A Controlled Burn
Proverbs, Anger, Conflict
In the spring and late fall I know there are many who burn off weeds with a controlled burn. You need to pick carefully when to do this burn and must not do it on a windy day or the control part of the burn will give way to much greater destruction than desired. I think this is a good picture of what we want to do with anger. We want to have a controlled burn.
Any time I preach on the subject of anger I know I will be speaking to a struggle that everyone has to one degree or another.
We get angry because someone said something that hit a sensitive spot. We respond like a wounded animal and attack. Sometimes we respond with anger because we are scared (like when someone suddenly pulls out in front of us in traffic; generally we (I) don’t say “wow, that was a close one. Instead we turn into an expert profiler and speak as if we knew the depraved nature of the other driver with great insight and clarity. We can become angry when we are disappointed. It could be missing out on a job, having a vacation canceled, having a flight delayed or any number of other examples.) In our frustration we may attack someone who really has nothing to do with the problem at hand. We can even become angry over trivial things such as the results of a ballgame we are watching on television! Have you ever been angry with another person (often a family member) because things weren’t going well in the game? How silly.
There are some people who have such a cool temper or controlled temper that they seldom show their angry side (that doesn’t mean they don’t get angry). Others of us get angry much more quickly. Some people even see their anger as some kind of “badge of courage” or show of strength. They are ready to argue with anyone at any time. They are not assertive (like they believe they are), they are annoying!
Proverbs has a great deal to say about anger. This morning we will look at some of these verses and draw out some principles that hopefully will help us with the problem of Anger.
Impulsive or Uncontrolled Anger is bad
Anger as an emotion is not necessarily bad. Anger can motivate us to action or it can help us see situations more clearly. For example, you may become angry at injustice and that anger will motivate you to work for change. You may be angry at how someone is being treated by a group of people and you decide you will be their friend. Anger can motivate. However . . . we need to be careful here. Human nature is such that often conclude our anger is “righteous” anger (largely because it is our anger). Likewise we tend to view the anger of others as sinful (because it is directed at us). The truth is, in most cases our anger is not justified or good.
Listen to these Proverbs.
14:17 Short-tempered people do foolish things, and schemers are hated.
16:32 Better to be patient than powerful; better to have self-control than to conquer a city.
29:11 Fools vent their anger, but the wise quietly hold it back.
Bad anger is impulsive. It is described as being short-tempered. Sinful anger says things impulsively before thinking about the effects of that expression of anger on others. Impulsive anger strikes out to wound before thinking about whether such words are the kind or loving things to say. We all know what that is like because we have personal knowledge of this kind of anger. We find ourselves having to say, “I didn’t mean that” even though we said it and can never take the words back. We have also all been on the receiving end of such anger.
The wise person is one who has controlled anger. That doesn’t mean they never get angry. A controlled anger is one that recognizes that anger is an alarm that says “something is (or is perceived to be) wrong.” If we can view anger as an alarm and then examine what is setting off the alarm, it can be productive.
When we find ourselves getting angry it is good to ask three simple questions:
- Why am I angry? In other words is this something I should be getting angry about or am I reacting to the frustrations of not having things go my way? What is the source of your anger? Are you afraid, hurt, or just plan mad that things are not going your way? Be specific. You can’t deal with anger if you don’t know why you are angry.
- What do I hope to accomplish by my anger? If we are honest, we will say on occasion: I hope to hurt the other person with my words. There may be times when we honestly can say we are trying to solve a problem and anger seems to be the only way to do so. Once you are honest about what you want to accomplish it is clear to see whether your anger is sinful and appropriate.
- Would Jesus want me to be angry at this? Jesus got angry. He expressed frustration when dealing with the Pharisees. He overturned the tables of the moneychangers and I suspect that if we could hear the tone of all His words we would find that He was angry on other occasions. However, the thing about the anger of Jesus is that He was always angry with a godly passion. He was never angry about something that was happening to Him. Unfortunately, we get that backwards–we are angry at personal offenses and tend to shrug at things that are related to God’s Kingdom.
The Destructive Nature of Anger
The thing that makes anger a problem is that it can be so destructive. You may carry scars from something people said to you in anger years ago. The angry outburst of a parent, teacher, spouse, or friend can wound deeply. Listen to these words from Proverbs.
29:8 Mockers can get a whole town agitated, but the wise will calm anger
29:22 An angry person starts fights; a hot-tempered person commits all kinds of sin.
30:33 As the beating of cream yields butter and striking the nose causes bleeding, so stirring up anger causes quarrels.
There are some pictures here of the destructive nature of anger. The first thing about impulsive anger is that it is like a match thrown into a dry forest. It fans the flames of conflict. When someone attacks us out of anger, we naturally defend ourselves and strike back. This doesn’t solve the problem, it intensifies it!
Hot-tempered people leave scars that are difficult to heal. They create a wedge in relationships, families, and yes, even churches, that will take years to heal. In other words, people who are impulsive in their anger leave a mess in their wake.
19:19 Hot-tempered people must pay the penalty. If you rescue them once, you will have to do it again.
22:24,25 Don’t befriend angry people or associate with hot-tempered people, or you will learn to be like them and endanger your soul.
Second, people who cannot control their anger; tend to develop the habit of responding in anger more and more regularly. There are people who can’t seem to talk rationally about anything. They will argue about food, politics, matters of doctrine (for Christians), which product is better, which team is superior, and about just about any other topic. These people will make a fool of themselves at a check-out lane or a returns counter. For some reason they consider force, intimidation, and aggressiveness as a sign that they are strong and significant.
