Five Biblical Steps to Controlling Anger
It’s happened to all of us. Someone has deeply hurt us, wounded, offended, or frustrated us, and we become very, very angry about it.
That anger gets us in its grip, and won’t let go. It seems to take over our minds, and we just can’t stop thinking about it. It’s like we are carrying around a 100 pound weight strapped to our backs, and we can’t get rid of it.
One of the most widespread teachings of the Bible, prominent in both the Old and New Testaments, is that we cannot afford to continue carrying that weight of anger around in our lives.
Psalms 37:8 (NKJV) Cease from anger, and forsake wrath; do not fret-it only causes harm.
If we had a physical 100 pound weight strapped to our backs, eventually it would wear our bodies down and negatively affect our health. In the same way, the Bible says, if we continue to carry around that weight of anger, it will eventually damage us spiritually and emotionally.
The one who is damaged the most by my anger is … me!
Many times the person who has hurt me so badly, or annoyed me, or frustrated me to no end, isn’t even aware of the anger I’m experiencing toward them – or they don’t care. Either way, my anger isn’t hurting them. But what it is doing is dragging me down emotionally. It’s destroying my peace and stealing my joy … and often, it’s hindering my prayers. And that, the Bible says, is foolish!
Ecclesiastes 7:9 (NKJV) Do not hasten in your spirit to be angry, for anger rests in the bosom of fools.
All of us must confront this issue at some point in our lives: how can I break free from the grip of anger when someone has deeply hurt or frustrated me?
Here are five steps the Bible says we can take to help us take control of our anger.
1. Acknowledge your anger
I once had a friend who would say, when she was really mad, “I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed.” It was obvious to everyone around her that she was seething inside. But she felt she couldn’t admit to being angry because she was a Christian, and Christians don’t get angry, do they? Yes they do!
Ephesians 4:26 "Be angry, and do not sin": do not let the sun go down on your wrath.
The Bible is very forthright about the fact that we will get angry at times in our lives. And that inevitable anger is not necessarily a sin. In fact, when handled rightly, it can be a legitimate, God-given tool that fulfills a definite purpose – to move us to take action to correct the situation that caused our anger in the first place.
So, it’s not wrong to be angry. But where we do go wrong is when we allow our anger to control us instead of us controlling it. And the first step to taking control over our anger is simply to acknowledge that we really are angry.
Probably the worst thing we can do with our anger is to sweep it under the rug and pretend it’s not there.
When we try to hide our anger, and refuse to acknowledge the rage that’s boiling up inside, eventually it goes underground in our emotions, and turns into bitterness and resentment toward the person we are angry with.
I’ve heard many testimonies of people who had some kind of illness in their bodies, and no matter how much they prayed and were prayed for, nothing seemed to help. But when God was finally able to get through to them and show them that the real problem was their bitterness and resentment against someone who had hurt them, their physical symptoms were finally alleviated.
So, the first step to overcoming the destructive power of unrestrained anger in our lives is to acknowledge that it’s real and needs to be dealt with.
2. Set your will to forgive
Ultimately, there is only one way to escape the deathly grip of anger when we have been deeply hurt, offended, or frustrated. Sooner or later, we have to forgive the person we think was at fault.
Colossians 3:13 bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.
The key to being able to forgive is understanding that forgiveness is not a matter of how we feel about the person, but of making the heart commitment to no longer hold their offense against them. In effect, we make the decision to release them from the moral debt they owe us because of whatever they’ve done to us. And that decision doesn’t depend on how we happen to be feeling toward that person. It’s a commitment of the will.
Here’s an example. When I married my wife, the pastor who conducted the ceremony never once asked me how I felt about marrying her. But he very definitely asked if I was willing to commit myself to her "for as long as you both shall live." Once my bride and I affirmed that commitment, the pastor pronounced us husband and wife. The foundation of our marriage relationship was not how we happened to be feeling, then or since, but the commitment we each made by an act of our will to one another and to God.
