What has the power to transform the tender heart of a loving mother into a beast of fury as I watched her sling her 18 month old baby into the front of a dryer and slam the little one down in a chair? What has the power to turn loving parents into neck bulging, vein popping, screaming adults who say the same thing over and over into the blank stares of their elementary and teenage kids? What has the power to turn good friends and passionate lovers into cold, calculated, critical marriage co-existers who only do what’s absolutely necessary to live under the same roof? What has the power to turn a festive holiday family gathering into a gut twisting, name calling, take sides, no-holds-barred family feud that never gets resolved? And finally, what has the power to take a cool, calm, collected, long-time conscientious worker in San Francisco and turn him into a gun carrying, floor by floor bullet spraying murderer that no one ever dreamed was even upset, as he expressed the bottled up anger of losing his job? What has that kind of power to turn normal human beings who, on most days, are good people to be around, into people that shut down? Into people that leak anger? Into people that explode it? Our emotions.
Designed as a gift from God there are times, places, and circumstances that bring out emotions that destroy. In fact it was during a very difficult time, first book of the New Testament, where Jesus’ half brother would address people who were going through tremendous pressure and difficulty. They were dispersed abroad, they believed in the Messiah and as a result, many of them lost their homes. They were cut out of the family business. They were persecuted. James would say after considering it all joy in chapter 1 verse 19. “My dear brothers. Take note of this. Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” And then he gives us the purpose clause: Why? For the anger of man does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. That single verse launched a series in my life called “Overcoming Emotions that Destroy.” When I’m wounded, when there’s an unmet need, when someone ticks me off, when someone cuts in front of me in traffic, when I don’t have enough money, when God doesn't come through, when my expectations aren't fulfilled - emotions begin to bottle up and we get angry and we express it in very, very different ways. The great majority of people don’t even know they’re angry. We’re gonna talk about anger and how to deal with it. We’re gonna talk about the shame and the guilt and the other emotions that those angry feelings that every human being has that are normal - but they ruin relationships if you don’t identify what they are, how to deal with them, and then how to turn them in a way where God can work in your heart instead of us spewing, or stuffing, or leaking out our anger in ways that destroy our relationship with God and others.
Under pressure we're all prone to blow a fuse or burn the house down. This was written to people under pressure. Some people are prone under pressure - financial pressure, relational pressure. screaming kids, you know, you've just done the floor and now the dog goes over the floor, you just did the laundry and now there are seven more piles, you just gave your best shot at work and you get laid off when someone who hasn't been there very long gets to stay, you just give a big gift by faith and then you find out that 40% of your net income goes down the drain in about three or four months - you get angry. Some people blow up. With others it’s like they have a short in the wiring and when there’s a short in the wiring you can’t even tell anything’s wrong. You go out to dinner one night, you come back, and your house is in ashes - that’s what anger does.
Have you ever been angry when you were unfairly treated, or someone blames you, or you were ignored or misunderstood, or felt insignificant, or someone made fun of you, or you were given advice? You ever done something and someone walks up and just tells you, “This is how you oughta do that.” And you have this emotion side going…you know? You didn’t feel safe. You were given ultimatums. I love the little lists because when we put this together there’s a lady who’s a psychologist that wrote a couple books for Intervarsity and she has had a private practice for the last 20 years. She listed common reasons why all of us feel angry. Let me just zoom through them. And just laugh with me in your mind because we don’t think we have anger as an issue. These are normal things…I thought were pretty good. She writes:
“Someone cut you off in line. Someone misunderstood what you said. Someone ignored your feelings. You have a breakup in a relationship. You feel trapped, smothered, and controlled. You feel like a failure. Someone broke your trust. You were abused by someone. Someone lied to you. You had to wait in a very long checkout line at the store. Your kids are not obeying you. The waitress is very slow and brought the wrong food. You stubbed your toe. You find it’s too late that you’re out of toilet paper. That could be bad. The line to the public restroom is very, very long. Your spouse forgot to call and they were very late. The clothes you wanted to wear are still at the laundry, in the hamper. And it’s not washed yet. Your spouse has been unfaithful. You ran out of time and weren’t able to get things done you needed to. You drove all the way across town to find a store but it was closed. The kids continually and relentlessly demand your time. You forgot to do something you were supposed to do. You don’t have time for yourself. Someone said something harsh or insensitive. A stock clerk was rude. You were in a hurry and you hit all the red lights. Your boss doesn’t appreciate you. Someone tracked dirt into a freshly cleaned house. The driver in front of you is going very, very, very slow. Someone close to you died.”
Does not all those things happen to every single person in this room? My point is anger is not a good emotion or a bad emotion. Let’s get God’s perspective. What exactly is anger? Define it. Anger is neither good nor bad. It is a charged, morally neutral, emotional response of protective preservation. When you’re angry it’s not good or bad, it is a God given emotionally charged response designed to protect someone or something.
