I’m not much of a gardener, but we had a vegetable garden this year. We went all out: bought a tiller and turned the soil, added various things for nutrients, even started a compost bin. We made rows, bought the plants, stuck them in the ground and waited for our delicious, home-grown vegetables to appear. Soon the weeds started popping up… and up… and up. More and more weeds every day. We pulled a few here and there, but we weren’t exactly diligent. You can probably guess what happened. In no time at all, we had plenty of weeds and they threatened to overtake the whole garden.
Have you ever noticed that anger is like that? Once there’s a bit of anger or bitterness or complaining, suddenly there’s a lot more. Soon it seems anger is in charge and you’re yelling at people you love, things are getting slammed down and slammed shut and you start to scare even yourself (can you tell I’ve been there?). So what is the solution? Well, much like the secret to losing weight is simple yet difficult (eat less, move more), the secret to getting rid of anger is simple yet difficult… and both require a whole lot of self control.
First, realize that anger is a problem and determine to change your ways. Start with a concordance and look up anger, especially in Proverbs. You’ll find that anger is the quality of a fool (Proverbs 12:16, 14:29). Someone with a temper stirs up strife and even more anger (Proverbs 15:18, 30:33). He/she sets a trap to fall into again and again (Proverbs 19:19). A hot-tempered person isn’t one to associate with (Proverbs 22:24). On the other hand, a wise person is slow to anger and as such is better than even the most mighty (Proverbs 14:29, 16:32, 29:8). The one who is in control of his/her temper can turn away wrath and calm disputes. This person is prudent and has great understanding and discretion (Proverbs 12:16, 14:29, 19:11).
Part of the problem with the weeds in our garden was that sometimes they really didn’t seem like a big deal, so we didn’t think much of them. Sometimes we need to be reminded that problems really are problems. So here’s a trick for you. Pick some verses to be your “sword and shield” verses. The sword verse pricks your heart anew about your problem– anger, in this case. The shield verse helps you envision how you and God want you to be. For me, I know I don’t want to poison those around me, but that’s what anger does. A good sword verse for me is Proverbs 22:24, 25. I do want to be wise, though, so Proverbs 14:29 is a good shield verse for me. We’ll talk about what to do with the verses in just a moment.
Second, change your mind and its patterns while exercising self control with your temper. This is the hardest part and it’s continual. Anger (when not fueled by hormones and other such things beyond the scope of this article) is a bad habit of the mind, a faulty pattern of thought and behavior. There’s a trigger and the trigger starts a reaction– yelling, slamming, etc. Romans 12:2 says, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” This world tells us anger is our right and sometimes even our duty. In part, that’s true: many of the Old Testament references you’ll find in your concordance search are about God being angry. In Matthew 21:12, Jesus drove out the money changers. He was certainly angry then, but He was angry over God’s ways being disregarded and He acted justly. I don’t know about you, but when I think of what triggers my anger, it is most often silly– my pride being pricked or my expectations being dashed or something else of the like; it is not usually righteous anger and I do not usually act justly. We must not allow ourselves to be conformed to the world and its ideas of right and wrong, including where anger is concerned.
To renew your mind, there is nothing better to fill it with than God’s word. Remember the sword and shield verses? Write them on a 3”x5” card, one on each side. When anger rears its head– whether you succumb to the temptation or not– read the card aloud to yourself. Retrain your brain to think as God thinks. Change the established thought pattern with words straight from scripture. It will take time, but eventually you can retrain yourself to react with wisdom rather than folly, with discretion rather than blind rage. Read your cards aloud at other times as well. Add other scriptures that help and read them whenever you have a chance. Some other scriptures to include would be Ecclesiastes 7:9, Ephesians 4:31, James 1:19-20.
While you are renewing your mind, you must also exercise self control. It’s funny that we say “exercise self control” because that’s exactly what it is like. If you are out of shape and want to get into shape, you must exercise. At first it will be hard, but if you keep at it, soon the 10 excruciating push ups you started with will be easy. Self control is hard, but if you continue to exercise those “muscles,” it will become easier and easier. But just as if you stop working out, you will stop making progress toward getting into shape, so it is with self control. You must continue to work at self control. Each good decision helps bolster the next good decision as well as the one after that.
While we were battling weeds in our garden, we were still able to gather much produce. It wasn’t easy and sometimes it wasn’t fun and we often found a cucumber or a tomato or some other lovely piece of produce that had spoiled because it was lost amongst the weeds. The fruit of your Christian walk is like that when anger is part of your life. There is still a lot of yield from the garden of your life as you struggle against this sin… but it is harder to get the fruit. It makes the task much less enjoyable and some of your fruit will be spoiled. Take heart that there is still a yield, but keep working diligently. With our garden, the weeds eventually got so far ahead of us that we gave up and gave in. It wasn’t worth the effort and the weeds took over entirely. Don’t let that happen to your Christian life! The garden gives tomatoes and cucumbers and peppers… all things I can get from the grocery store. But your Christian life yields eternity with God and that cannot be purchased even if all the world were yours to give (Matthew 16:26). So keep striving and keep struggling and keep pulling the weeds from your mind and your life. Christ will perfect the work He has begun in you, even if it takes until eternity (Philippians 1:6).