A month ago, my wife and I heard a sermon during a weekend trip to New Mexico. The vacation was great. The sermon was horrible. The story was Jesus cleansing the temple. The topic was anger.
The pastor described our range of anger (from annoyance to rage) and our frequency (from rarely to constantly). He quoted proverbs about the foolishness of the angry man. Then he offered his advice that we memorize an acronym to help when we are about to explode: SLOW.
- Seek peaceful thoughts.
- Love the perpetrator.
- Orient your heart to forgiveness.
- Wait … a few more moments.
I was amazed. Not at the wisdom but at the shallowness. This bible-believing pastor somehow twisted the famous proclamation of Jesus, “My house shall be called a house of prayer,” into a trivial technique for anger management.
Frankly, his sermon on anger made me mad.
Two things most infuriate me. First, I’m most angry when I see Christian leaders guiding believers into the deadly arena of compromised thought. Collaborators, confusers, counterfeiters, charlatans, and those eager for personal gain all dance before the crowds. We are those crowds, unaware that it is our very lives that are threatened by these prowling lions.
I’m second most tempted to wrath by pre-recorded political phone calls during election season.
As I brooded on this misguided sermon, I began to imagine what I would say to the preacher. Sometimes I fantasized confronting him with biblical arguments (that Scripture is about God’s self-revelation not another trifling to-do list), and other times I pictured him grasping the gospel again and what it could do for his works-exhausted congregation.
But it wasn’t my place to confront him. Which only added to my anger. And then I read:
When we discern that other people are not growing spiritually and allow that discernment to turn to criticism, we block our fellowship with God. God never gives us discernment so that we may criticize, but that we may intercede.Oswald Chambers
I have no idea of the pastor’s spiritual state, but my spiritual state certainly dwelt in criticism. Big time. I think I built a vacation home there in Criticism-land.
It’s Better Than Grumbling
We all spend time in thought; some good, some negative, some angry, some anxious. Why don’t we say those thoughts to God in conversation instead of just thinking them?
After Chambers’ challenge, I didn’t begin interceding as much as I started voicing my thoughts to God. Instead of saying, “God please help him,” I just said, “Father I get so pissed at people who major in the minors.” It wasn’t normal prayer; I was just talking with God. Which should be the norm.
I just thought my thoughts in the presence of God and I invited him to eavesdrop.
It is almost impossible to cling to criticism while talking to God. When I said, “Father, I am so angry at pastors using the pulpit to peddle frivolous practices,” I began to feel sorry for this man. I actually interceded, “Please remind both of us of your grace and miracles.”
I looked at all the psalms of white-hot anger (Ps. 137) or deep depression (Ps. 88). I was amazed at how conversational they seemed. And then I read a quote by Derek Kidner on these Psalms:
The very presence of such prayers in Scripture is a witness to God’s understanding and mercy. He knows how men speak when they are desperate.
God rebukes Israel for grumbling to each other, but he actually gives us words in the Psalms to say those same thoughts to him. It’s not the words or grumbling that angered Jesus when he cleansed the temple.
He just wanted us to voice them to him in conversational prayer.
For more information about connecting with God in normal conversation, read my book, Hearing God in Conversation. It is written for personal connection with God.
Point 1. Anger is such a multi layered sin. Most of the time I get angry because I can’t convince someone I am right in something or some action. In that case, the SLOW technique is not wrong.
Point 2. Thanks for your suggestion to bring God in on your anger. As we share our feelings to Him, we can see His perspective on the problem and hopefully see Him work to resolve it.
When we look in the Bible, it says: In your anger do not sin and do not let the sun go down on your anger. Therefore, the emotion itself is not a sin. But we are required to deal with it. Jesus had the same emotions we have, since He was in a fleshly body. So He understands every one of our emotions. We can confidently go to Him. What I have discovered, is, when I try to suppress anger, it festers in me and comes out in many unexpected ways, for as I look at my emotion, let myself feel it, talk to God about the reasons, it dissolves and leaves my, by the help of God.
Good point. Anger by itself isn’t necessarily a sin (in fact, the passage from the sermon was a time Jesus was angry).
The point is to go to Him in everything.
I agree that I really want to avoid all that ill behavior that comes out of uncontrolled anger, from biting my tongue on up. I just didn’t think the SLOW acronym was that helpful; not to someone who has deep anger issues.
