What makes you angry? Perhaps it is something as slight as a stubbed toe or as serious as a betrayal by someone close to you. How long does your anger last? Does your anger appear and disappear in the blink of an eye, or does your anger burn in your mind for years? Over the next few weeks, we are going to be looking at anger, examining if anger is Biblical and how we walk with our anger.
The easiest way to mismanage anger is not taking responsibility for it — blaming it on external circumstances or explaining it away as something we can’t control. Yet we know it’s not the circumstance that causes anger; it’s our interpretation of the circumstance that causes anger.
This week’s challenge will be to become someone who gets angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, and for the right purpose. By examining four myths about anger, we will learn all about our anger and how we can manage it so that we do not give the enemy a foothold into our lives because of mismanaged anger. Join us as we uncover and explore anger.
I will take responsibility for my anger.
I will commit to relearn how you express anger.
I will not blame my mismanaged anger on another person.
I will become a student of anger management.
I will not thoughtlessly let my anger fly.
I will seek professional help to understand and manage my anger appropriately.
A Greek philosopher named Aristotle said over 2,000 years ago, “Anyone can become angry; that’s easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, in the right way — that is not easy.” And I’ll tell you how not-easy it is. If you look at life today — * According to the National Center on Domestic Violence, 20 people a minute are physically abused by an intimate partner. * Mismanaged anger plays a major role in virtually every divorce. * Even in marriages where there may not be a legal separation, very often there ends up being a kind of emotional separation because of mismanaged anger. * Look at unpleasant workplaces, miserable family relationships. The vast majority of human wrongdoing involves anger and contempt. * Parents who don’t learn how to manage their anger wound their children, and very often, their children grow up and repeat the same patterns. A survey was done a while ago with children. Children were asked the question, “If you could change one thing about your mom, what would it be?” The #1 answer — “I wish my mom didn’t yell at me so much.” It’s not easy to deal with anger wisely and well — to become an expert at the art of managing anger. And the destructiveness of getting it wrong is just huge. So, the first thing we need to do is to just acknowledge the fact that we have problems dealing with anger — everyone does. You have anger problems, I have anger problems, everyone does. You may be keenly aware of your difficulties in dealing with anger, because you just explode, it just comes flying out of you. And you know it, and other people know it. Or maybe for you, the problems of mismanaged anger take more subtle forms. * Maybe you withdraw emotionally from people when you get mad. You just withhold your affections from them. * Or maybe you go around trying to appease people, trying to placate them, trying to make sure you never get into a situation where anger gets expressed, because there’s a fear of anger. * Or maybe you resort to sarcasm or use loaded words. * Or maybe you become passive-aggressive and you’re able to get jabs in at people in ways that maybe they won’t even realize. Or ways that you don’t have to own. So what we’re going to do in this series is take on one of life’s greatest challenges — we’re going to learn how to master the expression of anger management. And this is so deeply needed. * Maybe for you, these next few weeks could save your marriage. * Or maybe for you, learning how to manage your anger appropriately is going to be a gift to your children. * Or maybe you’ve been caught up in a cycle where anger has just damaged generation after generation — and you’re going to stop it, you’re going to stop that cycle. * Or maybe it’s going to enrich your friendships. * Or maybe it’s going to open up a whole new way of being able to relate to God — because this matter of anger and managing it appropriately is of great concern to God. The writers of Scripture have a lot to say about anger. One of the classic statements is from the apostle Paul, who wrote to the church at Ephesus: Be angry, and yet do not sin. Ephesians 4:26 Be angry — anger is part of being a human being, everyone experiences anger, and that’s not a bad thing; in fact, it can be good thing. But be angry, and don’t express it in ways that are going to be destructive to yourself or to other people. Anger can result in good. Jesus himself got angry. But anger is potentially extremely dangerous. There’s another statement in the Bible, in the book of James, that says: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. James 1:19 Human anger — that is, anger apart from the power and