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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
Anger is a secondary emotion. Why we all struggle with anger. I have to start by, I’ve got to tell you a story. It’s a true story, unfortunately.
I am studying and I’m preaching this material for the first time ever, so all week I’m studying, studying, studying. It happens to be about a Tuesday night and I’m preparing for this and all I can tell you, I won’t give you all the details but have you ever had one of those days where you just felt beat up?
I mean, this phone call and this person complains and you get a bad look from someone and this was planned and it didn’t come through and beat up beat up beat up and the projects weren’t going well. It wasn’t bad, no one treated me terribly, but I had one of those moments inside where I just couldn’t wait to get home.
And at our house we ate dinner at five thirty and I just made that a practice that apart from a very rare exception we just ate together. But now and then there would be something, a big meeting, and so I wouldn’t. And, so, it was about nine o’clock and I’m driving home and I’m thinking, I just cannot wait to talk to Theresa. And I don’t have anything big to say and if I was really honest I want to walk through the door and her to go, “Oh honey, it’s so good to see you. How’d your day go? Is everything okay?”
I mean that’s really unconsciously, that’s sort of what I’m wanting. And then, Ryan was a real young guy back then, he was about in his senior year of high school and he always wanted to play some ball or talk or goof off and Annie was this little cute girl about ten or eleven years old or so.
And, so, in my mind, I’m going to go home and I’m going to see them. And I don’t know what happened, I walked in the house, it’s nine thirty – it’s dark. I mean, the whole house was dark. I don’t know if everybody had a big day, a bad day and so I’m thinking, Well, Theresa is probably lying in bed quietly waiting for me to walk to say, “Oh honey, how did your day go?”
So I walk in and I’m waiting for that... and I hear, you know that rhythmic breathing? “Hmm-hmm-hmm.” So, okay, plan A doesn’t work, I’m going go to plan B – Ryan. I mean, he’s seventeen years old, it’s nine thirty. Are you kidding me? The kid can’t be asleep! What did he have, a hard practice? He’s gone. Well, Annie’s already been gone.
All I can tell you is that I just bolted to anger. I was mad. I think I made some popcorn, got a glass of orange juice, forty-five minutes of ESPN. “I worked really hard today. Kind of bummed out.” Now, I didn’t know I was mad. Okay? I just felt something’s wrong. I didn’t know.
And I went to bed. And there are some verses about going to bed when you don’t know you’re mad. It doesn’t get better. It grows. But a disconnect occurs. Often, you have emotional feelings and just respond in ways – you make no connection. I had no idea.
So, I get up the next morning, amazingly, in a bad mood. Imagine that. So, I can still remember. I can picture it right now. I’m coming around the corner, as I walk out, Annie’s coming out of her room. Little eleven-year-old. I look in there, “Annie, make your bed.” “Dad, I just got up.” “Annie, don’t talk back, make your bed.”
“Honey,” Theresa goes, “Honey, she just got up.” “Look. Hey. I’m the father of this house.” You know? Then Ryan comes out, “Hey Ryan.” “Yeah?” Did you have your quiet time yet? Did you do your chores yesterday?” “Hey Dad, I haven’t even brushed my teeth.” “Hey son, don’t talk back to me.”
And so I walk into the kitchen, Theresa’s doing some stuff for breakfast. “So, what happened to you?” “What do you mean, what happened to me?” “Well you just seem really out of sorts.” “Well you know what? If I’m going to get criticized all morning I’m just going to go ahead and go to the office.”
And literally I walk out the door. Now, I didn’t scream. I didn’t yell. I didn’t slam the door. This is a Christian anger. Alright? So, I go and I get in my car and I slam the door. Okay? And I start it and I get ready to pull out and then I’m just thinking. Literally, I’m studying all this stuff. Anger is a secondary emotion. It’s like the red light on the dashboard of your soul. It tells you something’s wrong under the hood. Chip, what are you going to do with this? And I’m thinking, I’m going to go get a cup of coffee and get out of here.
Chip, that’s not what you’re supposed to do and that’s not what you’re going to tell people this weekend is it? No. I literally sat in my car with the car running for ten minutes in this moment of: really what’s wrong. Now especially for men, now I’m not going to put you other guys on the hook but at least for me, it’s hard for me to admit, “Oh, I feel sad and disappointed because my wife wasn’t awake to give me the strokes that I really wanted.” That sounds kind of like a weenie. You know?
