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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
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 cannot actually 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.