the guidance of God — human anger, apart from God, cannot accomplish God’s good purpose. So in this series we’re going to learn about how we come to grips with this business of anger. And here’s where I want to start today — I want to spend the time that we have left taking a look at four myths about anger; four common misconceptions that people have about anger that just kind of float around in our day. And here’s the first one: Myth 1 – MY ANGER IS CAUSED BY EXTERNAL CIRCUMSTANCES The myth here is that, because anger is such a powerful emotion, very often it feels like it’s being caused by something out there. Some of the earliest research done on anger, done over 100 years ago, came up with two main categories of things that trigger people’s anger, where people feel like something has caused me to get angry. The first one is what one author calls, “stupid, inanimate objects.” * Your shoelace breaks when you try to tie it in a hurry. * Your car doesn’t start. * Your wifi goes out during a Zoom call. * Your child’s toy is in a box marked, “some assembly required.” * You wait for an elevator, and it doesn’t come, and you’re in a hurry… and so, instead of just pushing the button once, you push it repeatedly, on the theory that this stupid elevator will then sense your urgency and bypass all those other people on other floors… because you’re an important person with places to go. “Stupid, inanimate objects.” “People” is the other primary category that triggers us. Mostly, we think of people making us angry. And we express this verbally — we’ll say things like, “You make me so mad!” The myth here is that events, people, or objects cause us to be angry. But here’s a very crucial truth in opposition to this myth. In between the event, the stupid, inanimate object, the rude driver, or whatever — in between the event and my anger, is my interpretation of this event — my understanding of it, my perception of it, my thinking, my thoughts. It’s that quarter second between what takes place in my brain and what happens to my body or what comes out of my mouth. — It’s the life-giving quarter second where we give a foothold to the Spirit or the life-destroying quarter second where we give a foothold to the enemy. That’s the key link. You see, this idea that my anger is caused by external events or other people — it’s not. Who is it that makes you mad? You. You make you mad. You must take responsibility for your anger. You must take responsibility for the expression, the management, of your anger. If you don’t, you’ll be stuck in your anger forever. If you don’t take responsibility for it, you’ll just be a slave to it. The way you express your anger is not caused by some other person or some other event. It’s up to you. Alright, that’s the first myth. The second myth is: Myth 2 – I JUST CAN’T CONTROL MY ANGER This is not true, but it’s a common belief. — “My anger just flows so strongly that I can’t control it… and no one should expect me to.” Managing your response to anger is learned; it’s learned behavior, and you can control it. I’ll prove it to you. Watch someone when they’re having a big argument, things are really heated, and then they get an important phone call that they have to take. You’ll see anger being controlled. You can imagine it, can’t you — a big argument: “You’re a beep beep beep! I can’t believe you’re such a beep beep beep!” And then the phone rings: “Oh, I got to take this. Hello.” People are able to control the way they express their anger. They really are. If the stakes are high enough, you can control it. And this goes right along with the Bible. The myth that says I can’t control my anger is contrary to the teachings of scripture. God expects us to master the art of anger management. And He will help us. There are many statements by the writers of Scripture about this. One of them is in Proverbs 29:11: Fools give full vent to their anger, but the wise bring calm in the end. Proverbs 29:11 So again, this week, when you’re having a massive argument with someone, things are just on the verge of getting out of control, just remind them, “Proverbs 29:11 — Fools give full vent to their anger.” You might not want to deliver it exactly that way. But that’s what the writer of Scripture says. Let me say a word at this point about what anger is, just so we have a common understanding of anger as we’re considering it these next few weeks. Anger is — physiological arousal. That’s what anger is — it’s physiological arousal; it happens to your body. When you get angry — * Adrenaline is secreted * Your blood pressure gets raised * Your pulse races * The pupils of your eyes get real large * You secrete more sugar into your bloodstream * It prepares you to act. Anger is a form of power — anger is a form of bodily power. That’s what it is. It prepares you to confront, to have some kind of action. And along with it, we experience strong emotions, strong feelings. Now that’s anger. Then, there is this choice — How will I express this anger? What will I do with it? And how you express, or manage, your anger — that’s learned. Athletes have to deal with anger management constantly. If you’ve ever been involved in athletics, you know about this. Research has shown that of all sports, of all different forms of athletics, golfers are the poorest at anger management. Actually, I just made that up. