One adventure I embarked upon while homeschooling my children was teaching them to drive. In the programs we have used, even before the student driver is allowed to insert the key into the ignition, they are required to have a working knowledge of the instrument panel. An important gauge I especially point out is the engine temperature indicator. The story of a family member “melting” his engine because he ignored this gauge is recounted to emphasize to my children how vitally important it is to pay attention to these signals.
God, in creating us in these “vehicles” driving us towards eternity, has also installed proverbial gauges and indicators which apprise us of underlying issues that may need attention and warn us of trouble ahead if it is unheeded. These are our feelings; boiled down to the basics there are really only about four—glad, sad, mad and fright/fear. Those fundamental emotions, or combinations thereof, are based on our own thoughts or beliefs, by which we interpret an event (Proverbs 23:7a). They are not evil in and of themselves, as we can read in Scripture that even Jesus experienced them, but they can result in behavior of our choosing.
A challenging emotion which can rapidly grab our attention is that of our own anger. Suddenly our personal emotional temperature gauge begins to run hot, anger begins welling up inside and we find ourselves at a fork in the road. Sometimes we miss the highway altogether, run over a couple of mailboxes and end up careening into a ditch. Pulling ourselves from the wreckage and examining the damage, we are left wondering how it all happened so fast and how we could have so quickly lost control. And how do we avoid doing this kind of damage again?
As with any responsible automobile owner, when the dashboard lights up, indicating a rise in our engine temperature, there are some necessary actions to protect ourselves from long term damage.
Pay attention to the gauge when it first begins to get warm. Mentally affirming or even calmly stating we are angry alerts us to the fact that choices need to made in handling ourselves in a godly way. This also gives us an opportunity to pray for wisdom so as not to sin in dealing with our anger (James 1:5). Ignoring it or telling ourselves that all anger is bad only compounds the problem.
Reduce speed. Before plunging ahead in words or deeds we might regret, take a minute to consciously slow down body and mind. (Proverbs 14:29 KJV). Bringing our words to a whisper, sitting down, and/or clasping our two hands together can help us to take control of ourselves. It is hard to rise up into a gigantic, fire-breathing dragon when our actions are quiet and small.
Pull over. It is awfully difficult for an engine to cool down if it is still zipping down the interstate. Take a step back—maybe two. Not every event or person needs our immediate response. Time gives us an opportunity to analyze the best way of handling the situation and control our thoughts (2 Corinthians 10:5). Very rare are actual situations of physical danger where, if our actions were not moved by anger, detrimental and irreversible harm would occur.
Add coolant. This is, of course, a preventative measure in our vehicles, but if there is a problem somewhere else in the car and coolant is lost, adding it to the engine is critical for the driver to arrive at her destination. Reminding ourselves of how God wants us to think and respond in regards to anger is crucial in helping to bring our emotional temperature down (Philippians 4:8). God’s words are powerful and Christians are especially blessed knowing that through the fruit of the Spirit we can grow in self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).
Included here are a few verses with directives to take charge of our heated emotions. Just as coolant is best added before the engine overheats, these are best practiced and meditated upon when we are not angry so they are a part of our thinking when the heat begins to rise. Using visualization of an angry situation where we practice walking through responses that would honor God, using the verses and directives, is also a way in which we create a new habit of thinking in those truly stressful situations. That soft answer in Proverbs 15:1 isn’t limited only to what I say to others, but also what I say to myself in diffusing my own anger. Click here for a printable of these verses and directives.
[Editor’s Note: The verse applications (directives) are stated in the present tense to help us visualize the response we are aiming for; it is not necessarily meant as a statement of what is, but of our aim. For more information, see the article Brain Change.]
Ephesians 4:26 (ESV)
“Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger”
I face my anger, respond righteously, and put the rest of it in God’s hands ending my day in with a calm mind.
“And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.”
Regardless of the temptation to lash out toward those to whom my anger is directed, I will treat them in the manner I would prefer to be treated if they were angry with me.
Psalms 4:4 (KJV)
“Be angry, and do not sin; meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still.”
I resolve to think carefully regarding my anger before I react.
1 Corinthians 9:25 (ESV)
“Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we and imperishable.”
I exercise my ability to take honorable action when angry, grow in self-control, and joyfully look forward to my Heavenly home.
2 Timothy 1:7 (ESV)
“for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”
I lean on God to give me the strength to rise above overreacting, to express the love of Christ and to act virtuously.
Do not stay running in idle. Continually ruminating over a situation that brings anger develops a sustained disposition resulting in a settled habit of mind. Our anger should not be a continual fire. This kind of behavior in Ephesians 4:31 and Colossians 3:8 we are to put far from us. God even indicates anger’s duration to protect us from that danger (Ephesians 4:26).
Take it to the mechanic if it is a continual problem. We have to find out what is triggering that temperature gauge to go up. Scripture tells us that anger is not sin (Psalm 4:4). But God’s word and much prayer can get us to the heart of the issue to determine the reason for the anger. It could be good or bad. Is pride, arrogance, resentment, anxiety, helplessness, selfishness, habit, manipulation, loneliness, pain, hatred of sin, or something else the true source of this intense emotion? The cause for anger does matter (Matthew 5:22a). If we do not investigate to find the motive, a thought or belief that we might be holding in error will continue to cause problems. And we run the risk of bigger problems down the road. We also need to apologize and make amends for any hurt our anger has caused. This is not an option, it is an obligation to God and those we have wronged (James 5:16). God is forgiving if we come to Him with the right heart (Psalm 86:15).
Get back out on the road again. Jesus didn’t let His anger at the hardness of hearts He witnessed stop Him from healing the man with the withered hand (Mark 3:5). We cannot let Satan discourage us from being and doing all we can for the Lord, even when we have been angered (Ephesians 2:10). We still have a opportunity to choose good.
If anyone is experiencing a sudden onset of severe rage or even a gradual building of it, please see a physician as soon as possible. There are physical/hormonal/mental issues that can contribute to overwhelming anger and need proper treatment to be brought back into balance.
By Cheri Deaver
Cheri is wife to Weylan Deaver who preaches at the Sherman Drive Church of Christ in Denton, Texas. She is mother to Orrin, Lacey, Lexie and Ethan, as well as a new mother-in-law to Aubrie Deaver. She is blessed beyond measure for which God has so richly provided.