This week we are getting practical! Anger is often a part of our daily lives; we can grow angry when a coworker messes up a project, we can be angry at a spouse when they say something harmful, and we certainly know the anger when we see our kids making poor choices. Even though anger tends to be a part of our daily lives, our bodies are not made to live in a constant state of anger. Mismanaged anger puts stress on our bodies, souls, and relationships, but what do we do about this?
This week we are continuing our series on anger, looking at five steps we can implement into our lives that will help us when anger sparks.
Alright, today is part two in our series on managing anger. The writers of Scripture have a lot to say about managing anger. And I want to look at some of it today. I want to make this as practical and as clear-cut as I can. And I want to start with a statement from Proverbs. He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city. Proverbs 16:32 That’s a remarkable statement. Think about those who are portrayed as the mighty in our society. Just think about who we see on TV. * Big, strong football players are portrayed as mighty. * CIA operatives like Jason Bourne. * Rulers like Jon Snow. These are not poster boys for anger management. Our movies and shows are mostly of angry heroes chasing angry villains. The writer of Scripture says, put a mighty warrior who can capture a city on one side and a person who’s developed patience and can deal well with anger on the other. Ask who the hero is and it’s no contest. Taming a hostile city is nothing compared with taming a hostile spirit. The true hero is one who can subdue and rule his or her temper. That’s heroism. Here’s something interesting I learned with anger — people have a hard time taking responsibility for their anger. Even our language reflects this. If we get really mad, we say something “happened” to my temper. What do we say? I “lost” my temper. It just gets lost. It just got away when I wasn’t looking. Slippery sucker. Jesus was teaching on anger, and I want you to notice the progressive nature of anger here. Jesus says: You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. [The word angry here is the word used for that slow burn kind of anger. And then, he says:] Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. Matthew 5:21-22 Raca is an ancient Aramaic word that literally meant — * Empty head. * You idiot. * You worthless piece of scum. It was to express contempt for someone. Now, last time we looked at some basic truths about anger. * Anger is physiological arousal. We said when you get angry — * You experience your blood pressure going up. * Your pulse pounds. * You get prepared for action. * It’s a form of bodily power. * It’s a form of energy. And I want to say this, just to clarify one other thing about anger — Jesus is not saying don’t be angry. It’s a good thing you have the capacity to get angry. That’s a good thing. * Maybe you grew up in a home where people pretended they never got angry — never experienced anger. * Maybe you grew up in a home where people just stuffed it, or they avoided talking about it. * Maybe you grew up with the thought “I should never experience anger, or if I do it means I’m a terrible person.” So, just to be real clear about this — it’s good that you have the capacity to experience anger. It’s part of the ability to live with passion. But, you need to know this — most of what the writers of Scripture have to say about anger falls into the category of warning and caution — the vast majority of statements about anger in Scripture are warnings. Because you were not intended by God to live in an extended state of anger. Anger is kind of like having a smoke detector around the house. It’s a very good thing to have. And when one of them goes off, when it starts to beep, it’s a signal that something needs to be fixed. * Maybe there’s smoke coming from somewhere, and that needs to be stopped. * Maybe the battery is low so the detector is beeping for no urgent reason. But the detector still needs to be fixed. It’s a good thing that we have smoke detectors around the house, but the purpose of a smoke detector is not to live with smoke detectors constantly making noise. And to learn to enjoy it. The purpose of a smoke detector is to warn you that something needs your attention. * Anger exists to tell you something is wrong. And to move you to action. * Anger exists so you’ll be motivated to make it go away. * Anger exists so that you’ll be motivated to fix what needs fixing so that you don’t have to live in a state of anger. Your body was not made to live in a constant state of emotional tension. Now it’s not easy to do this. * Maybe you grew up in a home where there were people who were abusive in their anger. * Maybe you lived with a spouse who was abusive. * Maybe you’ve been treated with great unfairness at work. And it may take some work, but you were not intended to live in a permanent state of anger. And today, in the time we have left, we’re going to walk through five steps to manage anger. If you can master these, you really can become a master at dealing with anger. Five steps — and I’m going to give one word and a picture for each one just to make it as memorable as possible. The first step sounds very simple, but in fact it is often very difficult. And the reason it’s difficult is that anger is a kind of arousal. And as you get angrier, as your arousal level goes up, people suffer from what psychologists call Cognitive Incapacitation — they can’t think straight. Anger produces what might be called