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About this series
Overcoming Emotions that Destroy
Practical Help for Those Angry Feelings that Ruin Relationships
How do you deal with those angry feelings we all experience? In the series, Overcoming Emotions That Destroy, Chip Ingram will help you identify whether you are a spewer, leaker, or stuffer. You will learn the difference between good and bad anger, how to gain control of it, and how to use it in constructive ways. This no-nonsense, practical series, will give you biblical tools to express your anger appropriately and deal with those who express their anger toward you.More from this series
It’s one thing for us to come together and say, “Okay, anger is a neutral emotion. It’s given by God as a gift for self-protection. It produces many positive things but it’s very dangerous. It’s a wild stallion. It can be a great servant to us or total destruction in our lives and relationships.”
But what’s the Scripture have to say about it? What does God – “God, help us, give us clear instruction from Your Word about: how do I manage my anger,” or I would say even, how do I tame my temper? Because it is a big issue.
A little research before we jump in. The average man loses his temper approximately six times a week. The average woman loses her temper about three times a week. Men tend to get angry at things not working, circumstances. Women tend to get angry more about relationships. Single people tend to get angry almost twice as often as those that are married. Men are more likely to be physical in their anger. And all of us, listen to this, are twice as likely to express our anger at home, more than at work or school. That is a wild stallion that needs to be dealt with. Lord, help us.
And so, speaking to a group of people under very intense pressure, many of them had lost their homes. Many had been disowned. Many married someone and now their mate doesn’t believe in the Messiah, they’ve just come to Christ, and so their mate has abandoned them or divorced them, and their life is falling apart, and James would say, “Consider it all joy when you encounter various trials.”
And then later he would say to them, “If you lack wisdom ask God, He’ll show you what to do.” And then he talks in that early chapter about how to get perspective on difficult circumstances. And he promises them blessedness if they can endure through very, very difficult times. But he knows there’s a temptation when under pressure, to take a shortcut, to get really angry at yourself, at other people, at circumstances, and at God.
And so, we pick up the story in James chapter 1 and in James chapter 1 verse 19, the half-brother of our Lord says, “My dear brothers,” notice the kindness and the warmth, “take note of this. Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” Quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to become angry. Now notice the purpose clause or the why, “For man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” What a statement.
My anger at my mate, my manipulation out of my anger, my blowing up, my stuffing, my expressing, my wild stallion, out of control, does not produce the righteous life that God requires. It doesn’t fulfill the righteous, it doesn’t make relationships right, things don’t get better when I use anger out of control. And so he says, “Guys, one, two, three” – there is a three-step process given by God to begin to tame the wild stallion of your anger and mine.
Step one is be quick to hear. The word “quick to hear” literally is, the word hear means an eagerness to listen. It doesn’t mean you just hear a word, it means openness, readiness, availability and desire to learn and to hear God’s truth, God’s word. And this word “to hear,” A.T. Robertson and his grammar says, “This word ‘to listen or to hear’ is not simply attentive, assertive, clear listening, but it’s listening for a truth from God in the situation in order to apply it.”
So he says we all ought to be quick to hear. Our immediate response, the first thing in God’s anger management plan, to God, others, our circumstances and our anger, is to be receptive listeners, not reactionary responders.
Most of us, our anger, bam, it just comes out. He says, “No, no, no, no, no, no.” Step one, develop an attitude of reception instead of reaction. This is really important for fellow spewers. It’s so easy to be blunt, critical.
And by the way, I think there are Christian and non-Christian spewers. Non-Christian spewers vomit their anger. Christian spewers, because that’s not very socially acceptable, we just say blunt, harsh, uncaring, negative, critical words that dismiss people’s feelings or dismiss their value and often, quote a verse afterwards to justify how we have just not treated them well.
So don’t always think of spewing as, “Well gosh, I don’t scream and yell at people.” I mean, when I was walking out of my house, I didn’t scream at my kids. If someone said, “You yelled at your kids,” I didn’t. Is this yelling? “Annie, make your bed right now.” But listen to the tone of voice. It was a hundred percent spew. “Ryan, have you done your chores?” What, it was anger.
I need to learn to be receptive instead of react.
As you feel the anger gauge going up, stop and listen and here’s the key question to ask: What is this anger telling me? Why am I angry? What’s going on inside? If you don’t get anything out of this entire time together, if you could remember that anger is a secondary emotion and it’s not the problem, it’ll change your life. If you can just keep the image.
