These feelings seem innocent enough. A person blurts out painful words or a distracted driver cuts you off in traffic. Those things happen, but when even simple infractions are left to fester in our minds, feelings can mature into full-blown anger.
Is getting angry so wrong?
We all experience anger at times, (as I sheepishly raise my hand). God created us, emotions and all, which is why He gives us sound instruction on the dangers of letting anger hang around for too long. Paul teaches the church at Ephesus to “Be angry and do not sin,” echoing the words of Psalm 4:4. But then he goes on to warn, “do not let the sun go down on your anger,” (Ephesians 4:26 ESV). And what a wise warning that is for all of us. Because according to Ecclesiastes 7:9, anger “lodges in the heart.” And once it’s lodged there, bitterness and resentment can surface.
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"Learning to recognize the signs"
The best thing we can do to keep anger from making its home in our hearts is to follow Paul’s advice. But what happens if we do go to bed angry? How will we know when we’re not just angry, but bitter or resentful? Thankfully, we can find help in God’s Word to keep our emotions from heading down the dangerous path of bitterness.
Let’s explore these 3 signs your anger has “matured” into bitterness or resentment. Learning to recognize the signs is the first step in healing our hearts and rediscovering the freedom to move forward with Christ.
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1. When I see my anger spilling onto others
“See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled,” (Hebrews 12:15).
Day after day the routine stayed the same. An aggravation at work caused me to come home in a huff, and I couldn’t wait to walk in the door and unload my frustrations. My husband had to receive all the complaining my runaway mouth offered, even though he had nothing to do with the problem. He wanted so much to be a good encourager and reassure me that everything was going to be alright. But anger has a way of affecting everyone in our path, especially our loved ones.
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"By choosing to cultivate it, we risk watching it spread to the people around us."
When I’m angry with someone else, that person is not the source of the problem. Hebrews 12:15 describes bitterness as a root that can spring up and cause trouble. If bitterness is the root, then we can think of anger as the seed. We have the choice between planting that seed or tossing it aside and choosing another seed instead - a better one.
A bitter root can “cause trouble, and by it many become defiled.” By choosing to cultivate it, we risk watching it spread to the people around us.
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"...let’s be intentional about which seed we will choose to plant in our hearts."
When I come home complaining day after day, before long, I will see the fruit of that habit evident in my home and family. The entire atmosphere can change as I pass my negative attitude along to everyone in the house.
Wouldn’t we rather cultivate a peace-filled atmosphere in our homes than a bitter one? Every day we will face issues that have the potential to trigger frustration. When these issues arise, let’s be intentional about which seed we will choose to plant in our hearts.
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2. When I use it as an excuse for moving forward
Our daily lives are filled with situations that have the potential to trigger anger. Sometimes it’s those little distractions, piling one on top of the other until we can’t hold it in any longer. Other times, it’s not circumstances that set us off, but words.
Even the most well-meaning person can say the wrong thing. I know. I’ve been on the receiving and giving end of painful comments. I pray my words will comfort and uplift rather than hurt, but I also know I am capable of causing damage without even knowing it.
When words hurt me, whether intentional or not, my first instinct is to stay as far away from them as possible. And while I’m at it, why not avoid people altogether? "There’s no risk of pain when I keep to myself," I reason. But after a while, isolation leads to resentment. And resentment can keep me from moving forward with the amazing plan God has for me.
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"When we dwell on what someone else says, we risk over-analyzing..."
So how do we keep other people’s comments in their proper place? By remembering God’s promises first. “For all the promises of God find their Yes in Him. That is why it is through Him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory,” (2 Corinthians 1:20).
When we dwell on what someone else says, we risk over-analyzing, processing, and finally planting those words as truth. Instead, we can commit to make God our dwelling place. (Psalm 23:6) By doing this we will put His thoughts toward us above all else. Romans 12:2 encourages us to “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind…”
Rather than letting hurtful words draw us away from others, we can let God’s mercy to flow from us to everyone around us. “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water,’” (John 7:38).
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3. If I’m focusing on God’s judgment instead of forgiveness
Forgiveness is by far the most uncomfortable topic for me to talk about. I squirm in my seat at the thought of bringing it to the conversation, yet it’s also an integral part of our belief in our precious Savior. We have hope through Christ because He forgives.
So how is it possible for me to forgive someone who’s done the unthinkable? Someone whose actions have caused pain for others? I’d much rather think about all the ways that person could receive my idea of just punishment for their infraction. Because in the heat of my anger, I think their suffering would bring relief to my hurting heart. However, someone else’s punishment will never give the peace I long for.
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"... replace thoughts of revenge with a willingness to forgive."
Colossians 3:13 says, “Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.”
It goes on to share a valuable truth in how we accomplish this. We need to “let the peace that comes from Christ rule in our hearts,” (Col. 3:15). Only with peace will we be able to replace thoughts of revenge with a willingness to forgive.
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"In the midst of great suffering...He demonstrated forgiveness."
When we have trouble finding the power to forgive, let’s look to Jesus for our example. In the midst of great suffering, which He didn’t even deserve, He demonstrated forgiveness.
“Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing,” (Luke 23:34 NLT).
Focusing on forgiveness instead of judgment will draw us into deeper relationship with Jesus, the source of our hope and faith.
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"God’s mercy is unending, and His love never fails."
When hurt, aggravation, or irritation comes, will we welcome the seed of anger? Will we allow it to take root and risk becoming bitter and resentful? Maybe we’re already in that place, but we don’t need to worry. God’s mercy is unending, and His love never fails. By His grace, we have a choice today. We can choose to trade anger, bitterness, and resentment for love, peace, and forgiveness.
“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God,” (James 19-20).
Kristine Brown is a communicator at heart, sharing insight with her readers in a relatable way. Her life experiences serve as a backdrop for her lessons that highlight God’s powerful Word and redemptive grace. She is the author of the book, Over It. Conquering Comparison to Live Out God’s Plan, and founder of the non-profit organization, More Than Yourself, Inc. Read Kristine’s weekly devotions at kristinebrown.net or connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.
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Originally published Thursday, 01 November 2018.