the “Jim Carey Effect.” — As you get mad and madder, you get dumb and dumber. So, the first step is — STOP In a single word – stop. When your inner gauge reads “Red Hot Anger,” delay your response. Just delay your response. Just stop. You need to buy time. When you get fired up internally, the first think you need to do is allow your body and your emotions to cool down so that you can behave intentionally instead of going on auto pilot. And the writer of Proverbs is clear about this. Proverbs 14:17: A quick-tempered person does foolish things. Proverbs 14:17 When your inner gauge reads “Red Hot Anger” — stop. Just stop. Now you may need or want to physically leave the situation where you are and go somewhere until your emotions are out of the Red Zone. A guy by the name of Daniel Goldman has found in his research that men, when they get really furious so they can’t see straight, they’re in a rage, they want to leave. You know what they often do when they leave? They get in the car and drive. Which makes me think twice about having my sixteen year old daughter on the road. A better idea would be to take a long walk. But the key is to stop and cool down. Now this is very important — a cooling down period will not work if you use this time to pursue an anger-inducing train of thought. If you just rehearse the reasons why you’re so angry, you’ll only get more angry. So you need to find a way, when you stop, to reroute your thoughts. Here are a couple of ideas on how to do this: First thing, memorize Proverbs 14:17 — “A quick-tempered person does foolish things.” Memorizing Scripture is one of the most fundamental practices for growing spiritually. It’s not about showing God how many verses you can remember. It’s about training your mind. It’s about rerouting your thoughts. When you have a verse of Scripture memorized, you can use it to meditate on the truth from God’s Word and allow that to shape your thinking. When anger surfaces, you stop and you reroute your thoughts to this truth from Scripture — “A quick-tempered person does foolish things.” And you begin to think, “Now what would it look like if I react quickly to this anger? What foolish things would I do that I would regret later?” When you meditate on Scripture, you allow God’s Word to shape you and prevent you from reacting to the anger, and potentially doing something foolish. Another way you can stop a train of thought is by having another thought in mind. For instance, one of the aspects of anger is that it makes us feel like we’re absolutely right and we’re absolutely justified in doing anything we want to do to hurt the other person. So a very good thing for someone dealing with anger would be to say, “I could be wrong.” Maybe you haven’t said those words for a long, long time. Maybe you need to say them right now just to practice. — “I could be wrong.” I’ll give you some homework this week. Find some reason to say those words, “I could be wrong” at least once a day, every day between now and the next time we meet. “I could be wrong.” Here’s the main principle of this first point. When anger is rising, when your gauge reads Red Hot, first of all stop and refuse to do what you used to do that does not work. Refuse to do what you used to do that does not work — don’t go on auto pilot. * Don’t explode. * Don’t clam up. * Don’t withdraw emotionally. Don’t disengage. * Don’t pout. * Don’t give little verbal jabs. When you recognize anger — be aware of what’s going on inside of you — and as you’re doing that, the first step is stop. Just resolve — you can make this decision now — just resolve that you’re not going to do what you used to do that does not work. Alright, that’s number one — Stop. Number two, the second step is — ASK And the symbol here is a question mark. Ask two key questions. Those who are able to manage anger do this intuitively. I’ve found people who are gifted at managing anger well ask these questions and they may not even be aware that they ask them. Anger mismanagers never think about them. Okay, so you’ve stopped. The next step is you’re going to ask two questions. The first one is: WHY AM I ANGRY? Why am I angry? Here’s why this is important. Anger is not a primary emotion. You know in colors, there’s three primary colors and other colors are made up of combinations of them. Anger is not a primary emotion. ANGER IS GENERALLY THE RESULT OF HURT, FRUSTRATION OR FEAR. Anger is generally the result of being hurt, frustrated or afraid. So, if I want to deal with my anger constructively, first I need to step back and ask what’s underneath my anger. Otherwise I’m dealing with the surface, but not the root cause. Now, for instance, I’ll give you a few scenarios that lead to anger. You can guess what’s underneath — is it hurt, frustration, or fear? First one: You ask someone out on a date. This is someone you’re attracted to. Their response is, “I don’t want to go out with you because I just don’t find you attractive.” So you’ve been flat out rejected. Now, you experience anger. What’s going on underneath the anger? It’s hurt. You feel hurt because you were rejected. Second one: You’re on your way to an appointment and you’re running late. You were ready on time, but the person you’re going with is always late, so you’re running late. And then you hit every red light on the way. You’re driving as fast as you can to get to your appointment on time, and you get pulled over for speeding and get a ticket. What do you experience? Anger is on the surface, what’s underneath the anger? Frustration because of pace-of-life issues. And pace-of-life issues tend to