Retraining our anger triggers
Anger can set off hot emotions and physical reactions in our bodies. Anger is usually triggered when we believe that someone is being unfair, unkind or unacceptable. If we cannot help but get angry at even slight agitations, we might need to ask God to show us the reasons why. Thank God that ungodly anger can be retrained.
Anger in itself is not bad. Even the tamest of animals will react with loud aggression when someone accidentally touches an unhealed wound. It’s part of our instinctive defence mechanism. It is what we choose to do with our anger that becomes a good or bad testimony for Jesus Christ.
God gets angry at the things that separate us from Him
God gets angry too. His righteous anger is slow and targeted. It burns against those who stop people from His love and salvation.
Psalm 103:8 ESV The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
Romans 1:18 ESV For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.
The Bible records Jesus as getting angry at the money-changers in the temple (John 2:14-16). God’s love is free. The merchants however, charged excessive prices and created costly obstacles that blocked people from worshipping Him freely. Jesus showed great self-control and purpose in His display of righteous anger. He first calmly made a whip and then walked around the temple to drive the merchants out.
At all other times, Jesus has shown Himself to be full of compassion, wisdom and grace, even towards those that society despised and condemned.
John 8:3,10-11 NIV The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,”Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
Anger is a powerful force
Being made in God’s image, we too will get angry at times. God meant for anger to motivate us to bring justice and peace to this world. Unfortunately, we have learnt to use anger for our personal unholy purposes.
God’s anger burns against the issue of sin because it separates us from Him. Our anger usually targets other people, whom God desires to save from sin. Instead of being angry at the sin which Satan uses to enslave people, we get angry at the oppressed instead. Sadly, believers in Christ turn people away from Christ because we misrepresent His gospel message of love and salvation.
Here are some examples of how we profane God’s holy name with our ungodly anger.
|Gets angry at the issue or sin.||Gets angry at the person or people.|
|Addresses the issue or sin. Constructive results.||Attacks the person. Destructive results. Divisive.|
|Points to God’s grace and holiness.||Points to personal pride and self-righteousness.|
|Speaks the truth in love.||Condemns, curses and seeks revenge.|
|Discerns when to act. Self-controlled.||Reactive. Lacks control.|
|Recognises and chooses to ignore unhealthy triggers.||Unaware of or unable to ignore unhealthy triggers.|
|Leads to God’s righteousness.||Leads to regrets, judgements, bitterness, brokenness.|
|Powerful motivator to bring peace and healing. Helps the downtrodden.||Destructive force for personal justice. Treads on other people.|
|Driven by a conscious passion for God.||Driven by unresolved personal issues in the subconscious.|
The hidden roots of ungodly anger
The Bible points out that we become angry and quarrelsome because of a war that goes on within us; between what we know we ought to do (counsel from the Holy Spirit) and what we feel tempted to do (temptation from the devil).
James 4:1 ESV What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?
Ungodly anger is often driven by unresolved frustrations or fears in our subconscious. It is a potent emotion that is driven by latent emotions such as bitterness, confusion, hatred, shame, pain, worthlessness and so forth. These latent emotions are often developed during childhood when we did not have the maturity to resolve them. Ungodly anger is often a sign of negative emotions that have been bottled up for years.
The Bible even instructs parents not to provoke their children to anger by failing to raise them in loving, godly ways.
Ephesians 6:4 ESV Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
The Holy Spirit will reveal the roots
Thank God that we have His Holy Spirit as our Helper. God’s Spirit will reveal the deep subconscious triggers that lead us to outbursts of ungodly anger.
As we still our minds and pray to ask God for His revelation, we will find that forgotten memories pop back into our mind, reminding us of people we need to forgive or fears we need to resolve and put away. If we are unable to pray further on our own, we can confess our past disappointments, fears, regrets and unmet needs to godly brothers or sisters in Christ who are able to lovingly pray with us and encourage us along our journey of restoration.
John 14:26 ESV But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.
1 Corinthians 2:10 ESV these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.
The wonderful thing about such revelations from the Holy Spirit is that it could also reveal the areas in which we are meant to bring God’s righteousness into, turning our experiences of ungodly anger into opportunities to bring God glory.
For example, an angry man who was neglected by his parents while growing up could now become very motivated to lead fundraising events for abandoned children or refugee shelters. Someone who was unfairly targeted in school could mentor teenagers with similar experiences. How wonderful it is when we use our past anger issues to bring hope to others in need, rather than continue to simmer in hopeless rage.
Practical ways to retrain our anger triggers
1. Decide on our battles beforehand
After we address the roots of our anger and go to God for healing and restoration, it will help to mentally rehearse what our responses will be if something sets off our old triggers in the future. What will we choose to overlook and ignore, and what we will take a firm and loving stand on?
Proverbs 19:11 ESV Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.
Proverbs 12:16 ESV The vexation of a fool is known at once, but the prudent ignores an insult.
2. Learn to slow down
There is no need to react immediately to things that upset us. This gives us time to pray, consider the consequences and ask the Holy Spirit to guide our thoughts and emotions.
Proverbs 29:11 ESV A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.
Galatians 5:16 ESV But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.
3. Release all emotions to the eternal Judge
Thank God that He welcomes us as His sons and daughters, and will patiently listen to our complaints. It can be extremely healing to confess and vent to God about new grievances. His Spirit will comfort us deep in our souls.
Psalm 142:2 ESV I pour out my complaint before him; I tell my trouble before him.
4. Don’t hold on to grievances towards fellow human beings
God’s Word instructs us to put away all “anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk”. This is a conscious effort. Every attitude of our hearts and word we speak will be recorded for judgement. Hence, we need to be aware of our emotions and thoughts, and watch our tongues at all times.
If we find ourselves unable to move on from our grudges and resentments, going to see a god fearing counsellor may be a good option. Sometimes, we need someone who is trained professionally to help us work through our emotions.
Colossians 3:8 ESV But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.
James 5:9 ESV Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door.
Matthew 12:36 ESV I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak,
5. Decide to honour God and overcome evil with good
It takes emotional maturity to manage our anger triggers. When we do, we are able to bless those who curse us and pray for those who hate us. This is what differentiates the men from the boys, and the ladies from the girls. May we all live as redeemed and mature believers who are able to bring God’s light into the world, instead of spreading more hatred and resentment. There is already enough pain in this world.
Romans 12:21 ESV Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Matthew 5:44-48 ESV But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?
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