I John 1:9). If you are holding onto anger and resentment, identify why you are angry and then take the appropriate biblical action.
C. How is anger expressed constructively?
1. The only way anger can be expressed constructively, is it must be restrained and controlled. Is this possible? Solomon declares, "It is prudent for a man to restrain his anger" (Prov. 19:11, Berkeley Version). "He who is slow to anger is of great understanding, but whoever is hasty of spirit exalts folly" (Prov. 14:29, Berkeley Version). Therefore, Scripture makes it clear that anger can and must be restrained and controlled.
D. How can you restrain and control your anger?
1. First, you must make a choice to control your anger. Is this possible? Have you ever been arguing with someone at home and the phone rings? What did you do? Didn't you choose to control your anger and simply answer the phone and speak calmly to the caller? Paul says, "do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts" (Rom. 6:12). Therefore, the control of your flesh is primarily a choice. You can also make the same choice not to allow your anger to reign in your heart. How many times, before you were a Christian, did a conflict occur at work with your boss? He or she said or did something to make you angry, but you chose to control your anger and say nothing simply because you wanted to keep your job. This proves that even as a non-Christian you could choose to control your anger. How much more today should you as a Christian be able to restrain it? Today you have the restraining power of the Holy Spirit to help you.
2. Once you have control of your emotions determine why you are angry (Gen. 4:6). Make a list of the people and issues you are angry about so you can see how to resolve them.
3. Identify what the Scripture teaches about each of these issues you have listed. God has an answer to every problem and dilemma you have faced and are facing now (Rom. 4:3) (Mark 12:10).
4. Choose to be obedient to do exactly what the Scripture commands you to do regarding these issues you have listed (Is. 1:19-20).
5. Surrender to the Holy Spirit. Why? The fruit of the Spirit is self-control. The Holy Spirit is the one who will enable you to do all that I am about to explain in these next pages. You need the "living water" of His Spirit to quench the fire of your anger (John 7:37-39). God's Holy Spirit is stronger than your anger. This is why Paul said, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" (Phil. 4:13). He will strengthen you to turn from wrath and control your anger, if you will simply ask the Spirit of God to come and reign inside you.
6. Choose to deal with the small issues before they build into resentment. Many times the failure to resolve small offenses with a person will ultimately lead you to those volcanic eruptions of wrath and rage. Moses is one of the best examples of allowing multiple issues to frustrate and anger him to the point of this kind of explosion. Scripture reveals that he suffered the people and their contradictions year after year until finally he lost his temper. Moses became angry and “spoke rashly with his lips” (Ps. 106:32-33). The simple solution to this problem of building resentment was given by Jesus when He taught us to deal quickly with a conflict (Matt. 5:25). Paul also taught that we should not allow the sun to go down on our wrath (Eph. 4:26). Therefore, deal with the small issues before they become a mountain.
7. Choose to control and restrain your words. Solomon taught, "a soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger" (Prov. 15:1). Harsh words stir up whomever you are speaking to, but it also stirs up your anger if you keep talking. Therefore, if you want to control your anger, "be swift to hear, slow to speak", and you will be “slow to wrath” (James 1:19). In other words, stop talking and listen more, this helps you to calm down and reason more clearly. If you allow them to, harsh words will stir you up as well.
8. Choose to control and restrain your thoughts. When you allow angry and resentful thoughts and accusations to rule and control your mind, you will continue to boil inside. You need the peace of God to rule your heart and mind which enables you to think clearly and constructively as to a biblical course of action and solution to the problem. To accomplish this, you must first understand why you are angry. God asked Cain, “Why are you angry?" (Gen. 4:6). He asked this question before Cain killed his brother Abel in the attempt to help him resolve his rage. Therefore, determine, are you angry at God, people, or yourself? Then you must re-think the issue biblically from God's perspective, which will naturally enable you to control your anger. Solomon explained that “the discretion (wisdom or understanding) of a man makes him slow to anger, and it is to his glory to overlook a transgression” (Prov. 19:11). God's wisdom and discretion will help you to think and act in an appropriate manner to resolve why you are angry, before you take an inappropriate action as Cain did. In addition, God's wisdom will bring peace as you choose to refuse the hateful and revengeful thoughts of bitterness. You must acknowledge these thoughts as sinful before God and ask His forgiveness. Paul promised that if you will meditate on "things that are true, things that are just... The God of peace will be with you" (Phil. 4:8-9).