be keenly associated with anger. You’re frustrated. Another scenario: It’s the middle of the night. It’s pitch dark. Suddenly, you hear from the living room a loud, banging noise. Like someone’s walking around, bumping into things, like someone’s broken into our house. Now according to the United States Constitution, who’s supposed to go check it out, the husband or the wife? My wife says to me, “What’s that noise?” And I say, “I don’t hear anything.” Although I have to say it loud enough so she can hear me over the banging noise. And then she says, “I know what it is. I read this story in the news recently about some guy who escaped from prison. Some blood-thirsty, homicidal maniac has escaped from prison. Go check it out.” Alrighty then. I’ll just go out there in my underwear. That’ll scare him. So, I get angry because I’m supposed to go see if a convicted felon is roaming around our house. What’s underneath the anger? Fear. “Why am I angry?” If you don’t ask this, you’re dealing with the surface and not with the root. Why am I angry? And then the second question for this ask phase is — WHAT DO I WANT? Now this is amazing to me. People get to a certain level of anger and when they get angry enough (this is why “stop” is so important) when your anger gets to a certain level, it’s impossible to de-escalate it. And then your only focus is, how can I win this argument? Or how can I inflict pain on the other person? And what people forget to ask is, “What do I want to accomplish?” I’m experiencing fear or frustration or hurt and I would like to remove it. I would like to remove what’s causing that pain. I want to do it in a way that’s going to be constructive for me and for other people in a process that honors God. What do I want? We’ll look at the next three steps in just a moment. Announcement Alright, so the first step to manage anger is — you must “Stop.” The second step is — you must “Ask.” Two questions: Why am I angry? Anger is generally the result of hurt, frustration or fear. What do I want? How can I go about achieving the outcome that I want? Okay, third step, in a word is — LISTEN And this has to with learning to empathize with other people. It has to do with a commitment to understand other people. First, you stop. Then you ask yourself: Why am I angry? What do I want? And then you seek to put yourself in the place of the other person, because most often, anger involves another person. It doesn’t mean you justify everything they’re doing, but it means you make an honest attempt to understand them. And again, this comes right from the writers of Scripture. James 1: My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: 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 1:19-20 Generally, human anger, when it’s cut off from God’s power and God’s wisdom — does destructive things. Now this statement from James is very insightful. There are three things — listening, speaking and getting angry. Generally, the angrier you are, the more you want to talk and the less you want to listen. Here’s the way the logic works according to James — If you’re quick to listen and slow to speak, you will be slow to anger. And the reverse is also true — If you’re quick to jump in and you’re not very good at listening, you will be quick to get angry. You must cultivate the habit of listening. Most angry or hostile people are not good listeners. Have you ever been in a relationship with someone who loves to finish your sentences? George Will was in a debate will William Buckley one time. And Buckley kept cutting in on him and so finally he said, “I am the world’s foremost expert on how I want to finish my sentences.” When you begin to get angry, and you start to think about what you can say that will win the argument or that will wound the other person. Instead of doing that, focus on what the other person is saying and seek to understand them. Another wonderful statement from the writer of Proverbs, Proverbs 17:28: Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues. Proverbs 17:28 Even fools seem smart when they’re quiet. This is just profound wisdom from the writer of Proverbs. Okay, first of all you — “Stop.” Then you — “Ask.” Why am I angry? What do I want?” Then you — “Listen.” Next, you — RETHINK You rethink. And this is very important. I want to say a little bit about this. We often think of anger management this way. Once I’m angry, once I’m all fired up, I need to be careful about how to express it. And that’s important. Once you’re angry, then you have to be careful about expression. But there’s a far more powerful place to intervene in dealing with anger and that is before you feel angry — before the gauge reads Red Hot. There are certain thoughts that lead to anger. People with habitual experiences of anger — anger management problems — are people who habitually tend to think hostile, cynical thoughts about other people. So, to become an expert at managing anger, you must become aware of your thoughts which produce feelings of anger. And learn to think different ones. Because your thoughts lead to anger. I’ll give you an example of this. It’s eleven o’clock at night, my child gets out of bed, cautiously, tentatively comes down the hallway, violating curfew. However, I’m relaxed. I’ve got nothing to do, nowhere to go. And so I think a series of thoughts as I watch him come down the hallway: * Look at this wonderful little boy. * Only a few more years to enjoy Kodak moments like this and then he’ll be grown. * How brave and adventurous he is, risking punishment to explore the unknown world of the night. He’s just like