Every time I start to get angry, and by the way, I’ve learned to use the other words that help me, because you say to someone, “Are you angry?” “Oh no, I’m irritated. I’m frustrated.” You can call it whatever you want, you’re angry. Okay? When I feel that coming on, when I feel short, when I want to correct something, want to get it, get it now, and I can just feel this coming on….wait a second, that’s not the problem.
The red light on the dashboard of my car, they tell me something wrong under the hood. The red light of anger is just God’s gift to me to say, “Chip, there’s something going on.” And by the way, sometimes, it’s a good thing. It’s injustice. It’s wrong. You ought to be angry. You ought to do something about it. So the red light doesn’t mean something’s always bad but it tells you there’s something beneath the issue. So the key question is, what is under the hood?
Step two: we’re to be quick to hear. We need to be slow to speak. Slow to speak literally, it’s slow to begin speaking.
It’s not speaking slowly; it’s a warning against rash, hasty, unrestrained words that wound others’ lives. This is our interim response. Our initial response is just, don’t react, listen. What’s going on? Our interim response to God, others, circumstances, and our anger is to think before we speak and this takes practice and discipline.
But listen to why it’s so important from the wisest man who has ever lived, who will ever live. He says, “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.” If you can just keep your mouth shut. Sometimes.
Someone said, “When we use sharp words, we usually cut our own throat,” and I think they’re right. Proverbs 13:3 goes on to say, “He who guards his lips guards his life. But he who speaks rashly will come to ruin.”
And you know what? People will forgive you, but they don’t always forget. Right? Some of you, if we passed a microphone,“My second grade teacher told me I was dumb.” “I had a coach that told me, ‘You’ll never make it.’” “My dad always said to me, ‘You’re lazy. You’re lazy. You’re lazy.’” Have you forgiven them – of some of those people who said things to you? Absolutely. You have not forgotten. And it marked you.
So, we’ve got to be very, very careful about what comes out of our mouth. Proverbs 29:20, “Do you see a man who speaks in haste?” Quickly, reactionary. “There’s more hope for a fool than him.”
Restrain your tongue. Buy some time. Get your mind in gear before your tongue gets engaged. How? You know, part of it is, remember the consequences. And the other is, just get practical. You know you. And so sometimes when you feel anger, just walk away. Just walk away. I don’t mean walk away, you know what? “Will you excuse me right now? I need to do a little thinking.” Or take a walk.
Thomas Jefferson, I mean literally, he would count to ten. He could feel the anger boiling up. He knows he’s about to say something, “One, two, three, four,” just to stop himself to think long enough.
There’s life and death in the power of the tongue. Is life about to come out? Or is death about to come out? And we’re a people of habit. You have learned, some of you to just blurt out things. If it’s in your mind, you think it ought to come out your mouth. And God would say that’s probably not a really good equation.
And you’re looking at a person who has had to work very, very, very hard on that because I’m a verbal processor. Well, that’s kind of when I think out loud. But if I think something, I’ve just had it come out of my mouth, and you say, “Well, how to you ever break that?”
Part of my journey has been, I made a commitment that when I said something to someone or about someone that I knew wasn’t the right thing, no matter how small, I made a commitment before God that I would go to them and apologize and make it right whether they were in the room or not.
And I’m in a lot of meetings, and I’m with different people, and sometimes leaders, and sometimes, look, you’ve got to be really high-D, we’ve got to cut to the chase, what’s the bottom line? We’ve got this person in this situation, and he’s a great guy, doesn’t have the capacity, the organization has grown to here, we need to get to here instead of to get to there. Great guy, loving, kind, he’s the kind of guy you’d want to marry your sister, but he can’t handle this job. We’ve got to find somebody else.
It can start sounding very much like the mission is all that counts and people don’t. And then people make a few little comments and you move on. And then, God is just, Don’t ever treat people that way, Chip.
And I’ve had to go to people and say, “Excuse me, brother, you’ve been here for a while and I’m kind of the new guy and things have been going downhill for a while and we’ve been reevaluating and I was in a meeting and these words came out of my mouth in reference to you as though all your contribution wasn’t valued. And I just want to tell you, I blew it and I sinned, I asked God to forgive me, will you forgive me?” I’ll tell you what, you only do a half a dozen of those.
And so, I would encourage you, whatever mechanism you need, the key question you ask then is: what must I do to prevent a verbal reflex response? And I don’t know what it is for you. Do you count to ten? Practice whatever you need to do.
A simple way, you might put a little star or circle in your notes: James 1:19 and 20 and memorize it. I cannot tell you, of all the things, this is a small rabbit trail, I’ll try to make it really small, in terms of transformation in my life, I don’t know if there’s anything that has helped me more than memorizing Scripture.