I feel hurt and rejected because my seventeen or eighteen-year-old son wasn’t awake to hang out with me and I can’t think of a good reason to be mad at my daughter but she was just in the hall at the wrong time. And I sat there and I thought, Now what am I going to do with this?
After ten minutes by the grace prompting of God, I turned off the car, I went inside, Theresa looked at me like, I wonder if round two is coming, and I said, “Honey, can I get just a minute with you?” She goes, “Sure.” I said, “I realized I was angry.”
She looked at me like, “Oh. Rocket science. You’re really coming along here.” And I said, “Honestly I came home last night. I really had a hard day yesterday. I missed you, and I felt really sad and really disappointed and it doesn’t make sense. I felt rejected because you were asleep and you didn’t do it on purpose. I had these expectations and I had this hurt and I really needed to talk to you and you weren’t here and I didn’t know it but I got mad but it just felt too vulnerable or like there’s something wrong with me to admit that I was really hurt and feeling lonely. And I bolted to anger. And I went to bed with that. I just realized that in the car.”
And then I went to Ryan, and I said, “Ryan, you didn’t do anything wrong. You’re a great kid, I’m really sorry. And, Annie, uh, have a great day. Dad just, it’s too much to try to explain.”
That changed, literally changed, a process of the sanctification of the work of the Holy Spirit in my life when I saw: anger is like a red light on the dashboard of my car and what I had realized is that a lot of the times what we do is we go, “Oh, wow. The red light’s flashing.”
And so we stop the car, get in the trunk, get a hammer out, and smash the red light. That’ll take care of that, right? Instead of when it’s on the light of the dashboard, what do we know? Something under the hood is amiss. Something’s wrong.
In your notes, I tried to lay it out a little more systematically. It’s easier to be angry than to face the deeper issues of anger. Anger is not the problem, it is the warning light. I came across a quote as I worked through this from Doctor Becca Johnson. She seems to say it smarter, clearer, and better. She says,
“When I was late to pick up my son from school I got mad at the clock, the school, the traffic
lights, my watch, and the stupid school schedule before I finally realized the real issue. I was embarrassed that the school secretary had to call me to come and pick up my son. When a client of mine was mad at his boss, he realized that the strong underlying emotions were really insecurity and fear, and not anger. When I got mad at the driver who made a virtual gesture at me, I later realized that the root feeling was guilt because I had pulled out too far in traffic and put him and me in danger. When I got angry at a colleague for not including me on a decision, I discovered really my anger was covering my own hurt pride underneath. If you and I are honest with ourselves and brave enough to peel back the anger, we can discover its true motivating force. When people abandon us, let us down, when someone doesn’t come through, when we feel rejected, left out, lonely, sad, or sorrowful, we usually cover it up with anger because these emotions are so strong, painful, and confusing, anger serves as a more satisfying substitute. Anger artificially helps us feel in control when we’re feeling out of control and falsely helps us feel powerful when we feel powerless.”
And then she goes on to highlight some common emotions that cover anger. And just, I’ll give you the quick version again so that you’ll go, “Oh.”
We often cover our anger with, when what’s underneath is hurt, guilt, shame, powerlessness, betrayal, insecurity, rejection, dashed hopes, feeling trapped, hopelessness, helplessness, unmet expectations, envy, jealously, resentment, pride, low self-esteem, failure, sense of worthlessness, loneliness, depression, worry, anxiety, pressured, stressed out, disappointment, remorse, exhaustion, fatigue, and grief.
Those are real things that every human being experiences all the time in life and what I want to suggest is, the great majority of the time, that’s not what comes up on your radar.
You get angry. Some of you, though, know that angry is illegal so you stuff it and you don’t even know that those are the real issues. Some of you stuff it for a while, because you’re a Christian and you feel like blowing up is not very healthy – then you blow up.
Other people you’re eating because you’re angry, some of you are taking prescription drugs because you’re angry. Some of you started off with social glass of wine at night and now you have to have two or three. And you’re covering stuff inside that God wants to heal and forgive and restore.
We learned that we spew, we stuff, and we leak but I want to tell you that anger is a secondary emotion and we all struggle with it. It’s the tip of the iceberg. There are many, many underlying causes of anger. I just read about twenty-five of them.
