Better to be patient than powerful; better to have self-control than to conquer a city. Proverbs 16:32
When you become angry, what excuses do you use?
“I’m not easily angered. It’s just that he never puts his dishes in the dishwasher.”
“I’m not easily angered. It’s just that she never does what I ask her to do the first time I ask her to do it.”
“I’m not easily angered. It’s just that he doesn’t understand how tired I am.”
“I’m not easily angered. It’s just that they don’t seem to realize the repercussions of their own actions.”
I’ve personally used that last statement within the last four days and I must say, in looking back, I’m ashamed of my actions. Have you ever used one of those phrases to defend blowing your top? I’ve used all of them at one time or another. And I truly don’t consider myself to be a person who is easily angered or even irritated. But, in studying for this post, I’ve come to believe that is exactly the problem – I don’t believe I’m easily angered. But I’ve never stopped to consider how other might see me.
Lewis Smedes once quotes that “love puts a long fuse on our emotional bombs.” Love does not blow up at the least provocation. Love is calm under pressure. Love accepts responsibility for how we react to others. Love takes responsibility for how we feel and how we handle unjustified aggravation. We cannot be responsible for how others behave, but we can control how we respond to them. We do not blame how we behave on other people. We do not see ourselves as victims.
In The Love Dare, the authors define irritable as “People who are irritable are locked, loaded, and ready to overreact.” (p. 26) One of the biggest factors in losing in your cool is stress. The authors indicate that there are different kinds of stress that can bring out crankiness (or anger) in an effort to encourage us to put margin into our schedules so we can better prioritize and pace ourselves.
The Kendrick brothers also write about selfishness. Love isn’t self-seeking…remember? That pesky word keeps coming up! “When you’re irritable, the heart of the problem is primarily a problem of the heart…Being easily angered is an indicator that a hidden area of selfishness or insecurity is present where love is supposed to rule.” (p. 27, 28) The Kendricks continue on and say that selfishness can show itself as lust, bitterness, greed, and pride. “These motivations can never be satisfied. But when love enters your heart, it calms you down and inspires you to quit focusing on yourself. It loosens your grasp and helps you let go of unnecessary things.” (p. 28)
Love is a matter of the heart. Recently, I realized that God has been doing a great work in me. I used to speak bitterly over the actions my parents (specifically my father) took against me. This included the things my so-called friends did to me when we were kids. And even those of my own kid brother. I was angry and deeply hurt and I used to get some sick, twisted rush out of playing the victim. But no more.
In recent months, I’ve come to realize that I answer my dad calmly when he attempts to provoke me. I’ve run into past classmates and have suddenly found myself wanting to meet them where they are at; asking them about their own lives and if there is anything I can pray for. I hurt for them. God is softening my heart in and around those situations and the more they come up, the firmer I stand on love.
We should be approaching this battle against irritability from the two fronts of stress and selfishness.
To deal with stress, we need to make a list of areas where we need to add margin to our already crammed schedules. What are you doing with the down time you have? Is there a TV show that you can give up? Could you give yourself an extra hour in the morning/evening? Could you use that downtime to build a loving relationship with constructive efforts at communication and responsible actions? Or are you wasting time?
We have a tendency to put our own expectancies on people and when things don’t turn out the way we think they should, we get angry. That’s selfish. To deal with selfishness, make a list of any wrong motives that you need to release – anything that underlies selfish behavior (i.e. lust, bitterness, greed, pride).
Love calls us to be “slow to anger.” Jesus models this for us in his trial before the high priest. He is struck in the face by one of the officials. That is provocation. Jesus responded by asking a question: “If I said something wrong, testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth why did you strike me?” (John 18:2) Jesus did not immediately blow up at the provocation. Nor did He take it lying down. In a calm matter, He confronted His tormentor with the injustice of his action. He did not want to give the devil a foothold by allowing anger to control Him, even though He would have been justified in responding with anger. Jesus gives us the example of bearing up under the pain of unjust suffering (1 Peter 2:19). “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” (1 Peter 2:23)
Non-retaliation, restraining our desire to blow up, to pay back, to ventilate our frustrations, to express our anger in aggressive behavior, to lose our temper, can only happen when we admit that we have no power to help ourselves, and that losing control, and indulging our desire for revenge will only make matters worse. Instead, let God, who is sovereign over all things; take care of our antagonist in his time. “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written ‘It is mine to avenge, I will repay,’ says the Lord… Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:17-21)
Love enables you to see into the heart of the one who is harassing you. Love sees the anxiety, the fear, the pain, the defensive behavior, of the person who is controlled by anger. Love gives you the patience and kindness to endure the provocation of the person who is self-seeking, and who wants to be in control. Love pities the person who is out of control and is making a fool of himself. Love bites his tongue so that he does not say something that he might regret later. Love listens to hear what is not being said, what is behind what is being said. Love gives you the words to respond when you are confronted with bad temper.
God loved us so much, He did not allow His anger to wipe us out of existence when we so much deserved it. Instead, He allowed His drama of redemption to unfold throughout history, climaxing with the Person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ. We need to try to understand other people, and with respect, place ourselves in the shoes of another. We need to listen, and not allow our hostile feelings to get the best of us. We are not to let the sun set before we extinguish our anger with our spouse. Since God is patiently working in us, we should reciprocate with the understanding of the debt we owe to God and the unfathomable love and concern He has for us. Love puts us in another’s shoes.
Authentic Love is not touchy or resentful, and does not “fly off the handle!”
Scripture to encourage you in truth today:
What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. James 4:1-3
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6, 7
Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of miracle. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:31, 32
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. 1 Timothy 6:10
For man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. James 1:20
In your anger do not sin; Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. Ephesians 4:26-27
You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Matthew 5:43-44
All a man’s ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the Lord. Proverbs 16:2
Today’s Challenge: Make a list of things you can do to improve your use of any quiet moments you might have, starting today. Look back over a time when you may have overreacted recently. What was the real motivation behind that? What one thing could you do to take a step away from selfishness and towards forgiveness, gratitude, and contentment?
Work cited: Kendrick, Stephen and Alex, The Love Dare (Nashville: B & H Publishing Group, 2008)