Solomon warns us that if you spend a lot of time with hot-heads you are more likely to become a hot-head (often without even realizing it) yourself. Like with all other personality traits, you will tend to become like those whom you admire and spend the most time around.
How to Deal with Your Own Anger and Angry People
12:16 A fool is quick-tempered, but a wise person stays calm when insulted.
17:27 A truly wise person uses few words; a person with understanding is even-tempered
The first piece of wisdom is to lower the temperature of any angry encounter. Being gentle, staying calm, and keeping quiet all help diffuse angry situations. I have found that lowering (rather than raising) my voice brings a calm to the situation and makes it possible to discuss rather than attack.
We need to learn to view anger as an emotion that warns us there is a problem. Our emotion alerts us to the fact that there is a problem. Our goal should not be to strike out, or administer an equivalent hurt; it should be to solve the problem. We can’t solve anything unless we listen carefully, speak calmly, and communicate rather than attack. The old suggestion about counting to ten is a good one. I think if I could even learn to count to three before responding I would be much better off.
19:11 Sensible people control their temper; they earn respect by overlooking wrongs.
Once again the Bible encourages us to overlook wrongs. This doesn’t mean that we should not address problems. However, most of the things that “tick us off” are minor things. Every one of us gets frustrated. We all say things we don’t mean. We all have bad days. The Bible is telling us that giving people a little room to be human will diffuse a person’s anger and build respect for us.
I have discovered that when I go into a store and need some kind of service I get much farther if I show respect for the person I am talking to rather than treating them like my servant. Allowing for the fact that a person may not understand what I am asking instead of assuming that they are stonewalling opens doors rather than closes them. When I understand that the person I am dealing with may have also had a bad day I can show patience rather than irritation.
Sadly, it seems harder to overlook offenses with the people we are closest to. Why? Because we have a higher standard for these people. We expect them to know what we need and how we need it. We assume that they know they are offending us with their words. As a result, their offenses are magnified. Things we would quickly overlook, forgive, or shrug off with others turn into major offenses with people we love. Consequently it is all the more important that we give the “benefit of a doubt” to those we know well.
21:14 A secret gift calms anger; a bribe under the table pacifies fury.
This text sounds like we are being told to bribe someone or “pay them off”. We know that is a bad idea. A parent who always gives their child what they want so they will behave or stop crying is creating a monster. That child will keep threatening and demanding as they get older and will continue to think that all they need to do is throw a tantrum to get what they want.
I don’t think this is the counsel of Proverbs. I believe what we are being told here is that acts of kindness tend to diffuse a person who is angry. Proverbs 25:20 says,
21 If your enemies are hungry, give them food to eat.
If they are thirsty, give them water to drink.
22 You will heap burning coals of shame on their heads,
and the Lord will reward you.
Paul repeated these same words in Romans 12. Jesus said something similar in the Sermon on the Mount when He told us to “turn the other cheek”. The idea is that when we meet hostility with hostility we create a bigger and more out of control fire. However, when we meet hostility with kindness and love we have the potential of turning someone from anger to appreciation or joy. If nothing else, we can help people see the situation with a different perspective.
We live in an angry world. People seem to feel that every word that is spoken, every act that someone does is somehow meant as a commentary on us or an attack against us. Much of our anger comes from ego! We are all so wrapped up in our own little world that we become hyper-sensitive and often respond disproportionately.
It’s a warped world we live in. We all know from experience that forceful people do not inspire loyalty . . . they create fear. People do what they have to do but only when these people are around. Angry people are not respected. They are avoided. People don’t follow them, they appease them.
Take time to look at your own life. Do people consider you to be an angry person? Are you a “blow up” angry person or a subtle and manipulative angry person? You may get angry and become aggressive or you may become passive aggressive. Either way, it is a problem.
The core problem of anger is sin. Anger comes because we want to exalt ourselves. We start to believe we are the measure of all things. Right and wrong is measured by how it impacts us or how we view something. As a result, we are always primed to defend “our kingdom”.
The key to overcoming the anger problem is to remember that we live in God’s Kingdom. It is He whom we represent. So let’s look at strategies from a positive side.
- Identify problems. Rather than developing a list of charges. We are so quick to see what others do wrong that we never address the real problem. We are like people who are addressing symptoms without talking about the disease. We must learn to think about problems rather than offenses. We can solve problems, you can’t change what you have done.
- We need to look for ways to extend grace rather than to exact justice. Think about what a difference this would make. Instead of trying to make someone pay for something they did we would look for ways to reconcile, to forgive, and to make our relationship stronger. We would look to ease the frustration, hurt, embarrassment, or fear that another person is feeling rather than pouring gasoline on it. Look for ways to extend grace even in the most heated environment.
- Look to respond to others in the same way that Jesus has responded to you. Think about where you would be if Jesus responded to your sin the way you respond to the sin of others. Yikes! We all tend to take God’s grace for granted. We deserve to be consumed by His wrath. It would be perfectly just for him to do so. Yet, He has loved us. He has been patient with our weakness and enduring in His love for us. He continues to believe in us, even when we have stopped believing in ourselves. What would happen if we began to act more like Jesus?
I’d like to tell you more. I cannot do so because I struggle too. I don’t understand how anger can arise so quickly; how it seems to sneak up on me. We are going to need to help each other. And we are all going to need a very healthy dose of God’s Spirit. The only way our angry world is going to get better is for some of the angry people to make different choices. God wants those people to be the recipients of His grace. He wants it to start with us.