But when you pull them together, you basically can come up with about three big categories. We get angry as a result of unmet needs. And I’m going to call that hurt. Because that’s what it feels like. I just feel hurt. I had a need to talk. I had a need to get connected. I had a need for someone to come through for me. I had a need to be loved when I was grieving.
The second is unmet expectations, and we’ll look at each of these individually. And I just call that frustration. I expected people to be awake. I expect a friend to be available. I expect people to return my calls. I expect people to do what they said they would do. I expect people that love me to help me when I have a need. Right? When they don’t, I get mad and so do you. The third underlying cause is insecurity, when we’re personally attacked or threatened.
And so, with that, what I’d like to do is I’d like to walk through each of those, give you some Biblical examples, and see if we can’t, here’s what I’m going to ask you to do. I’m going to pray that God begins to help you have an “a-ha” experience so that from now on when you get angry, you’ll go, “Ah! This is a secondary emotion! I have bolted to anger. I wonder, is there an unmet need or hurt that I need to address? Is it an expectation issue? Or was I personally attacked?” And I’ll give a tool for each one of these and how to deal with it so God can use your anger to help you instead of make you a prisoner.
So with that let’s look at hurt – real or perceived unmet needs. Notice Proverbs 19:3. “A man’s own folly ruins his life, yet his heart rages against the Lord.” Haven’t you seen this? People make stupid, bad, terrible decisions. They drive drunk, they do all kind of crazy stuff, they blow up at maids, they don’t care about people, and then when life falls apart, they shake their fist at God. “How could you do this to me God?” Because it’s too scary to admit their own guilt, their own lack, their own culpability, and take responsibility for their bad behavior.
Isn’t it insightful what Solomon has to say? “A man’s own folly ruins his life, yet his heart rages against the Lord.” Notice Proverbs 27:4 it says, “Anger is cruel and fury overwhelming but who can stand before jealousy?”
He pictures anger as this storm and it’s cruel but he says there’s something behind it. Jealousy is rooted in hurt. Jealously is the fear of losing someone, the rejection we feel when affection or attention or honor or money goes to someone else that we think belongs to us. And when I feel that, when I feel like, “Well, my kids need to be giving me this attention, or I should have gotten credit for that,” and I start to get jealous. Let me show you that biblically. Let’s look at a quick picture in Scripture with regard to the whole issue of jealously here.
Joseph’s brothers, okay? You know the story. You have the youngest son at this point. And Genesis 37 to 39 is the long story. And we pick it up in verse 4. It says, “But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peaceably to him.”
So you have a father who is showing partiality. He gets the nice coat. He gets the easy job. He gets all the attention. You have the other brothers over here and what are they feeling? They feel hurt, they feel rejected. This isn’t fair. So, they go to their father and say, “You know, Dad, I’ve been reading a couple good books on parenting, and I just really want you to know that this type of behavior is going to be unhealthy for Joseph, for us, and for you as a father. And what I want you to know…”
What do they do? They bolt to anger. And so, what they do is they, this is what we do. They take their anger and their jealousy, that’s the root cause, out on, not the object of it, but on the person who’s receiving the attention. Isn’t that interesting? They displace their anger to a safer object. Why am I yelling at my kid in the hallway for not making his bed? Because I bolted to anger and I’m going to take it out in a safer place.
Joseph’s brothers. The lament psalms are – sometime read these with a little less sanctified view of how wonderful David and psalmists are. Twenty-five percent of all the psalms are someone whining and complaining to God. But you know why they’re so raw? They don’t cover up their anger.
David loves God with all of his heart. “Why have You forsaken me? What’s the deal? This isn’t fair! The enemies are this. You anointed me king! I’m hiding in caves! I’m dodging spears! I don’t get it! I loved You – I risked my life, I risked my life and I’m out doing Your work and I come back and my kids and wife and everyone they’ve been taken away and now I’ve got to go fight? Where are You, God? I’m depressed. Why does my soul…why does my soul, where is the living God?” And he pours out his lament.
And when he’s really honest with his emotions in almost every lament psalm, “Yet thou are enthroned on high, O God. You are the faithful One.” And he’ll get perspective and he’ll look back, “You’re the one that delivered us. You’re the one who’s done this. You’re the one who has done this.” But he takes the raw emotions of his anger and he gets down to what the real issues are, and then he gets back and he gets God’s perspective and then he responds differently.
