More on being set free from anger
Another helpful illustration the Lord gave me was the idea of anger being like a stairway leading to nowhere. When something bothers me, I unknowingly go up one step; then another thing happens and I’m up two steps. Then an aggravation takes me to the third step where the hot fire of anger is stoked by some word or happening–like seeing the pinstripes on the car–and I quickly go up the last two steps and fall over the edge into full-fledged, self-centered, destructive anger.
I had to learn to recognize when I was on step one, two or three and go back down through confession, repentance and surrender.
Journaling helped a great deal with this, as the issues could be clarified and I could rewrite the event from God’s point of view—He always has a larger purpose for each thing he allows into our lives.
Think of Joseph in Genesis: sold as a slave so he could learn administration and eventually be promoted to being the Prime Minister of Egypt. Recognizing God’s power and providence, I could respond with praise instead of anger. To go down was to step into freedom from anger rather than being controlled by anger. Stepping down early was critical, for once I got to step four it was almost impossible to turn back.
On thing that hampered my going back down these steps from anger into freedom was my great desire for personal justice and significance. Anything that smacked of injustice toward me or that in my opinion took away my dignity would trigger a flash of anger. I hated it when people would accuse me of something I didn’t do and would quickly set them straight.
The Lord worked patiently over the years to show me that He is only the source of true justice, and that in this world there will be precious little of it meted out by people. He led me to find my rest in Him rather than in getting justice. Psalm 62:1 became one of my favorite and oft quoted verses: “My soul finds rest in God alone….”
The same is true of significance. Jesus is all I need. Think of all the ways that He has offered me (and all of us) significance. We were created in the image of God—that one factor in itself bestows great importance on us. And if we have become followers of Jesus, we were chosen before the foundation of the world, adopted into the family of God and commissioned to special service for Him.
We are delighted in, dearly loved, deeply cared for and doted on by God—what more could I want? It was a process to take my attention off of the natural and focus it on these eternal truths. The Spirit consistently drew me on into freedom by persistently directing my attention to the fact that, “My salvation and my honor depend on God; He is my mighty rock and refuge” (Ps. 62:7).
The unholy union of my lust for significance and anger was exposed one day by a flash of insight from God. Barbara and I were on a trip and, having arrived at a major fork in the road, we were presented with two possibilities for lunch. The restaurant on the left was owned by an expensive bus company, so I knew a meal there would be more than I wanted to pay. The other restaurant looked like a better choice, so we went there.
After finishing our meal, the waiter brought the check. It turned out to be twice what I expected and anger began to rise inside, that familiar hot flash. But then came another flash, this time of insight and I suddenly saw the source my anger. In being overcharged, I felt like a fool for being taken advantage of; I hated both feeling like a fool and being taken advantage of. However, just as quickly that verse came to mind: “My salvation and my honor depend on God; He is my mighty rock, my refuge” (Ps. 62:7).
This was a divine intervention changing both my perspective and my thinking, bringing me out into the freedom God had for me. This was one of the “Aha” moments where truth gets grasped on an emotional as well as an intellectual level.
I calmly took out my wallet and paid the bill. As the waiter walked away, Barbara said, “What happened to you? Why didn’t you get angry?”
“Because,” I said, smiling broadly, “I realized that the reason I get angry is that my significance gets snatched away. But the Lord just showed me that no one can actually do that: He gives me all the honor, dignity and significance I need!”
She was amazed–and thankful. I’d embarrassed her more than once in arguing with a waiter over an injustice in our bill. So the Lord was setting me free from anger and, as a result, Barbara was set free from the embarrassment I had often caused her.
Anger as an emotion is not necessarily a sin. It is more fundamentally a warning: “Something is wrong! Pay attention!” What is wrong may be external–someone attacking– or internal, as when I feel slighted. In either case, we need to act in wisdom to deal with the actual problem, not spill our anger out on others.
I was very thankful for this deep work God did in me, for the events to come would require me to have a calm, trusting spirit in order to cooperate with God.