In the same way, when I make the heart decision to forgive, and set my will to no longer hold what someone did to me against them, God registers my forgiveness in heaven. And it doesn’t matter how I feel about it.
3. Pray the prayer of forgiveness
Once we make the decision to forgive, we need to take action to put that commitment into effect. Perhaps the most effective way to do that is to verbalize our forgiveness to the Lord.
Acts 7:59-60 And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." 60 Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, "Lord, do not charge them with this sin." And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
When we declare to God our decision to forgive the person who hurt us, we recognize that it is primarily to Him that our commitment is made. In biblical terms, we establish a covenant of forgiveness with God, knowing His declaration that once such a covenant has been put into effect, it cannot be broken (Galatians 3:15).
From that point, our forgiveness of the offender is a spiritual reality. No matter how we might happen to be feeling about that person at any particular time, the fact that we have forgiven him or her means we will treat them as forgiven.
Do you usually handle your anger in a godly way?
4. Ask God to help you deal with your angry feelings
Realistically, it often takes time to really feel forgiveness, especially when the wound I’ve suffered is a deep one. But God is gracious. What I and many other believers have discovered is that when we make the heart commitment to forgive, God can bring our feelings into line with the reality of that forgiveness.
Proverbs 16:32 He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.
Of course, I am totally incapable of ruling my spirit on my own, and I’ll never succeed without God’s help. But when I take the turmoil of my emotions to God in prayer, He promises to replace that turmoil with His peace:
Philippians 4:6-7 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; 7 and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
There will be times when just the thought of the individual who hurt me brings back all the feelings of anger and bitterness seemingly at full force. But every time that happens, I take those feelings back to the Lord, and ask Him to replace them with the peace of God.
5. Refuse to keep thinking about the offence
If you’re anything like me, when someone has deeply and unfairly hurt or offended you, your mind keeps going back to that offence over and over again. You think about what they did, and how wrong it was for them to do it. Perhaps you even fantasize about them getting their just deserts for daring to treat you that way. And every time you think about it, your resentment of that person grows.
Many times people who find their thoughts continually running in that angry rut feel that there’s nothing they can do to stop it. After all, they think, you can’t prevent such thoughts from invading your mind. But that’s not true! The Bible says we can do exactly that.
2 Corinthians 10:5 casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ
“Bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” That’s what God calls on us to do when our thoughts seem to be out of control.
But how? Trying to just not think about something is a losing battle. Here is God’s answer to that question:
Philippians 4:8 Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy-meditate on these things.
When I was a child in Sunday School, I learned a song that said,
Count your blessings, name them one by one
Count your blessings, see what God hath done!
There’s a lot of wisdom in that little song. We can’t just stop thinking about what has been done to us. Nature abhors a vacuum. But what we can do is push out the negative thoughts by pouring in joyous thoughts of what God has done for us. Here’s what I mean:
Don’t think about bananas!
What’s in your mind right now? Probably the image of a beautiful yellow banana. And the more you tell yourself to stop thinking about bananas, the more firmly that image will lodge itself in your mind.
Have you ever been in a car accident? I vividly remember the helpless feeling I had when I stopped at a red light and saw in my rear view mirror that the truck coming up behind me would never be able to stop in time. And yes, that drunk driver plowed right into the back of my car.
What are you thinking of now? Probably not bananas! Not unless you deliberately tried to hold onto that image once I drew your attention to car accidents.
So, here’s the secret to keeping your thoughts under control. Every time you find that your mind has slipped back into that same old rut of anger and bitterness, deliberately turn your thoughts to some of the many blessings God has brought into your life. You may need to write out a list so you’ll have it handy. And use the Scriptures. The Bible itself provides ample raw material for counting your blessings!
Colossians 1:12-14 giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. 13 He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, 14 in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.
We can control our anger!
Letting go of our anger when we have been hurt is not easy. But if we put these biblical principles into practice, we’ll be well on our way to controlling our anger rather than allowing it to control us.
More on anger: 5 Things The Bible Teaches About Handling Anger
© 2014 Ronald E. Franklin