A series on the topic of Anger.
Wouldn’t it be nice if your anger was not so mysterious: Understanding yourself better, knowing the why’s, and anticipating the onset of anger? We will use our story from part 1 of this series – that angry outburst leaving the church parking lot after Sunday’s service – to help you predict the onset of an outburst, understand it’s why’s, and to be proactively redemptive in countering it before being carried off by it.
Let’s reimagine leaving the church parking lot scenario. This time when you feel the anger, your awareness kicks in. You sense the anger speed up and heat up. You follow the 4 steps from the previous article: slow down, ask yourself, “What am I feeling?”, “What am I thinking?”, and “What is happening on the inside and around me?” So good job! You prevented an outburst! BUT…
What is my anger saying to me? And why did I get angry in the first place?
Did you know behind any dispute or outpouring of anger, you will find ruling expectations / ruling desires that are being frustrated? We will unpack this. Knowledge, in this case, is power brother!
What Does Scripture Say About Anger?
In our hearts and minds, we all have desires and motivations. This drives our attitudes and behaviors. James 4:1–3:
“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”
“Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers.”
In James 4:1, What is “Passions”?
James 4:1-3 and 1:13-16 teaches that “passions/cravings/pleasures” (The word in James 4:1 depending on your Bible translation) = our desires/motives. And these desires/motives underlie conflicts. Why do you fight? It is not because of your wife, mom, dad, child, friend, coworker, or neighbor. It is because of something within you! Within all of us!
- What are you demanding?
- What rules you?
- What is ruling you at this moment?
In contemporary language, sinful passions/cravings/pleasures often pose as, “drives, demands, felt needs, expectations, goals, wishes, longings,” and so forth. People talk about motives in ways that anesthetize (numb) themselves and others to the true significance of what they are describing. So what is happening to my desires?
Back to the angry outburst leaving the church parking lot. Behind the anger was a desire and motivation. For example, let’s use our need to be respected or to control our outcomes. (These are two common desires but you could insert any ordinary desire in the _____ and it would apply.) So when our desire for respect was getting frustrated and not happened the way we wanted it to – we acted out in anger. Why? Because we had ungodly reasons and did it in ungodly ways. But what makes our desire bad vs when it is good?
Note: A great resource to help us understand our desires and motivations within a Biblical framework is from a book called, “See with New Eyes: Counseling and the Human Condition Through the Lens of Scripture.” (This is an affiliate Amazon link.) By David Powlison. Specifically Chapter 8, “I Am Motivated When I feel Desire.”
Winning Desires Shape Behavior.
The desire that wins shapes our behavior. Anger is caused by legitimate desires (most of the time) that come, wrongly, to rule us. These desires could be called “natural desires,” like love, fear, hope, longing, respect, control etc. Natural desires for good things are meant to stay below our desire to please God.
Realizing that the evil lies in the ruling position of the desire, not the item of temptation (your wife, your kids, your boss, etc) is important because this is where our will replaces God’s will.
To illustrate – Let’s look at an excerpt from the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9b–10):
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
Now, let’s replace God’s will and demand our own. “Hollow be MY name. MY kingdom come. MY will be done. HERE, NOW, NOT in Heaven!” Do you see how we inverse the passage when we get selfish? (Please see my article on, “Communication: A Revelation of What We Truly Love,” for how this topic relates to how we communicate with others.)
Having it Your Way.
Natural desires are part of human existence, but we must hold them with an open hand. What? All human desires must be held in submission to a higher purpose, the desires of God and for His Kingdom.
The issue with desire is that in “sinners” (Me and you) it quickly morphs into a demand; on the inside we say, “I must.” So demand becomes like the closing of our fists over a particular desire. Here is how it plays out within us:
- Demand morphs into a need (I must have).
- Need inevitably produces expectations (I should have ____).
- Expectations lead to disappointment when not met.
- Disappointment leads to punishment – a point of judgment (remember anger is judgmental) that leads to an outburst or a negative action of some type.
At this point we are no longer motivated by a love for God and the people around us (think the 1st and 2nd Great Commandment – Matthew 22:37-40). As Christians, when we love God and others – we will use ourselves and the things in our lives to express that love. But in our moment of anger, we love ourselves (or things) and manipulate people and even the LORD – to fulfill our desires and get mad when they impede that aim. Our hearts have been captured! We are now in active service to ourselves or something else in this creation, not God, and the result can only breed chaos and conflict.
Note: A great resource that unpacks this further is a book called, “Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands.” By Paul Tripp. (Specifically, pages 85-87). This is an affiliate Amazon link.
How can something like the need for respect become such an ugly thing? Think of a vertical volume slider. When natural desires are elevated above our desire to please God (to not please Him) – that is when these natural desires become evil; that is how a good thing can become a bad thing. As humans, we are always doing something with our desires – elevating them, lowering them – we’re always interpreting our world and experiences, including our desires. That is how respect or control can become evil or sinful!
This is Not “Self-Help”.
If some of this is new knowledge, as a Christian, pray that this translates from your heart and mind into word and deed to help you love God and the people He has placed in your life. Be encouraged that you are united to Christ in the here-and-now. That the Holy Spirit is working in you to conform you into the image of Christ. Both in will and in your deeds, He is conforming them – for His good pleasure. Philippians 2:12-13:
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
So let’s all be aware and know where we sinfully go, so we can expect when we will heat up and speed up before we get angry.
Scripture states that anger comes from within us, when a desire we have gets frustrated. Understand that the desire that wins shapes our behavior. In the next article in the series (part 3), we will talk about anger being a great diagnostic – it points to our allegiances. Did you know this has a lot to do with worship?
If you need more personalized help with the struggle of anger, don’t hesitate to reach out to us for counseling from a biblical perspective at https://www.providencebiblicalcounseling.org/.