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but if you’re a golfer, maybe that made you mad. I mention it because there was a golf pro who was kind of famous in his day for having the hottest temper of anyone on the golf course. He was giving a group lesson one time, and his eleven year old son was with him. He was going to show the group what to do when your ball lands in the sand. So he throws a ball into the sand, and then he says to his eleven-year-old son, “Son, show the people what you’ve learned from your father when a ball goes in the sand trap.” His son grabbed a wedge and threw it as high and as hard as he could. That’s what he had learned. How you express your anger is learned. And the good news is, that means it can be unlearned; that means it can be relearned. So along with a commitment to say, “I’m going to take responsibility for my anger,” another thing that is just critical if you’re going to master the art of anger management is — you must make a commitment to relearn how you express anger. You must become a student of anger management. First of all, you have to take responsibility for it, saying, “Never again am I going to blame my mismanaged anger on another person; I own it.” And then, secondly, you must sign up as a student, as an apprentice, in the school of anger management. And whatever you need to do — books that you need to read, it may be that if you can’t make headway on this yourself, that you need to find a really competent Christian counselor who can help you come to grips with it — you need to make a commitment: you’re going to learn, or relearn, how to express anger. Alright, we’ll talk about the next myth about anger in just a moment. Announcement Alright, the first myth is My anger is caused by external circumstances. The second myth is I just can’t control my anger. Another myth — this one is very common: Myth 3 – THE BEST WAY TO HANDLE YOUR ANGER IS TO VENTILATE IT The best way to handle your anger is to just let it fly. Now, when I was a child, unfortunately, psychologists were not helpful on this one at all. And my parents learned that venting their anger was a healthy thing. Psychologists popularized what has been called the “ventilationist” view of anger. The ventilationist view of anger involves this idea — “when you get angry, the main thing you must do is discharge your feelings. Get it off your chest, blow off steam, let it all out — throw something, hit something, scream something, just ventilate it. “Because if you don’t (this line of thinking went) it’s not healthy. It’ll build up inside you, like steam inside of a tea kettle, and if there’s not some release, you’ll just blow up. You’re like a volcano.” And there are people (I’ve talked to some of them) who are fairly calm on the surface, and they’ve heard this kind of thing, and they think there must be some river of rage secretly flowing inside of them. And they hope no one ever taps into it, because, boy, if they do, it’ll probably just flood all over them. Now I want to think through this one with you for a moment. Why is it that we think this about anger? We don’t think this way about other emotions. No one says, “I’ve been holding in joy all these years. People have been telling funny jokes, and I’ve been repressing my laughter, and I haven’t released it, and it’s been building up inside of me. And now the joy dam is about to burst, and I’m just going to spew joy all over everyone.” Therapists have never said to people, “Hey, you’d better get in touch with your gratitude — because when you were growing up, people did a lot of nice things for you, and you never verbalized your thankfulness. “Now you’ve got all this gratitude bottled up inside you, and it’s not healthy. You’re like a walking time bomb of gratitude. Someday, it’s going to go off, and you’re going to walk up to people you don’t even know and just spew gratitude all over them: “Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you!” We don’t think this way about other emotions. There are problems with this old idea of ventilation. And one of them is — the way the theory went was, you get angry, and if you ventilate, the anger just kind of drains out of you, so that then you don’t have any anger anymore. However, what has been discovered is that ventilation is fun. And it’s self-reinforcing. In other words, people hit, or they shout, and it makes them feel powerful — and they want to hit some more and shout some more. It just becomes a vicious cycle. See, there has been another discovery on this ventilation stuff — they’ve discovered (this will surprise some of