Publication: Pastoral Letter, March 2010
I want to share a word this month that I believe is a key for our freedom. Ephesians 4:26-27 says, “Be angry, do not sin: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil.” This verse refers back to Psalm 4:4-5: “Be angry, and do not sin. Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still. Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and put your trust in the Lord.”
Anger is a normal emotion. But anger can lead to sin and give room for the enemy. We should deal with it daily – before nightfall. The way to deal with it is to think about it, put it aside, and trust God. Do not pray in anger (see 1 Timothy 2:8). You do not want to cause anger in God!
AN ANGRY CULTURE
Our nation and our world are increasingly angry. Those of us who follow Jesus are not exempt from this issue. Everyone is born with a temper and it can serve us well, or it can become a real hindrance. Babies learn quickly to express anger, often to manipulate parents. If parents allow it, children will learn to misuse anger and give place to evil spirits who seek to control them and others through it.
So why are we so angry? A lot of it goes back to our childhood when we were not taught to control it ,and it began to control us. But there are many other factors for the anger in our culture. Some who appear to express little or no anger are only storing it up inside, only to find that it expresses itself through some means, such as illness or depression.
Here are some of the factors that cause us to become angry:
STRESS. Most of us are living more complicated lives; therefore, we have more stress and provocation.
THE ECONOMY. Financial factors, employment, and a lack of resources.
INSECURITY. The current culture is less stable in family life, vocation, religion, politics, and international affairs.
INFORMATION OVERLOAD. Information is coming to us in unprecedented ways and at high speed.
LACK OF REST. We sleep less and have less time to meditate and consider words and actions.
INTERRUPTIONS. Just when we try to focus, we get interrupted, and our priorities become confused.
INTERPERSONAL CONFLICTS. We seem to have trouble forming lasting relationships. There’s a lot of betrayal.
DELAYED REWARDS. Our dreams often become nightmares. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick” (Proverbs 13:12)
INEFFICIENCY. Our work becomes more difficult because the systems and communications break down. Everything has to be done twice, and we are already under pressure to meet deadlines.
THE “I AM BEING SQUEEZED” SYNDROME. More taxes, more laws, regulations, and interferences in the performance of duty.
A LOSS OF TRUST. All of the above has brought about a loss of trust in our basic institutions, family, church, banks, schools, and government. Nothing affects us more than this.
And so, our culture is more angry, even if you personally may not be. But you can be a good model for others in dealing with anger.
Some of us go so far as to blame God. “Why does He allow earthquakes?” “Why doesn’t He solve my problem?” “Isn’t God even listening to me?” “Why is there so much suffering?” Behind these and other questions is an unstated assumption: it is God’s fault. Few people will actually say, “I’m mad at God!” But inside they are frustrated with Him, and, unchecked, it will turn to anger. “Don’t You care?” is an insulting question and statement to the One who cares most of all.
God instructed Adam and Eve, but they didn’t listen. God warned Cain, but Cain did not listen. Cain’s attitude became a deadly act. God warned Moses, but in anger, Moses struck the rock. God warned Israel, but in anger they drew back, blaming God and Moses. Noah warned the people but they failed to listen, even as he built the ark.
Prophets warned the people to turn from wickedness to no avail. John the Baptist and Jesus warned their generation, but the Romans came and slaughtered the unrepentant people. Preachers by the thousands preach sermons by the millions to exhort Americans to seek God and avert disaster, but we fail to listen. Economists warn us about our financial problems but without success. Why should we blame God?
Esau got angry at Jacob, Joseph’s brothers got angry with him. Moses got angry; King Saul got angry; Saul of Tarsus was angry at Jesus and His people. Anger can bring on temporary insanity and blow out the lamp of reason. Their real problems were with God and ours still are. We do not like what He is doing and the way He does it.
JUST AND UNJUST ANGER
When is anger justified? “Anger toward me is unjust, but my anger against others is justified.” Well, not exactly. God gets angry at the unrighteousness that is destroying us. That is just. When we are angry at what angers God, that is good. We are born with a temper and it can serve righteousness. The world finally got angry at slavery; that was good.
The world finally got angry at Hitler; that was good. That anger is righteous. So is anger at a pedophile, wife beater, rapist or those who fail to provide for their families. We should get angry about murder or abortion. There are many justifiable situations for anger. When it comes to evil, God is not a pacifist, nor should we be.