9. Choose to control and restrain your actions. Take a short time out when you realize that you, or the other person in the conversation, are beginning to get out of control. Solomon said, "It is honorable to a man to stop striving, since any fool can start a quarrel" (Prov. 20:3). He also commanded in Proverbs 17:14, "Stop contention before a quarrel starts." Taking a time out will allow you and others to pray and get yourselves under control before an explosion occurs. This will entail walking away from the confrontation before you explode. Even Jesus walked away from the emotionally charged confrontation when the Jews wanted to throw Him off a cliff (Luke 4:28-30). Tell the person you want to calm down and you will return in a few minutes to resolve the issue.
Remember, don't grab, push, or have any physical contact with a person you are angry with or that you know is angry with you. If you try to force someone physically to do what you want, this will only increase their anger and resistance.
E. What should anger motivate you to do?
1. First, you must be confident that the constructive use of anger will always motivate you to a biblical and godly action. This is why God created you with the ability to get angry. He wants this powerful emotion to encourage you to do what is right when there is an issue to be solved.
2. Next, look at other individuals in the Bible who were motivated to godly action because of their anger. You should follow these examples:
a. Moses was led to pray for the people because of his anger (Num. 16:15).
b. Saul was motivated to resist the evil of another nation because of his anger (I Sam. 11:6).
c. Nehemiah was led to rebuke the rulers of the people for their sin (Neh. 5:6-7). He did this in a controlled way.
d. David was drawn to prayer and meditation because of his anger. He then trusted God and did what was righteous (Ps. 4:3-5).
e. Jesus resisted the peer pressure of the Pharisees to speak boldly and healed a man on the Sabbath. This, of course, was right thing to do (Mark 3:5).
F. How does someone reconcile his or her anger toward God?
1. Anger toward God occurs when we question His character or His love. We begin to wonder why God allowed this to happen. Did He really do the right thing?
2. Anger toward God is what caught Adam in the Garden. He charged God with being at fault for giving him the woman who led him to sin. He said, "...the woman You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate" (Gen. 3:12).
3. How do you deal with this anger?
a. You must reject outright even the thought that God is unrighteous. In Romans 9:14, Paul declared "God forbid" to this question of God doing unrighteousness. The words "God forbid" literally mean, perish the thought. Paul refused even the thought that God was unrighteous.
b. Why should you reject even the thought that God could do unrighteousness?
1. Because He has proven His love for you by dying on the cross (Rom. 8:32). If He has given His own Son for your sin, how could you think He doesn't care about you?
2. You may question God like the prophet Habakkuk did in the Old Testament, and realize that God can do things you have no way of comprehending. God told him that he just had to trust Him because he wouldn't even believe God even if He explained to the prophet what He was doing (Hab. 1:1-5; Hab. 2:4). God's ways and His timing are not always going to be in harmony with yours or your reasoning.
3. Remember, God's ways are not going to be like your ways, and His thoughts are different than yours. Read these passages: (Isaiah 55:8-9) (Psalms 147:3-5) (Psalms 73).
G. How does someone reconcile his or her anger toward people?
1. In minor issues you should pass over the transgression. Many times people have no intention of purposely offending you (Prov. 19:11).
2. But, if it is clear someone intended to offend you, or if you know that someone is angry with you, you must go to them alone and reconcile. "Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother" (Matt. 18:15). "Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift" (Matt. 5:23-24). You need to personally reconcile these issues.
3. All through the process of reconciliation your anger must be restrained and controlled. The reason for this is; "the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God" (James 1:20).
H. How do you reconcile anger that is turned in toward yourself?
1. If you have dealt with your sin in the correct way: (repentance, confession, and forsaking the sin), then you must rest in God's knowledge. John said, “if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart and knows all things” (1 John 3:20). What does He know? He knows that you have sincerely repented and forsaken your sin. He knows the sincerity of your heart in its desire to reconcile before God and man. Stand on the Word of God on this issue, not your feelings.
2. Then take any action required in God's Word that will help to rectify the problem. This will cause your conscience to approve your actions as you attempt to reconcile any sin or failure (1 John 3:18-19) (Rom. 2:15). Taking the biblical action required is essential to quiet the accusations of your conscience.
3. Once you have taken the above action, you must rest in the sovereignty of God to work even your mistakes and failures for good. Joseph encouraged his brothers not to be angry with themselves because God had turned all their evil around for good (Gen. 45:5). Believe that God will do the same in your life.