you) people do not enjoy getting ventilated on. The ventilator can have a lot of fun, but the ventilatee doesn’t think much of the process at all. How often have you seen this scene? Reflect on this for a moment — One guy feels like he’s been cut off in his car, so he pulls up next to the other driver, and he says something like, “What kind of an idiot are you? What were you thinking?! Are you trying to kill me? I oughta beat you into the ground!” And the other person says, “You know that’s a point well taken. You’ve touched me deeply here, friend. I’m going to change. I’m going to become a new driver. And I want to thank you for taking the time to offer me that hand gesture, as well.” That doesn’t happen, does it? The research is very clear on this one — and this is rare in a field like psychology that research is clear — but there’s a very clear consensus. There have been three major reviews done in this field that have covered dozens of studies over the last 50 years. Not a single one of them demonstrates that “thoughtlessly letting anger fly” is an effective way to manage anger. It just creates more anger. Now that’s not to say that you don’t need to become aware of your angry feelings. It’s not to say that you don’t need to become assertive, because you may need to become much more assertive in your expression of anger. But the idea that you should just be as violently aggressive as you feel like, and let it fly without thinking about it, has created enormous damage. Alright, next myth: Myth 4 – TALKING IT OUT WITH A THIRD PARTY MAKES YOU FEEL LESS ANGRY Here’s what I mean by this one — I’ll explain what I do mean and what I don’t. Often, if people decide they won’t ventilate directly, they’ll handle their anger by going to a third party (someone they know will be sympathetic) and tell that third party why they’re so angry. And this often makes people feel better. You find a sympathetic person, you tell them how badly you’ve been treated, how you have been abused and mistreated, and you’ve been victimized, and it feels good to do this. But again, the research on this is quite clear — talking out an emotion in this way does not reduce the emotion; it rehearses the emotion. It rehearses it. The way it works is this — the more you talk about why it is you’re so angry, the more legitimate your anger feels. The more you talk about what an abusive, unfair, unjust, thoughtless person this is, the madder you get at them — until, by the end of the talk, you’re more angry than you were when you started it. Talking out anger in this way, just rehearsing your anger, doesn’t make it lessen; it makes it increase. Now, you might be thinking, “This is good news; I don’t have to see my therapist anymore.” Or maybe you’re thinking, “This is bad news,” because you’re a therapists, and you’re thinking, “This is bad for business.” So, let me clarify here — this does not mean you should never find a third person to talk with about your anger issues. Maybe it has been, or will be, a very helpful thing to find a good therapist to talk through these issues with; it has been for me. Maybe for you, this is the single, most needed step — to find a trained professional. But generally, if you’re going to do this, if you’re going to meet with someone and talk about issues of anger, you need to do it with the goal of that person helping you to understand and manage your anger appropriately… not to simply rehearse what other people have done to you. And Jesus offers words here that are so wise. In Matthew 18:15, Jesus says, and I’m paraphrasing here, but he essentially says — when there are problems of unresolved anger, when there’s a conflict — go directly to the person you’re angry with and work on solving the problem. Don’t involve lots of other people needlessly, so that your anger just gets escalated, and then they’re dragged into something. When you have issues of unresolved anger, when you have conflict, work to go directly and privately to the person that you have unresolved conflict with — if it’s at all possible, if that person can be receptive. Now maybe you need to think carefully how you’re going to talk to that person. Maybe you need to talk with a third party to help you strategize. But maybe for you, you’ve got issues of anger — and you need to go directly to the person you’re angry with, and work on resolving it. That’s a hard thing to do, I know. You can always come up with lots of excuses not to do it. But as a general rule, Jesus says — That’s the first step to take. Do it thoughtfully, do it wisely, do it carefully; but do it. Alright, I have one more myth. I know I told you 4. This is a bonus one — for free. Myth 5 – NEVER FEELING ANGRY IS A SIGN OF SPIRITUAL AND EMOTIONAL MATURITY The idea that never feeling angry is automatically a sign of spiritual and emotional maturity — it’s a myth. Do you know what never feeling angry is a sign of? Death. It’s a good indication you’re probably dead. Because there’s just something