Some of us don’t feel like it’s safe to share with God our anger and our hurts and our frustrations. My favorite passage in this one is Psalm 73. I was so bummed out. I was so mad at God and life. And I made a commitment in college after becoming a Christian to be sexually pure and I decided I was going to walk with God and that commitment meant that I ended up breaking up with a girlfriend. But I loved her and I thought she was going to be my wife.
And I was playing college basketball and for a year and a half after every college game she would be at the top of the stairs waiting for me. And we had broken up and time went on and it was about four months later and I prayed God would change her heart and we’d get back together and all that good stuff.
And I came out of the locker room, hair wet, and she’s at the top of the stairs and it was like, “Yes. Thank You, Lord, thank You, thank You, yes.” You know? And I get to the top of the stairs and she kind of looks at me and then one of the other guards on the team walks by and the two of them walk out the door.
And from that doorway to my dorm room, I was enraged. “God thank You, I really appreciate how You treat Your servants. I’m really glad for how You bless the, I’m doing life the way You say and this is what I get.” And I was just ready to can it. “If this is what You get for following You with all your heart, for staying pure well I’ll tell You what, God.”
And some of you, haven’t you felt that? “My finances are in order and now look what’s happening in this and that and people are getting bailed out and this and that. I did this and what happened and my husband or my wife or one of my kids, someone walked out on them. And I was faithful and I came in on time and now they’re downsizing and I get ripped off,” right?
And I remember that night saying, “God, this isn’t fair.” And I was angry and I opened Psalm 73, and I read Psalm 73 and it says, “My heart was embittered. I was like a beast before You. I was ready to give up the Christian life. I looked at the arrogant and the evil and the pride as they’re neckless, and they don’t have any pain and everything goes great for them, yet when I came to the sanctuary of the Lord, I perceived their end.” Then I got perspective. “Their life is like a vapor.” God in a moment can pull out the rug and all they have is gone and they have no future. “As for me the nearness of God is my good. I’ve made the Lord God my refuge. My heart and my flesh may fail, but You’re the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
And all I want you to see is that underneath your anger often, it really is hurt. And the tool is what I call an “I feel” message.
I shared that Theresa and I had a lot of struggles and we went to counseling and we paid a lot of money to give you a lot of help later. And we didn’t know how, so when she got angry she closed down, she stuffed, and I leaked. It was not a good combination.
And so, we went to this counselor and he realized, “You guys can’t resolve anger, and when you do, you attack each other, which is not good either.” And we did it in really godly ways. We weren’t throwers and shouters and screamers and cussers, we just, but you know what? It just tore us apart. And so, on a 3x5 card he wrote, “I feel _________ when you _________” and we put that 3x5 card on the refrigerator and he taught us: this is how you communicate your hurt or your anger.
It goes something like this: “I feel hurt when you pay more attention to the kids than me.” “I feel disappointed when you don’t come home for supper and don’t call.” “I feel rejected when I want to be physically close to you and you shut down emotionally.” “I feel angry when you shout and yell when we talk about a sensitive issue.” And for two years that was on our refrigerator and we learned to say “I feel” messages to one another. And God really used it. He used it in an amazing, amazing way.
And I would like you to think about who might need to hear an “I feel” message from you. When’s the last time you really got angry with someone or something and as a result of our time already you realize you kind of stuffed it or you sort of spewed and that really didn’t work very well. Or you find yourself joking about the same thing, you know, a little sarcasm, little barbs. And I’d just like you to just think about, what would it be like? What’s the real, what’s the real issue? What’s behind it? What really bugs you? Why are you mad?
Okay, the red light, it’s anger. But what’s underneath that? Who hasn’t come through for you? Which one of those grandkids, after helping them go through college, doesn’t write, doesn’t call, and you’ve realized, “I’m just ticked off. I’m just mad.”
Who at work? You’ve helped them get to where they are and they’ve made some progress and it’s like, hey, you don’t exist anymore. Who’s one of your friends that you used to hang out with a lot? And now, there’s sort of that unwritten rule if you’re a really close friend and you call, you get a call back the same day and now it’s like four days or five days and you don’t even get a call, you get an email, “Hey, I got your call. Thanks, I’m busy.”
