I don’t know about you, but it seems I can be real spiritual until someone cuts me off in traffic. Then I can get angry. I know that’s none of you. So, excuse me for using myself as an example. I’m just trying to make this relatable.
I’ve heard it said many times that anger is God revealing to you some area in your life that you have not fully surrendered to Him. So, what does the Bible teach us about anger, and what does our anger reveal about ourselves?
Anger leads to bad places because it acts on impulse
Anger leads to bad places. Usually, the last stop on that road is regret. James 1:19-20 tells us that the “wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.” What does that tell us about our anger? It tells me that when I get angry, I am more concerned about my standing than God’s. That puts me right on the devil’s front porch who said, “I will be like the Most High” (Isaiah 14:14).
The solution to anger is more preventative than curative.
James tells us, “Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.” When I get angry, it’s because the only voice I hear – the only one I’m willing to listen to and the only one I think is being reasonable is my own. Anger shuts me out from all other arguments – especially sound reason. If I allow myself to get to that point, I’ve already gone too far. Someone who is swift to hear, slow to speak and slow to wrath is someone who is walking according to a plan. Like the wise man, he is walking deliberately, not impulsively. So practically speaking, what does that look like? I think we can boil things down to three basic steps:
Step One: Plan
Going back to the traffic analogy, one way we can keep from getting angry with the slowpoke in traffic, or the guy who cuts us off is to leave a little earlier. If I leave a little earlier to get where I need to go, someone who’s “driving too slow” or who cuts me off in traffic, is less likely to set me off. Another part of planning is learning to identify my triggers and having a plan for how I am going to react biblically to them. It is literally considering my way. (See Haggai 1:5, 7) “If X happens, how must I respond to it biblically?” That brings us to our other two steps.
Step Two: Prioritize
First and foremost, we have to keep things in biblical perspective. That means viewing every situation in light of eternity. Going back again to the traffic analogy: is your right of way in traffic really that important in light of eternity? Is yelling at that guy, or honking at him (or worse) really going to testify of Christ to others in traffic – or to those in the car with you? When I get angry, I am saying that my priorities trump everyone else’s, even my Savior’s. The best thing I can do to keep my priorities right is to counsel myself biblically. That means having verses in my heart for me to meditate on or even quote out loud that put me in the right frame of mind: “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee because he trusteth in Thee,” for example (Isaiah 26:3). It’s hard to stay angry when your mind is busy thinking about God.
Step Three: Pray
Paul told the Romans: “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men” (Romans 12:18). Why did he say “as much as lieth in you?” Because he knew that some people just don’t get along. Joe at work just irks you for some reason. You don’t really know why. He just does. But you have to work with him. Does “as much as lieth in you” mean, “OK. I’ll work with Joe until I’ve had my fill and then I’ll let him have it?” No. Paul is saying, you work with Joe as best you can – as much as lieth in you – and then you pray for the grace to have what doesn’t lie in you. Let’s put that another way: Don’t get angry with Joe. Pray for Joe. It’s not so easy to get angry with the people that irk you when you’re praying for them and your praying for the grace to work with them.
It’s not magic or even rocket science. It’s deliberate living.
These are just a few anger management principles from Scripture. There are many more. Living by them does not come naturally. These things come through deliberate practice and application. If I can go back one more time to the traffic analogy, none of us were born knowing how to drive. While to some, that ability comes more easily than to others, it is a skill that takes time and deliberate practice to develop. But we considered it a vital skill, one worth the work to acquire. Biblical responses to anger are not natural to us either. They are supernatural, but they are skills worth acquiring and they are skills that God will give us the grace to make second nature if we are willing to put in the practice.