about death — you know, when people die, they just don’t get angry nearly as much as they used to when they were alive. Everyone deals with anger. To be alive means you’re going to experience anger. And again, anger, although it’s lethal and potentially always dangerous, it’s not a bad thing that we have the capacity to be angry; it’s a good thing that we have the capacity to be angry. We need to learn how to deal with it well and wisely. But the truth is, everyone has anger problems — everyone does. And they manifest themselves in different ways. No one can say, “Well, this teaching is for someone else; I don’t have any anger problems.” Everyone does. Now I want you just to imagine for a moment what your life would be like if you mastered dealing with anger. * Maybe you’ve been through multiple marriages. You’ve been married once before, or two, or three times before. And they’ve blown up because you’ve never learned how to manage anger. And if you don’t learn how to manage it, your current marriage won’t last either. * Maybe you’ve alienated your children. And when they look at you, they’re afraid. Very often, our anger issues tend to come out with little children, because they don’t have much power — they can’t yell back. And so the ugliness that our anger would take with other people ends up coming out with kids because they can’t do much but take it. But it’s wounding them. And it’ll cost us the relationship someday. * Maybe you’ve just embarrassed yourself. Because of the ways you’ve mishandled anger at school, or at work with co-workers, or in a social setting. * Maybe you don’t have very many friends. Because people have discovered that to be around you is to be around a constant source of anger. * Maybe it just flies sometimes. * Maybe it gets expressed in cutting ways. * Maybe it’s just this constant stream of — “I’m a victim, I’ve been treated in unfair, unjust ways.” It just becomes like this sour, gray cloud. * Maybe you’re in a marriage, but it’s cold. There’s no physical intimacy anymore. There has not been any kind of sexual intimacy for weeks or months or maybe longer. Feelings of affection are dead. And what’s really going on is — there’s anger. And it has caused feelings of love and joy to die. And so it takes this form now — there’s no kind of loving, touching or physical intimacy, but underneath it, it’s just anger; it’s just hostility. * Maybe you go through your days with fear. You’re afraid. And you avoid any kind of situation where there might be confrontation. You avoid the anger of everyone around you, and you avoid your own, because you’re just living in fear. * Maybe you speak with a language that’s just filled with sarcasm. Your words just drip with venom. And you may be able to get so skilled at it, you can shatter another person without ever raising your voice, or a hand. But it’s anger. Imagine for a moment, that you had mastered dealing with anger. * Imagine what it would be like for you to move through the demands of your day — traffic jams and deadlines and waiting and so on — with an inner sense of truly being calm and at peace, because you’re connected with God and receiving life from Him. * Imagine looking at people, and instead of the responses that you often have — anger, hostility — you see a rival, you see a problem. Imagine instead looking at people, and you just genuinely like them. You just welcome them into your life with open arms. * Imagine never again going through minutes or hours or days sulking or withdrawing or cold. * Imagine what it would be like to stop using words that wound the souls of other people. * Imagine never having to look in the eyes of a child and seeing fear or resentment. * Imagine never having to go through the guilt and humiliation of having flown off the handle and done something foolish. * Imagine never having to say to yourself, “I wish I could take it back.” * Imagine never having to go through that awful moment where you say, “If only I could go back and do it again… I’d give anything for that!” But you can’t, because the moment’s gone, and you can’t undo it. * Imagine people hurting you, and instead of lashing blindly back at them, or being afraid and running in fear, or nursing fantasies of revenge — having bitterness take over your heart. Imagine being able to offer forgiveness from a strong and healthy heart. Imagine just letting it go and getting on with life. And being able, genuinely, to wish other people well. * Imagine that when people talk to you, instead of getting a list of complaints about petty resentments and stories about how you’ve been victimized, they just get words of life. Imagine that you become an oasis of life and peace in a angry world. It can be done. It can happen. Next time, we’re going to build on some of the truths we’ve talked about today. And we’re going to look at how you can master the art, how you can become a champion, of anger management. Alright, let me pray for you. Blue Oaks Church Pleasanton, CA