And there’s just something that’s happening inside, you understand what I’m saying? There’s something happening inside and it’s not like you’re going to go, “Hey, I’d like to really confront you about our relationship right now. Okay? Coffee shop, just you and me. Mano to mano. Womano to womano. Alright? You are not responding to my email in a timely manner and I feel deeply hurt.” I don’t think we’re going to go there.
But what it would be like to have some time together and say, “Hey could we get a cup of coffee?” And just say, “You know, I sense a little drift in our relationship. And this may sound silly but I feel hurt after all that we’ve been through when I call and I don’t get a response for three or four days. Could I just share that with you as a brother?”
See, you’re attacking the issue not the person. And I will tell you, when you hold that inside, you know what? You get resentment toward the person. And then for some of us, you know what? “I won’t call him back. When he calls me, I’ll give him an email.”
And we start these silly games and God wants you to know, He wants to use your anger for your good. Anger is a secondary emotion. One of the primary causes is hurt. We see it from Joseph’s brothers and we see it throughout the psalms. I want you to just stop right now, okay? Close your eyes. I’m going to ask a question and let’s just do a quick little exercise.
Father right now, I ask You to bring to mind, a person or a situation in the lives of the people in this room, where they have been hurt. And I’d like you to right now just practice visualizing in your mind what it would look like and it might be a phone call because they’re too far away but what it would look like just to say “I feel hurt.” “I feel left out.” “I feel wounded.” “I felt disappointed when you didn’t invite me to the wedding.” “When you…” you fill it in. You got it?
And Father, I pray that You would grant us the grace and the courage to not bolt to anger but to realize that we’re human and as humans we get wounded and hurt. And we don’t want the wounds to fester and we don’t want resentment or bitterness or anger to cause a root of bitterness and many be defiled. Help us to have the courage to deliver a loving, kind, “I feel” message to get the issue on the table and to speak the truth in love. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Okay, anger’s a secondary emotion. We got it? It’s an iceberg up here. Underneath you have unmet needs – hurt – there’s two more. The second, the second reason that we bolt to anger is frustration. Frustration is real or perceived unmet expectations. The distance between what you expect to happen and what really happens, if it’s a little we call it frustration. If you expect this to happen, and this is your experience, that’s anger. If you expect this to happen and this happens, you are super ticked off.
A lot of your anger is built into expectations and, by the way, this comes as a surprise. People actually cannot read your mind. You have expectations, they are in your head, and people don’t know that they’re there. You were raised in a certain way and your expectation is things should be clean like this or you can have expectations of what people should do, what they shouldn’t do, what they should say, what they should never say, how they should drive, how they should treat people and they ought and should and always should never do certain things and when people violate those, you get mad.
And often you don’t even know why you’re mad. Proverbs 14:29 says, “A patient man has great understanding but a quick-tempered man displays folly.” Anger is inseparably linked to our expectations.
I can remember a time I was in the Philippines. We were doing ministry and it was a basketball ministry and we were there for three weeks. And we were out in the boonies and the most wonderful thing, about every three days you would go into a little room if they had it, it would be ice-cold water, and you got to pour it over your head with a bar of soap, and you would get a bowl of rice. And we would play three games a day. And it was our winter so it was their summer and so, it was like ninety-eight degrees, a hundred and one percent humidity. You’d lose about ten, twelve pounds a day in sweat.
And so, then we got back to Manila and we’re ready to head home and they had a coup, they had lots of coups in the Philippines, and they shut down all the airlines; no one can leave the country.
I said, “You don’t understand. I have a wife and three children” and they said, “Well maybe in three months we’ll open this up.” I said, “You really don’t understand. I have to get back.” And, I mean, we’re praying and praying and praying and praying and praying and the President or someone says, “Okay, we’re going to let some of the people out of the country.” We get on a crowded plane for seventeen hours, no food, no bowl of rice. I’m the happiest person you’ve ever seen in your life. I love this; this is great. “Can I help you serve, you know, the water that’s warm to other passengers? I just want to help, stewardess.” This is awesome. I love it. Okay? Picture number one.
