Wednesday, October 21, 2009

To emulate a king

If a small thing has the power to make you angry, does that not indicate something about your size? -Sydney J. Harris

I’ll admit it: I have an anger problem.  No, seriously.  Ask my husband.  It doesn’t take much to get my hackles raised, my claws out, and my teeth barred.  Some days, all it takes is me getting out of bed.  I have recognized this propensity in me for years; but, the closer I come to Christ, the more I find myself trying to overcome my weakness.  Anger hardly becomes a child of God.  Mercy, patience, gentleness, tender-hearted mercy; these are the fruits of a life lived with Christ.

I could use the Christianese phrase, “God’s not finished with me yet.”  Its cliché because it’s true; He’s not finished with me.  But that type of remark smacks of my generation’s amazing ability to duck responsibility.  [Did you catch that it’s my generation’s ability, not something of which I claim ownership?  Yeah, it’s rooted pretty deep.]  At some point, I have to stand up and say, “This is mine.  This anger is mine; and while I can’t handle it on my own, I need to start making choices that reflect my heritage ~ my heavenly kinship with the King of kings."  I need to start behaving as one who is a citizen of heaven.

But, HOW?

By first recognizing that I have a choice.  Not in the sense that I can control how I feel, but in that I can choose what I do with those feelings.  Secondly, I have to surrender everything.   Everything.  Things that are said to me, things that hurt me, things that happen within and outside of my control, things that rouse my anger.  Everything.

To illustrate this point, God preserved the story of King Hezekiah [2 Kings 19:9-37] for us to emulate.  (A very quick run down:) Hezekiah was king of Judah and was being threatened with invasion and destruction by Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, who had already conquered many other nations.  Sennacherib sent a messenger to Hezekiah insulting God, the Lord's sovereignty, and the beliefs of the Israelite nation [vv. 9-13].

The key to this passage is Hezekiah’s response; it is exactly what we are to do.  He didn’t kill the messenger, rouse the troops, and head out to battle.  Instead, Hezekiah physically took the paper on which Sennacherib’s threats were written and spread it out on the altar of the Lord [vv. 15-19].  Hezekiah praised God, who he knew was sovereign; and then he asked God to hear and see the insults of Sennacherib.  Hezekiah took everything that surely angered him (can you see him, shaking with rage at the audacity of the words written by his enemy?) and laid it out before the Lord.  Hezekiah turned his wrath into worship.  He surrendered, choosing to not act out in anger; instead Hezekiah chose to trust God with his emotions and the outcome.  [Which God did in vv. 35-37, without any further involvement from Hezekiah.]

So from Hezekiah, we can glean practical application ~ every time our anger is roused, whether righteously or not, we need to take it to the Lord.  Literally lay it before Him and ask Him to deal with it; deal with our emotions, deal with the situation, deal with us.  In this surrender, we find release.  Like Hezekiah, we can turn our wrath into worship.

All it takes is surrender.

He who angers you conquers you. - Elizabeth Kenny

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Hath not himself

“The angry man hath not himself.” - Joseph Hall


Of the alleged, deadly seven, it is the most justifiable, is it not?  To seek out retribution for what has been lost.  To make the guilty pay.

How delightful to lick our chops at the thought of giving someone what’s coming to them; even in the smallest circumstance, a slight affront in conversation.  We roll possible scenarios over in our minds, letting sharp words and barbed truths hurl themselves at our aggressor, from out our mouths.  Putting the villain in their place once and for all.

Hardly Christ-like, though, is it?  Don’t misunderstand; Christ did get angry.  So angry that He over-turned tables, threw benches (Matthew 21:11-13, Mark 11:14-16, John 2:14-16).  He roundly rebuked those in need of it, His own disciples were not immune to His scolding (Matthew 16:22-24, Mark 8:32-34).  However, Christ never exhibited purposeful plotting of revenge.  He certainly warned people about the consequences of continuing in their present sin; He most assuredly told them where their path would lead them.  But He did not plan retribution; He sought reconciliation.  He wept for their eventual outcome.  His heart broke for their deceived states; and He carried the weight of their choices to the cross and to His grave.  Yet in His resurrection, even the most seasoned sinner has hope.

