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How To Put A Lid On Your Anger

II Samuel 18:1, 5, 9-15

We live in angry times, do we not?

A man gets angry when troubled on a subway in New York City and shoots four young men. Women become angry about drunk drivers and thus form an organization called MADD, “Mothers Against Drunk Driving.” The newspapers each day report cases of the abuse of women and the abuse of children in homes where anger has erupted and become completely destructive. I preach a sermon on the dangers of unilateral disarmament and I receive a letter which says: “I hope someone finds a way to silence you”—and that from one who claims to be an advocate for peace! We live in angry times.

And so many times we respond to the angering, frustrating circumstances around us by getting angry ourselves. At least, sometimes, I do. And I think what troubles me most is that I can get angry at the most ridiculous things. Not long ago—this is a true story—my wife called me at the office and asked me to pick up a few things at the supermarket on my way home. I was in a hurry. I was late. I rushed into the supermarket and pulled out one of the carts. Wouldn’t you know, I got a cart on which one wheel was stuck so that every time I pushed it, it veered off to the left. I tried to get it straightened out, then pushed it and as I did the cart veered and smashed right into a lady getting the next cart. She gave me a dirty look and harrumphed off. I went on to pick up the items we needed. All of the other check-out lanes were filled, so I hurried to the express lane, and the guy in front of me had at least thirty items in his basket. Furthermore, he wanted to pay by check and it took what seemed to be forever to get the necessary approval. Not only that, but the person behind me was smoking and blowing her smoke right over my shoulder. When I got to the cash register, there was one item which did not have the price tag affixed, nor did it have the little bar code, so they had to send someone to find out the price. At last, when I headed out to the car, I discovered that it had started to rain and I had left the windows down in the car. The seat was soaked. Nevertheless, I drove home, pulled into the garage, picked up the bag of groceries which had by now gotten wet on the bottom. The bag broke, the groceries fell out, and I got angry!

So we live in angry times and many of us—too many of us—too, too many of us do have a tendency to get angry. In fact, many psychiatrists and psychologists today declare that anger is the greatest single problem in people’s lives. I would not argue with that conclusion. Therefore, I want to ask today what the Christian faith has to say about anger. How can we as Christians put a lid on our anger? There are several things I want to suggest…

The first is this: A Christian understands that anger sometimes is positive.

There is such a thing as righteous anger. Are you aware of the fact that the Bible says that on 376 different occasions, God got angry? The Bible speaks of Jesus being angry on numerous occasions. The Bible speaks of Paul as being angry. The Bible recognizes that there is such a thing as righteous anger. In Ephesians 4, Paul says, “Be angry but do not sin.”

I think the best illustration of that principle lived out is found in the story of King David and his son Absalom. Absalom turned against his father, David, and led a revolt against him. David got angry! But notice that he never got angry at Absalom. He got angry at what Absalom had done, and thus he responded to Absalom’s revolt with force. He knew that he would have to fight against his own son in order to save the kingdom, but his anger was never directed at Absalom, the person. Instead, David said: “Deal gently with my son, Absalom.” That is the point I want you to see. David was angry, but his anger was controlled—it was harnessed—it was disciplined by love. And anger which is controlled and disciplined by love can be used for positive results. There is such a thing as righteous anger.

Several years back, the Wall Street Journal had an article about Lee lacocca as he was preparing to take over the financially-troubled Chrysler Corporation. The Wall Street Journal suggested that Iacocca should simply “let Chrysler die with dignity.” Sometime later, Lee lacocca gave a speech in which he said: “The Wall Street Journal advised me to let Chrysler die. After all, we were flat broke, our plants were industrial museums, the Michigan State Fairgrounds were full of our unsold cars. But I got mad when they said that. And my colleagues at Chrysler got mad. And tens of thousands of Chrysler people all across the land got mad. We got so mad that we banded together—and working together, we fixed what was wrong at Chrysler.” He concluded his speech with this sentence: “I think some well-directed anger can cure most of what’s wrong in America today.”

He is right. I believe that we as Christians in America today ought to be angry about the lack of decency, the lack of justice, the lack of integrity, the lack of morality that exists in our society. I believe that we as Christians ought to strike out in anger against the evils which pervade the society of which we are a part. It was that kind of anger that motivated the latter years of Abraham Lincoln’s life. When he was younger, on one occasion, he was visiting in New Orleans. There he witnessed a young girl being sold on the slave market. As he watched helplessly while this young girl was being abused, then sold, the anger began to build within him. He clenched his fists and he said: “This is wrong. And if I ever get the chance to hit it, I will hit it hard.” That is righteous anger—anger not directed at individuals, but at circumstances which are evil.

Yes, anger can be a positive thing. Therefore, we as Christians must never fail to be angry when we encounter situations and circumstances which are wrong. That is what Paul means when he says: “Be angry, but do not sin.”

Now the second thing I want to say is this: A Christian understands that sometimes anger is negative.