Picture number two. I’m with my family and we’re trying to save money. And so, to save money, we had one of those very non-stop flights. And so, we got on and it was on time. And I had three rather smaller kids at the time and they gave us peanuts and 7up. And then we waited for an hour and a half. Got peanuts and pretzels on the next trip. Then we had just peanuts. Then we had pretzels and water. And it was about a seven-hour trip. It was exactly on time. It was exactly what they promised. And I was so ticked off at the end of that day.
Why? I got something to eat. I had a clean seat. It took about four or five hours total instead of sixteen. When I was in the Philippines my expectations were, “If I can just get out of here, it’d be awesome. Happy camper.” When I’m in America, I want…they said a light snack, how is peanuts and 7up a light snack? Give me a break! I mean, like a little dinky sandwich or something but peanuts…I got three kids, man they’re just vomiting all over the backseat, they’re going crazy, they’re fighting with one another. Pretzels, peanuts, pretzels, peanuts, give me a break! Right? Expectations.
Notice the biblical example here we have in Naaman. “But Naaman became furious.” 2 Kings 5:11 and 12. Remember him? He wanted to be healed and they said, “Well, go to the prophet in Israel. Man, God’s doing great, miraculous things through Him.” So, he comes to the prophet and the prophet tells him to go wash in the river. And Naaman’s furious and went away and said, “Indeed I said to myself, he will surely come out.”
These are his expectations, speaking of Elijah. “He’ll surely come out, stand, and call on the name of the Lord as God and wave his hand over this place and heal the leprosy.” And then he names a couple of his rivers in his home town.
And he said, “‘Aren’t those waters better than any in Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?’ So he turned away in a rage.” Isn’t it interesting? He came to the prophet, he has expectations: if he does this, says a few little spiritual words… but instead the prophet goes, “Tell you what. Why don’t you go down to this river, dip seven times, six won’t work. And you’ll be healed.”
How many times have you told God the way He has to work in your life? How many times have your expectations for other people, about how they have to respond, when they have to respond? How many times is life not fair?
I expected my marriage to be trouble free. Mmmm, right? I expected when my kids got to be twenty or twenty-two, twenty-three, twenty-four years old and they were really grown, my major parenting would be done. Mmmm, right? I expected when I worked really hard, trusted God, gave generously, tried to stay in shape, I wouldn’t be the one getting cancer. Mmmm. But God was in charge. “Naaman. Go do it this way.” So much of our anger is this distance between what we experience and these unconscious expectations that we have.
Notice in 1 Chronicles 15:29, “And it happened as the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord came to the city of David that Michal, Saul’s daughter, looked through window and saw the king whirling and playing music, and she despised him in her heart.” Her experience and expectations were kings always act this way. His behavior is embarrassing me. Therefore, she bolted to anger and the result: she despised him.
What expectations for those of you who are married do you have of your mate that you just assume are from God and are right and are really from your family background and origin? That they do things differently than you expect and you have this resentment in your heart. See, this anger stuff really deals with deep transformational issues from the inside out.
Let me give you a tool. This is how to communicate your frustration. It’s the “I desire vs. I demand” expectations. And here’s what happens is when you can change what your expectations are, they become a demand. They basically become “it ought,” “it should,” “it always,” “it never.”
When you hear yourself saying those words, those are demands. Life ought to be fair. My kids ought to call. My marriage should be fulfilling all the time. I ought to make more money. I should have been promoted. Ought, should, always, never are demand statements.
By the way, some of you make those on yourself. I ought to be perfect. I ought to keep the house clean all the time. I should never blow it at work. I should always have every project done on time always. And so some of you are mad at yourselves.
You know what? I’ve got news for you. There’s only one Jesus and you ain’t it. You’re not going to be perfect. Right? And so you have this anger. What would happen? Here’s what, here’s the difference, here’s the tool. You start, and I actually have to write these down. I have to write everything down, I’m a little slow.
I desire to have a fulfilling and deep marriage even in a fallen world. I desire and long to have a deep, wonderful relationship with my grown kids even though now with their own kids and lifestyles, they don’t respond as quickly as I would like. I wish, I desire, I long for. Lord, I hope. You see the difference? So when you have a desire that doesn’t come through, you have disappointment. And everyone has disappointment. When you make a demand and it doesn’t come through, you have anger.
And so many of your anger issues and my anger issues are rooted in unconscious expectations that you don’t even know that are there.
