Wednesday, May 15, 2013

A-N-G-E-R is a Five-Letter Word

Irritated works. Frustrated, yes. Ruffled feathers. Ticked. But not "angry." Anger is a five-letter word. In a recent post I admitted to being angry and my guess is that bothered some of you--maybe it still does. Anger is not politically correct. It whiffs of violence, destruction, hatred, malice. We view it as a loss of self-control and balance. I'm learning otherwise.

Anger is a biblical word: “'Be angry, and do not sin': do not let the sun go down on your wrath..."  (Eph. 4:26).  "...let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God" (James 1:19-20). God says we'll be angry. He's angry (Nahum 1:2, Romans 1:18). It's an emotion we struggle with, but one with purpose. Perhaps the greatest danger, the one we fall prey to, is failing to call it what it is. When we pansy-foot around, we miss out on the opportunities and overlook the danger.

Anger--righteous or unrighteous--is a natural reaction to a problem. It may flash and resolve itself in an instant or linger and smolder for long periods of time.

In his book, The Heart of Anger, Lou Priolo lists sinful manifestations of anger: vengeance, pride, ingratitude, selfishness, boasting, backbiting, gossip, debate, arguing, impatience, and the list goes on*. Shortly after reading his book the first time, I found myself acting in ways he defined as sinful anger, though I never would have used that term for those behaviors.

The words "irritation," "frustration," "ruffled feathers," and "panties in a bundle" are not biblical. When we fail to attach biblical words to sinful thoughts, words and actions, we struggle to learn and grow through Spirit-led conviction. The Spirit uses the Word of God to teach, correct, and train us. If we are unschooled in Scripture, we will remain immature and weak (2 Timothy 3:16-17, John 16:7-15, Ephesians 6:17, Hebrews 5:12-6:1).

As the typical oldest child, complacent and eager to please, I didn't experience an angry childhood. It was easy to stay within bounds and I'm eternally grateful for my parents' protection and training. But as I grew into marriage and parenting, my desires were repeatedly frustrated, denied and run over by a Mack truck. And that--denied desire--is what fuels the heart of anger.

Anger is designed to be a warning light on the dash that says, "Danger! Danger!" It is generally preceded by another emotion (fear, hurt, rejection) which is triggered by an event or memory. To deal effectively with anger, we must first identify it by name and follow it backward to its source.

Instinctive anger--the emotion--rises when I face a threatening emotion or need to solve a problem. It is immediate, demanding a decision. That decision may be right or wrong, but the feeling in and of itself is just that: an emotion.

Unlike instinctive, or emotional, anger, there is the state of "being" angry. This is a choice; a continued response to feelings of anger. Righteous anger flares when God's character and good purpose are slandered or tarnished. We identify righteous anger in Jesus' response to the money changers in the temple. Unfortunately, pure, righteous anger is the least of our worries. Unrighteous anger flares when my expectations are thwarted. Sadly, when I expect to be served, loved, adored, protected, respected, listened to, etc., I am easily angered by anyone or anything that gets in the way. That is my natural state. And that is why I constantly need God to change me and my desires.

Anger, then, is a real word for real life. It happens. But before we can understand and learn how to respond the way Jesus does, in a way that honors God, we must first identify it. This is a good time to learn about yourself and the things that "get under your skin." What kinds of things make you angry? Next week's entry will address where to go from here.

"Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”?
But He gives more grace. Therefore He says:

“God resists the proud,
But gives grace to the humble.”
Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.  Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.  Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.  Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up."  James 4:1-10

* A rather comprehensive list of sinful actions and words (with Scripture references) that reflect sinful anger can be found on page 84 of The Heart of Anger. I so appreciated and used this book that I typed up the charts and worksheets, made copies and 3-ring binders for each of our children, and used it as a guide for all of us. I am thankful for godly teachers who present God through practical helps!

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