My main problem was that the pastor was using the anger of Jesus as a springboard for saying we shouldn’t be angry. That was not a good sermon!!
Those rides at Criticism-land bang me up and nauseate me, but I still tend to get back in line for another go around. It certainly points to a need in my life for more and deeper prayer time. Thank you, Sam. Needed that today.
Thanks!! I’m finding all kinds of things to talk to God about, just sharing my everyday thoughts.
Thank you. It it is a lesson I learned many years ago, but allowed it to slowly ebb away. A good source of this teaching is found in Juan Carlos Ortiz’ book: https://www.amazon.com/Living-Jesus-Today-CARLOS-ORTIZ/dp/0281040400/ref=sr_1_7?dchild=1&keywords=Juan+carlos+ortiz&qid=1586355486&sr=8-7
Thanks for sharing the book. I haven’t read it but it looks interesting.
“Frankly, his sermon on anger made me mad.” lol.
It’s wonderful to share this wicked sense of humor!!
I’m amazed at how often you answer questions that I’ve asked for years, but that no one else even addresses. “God rebukes Israel for grumbling to each other, but he actually gives us words in the Psalms to say those same thoughts to him.” Yes!
Ever since my days as a baby Christian, I’ve been taught (directly or indirectly) that grumbling is bad. Period. It’s always been implied that that includes grumbling to God. The result is that many believers suppress their complaints, and the emotions that trigger them, thinking that they’re pleasing God. But then they never deal with the issues that inhibit them from growing in love for God and love for others.
At the same time, the Psalms are full of complaints. If we’re not allowed to complain, why does the Bible obviously approve of these people as they openly grumble? I’ve never heard a good biblical explanation for this discrepancy between Israel’s grumbling and the psalmists’ complaints. Until now.
I always appreciate your comments. It’s funny (or maybe not) but one of the Hebrew words for meditate also means to grumble. That means we can grumble to each other, or meditate with God. Same words, different direction.
Allan R Gross
So, this is what I’m hearing. He went to NM to recharge and revive, and he succeeded. But he brought something with him, a” critical spirit “, which he quickly found use for, as he targeted the sermon of a local Pastor. A “critical spirit” is not the gift of God he supposed it to be, but a product of of his flesh which he confused with wisdom. It came from a self righteous attitude of his own heart. A critical spirit can be a bondage which keeps us from experiencing the love for one another that Jesus said would mark our lives as His disciples.
Please take this in the spirit I mean it, but … it takes one to know one.
I so agree. God seems to want our engagement, no matter what.
Exactly, engagement with God, in our best and worst moments.
SUSAN M Frey
As usual, Sam, this is exactly what I needed. Just talk to God….about everything. I posted this article in my facebook and told everyone that this would change their prayer lives. Just today it’s already changing mine. I can’t wait until your book gets here. I’m going to tell everyone about it!!!!!
Speculative hypothesis: one of the manifestations of our fallenness is the felt compulsion to fix things, a compulsion common among those who go into medicine or other “helping professions.” You were wrestling with, “How do I fix this pastor with such a shallow view of scripture?” The pastor was looking at the passage wondering, “What can I pull out of this passage that will help people in my congregation remedy their personal problems?” The underlying desires may spring from valid motivations–the ones Jesus tells us not to judge, because he is the ultimate judge, because he is the only one who can accurately judge.
The teaching points are a) human beings are fixable, but b) human beings are incapable of fixing i) themselves or ii) one another. Only God can accomplish the radical repair, and the process required the death of the eternal Son. The psalmists’ cries and the prophets’ groans bear witness to their recognition that life is so profoundly disjointed that only YHWH can provide healing. Jesus’s demonstration of smoldering, explosive anger was evidence that Israel’s worship had become so distorted as to require more than just reform. You capture those points nicely.
Thank you for the reminder. Have a Good Friday.
Really well put. Love your summary:
-Humans are fixable;
-Humans are incapable of:
—-or fixing anyone else.
Yep, you nailed that. I like to lash out at these people. And yep, that’s not the way to do it. I think Peter would have lashed out at them too (I love how he meant well, but went about it the wrong way at times) Thank you
Lashing out seems more fun but it less profitable.
Someday we might learn to do it as much as we know how to say it.