Number three: insecurity. A real or perceived attack on my worth. Often, anger is merely an evidence of insecurity in my life. The tip of the iceberg is anger. It’s the red light flashing on the dashboard of my soul. Option number one, it may be hurt, the tool is “I feel” messages. Option number two, it might be unmet needs as a result of unrealistic, perceived or real, expectations. The tool is “I desire vs. I demand.” The third possibility is basically insecurities or real or perceived personal attack on my worth.
Proverbs 15:1, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” What does a harsh word do? What does criticism do? What does someone calling you a name do? What does someone cutting in front of you and making a gesture do? What does someone attacking you do? That harsh word, it stirs up anger. Why? Because your personhood has been attacked. Your value has been attacked. And sometimes your safety has been attacked. And anger is probably a very wise and good response.
Proverbs 18:19 says, “An offended brother is more unyielding than a fortified city and disputes are like the barred gates of a citadel.” Why? An offended brother. When you attack or when you’re attacked, when your personhood, when your security is attacked, I’ll tell you what, the bars go up.
Again let me read a quick overview of this that I think puts it more succinctly than I can. “When we feel threatened we tend to call a red alert. Unfortunately, we usually do it automatically without properly assessing the risk. We do it over small, insignificant things as well as big, overwhelming issues. Whether the impending intruder is a mouse or a monster, we gear up for action with almost the same intensity. We get fuming mad when a stranger flips us off on the highway, when our spouse has been unfaithful, when the store clerk makes a rude comment, when the boss takes credit for all the work that we did, when there’s a long line at the bank, and when we discover our teenager stole some money. We need to stop and assess the situation before we blast in with heavy artillery.”
I came to a little window and I’ve shared this before and I shared it when we started, is that I believe that everybody is desperately insecure.
If you study Genesis chapter 3, you’ll find that when sin entered the world, a new pattern occurred. God calls out, “Adam, where are you?” Adam’s response is, “I heard you coming, therefore, I was afraid.” Why? Sin had entered; he now sees he’s inadequate. He’s self-conscious for the first time. That inadequacy produces fear rooted in shame, “Therefore I hid.” Inadequacy or insecurity creates a fear of others seeing me as I am and so I hide.
Paul Turnier wrote a little book that had a fabulous impact on my life called The Strong and the Weak. Swiss psychologist. Translated from French to English. And he interviewed all these people in his practice and basically realized that everyone’s desperately insecure. Some people have strong reactions, they power up, they yell, they scream, they tell you how many people report to them, how much money they make, where they live, where their zip code is, what they drive... and they do that to keep a distance and it works.
Other people feel desperately insecure and they use weak reactions. They look at the floor, they’re shy, they withdraw, they tell you all their problems and they’re like the victim. And after you hear the sad story the seventh time, you see them in church and say, “I think I’ll use the other hallway.”
Both keep people at a distance. When I discovered, “You know what, Ingram? You’re going to be insecure the rest of your life. Your only security is in Christ.” It removes the threat. Why should I care if someone I don’t know flips me off on the highway? Who is this guy?
My angry response when my security is threatened, tells me a lot more about the level of insecurity I have than the stupidity of the driver that just did that. When someone says a harsh word and my immediate reaction, “Hey, what’d you say?” Where’s that coming from? Why am I bolting to anger? It’s because I feel exposed. When they criticize my project, why do I get so defensive? Well, because it’s really an attack on me, do you get it?
Notice, in Scripture here, we’ve got a couple good examples of both Saul and the Jewish leaders. You know the story, right? David has now killed Goliath and Saul has put him over the army, and we can pick up the story.
So, David went wherever Saul sent him and he behaved wisely. And Saul sent him out with the men of war and he was accepted in the sight of all the people and also Saul’s servants, and it happened that as they were coming home, David was returning, and they began to sing this song, you know, “Saul has slain his thousands and David, his ten thousands.”
And Saul hears this and instead of saying, “Wow, I must be a great delegator. I’m really looking to build a legacy. I’m empowering other people and the goal, it’s God’s Israel. We are making real progress.” He’s threatened. He thinks, “Uh-oh. I’m the king.” And it says, “Then Saul was very angry and the saying displeased him, they’ve ascribed to David ten thousand and to me, a thousand. Now what more can he have but the kingdom?”