Anger can be sinful. It can be wrong. It can be destructive. It can be abusive. Yes, anger in the hands of some people is a weapon that wounds and maims and even kills. I heard about a woman who had a terrible temper that she regularly unleashed on everybody about her. Then she died. At her funeral, just as her casket was being lowered into the grave, suddenly a storm broke and the wind blew and the rain lashed and the thunder rolled. Just at that point, her husband looked up to the heavens and said: “Well, she has arrived.” There are some people like that! They go through life in a perpetual state of storm. But what I want to say is that while such people may do a lot of damage to other people, they also do a lot of damage to themselves.

You see, anger stops our normal physical processes. When we become angry, adrenaline gets shot into the bloodstream. The liver begins to pour sugar into the bloodstream. Our blood vessels contract. Our digestive processes stop. Our heartbeat rate increases. Our blood pressure increases. All of these physical reactions to anger are immediate and they are physically destructive to us. Surely that should be a clue that it runs contrary to the will of God.

And anger also stops our normal mental processes. How many times have you heard someone say: “I was so mad I couldn’t see straight”? Those words are literally true. When we get angry, our brains do not function normally. We do not see or hear accurately. That is why so many times, someone will say after an outburst, “I just was not thinking.” That is right. They were not. The brain was not functioning normally.

But anger also stops our normal Christian processes. The best illustration of that that I know is Leonardo da Vinci. He was in the process of painting “The Last Supper” on the wall of the church in the city of Milan. In the course of the work, he became angry at one of his assistants. He exploded. He verbally abused the man. Then, in a rage, he drove the man out of the place where the painting was being done. At that point, Da Vinci returned to his work. As providence would have it, he was in the process of painting the face of Jesus Christ. He discovered that he could not paint that face. He tried and tried, but could not do it. He became desperate. He could not paint the face. It was only when he realized what had led to that circumstance, only when he then sought forgiveness from the man he had abused, only then was he able to paint the face of his Christ. You can never display the reality of Christ in your life if you are filled with anger.

Let me say it like this. Calm waters reflect the beauty of the heavens above. Storm-tossed waters never reflect the beauty of the heavens above. Anger can be profoundly negative in our human experience. That is why Paul says: “Be angry, but do not sin.”

The third thing I wish to say is this: A Christian understands how to put a lid on anger.

In other words, Christians choose to express the anger they feel in constructive, not destructive, ways. Some people say that the best way to express anger is to keep it to yourself, that is, repressing it, and psychologists will tell you that that leads to depression. There are other people who say the way to handle anger is to let it fly. Psychologists will tell you that that is destructive. Long before the psychologists began to speak, the Bible declared that anger needs to be expressed in controlled ways. The fact is, you see, that we can choose to control our anger.

We can never say: “Someone or something made me lose my temper.” If we lose our temper, if we blow our stack, it is because we let it go. Victor Frankl, the psychologist, was imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp. He was lined up with other Jewish prisoners one day before the Gestapo guards. One of the guards noticed that Frankl had on his left ring finger a wedding band. He said to Frankl: “Give me that ring.” It was deliberately intended to provoke Frankl. But Frankl quietly took off the wedding band and handed it to the guard. But as he did, he said: “I want you to know that you can take away from me anything I have, but you will never take away the freedom to respond in any way I choose to the things you do to me.”

Sydney Harris, before his death, was a newspaper columnist I loved to read. He wrote once of walking down the street with a Christian author named John Powell. They stopped at a newsstand on the streets of New York. John Powell asked for a newspaper. The man behind the counter was rude, abrupt, downright discourteous. John Powell thanked him kindly for the newspaper and they walked on. Sydney Harris then said to Powell: “Do you stop at that newsstand often?” Powell said: “Yes, every day.” Sydney Harris said: “That fellow treated you like dirt. Does he do that every day?” John Powell said: “Yes, every day.” Harris said: “Now why don’t you tell him off?” Powell replied: “Because I do not wish for him to determine what kind of day I have or what kind of response I make.”

Let me say it to you this way: You tell me what ticks you off in life, and I will tell you who makes you tick—I’ll tell you who is controlling your life. You see, if someone else can provoke you to anger, then that person has conquered you. That person is in control of your life. But the Bible says: “Don’t let someone or something else control your life and thus provoke you to anger. Instead let God control your life and learn to express your anger in a controlled manner through the discipline of love.” That is why Paul said: “Be angry, but do not sin.”

Well…

Heyward McDonald is a friend of mine I wish you knew. He is a graduate of the United States Naval Academy and was rapidly climbing the Navy’s chain of command in the 1950’s, when one day he was accidentally inoculated with an unsterilized needle. He contracted polio. He lost the use of his legs. But today he is a remarkably powerful and committed Christian. I asked him once: “How is it that the polio has not made you bitter and angry at life?” He said: “The disease paralyzed my legs. It never touched my heart.”

My friends, it is a matter of having Jesus in your heart. That means that no matter what anyone may say to us or do to us, no matter how cruel or insensitive or violent someone else may be toward us, we do not have to lash back in anger. You see, if you give your heart to Jesus Christ, then He will move into your heart and life by the power of His Holy Spirit, and He will enable you to master your anger rather than be mastered by it. He will, as the hymn writer says: “Take from your soul the strain and stress, and let your ordered life confess the beauty of His peace.”

It all comes down to whether or not you have Jesus in your heart…

Do you?

“Be angry, but do not sin.”

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