I could wish that my anger was only about issues so serious and righteous. But unfortunately, it is not. It is too often misdirected, petty, and self-serving. This is the anger with which I struggle and must learn to handle in a godly manner, and focus for God’s purpose. Any anger based upon unforgiveness, personal offense, or stored frustration is unjust and must be put aside before demonic forces become involved. If we don’t deal with unjust anger, it will escalate into retaliation and revenge.
Unjust anger is ventilating before we hear all the facts. Unjust anger is directed at others for the same offenses for which we are also guilty. Unjust anger is based upon prejudgment because someone is in a category that we dislike. Unjust anger is a display of impatience when God is exercising patience. It is when we are angry, but He is not. By our attitude and actions we are saying to God, “Do something!”
God is slow to anger and quick to pardon the offender who asks to be forgiven (see Nehemiah 9:17). God gets angry at the right people, for the right reasons, and at the right time. The Holy Spirit can tell us with whom to be angry, as well as when and how to express it. Otherwise, we should be still and be quiet (see Psalm 37:8).
“Don’t let the sun go down on your wrath.” This verse assumes that during the day we collect issues that have disturbed our peace. We are tired and perhaps troubled. We may be irritable and those closest to us – our family and friends_could become the victims, and often do.
If we do not properly deal with those issues, we will be robbed of sleep, stress will accumulate, and tomorrow could be worse. Perspective about life or people could be altered and we might lay awake in anxiety or worse yet, in anger. This is the sad situation for many people – even Christians.
My late wife, Carolyn, and I made an agreement: we would never go to bed angry. She was better at it than I was. Our practice was to pray together in the evenings. Thanksgiving, praise, and worship do not mix well with anger and doubt. We must make a decision: do we sublimate our anger or do we confess it and put it aside? Do we trust God with the cause and outcome? We must.
At this point, I must make a confession. I am a hard-driving person. Frustration comes easy to me. I am the first-born of my parents, have a super-heated sense of responsibility, and easily get angry at myself. My wife was a saint, even-handed, and patient. We were Exhibit A that opposites attract.
I also love order, and am probably somewhat obsessive-compulsive, along with having A.D.D.(Carolyn diagnosed me).So I am an authority on the topic of anger, though not necessarily an authority on how to manage it. Now that I am older, I am less angry because I lack the energy to engage in it. I do not like to confess all of this! But I love the Word of God; it is a lamp to my feet and light to my path. Hiding the Word of God in my heart has often helped me to not sin against God.
Years ago, I became obsessed with a conflict that involved a member of our church. I carried this conflict in my heart. I felt betrayed; it was a deep wound. After months of carrying it, I made a decision: it was God’s problem. I wrote in the back of my Bible, “On this day, I give this conflict to God.” I never worried about it after that.
Someone said, “It is not so much what we eat that is bothering us,but what is eating us.” Anger and unforgiveness will eat us unless we put it in God’s hands. Giving it to the Lord is where peace and joy begin.
Anger is unavoidable, but bad consequences are avoidable; we do not have to allow anger to rob us of rest, peace, and joy. Jesus took our sins, grief, and sorrows. We need to leave them with Him daily. Jesus got angry: He made a whip and drove out the money changers that were in the temple. But, on the Cross, He said – even of His torturers_“Father, forgive them; they know not what they do.” We must follow Him in forgiveness.
Forgiveness given quickly is a key to peace and having our prayers heard at the Throne of God. It allows us to trust God and wait for His answer regarding the matter. This approach removes stress, anxiety, and sleeplessness. It allows us to avoid the poison of vitriol. Don’t let the sun go down on anger, for any reason.
Too often, anger clouds our judgment or defines our future. If you are angry at injustice, good! Focus your energy on solutions; get involved in some positive mission that will alleviate suffering and other people’s need. Pray for the Holy Spirit to move and revive God’s people and affect our corrupt culture. But bear in mind, the answer lies with God, not with our natural inclinations.“The wrath of man does not work the righteousness of God” (James 1:20).
Peace be with you and with your spirit. Please continue to keep CSM in your prayers and in your giving this month as we seek to faithfully declare the Word of the Lord among the nations. Plan to be with us_and bring a friend_to the annual CSM Leadership Conference in Gatlinburg, TN, April 14-16.Our theme this year is “Go and Make Disciples!” For more information, visit www.csmpublishing.org
P.S. For a related inspiring online discussion, visit our CSM Discussion Forum, the “Keynotes” section, and see “Forgiveness After Genocide” at www.csmpublishing.org/discuss.
Scripture Reference: Ephesians, Psalms, 1 Timothy, Proverbs, Nehemiah,