When I was a young Christian, I was around a group that was really into Scripture memory. I probably did it for the first three years with terrible motives. I was trying to memorize more verses than anybody else. You just can’t get the athlete out of me. You know? And it was wrong motives. But I would find myself praying and God would bring a verse and it was the answer. Someone asked me a question, God would bring a verse. I found myself ready to say something and God would bring a verse.
And then I watched Jesus under spiritual attack and he didn’t say, “Excuse me, Satan. I think I need to get back to the synagogue and look at some of these scrolls. Okay, Deuteronomy, here’s a good one. ‘Thou shall not tempt the Lord…’ can you hang on just one second? ‘...thy God.’” The average Jewish boy had the entire first five books of the Old Testament, the Torah, memorized.
Most of us watch seven hours of television a day in our homes. That’s forty-nine hours a week. The average college graduate, average college graduate, reads one book a year. The average high school graduate after he graduates doesn’t read another two or three books the rest of their life.
We have become a, soaking in, passive…and all the research on Alzheimer’s, for some that are concerned, it is when you use your brain and exercise your brain and learn new things, it is the greatest prevention against... You know what? It’s true of everything, you either use it or you lose it. And so, I would just encourage you.
The other is, I think there’s a really false view of how life change happens. We think trying hard and spiritual activities bring change. The Bible says, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” It’s thinking. If you think the same way you think right now, three hundred and sixty-five days from now you can try hard, give it your best effort, and you’ll be basically the same person.
You have to think differently about God. Think differently about you. Think differently about sin. Think differently about the future. Think differently about the past. How? The Word. And you renew your mind in the Word.
And so, all I want to say is I think part of this, you can feel like, “Oh, I can’t do this. It’s a pattern and it just blurts out of my mouth and I’m a spewer and...” Yes, you can! But I’m just saying it’s hard work, it’ll take time, you can write some things on 3x5 cards, “Dear, God, I desire to learn to get control of my tongue and speak only as Your Holy Spirit prompts me.” Write that down.
James 1:19 on the back of the card you write out James 1:19 and just stick that in your pocket and read it in the morning, and read it before you go to bed, and you do that for a month and I’ll tell you what, your mouth will change, because you’re reprogramming your mind according to the Truth. And the Spirit of God takes the Truth of God’s Word and He’ll bring about life change.
So, number three: Quick to hear, slow to speak. Third, slow to anger. There are a couple different words in the New Testament for anger. One is, you can almost hear it, it’s thumos, it means an explosion. And the other is orgay, and that’s this word here. It’s not so much about outbursts, but it’s harboring anger, resentful feelings, this anger that rolls around in your soul and your mind and your emotions, and over time, it builds.
He says, “Be slow to anger.” “Be slow, don’t allow that to happen.” Ecclesiastes says, “Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit, for anger resides in the lap of fools.”
We had an immediate response to anger; be a quick listener. An interim response is you’ve got to be slow to speak. Get a hold of your tongue. The life changing response to anger begins when we replace reaction with reflection. Reflection.
You think it through and guess where we are. We’re right back to what we’ve been talking about. You say, “I’ve got this anger” – reflection – “hmmmm. What’s underneath the hood?” And then as you can see, we ask the basic questions that we’ve been talking about. What root issue – injustice, hurt, frustration, or insecurity is behind this anger? In other words, what’s going on inside? And we get back down to what we talked about earlier. And so, you can say to yourself, “Okay, look, right, here it is. Alright, here it is. Am I hurt?” And the tool is, an “I feel” message. Well, am I frustrated? Well I need to shift it from “I demand” to a “I desire” for expectations. Am I feeling threatened? Well, who’s firing the darts? Is there something I need to learn? And you go right back to our last session. That’s why I wanted to do this one next.
Then you’re really right back to A-B-C-D. Quick to hear – okay, I want to listen, respond. Slow to speak – I’m going to stop stuff coming out of my mouth, and then I’m going to be slow to anger – I’m not going to, I’m going to say, “Okay, anger is a symptom. A) I’m going to acknowledge that I’m angry. B) I’m going to backtrack to the primary emotion, C) I’m going to consider the cause of it, and then D) determine the right response. Do I speak or not speak? Do I do it in person? Do I do it in a letter? Is it something that needs to be addressed or something I just need to let go of and release to God?
Isn’t it amazing how Scripture just very clearly lines out: here’s how to address that wild stallion. And really what that passage is in James 1:19 and 20, written to a group of people… you talk about an economic down time, pressure. And basically he said, “Look, here’s the spiritual bit in the wild stallion of anger in your life to bring it under control so your anger serves you instead of severs relationships with people that you love.”