Sometimes I think we would be surprised at the amount of people who struggle with anger. We think of anger as an emotion that shows itself outward when it is a real problem. So long as we can contain our anger inside ourselves then we do not have a real problem, and should have no concern. This itself is a big problem, but it becomes even more problematic when we take this concept and use this misunderstanding to apply Scripture to our lives. Take James 1:19-20 as an example. “Know this, my beloved brothers; let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” We look at this passage and use our misunderstanding of anger to apply it for ourselves. The conclusion we reach is that so long as I am not randomly throwing a fit in anger then I am ok. James is telling me not to throw chairs across the room at the slightest hint of being provoked. I suppose that is part of what James is saying, but there is much more to it than that.
The truth is I can get angry pretty easily. I actually have quite a temper, but you wouldn’t know it because I rarely show it to the outside world. A few have seen it in tiny glimpses when I occasionally crack open my little bottle of anger to give a little release before it explodes, but for the most part I keep my anger hidden to myself. I am often very quick to anger in my heart. It is a real problem, but in the past I convinced myself it was ok because I was not showing my anger.
God cares about the issue of the heart. He cares about what is going on inside you as an individual rather than just what you are putting on display for the world to see. God tells us that no good ever comes of being quick to anger. There is such a thing is righteous anger. There are right reasons to be angry, but even those require a calm and rational mind. Knee jerk anger does not do you any good.
Living this can be so difficult though. It seems the world tries to entice us to get angry. The truth is that is often the world agenda. If we want indulge in its pleasures then it wants to make us live in anger. It wants to set us up self-righteous in our anger. It wants to build up our pride. It does this by sending angry people to provoke us.
There was a joke I made to an acquaintance one time. It was a harmless joke. Others had made far bigger jokes. The person had made far worse jokes to me. No offense could be taken from it. It was not a dirty joke. It was not a spiteful joke. It was just a silly little joke. It lead the individual to have a fit of anger. Who did he think he was? What was his problem? He always overreacts like this. When will he learn to grow up. I wanted to chew him out and lay into him for all it was worth, but instead I bottled up my anger, apologized for making him angry, and left it at that. I had avoided my anger.
Except I didn’t. I was still pretty ticked off in my heart. I processed this for a while and reached the conclusion that I was being entirely to stupid. I was letting a foolish person under a foolish reaction get me so hot and riled up that I couldn’t even think straight. It wasn’t even a big deal. It did not cause me harm nor did it hurt my family. Why was I so easily angered?
The answer is simple. I gave into the flesh on this issue for so long that it became too easy to resort to anger in my heart. I used to trick myself into believing anger was never an issue for me because I never appeared angry around others. Did the individual need to be called out in his folly? Honestly he probably did, but I couldn’t be the one to do it in that moment because I had given into being quick to anger.
What a nasty trick that is from the enemy. Sometimes people will do foolish things to us, and they need to be called out on it, but we are incapable of doing so when we are in the middle of a heated moment of anger. We can’t let the acts of the foolish get us angry even in our hearts. The damage is often greater than we realize.
Maybe it is not a foolish act that gets you angry. Maybe it is anger towards people who have caused you serious physical or emotional harm. Let me first say my heart goes out to you. I’ve been there. It’s really easy to bottle up that anger. It is easy to write those people off in your life and to not care about their well-being. It is really easy to let bitterness grow in your heart. If that is you then I wish to extend to you a simple warning as someone who has been there and gets it. Remaining bitter and angry towards those who by all standards deserve your anger makes you incapable of responding kindly and rationally to the foolish actions by the average person.
When we have bitterness and resentment that seems to be justifiable we carry that over to other situations. The more bitterness we hold onto the easier it becomes for us to lash out in anger. How do we recover from this? My first advice is to remove yourself as best you can form those who have a constant habit of being foolish. I’m not saying you cut them out forever, but sometimes you need to give yourself some breathing room. If every interaction with a person leads to them attempting to antagonize you then they are not the kind of person you need to be around. (As a side note, if you are this kind of person who antagonizes then let me be blunt and say shame on you, and start treating people with compassion). After that I encourage you to pray to God to heal the bitterness in your heart. Seek him for comfort, and show compassion to others. Service towards others is the best remedy of an angry heart.
Don’t let the enemy trick you into thinking you are just fine. Quick anger in the heart is still the kind of anger James is talking about.