Let me give you a couple examples of how anger can be very, very positive. It can be a healthy, emotional response that motivates us to correct attitudes, behaviors, or injustices that we perceive to be wrong. I’m gonna spend a whole session on this verse. More than anything else I want to do an overview and get us on the same page. Listen to the Apostle Paul. He says, “In your anger, do not sin. Do not let the sun go down on your anger. And do not give the devil a foothold.” It’s a good translation. If you look at that in the original text, it’s very interesting. First of all it’s an imperative. It’s a command. And the word order goes something like this: BE ANGRY. Command. In other words, get angry. Don’t sin. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger. Many of us have been taught that any time you’re angry you’ve done something wrong. The Bible commands you to be angry. I’ll make the case that many of us are not nearly angry enough, at the things that we oughta be angry about. When we get angry, amazing, positive things happen.
Many, many years ago, Theresa and I were starting out. We had small kids. We had laundry but we couldn’t afford a washer and dryer so we were at the Laundromat and you know you shove quarters in those things. It never gets dry. I think it’s a satanic cult that makes these dryers someplace. I’m sitting there and I said, “Honey you go home. I’ll do it.” And so I’m sitting and you know how Laundromats are sometimes - very unattractive, dirty, linoleum floor. I’m there trying to get these things dry and a lady comes in and she’s got about an eighteen month old and she looks pretty unkempt. A little bit rough and in a bad mood and a series of events occurred and the little kid just went around to look at something…and she went ballistic. Went over, grabbed that kid’s hand, and literally slammed it into the dryer and then took him and then started screaming. I got up. I was the pastor of this small church in Texas at the time and I came this close to hitting a lady in the mouth and not feeling guilty at all. I mean, I got up, I got in her face. I said, “Ma’am, let me tell you something. You touch that child again, so help me God, and I’m a pastor, I will knock your lights out”. I’m not sure that was the right thing to do but it seemed like the right thing at the time. Sometimes things happen, they bother you. I couldn’t get over this one. I couldn’t sleep that night. The next day I couldn’t get over it. I thought, well, I need to do something. Where’s that kid and what’s goin on? And so I did some research. I went down to the to a government building. They send me here to send me here to send me here to send me here so I end up in the child welfare department. I find out in our town, this is a really big problem. They don’t have enough foster parents and we get all kind of kids from really bad situations. I said well, “What’s anybody doing about it?” “Well, we have a committee.” I mean this is a town of 4000. Things are not running real well. Can you just picture what the committees are like? “Alright Bob. Let’s bring this meeting to order.” “Okay Ethel!” “You know and..You know a lot of kids...” I mean it was unbelievable. So I go to a meeting. And you know, this is so classic, I went to my first child welfare board meeting thinking, “One, what’s going on here.” I find out the extent of the problem - and I left the chairman. It was weird. It was kind of like what about this and what about this and what ab—“We don’t know. Are you interested?” “Yeah.” So, literally, one by one, I purposefully found some committed Christians and we filled that board because I got mad. I couldn’t sleep at night with the images of that little kid and I wondered how many little kids are like that. I got so angry I couldn’t sleep and I thought, “I gotta do something, I gotta do something and I don’t know what”. And what I can tell you is because I got angry, we ended up partnering with all the churches in that little community and we took turns every Sunday talking about what size clothes we need and what families, how many kids, and each church took a turn and then we would begin to take care of these kids. We raised some money, put some things together and we built a home from the Child Welfare Board and we put it right next to that government building. We created a safe place for those kids because one guy saw a little kid slammed into a dryer and got mad.
Anger’s not a bad thing. Jesus got angry at the money changers and he did something. Moses got angry when he saw the people sin and he did something. David got angry and said, “What in the world’s going on? Who is that big uncircumcised giant talking about my God that way?” And he got angry and he did something. I wanna suggest to you anger can be a very positive emotion. What makes you angry? When’s the last time you got so ticked off about injustice or something wrong that you said, “You know what, I’m gonna do something about it.” See, but if you unconsciously believe that when you’re angry, oh that must be sin. You will undermine the very emotion God gave you for Him to move you to do something significant.
