Here are three ways you can control your anger before it gets you into trouble.
The Apostle Paul endured about as much suffering as anyone in the first century church. Of course, no man ever suffered to the extent that Christ did, but Paul was beaten, flogged, whipped, chained, imprisoned, froze, in great heat, in hunger, in thirst, and yet Paul could still say, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (Phil 4:11b). How did Paul learn contentment while living in such suffering and deprivation? He had lots of practice, and his satisfaction wasn’t in things or circumstances, but in Jesus Christ. That was his anchor. If all he had was Christ, then he discovered that all he needed was Christ. That creates contentment, but you cannot learn contentment until you experience some discontent. Even a precious pearl cannot form without irritations. If we look at the cause of our anger, it’s usually an expression of some form of dissatisfaction about people or circumstances. It is not being content with what we have or what we are experiencing. Anger is never good unless it is righteous indignation. Jesus gives us several occasions where His anger was for the right reason, however, humans are not very good at discerning the difference. And that gets us into trouble. So the next time you’re angry, think about how Jesus was betrayed, unfairly tried and convicted, and was guiltless like no man has ever been, yet He was silent when led to the slaughter. Disciples of Christ must always be “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12:2). That should defuse your anger. At least it should.
Change your Expectations
If things are not going the way we expect them, we can grow very irritated. And this gives us a hair trigger, but we can put the safety it and move the finger from the trigger if we change our expectations a bit. What was it we were expecting that went wrong? Was some dream shattered by circumstances? Did some relationship end where you were betrayed? Have you not gotten what you deserve as far as your education is concerned? I know a man who has lived his life as one bad break after another. He was applying for citizenship in Canada when he had a very bad accident and permanently injured his back. Suddenly he was unemployed, had no health insurance because he had not yet become a Canadian citizen, and as a result, he was left with a huge debt (from his master’s degree), no job, and on disability, which for him was just about nothing since he hadn’t worked that many jobs in his life. His desire to move to Canada was crushed, and he and his young bride, with no health insurance, then fell deeper and deeper in debt. Thirty-eight years later, this man and his wife are still in crippling debt, and recently his wife also became disabled by a freak accident. Their expectations were never met. The man did admit he has suffered from the “what if’s” in life. He felt as though he had never fulfilled his lifelong mission or dream. Now, after all that, I can still say that this man’s faith is a strong as the day on which he was saved. I find it remarkable that he has suffered so much pain and lives at the poverty level, even with a master’s degree. If we change what we expect and trust God in what happens, it may help us to control our anger.
Trust God’s Sovereignty
People can be cruel, and I include myself in that group, but after I was converted, I couldn’t be cruel any more, but not because of self-improvement. It took the Spirit of God to quicken these dead men’s bones (Eph 2:1-5). I was like Lazarus…four days dead and having no hope, but the sovereignty of God kicked in. I was born from above (John 3:3-8) because it was God’s will (Eph 1), so this part of God’s sovereignty I love…now when it starts to get uncomfortable, I’m not so sure about God’s sovereignty anymore. I get more focused on the here and now rather than the “then and later” (Rev 21:1-5), so I had to stop looking at things as they are now, and look at them the way God sees them. God saw Gideon as a mighty warrior, even though it was not yet, so in God’s sovereignty, it was as good as done. Gideon didn’t see a “mighty warrior” but a hiding coward, the least of his clan. Again, that’s where God’s sovereignty kicked in. If Joseph had not been thrown into a pit to die, his brothers wouldn’t have sold him to slave traders. If Joseph hadn’t been sold to slave traders, he wouldn’t have been sold to Potiphar’s household. If He hadn’t been sold to Potiphar’s household, he wouldn’t have been unfairly accused and thrown into prison. If Joseph hadn’t been unfairly accused and thrown into prison, he wouldn’t have interpreted the two prisoner’s dreams. If Joseph hadn’t interpreted the two men’s dreams, he wouldn’t have had a chance to interpret Pharaoh’s dream, and if he hadn’t interpreted Pharaoh’s dream, he wouldn’t have been put in second command of all Egypt and if not for that, the great seven-year famine that came would have caused millions to die including Jacob and the nation of Israel, so when Joseph finally saw his brothers, he said, “you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Gen 50:20). Joseph didn’t deny that what they did was evil; he only shows that God can even use evil for good. Just look at the cross. Everything that happens must first pass through the nail-holed hands of Jesus.
Another way to dissipate anger is to look at people the way Jesus did. The young rich ruler who thought he was a good person instead was found to be coveting his wealth and rejected Christ, but though the man went away sad, “Jesus loved him” (Mark 10:21). How precious is that?! If Jesus can ask for God to forgive those who were nailing Him to a cross because they didn’t really know what they were doing, how can we not be content in all things? We can change our expectations and trust the sovereignty of God. He always works out things for our best, even when things look the worst (Rom 8:28).