If Christ did not seek retribution, how then can we, as fallen, pitiful sinners?

Are we to ignore anger?  Pretend it doesn’t exist, that it is a part of this life to which Christ-followers are immune?  Is there truth in that?  Of course not.  In fact, Scripture tells us to “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger” (Ephesians 4:26 NIV, emphasis mine).   Be angry.  That’s a command, second person imperative (e.g. the “you” preceding this sentence is implied).

So, according to this verse, I am to be angry for only a day, just so long as I’m not angry when I go to bed?  That’s the God honoring way to deal with anger?  Hardly.

The words “angry” and “anger” are two different words in the original Greek rendering.  The first “angry” is orgizesthe, meaning “to provoke, to make angry.”  This word is used in the passive voice, indicating that the action which causes anger is occurring outside of your person; it is happening to you, not caused by you.  The second “anger” is parorgismō, meaning “irritation or wrath.”  This is an internal entity, a noun in your possession, something you create or control.

Therefore, this Scripture is allowing me to feel anger, to become angry at something that happens outside of my control.  However, I am sinning if I allow myself to harbor anger, keeping it in my heart.  As Christ said, “what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.  These are what defile a person” (Matthew 15:18-20, ESV).

An example of this would be if someone were to wrongly insult my character.  Knowing that my character is being slandered, I am told by Scripture that I am to become angry at this affront.  However, mentally blasting the person responsible for this wound is a sin; to replay scenario after scenario over in my mind, point out all their faults, their “plank-eye” characteristics, is not Christ-like.

It’s holding anger in my heart that’s erroneous.  Making up the guest bed and letting it move in, that’s where the danger lies.  Because all too quickly anger rots, metamorphosing into bitterness.  Bitterness becomes the poison that taints everything else.  It is a poison which slowly kills joy.  And where bitterness is rooted in the heart, the enemy has permission to move in.  When we allow anger to fester, to feed bitterness, we hand the enemy property rights to a piece of our heart.  And where he is allowed to camp, he will defile.

So what do we do with the anger that we are told by Scripture to experience (Ephesians 4:26)?  Hand it over to the Lord; surrender it immediately, lest you surrender part of your heart to the enemy’s desires.

Greek transliterations and definitions taken from and

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Triple-braided cord

Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed.  If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble.  Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone?  A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.

~ Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

I have been increasingly interested in fostering genuine, honest, and transparent relationships with the people around me.  It is in this type of relationship, one is free to be his/herself.  To be loved regardless of your mistakes or slip-ups, to be loved through them.  To come out on the other side even stronger because your friends have pointed you toward the Lord, and you have grown because of it.  Knowing that what they said (in love) needed to be heard.  Knowing that when your friends have held you accountable to behavior modeled in Scripture, it is because they love you.

But they can’t hold you to that standard unless you let them in, into the dark places you don’t want to admit exist within your heart.  Unless you are willing to share with them your shortcomings and aspirations.

And when you are able to do just that, a community begins to form.  One borne of time spent together, transparent friendship, and shared experiences.  This community is not easily established; but once it is, it is not easily shaken.

So, I encourage you to ask these questions of yourself:

  • Do you have this type of community?  At least one relationship like that?

  • If you do, are you being open with the other parties involved?  Are they able to be vulnerable with you?  What would it take for you to foster this in your current relationships?

  • If you don’t, what’s preventing you from seeking out this type of community/relationship?

If you have some relationships that you would like to grow into this way, start asking and answering questions to further this process.  Ask for their stories, and share yours.  Ask about their fears and aspirations.  Ask about things in their lives that continually challenge them; share what most often trips you up.  One of my favorites is “what has the Lord shown you recently?”

This relationship will not flourish overnight.   But when it flowers, it is more than worth it.