What causes us to become angry?
People or situations are not the cause of our anger. Rather, anger is caused by completely legitimate desires that take over our heartstrings. They are desires that begin to control us. When desires gain this much power over us they are no longer legitimate. These desires become monsters of authority, ruling over our hearts. Only God has a legitimate claim and a rightful authority to rule our hearts.
“Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members?” James 4:1 (NKJV)
It is not wrong to have desires. God is a God of purpose and desire. We mirror God in that our design mirrors God. While He was knitting us together, He infused us with feelings and desires. They get us up in the morning; motivate us to persevere so we can achieve goals. They sculpt every relationship we have. Desires precede, determine, and characterize everything we do.
So again I ask, what causes anger within us? The answer is closer than you think. James encourages us to examine our desires, as it is the only way to understand our anger. He says we will never understand our anger by blaming others or our circumstances. Take that concept and let it sink in!
Have you ever wondered why some people irritate you more than others? Maybe they are constant talkers or they are slow to finish a project. Road rage is common these days, especially if the driver tailgates or cuts us off while we try to change lanes. Maybe you’ve felt your blood pressure rise at the check-out counter because a senior citizen decides to slowly write out a check instead of flashing a credit card. Why do some people irritate us while others don’t seem to mind their actions? James advises us to look within. The only way to understand our anger is to examine our own heart.
“A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good, and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” Luke 6:45 (NKJV)
Our feelings of anger reveal important things about our heart. We don’t respond to people or situations in the same way because we don’t bring the same heart to them. James makes a strong connection between our desires and our conflict… between what we want and what makes us angry. This desire-conflict connection is key to understanding our anger.
Desire lies at the base of every angry feeling, word, and action. Notice that James does not place the adjective evil before the word desire in James 4:1. However, he does say there is a war going on between our desires. If a war is being fought between nations, it is fought for geographical or political control. Control is the purpose of war. It is also so with our desires… which fight for control of our hearts. That which controls our hearts will influence our lives and behavior.
Who then will control that tense situation at work, grocery line, highway, or dinner table? Will it be your desire or God’s glory? Will God rule your relationship with your mother or your desire for vengeance for years of mistreatment? Who will rule your heart when your desire is to get through the grocery line quickly but the cashier is moving as slow as molasses?
If my heart is ruled by a certain desire, there are only two ways I can respond to you. If you help me get what I want, I’ll be happy. If you stand in my way, I’ll be angry or frustrated. My problem is not you. Rather, a legitimate desire has taken control of my heart and is now in control. It has become a sinful desire because it has grown into a position of authority over my heart.
For example, it is not wrong to desire a quiet evening at home relaxing. It is a legitimate desire. However, it is wrong to be ruled by my desire to relax in such a way that I become angry and irritated with anyone who gets in the way of my desire. My agenda and God’s plan may be two different things. If my heart is ruled by the desire for a certain thing, it will affect my relationship with others and with God. God will not give us peace until we relinquish all control to Him, including the desires of our hearts.
“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” James 1:19-20 (NIV)
“A person’s wisdom yields patience; It is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.” Proverbs 19:11 (NIV)
“A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict, but the one who is patient calms a quarrel.” Proverbs 15:18 (NIV)
*Much of the content of this devotion was found in Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands by Paul David Tripp.