There’s a very insecure man at the success of other people. The same thing happens with the religious leaders. You pick up the story in Acts 5, “And through the hands of the apostles, signs and wonders are being done. Their done with one accord on Solomon’s porch. Yet none of the rest dared joined them but the people esteemed them highly and the believers were increasing and the Lord added to them multitudes of men and women. So that they brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and couches and even in the least of Peter’s shadow passing by might fall on some of them. And so the multitudes gathered from the surrounding cities of Jerusalem and they brought the sick and those who were tormented by unclean spirits and they were all healed.”
God’s doing this miraculous thing as he births the Church and here are religious leaders and they saw what they did to Jesus, they have all this Scripture, and instead of saying, “Wow, I guess we were wrong, He must be the Messiah I mean this is pretty heavy duty stuff. Everyone’s healed. Demons are flying out.”
What’s their response? “Then the high priests rose up and all those who were with them, which is the sect of the Sadducees and they were filled with indignation. And they laid their hands on the apostles and put them in the common prison.”
And I just want to suggest to you that when your reaction is very strong, very defensive, when you respond to criticism in a way, that, and you may stuff it, strongly, you may spew it, or you may find yourself leaking it out, what if, what if you said, “Wait a second. Does this person’s opinion really matter that much? Am I going to give this person’s view of me an overriding power to determine who I am instead of who God says I am?”
So much of our anger is not just hurt and not just frustration, but we’re basically insecure people and when our security or our self-worth gets attacked, we bolt to anger because I will tell you, it’s threatening, isn’t it?
The tool here is the “ask yourself” question: “Why am I feeling threatened?” And here are the little questions – it’s a process. But you ask yourself: what is being attacked, who is attacking me, is the threat menial, or meaningful, and whose approval am I seeking?
And you start asking that and you realize, “That’s a fellow employee, he’s been here two months, he’s rude. He’s got a big ego. He criticized me. I wanted to punch his lights out. I mean, that was my initial reaction but he’s really big so I think I’ll not go there and it would not be a very good testimony.” But you have these thoughts. You know?
And, and then you just realize, “This is silly. I don’t need that person’s approval.” I got criticized. She criticized me in the car. You know what? We’ve been married twenty-seven years, I think I can find where we’re supposed to go, I got a GPS. I can see where the little spaces are, I don’t need, “There’s one over there. There’s one over there. There’s…” Why do you get so angry? “Woman, I can tell you, I can find empty parking spots! Understand?! Zip it, here’s some duct tape.” You know? Ask yourself, guys, what is it about that that makes you so angry? It has nothing to do with parking spots. It’s my ego is being threatened and somehow I’m being made to feel by that comment that I’m not smart enough to figure it out. Right?
Now, there’s two applications here: Ladies… and the other application is… guys? “You know what? Thanks hon.” I get a little help, right? See when you can begin to understand that defensiveness, that bolt to anger, how many of you have had arguments like that? I mean, great morning with the Lord on your way to church and over a parking lot, the spirit of God leaves the room. Right?
In summary, the first step in overcoming the destructive power of anger and write this word, is the courage to look below the surface. I had the “a-ha” moment of my life, and it changed my life, when I realized sitting for ten minutes in a car, the problem’s not anger, I’m hurt.
Since then I’ve learned, it’s not hurt, I’m frustrated. I had expectations of when this would be done, or what people would do, or what I expected of myself and you know something? I’m not hitting those. Now sometimes, I just need to accept that, confess my sin, plan better and other times it’s: it’s a fallen world and everyone gave it their best shot. This is just where we’re at.
And finally, I just have to accept a lot of the anger I have is people attack my personhood and am I either going to respond in defensiveness and anger and in like manner, or I’m going to ask a few questions like: who’s being attacked, what are they really attacking, is this really worth dealing with, and do they really have the power to define who I am?
Anger is the light on the dashboard. Anger is our way of protecting ourselves from painful, hard to deal with hurts, frustrations, and insecurities. Anger has many faces. And despite its power for good, it will destroy, unless we, and this is what we’re going to look at next time, we call it the A-B-C-Ds.
I want to give you a very clean process to look under the hood. It will be acknowledge your anger, backtrack to the first emotion, consider the real cause, and then to determine how to rightly respond.