his father. Now, another night — same time, same child, same father, identical setting — but this time it’s at the end of a long, stressful day and I still have to put together this stupid message on anger before I go to bed. And the same little boy comes down the hallway. This time I have a different series of thoughts: * Only a few, precious moments to get my work done and this kid can’t stay in bed. * Sure, sneak down the hallway. Go ahead, make my day. The question you gotta ask yourself is, “Do I feel lucky?” * How rebellious and disobedient he is defying parental authority ordained by God because of his relativistic narcissism. He didn’t get that from me. A series of thoughts — they lead to feelings and they generally will lead to action. Now notice — the external situation is identical in both cases. It’s my thoughts that lead to anger or away from anger. Now I want to be real clear about this. This does not mean that you should never experience anger. This is very important. If you’re with a person who is abusive to you, or a person who is deliberately attacking or wounding you, then you will most likely think thoughts that lead to angry feelings. Those thoughts are right on target. They’re accurate thoughts. Sometimes you think thoughts that lead to anger because you’re the victim or others are the victims of unjust treatment. It’s important to think thoughts that lead to angry feelings when something like that happens. Sometimes you should be angry. People do things and the response is very appropriately and accurately thoughts and feelings that involve anger. The other person warrants it. But you still have to decide, “How am I going to express it? What do I want?” But here’s the deal — very often I feel anger because I’m thinking distorted, hostile, or cynical thoughts. And the writers of Scripture have a lot to say about that. In Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi, he says: Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things. Philippians 4:8 So just kind of scroll through this last week in your mind. Did you entertain any thoughts that were not true, noble, right, pure, lovely, or admirable? Did you have any thoughts that didn’t fit in one of those categories? Paul says, don’t ever stop thinking about what is truly worthwhile and worthy of praise. Why? Because your thoughts lead to what you feel and how you live. Because your mind is such a critically important part of determining what you feel and think, and as a result what you say and do. Okay, so first you — Stop. Delay response. Don’t do what you used to do that doesn’t work. Then you — Ask. “Why am I angry? What do I want to come out of this?” Then you — Listen. You empathize with the other person. Then you need to — Rethink. You need to be aware of what thoughts led to your anger mismanagement and begin to think other thoughts. For instance, one expert says people who get so angry when their driving. If you could listen to their thoughts, they’re things like, “Those inconsiderate, selfish, awful people.” And their thoughts just lead to fury on the road. And so this expert says you need to think things like, when you look at drivers in other cars, say to yourself, “There goes my mother.” Now, you may have “mom issues” and that would just make you angrier. So you may need to substitute the appropriate person. “There goes someone I love.” And if you say there goes someone I love, you’ll find yourself experiencing different feelings. Why? Because you rethought. It’s terribly important to gain control of what you’re thinking. Hostile, cynical thoughts become so automatic that people aren’t even aware of them anymore. And there’s another statement in the Bible in the Old Testament that goes like this — For as a man thinks in his heart, so he is. As a person thinks, their deepest self, it leads to who they become. Stop. Ask. Listen. Rethink. And then the fifth step is — GO The picture here is a green light. The idea is to take appropriate action. When you’ve done the first four steps, then take appropriate action. Again, this is so important — to manage anger does not mean to swallow it. It does not mean to do nothing. Ephesians 4:26, Paul says: In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry. Ephesians 4:26 After you’ve stopped, you’ve taken time, you’ve cooled down. After you’ve asked “Why?” and “What do I want?” After you’ve listened — put yourself in other’s place. After you’ve rethought — re-focused your mind and developed an appropriate strategy, make sure you follow through. Because here’s what happens. Many people only have two gears. One of them is they’re really mad and then they can say or do anything. They can let it fly. But then when they cool down, they avoid confrontation or difficult steps because it’s unpleasant. * They don’t do anything to correct what the anger was about. * They never move to take action about the hurt or frustration or the fear. Remember, anger is a signal for action. Maybe you need to deal with your own distorted thoughts. Maybe that’s what you need to do. And the action then would be internal. But there’s a good chance you need to deal with the person you’re angry with. You probably need to have a conversation. Make sure you do it. Make sure you push the start button. Go. So we need to: Stop. Ask. Listen. Rethink. Go. Let’s make this week an experiment in anger management. Look forward to opportunities to test this out. When those feeling of anger come, see them as an opportunity for you to grow in this area of managing anger. Alright, let me pray for you. Blue Oaks Church Pleasanton, CA