We were in Chicago at a pastor’s conference and Moody Bible does an event called Prime Time America and during the lunch hour across the nation they have a call in and we were talking about overcoming emotions that destroy and talking about the book and a guy called in and goes, “Well, you know, I don’t know what to do with my emotions.” And basically he tells the story and he says, “Well, my wife’s having an affair and I found out about it. And I’m angry.” And his assumption was that’s a bad thing. And he said, “I confronted her and she won’t break off the relationship and I just don’t know what to do. What do I do with these emotions? I’m really upset. And I know that it can’t be pleasing to God.” I said, “Dude you oughta be really angry! I mean really mad and you gotta set some clear boundaries and you oughta confront the situation and since you both go to church and you both claim to be Christians you need to get your church involved and your anger ought to have these kind of set principles and rules to help her learn to repent. Doesn’t mean you don’t love her.” But he was playing a game where she kept doing whatever and he felt like “I’m the bad guy, because I’m angry because my wife is unfaithful to me”? Give me a break. That’s not only bad theology. That’s not helping her.
However, anger is not only a positive emotion. If unchecked, it can have amazing negative consequences and pitfalls. It can be an unhealthy and destructive emotional response to protect us from real or perceived hurt, frustration, or personal attack. You go through and you listen to the smartest man who’s ever lived. The wisest man who’s ever lived and he talks about the issue of anger. Proverbs 19:19. “A hot tempered man must pay the penalty. If you rescue him, you will have to do it again.” When people learn to deal with their anger in unhealthy ways, it becomes a pattern. It becomes ingrained.
Notice what he says in Proverbs 22:24. “Do not make friends with a hot tempered man. Do not associate with one easily angered.” Not only does it become a pattern in their life, but you catch it. It’s contagious. My dad had a very big anger problem. I will tell you what. Kids learn how to deal with their anger by watching their moms, their dads, their coaches, and significant others.
Third, notice Proverbs 29:22. “An angry man stirs up dissention. And a hot tempered one commits many sins.” Anger splits apart great relationships, great marriages, great friendships, great churches, great ministries and great workplaces. Angry people stir up dissention. And then notice the last line, “A hot tempered one commits many sin.” When I’m angry, outta control, when you’re angry, outta control - and when I say outta control, I don’t mean you’re necessarily spewing it out. You may be pushing it all down. Some of the angriest people in the world you can’t see. It’s like an iceberg. 90% of it is under the water. It’s during those times we do some of the most foolish, foolish things that cost some of the direst consequences in our entire life.
I put a list of questions to consider. Just kind of lean back and listen on this one. Have you ever done something you wished you hadn’t when you’re angry? Anybody? Hmm. Yeah. Have you ever said something you wish you could take back when you’re angry? Ooo. Yeah. Have you ever made a bad decision when you’re angry? A decision that you look back and you say, “Potentially, I mean, just potentially, that is the dumbest thing I’ve ever, ever done.” But in anger, you know, its like, “Hey! You can take this job and shove it! I don’t care!” Then you go home, tell your wife or your husband what happened. “I quit my job today. I’m not getting treated like that anymore.” “Great. So how we gonna pay the bills?” “I don’t know.” “So you got another job?” “No, I don’t have another job” “What were you thinking?” “Well I just got tired of the way he was treating me.” “Okay.” See we do really silly, really unwise, say painful, hurtful, things. Have you ever ruined a friendship, a marriage, a family relationship, or a ministry relationship because of anger? Have you ever seen a person hurt because of someone’s anger? Physically, emotionally, or psychologically?
My point I’m trying to make is without exception, we all struggle with angry feelings at times and those angry feelings have done more than their share of damage in our relationships with other people. And if you’re like me, you’ve nodded or, like in this room, you actually verbalized that you have done some really stupid foolish painful things when you’re angry. Here’s what I wanna tell you. Tonight we just want to get on the same page and see there’s hope. Let me give you a little overview of where we’re gonna go and what we’re gonna do and there’s hope to deal. We’re gonna help you understand your anger from God’s perspective. We’re gonna help you discover how you tend to express your anger. We’re gonna help you know when it’s healthy, when it’s unhealthy. We’re gonna help you discover God’s purpose for anger. How anger can be positive and how to deal with the negative. We’re gonna learn some very specific techniques to learn to share your anger in a healthy way that gets the issue on the table without attacking the person. For some of you, you’re gonna realize you’ve been angry a long, long time, and the depression that you’ve experienced for maybe months or years is really an anger issue.
For some of you, like I just talked to a guy recently. He’s exploded, then remorsed. Exploded and remorsed. He could never figure out what was going on and why. And so what had happened is that he’s got all these relationships where people keep their distance. When you explode and spew on people, you’re not a safe person to be around. And you can come back in tears and tell them how sorry you are and they keep giving you another chance and another chance. I’ve met elders in churches, I’ve met people that everyone looks up to with such esteem, and they’re Godly here, Godly here, Godly here, Godly here, Godly here... but they’ve got this little window of unresolved anger. And it’s a besetting sin. They don’t understand why and they don’t understand how to change.
I will tell you, we’re gonna walk through a journey together where the truth will set you free if you’re willing to be really open and really hear God’s voice.