Right after my conversion, lots of things changed internally for me. My old blatant outward sins revolted me. I hated them. I wanted to be far far away from them. When I began studying my Bible, I learned that there were a lot of laws and directives in there. I really didn't understand what they all meant and how they applied to my life, especially the one's in Leviticus, but the obvious ones I mastered easily (or so I thought)...and the really confusing ones I just ignored.
I grew up in single parent household where there was a lot of yelling and at times physical abuse. My mother was always stressed and always seemed angry. She did not have the support to help her figure out different parenting methods so I don't fault her for not knowing. When I became a mother at 18 and 19 I was fearful that I would pass on the same parenting methods to my own children. I eventually landed a job at an awesome crisis center for children and the training I received educated me to the vast parenting techniques I could employ to help with discipline issues and to this day I can say that I have rarely spanked my children.
Regardless of my arsenal of great parenting techniques, I still had anger issues. I don't yell at my kids but I seemed to always be irritated and impatient for no apparent reason. My anger would manifest itself by easily snapping at my family members if the house didn't stay clean, the chores were not done at the speed at which I required or if I perceived that my family did not appreciate all that I do for them on a daily basis. I didn't' want to be easily angered, irritated or impatient. The anger was just there. Inside my heart. On simmer.
Through my study of scripture I would come across passage after passage that addressed anger.
- Cease from anger, and forsake wrath; Do not fret—it only causes harm (Psalms 37:8).
- A quick-tempered man acts foolishly, and a man of wicked intentions is hated (Proverbs 14:17).
- He who is slow to wrath has great understanding, but he who is impulsive exalts folly (Proverbs 14:29).
- A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger (Proverbs 15:1).
- He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city (Proverbs 16:32).
- The discretion of a man makes him slow to anger, and his glory is to overlook a transgression (Proverbs 19:11).
- Make no friendship with an angry man, and with a furious man do not go,
Lest you learn his ways and set a snare for your soul (Proverbs 22:24-25).
- But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!' shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!' shall be in danger of hell fire (Matthew 5:22).
- "Be angry, and do not sin": do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil (Ephesians 4:26-27).
- Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you (Ephesians 4:31-32).
- So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God (James 1:19-20).
- But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth (Colossians 3:8).
- A fool vents all his feelings, but a wise man holds them back (Proverbs 29:11).
- But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife. And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient (2Timothy 2:23-24).
- Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing (1Peter 3:8-9).
- For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you (Matthew 6:14).
- Do not hasten in your spirit to be angry, for anger rests in the bosom of fools (Ecclesiastes 7:9).
- ‘You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD (Leviticus 19:17-18)
The more I studied, the more I realized that when it came to anger....I was a total fail. With a capital F.
So I began trying really really.....REALLY hard to not be angry.
I wrote down Galatians 5:22-23 (the verses that list the fruit of the spirit) and would meditate on it. Joy, peace and patience were the opposite of anger, so I focused all my energy into being joyful, peaceful and patient.
There were days that I could exhibit joy and patience with my kids. There were days that I appeared joyful with friends or family. But......I knew better. Deep in my heart...at the end of the day.....the anger was there....in my alone time. In my quiet time.
All my effort and trying seemed to be in vain. Why wasn't my heart changing?
All I felt was defeat.
A few years ago, while living in the middle of the West Texas desert, I started looking for Bible studies and sermons to keep me and my family going. I discovered what is typically called reformed theology through sermons by John Piper, Marc Driscoll, R.C Sproul, David Platt, and Matt Chandler. Reformed theology is not a new religion or denomination. It is not a group, a sect or a club. Reformed theology is simply a way or perspective of studying the Bible and God. As a matter of fact...reformed theology is probably one of the oldest theologies to date...and the most biblical because it uses ALL scripture to explain scripture...not just the verses that make "sense" or are easily understood. Just to clarify, the word "theology" is defined as "the study of the nature of God". The word "reformed" comes from the reformation period when Christians wanted to break away from the corrupt Catholic church. (check out my page here for more info)
This theology, or way to study the Bible and God, was eye opening. This theology was telling me that all my hard work and effort to change my heart was in vain. First of all....my effort was not working, no matter how hard I tried. Second of all....it left me feeling defeated, depressed, desperate and I felt like a failure when I could not overcome my anger for good. Is this how God wanted me to feel?
The Bible told me that all my hard work and effort was just that...."work". The law was telling me that my anger was not of God. I didn't want anything to do with things that were not of God so I worked really hard at not being angry. What I was doing was actually "works righteousness". I was trying to be righteous by working really hard to not be angry.
The funny thing about "works righteousness" is that when I succeeded...I grew prideful. I would see others that struggled with anger and would self righteously look down on them for not "mastering" their sin. When I failed, I spiraled down into pits of defeat and depression for not trying hard enough.
I read this today in Galatians and it was another awesome reminder for me to stop relying on my work and effort and to rely on the ONE and ONLY thing that helps me deal with my anger or any other issue I have.
Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by[a] the flesh? 4 Did you suffer[b] so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? 5 Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— 6 just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?
For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.”[d] 12 But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit[e] through faith.
19 Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. 20 Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one.
21 Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. 22 But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.
23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave[g] nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.
Basically, this 3rd chapter in Galatians reminds me that I did not become a Christian because of my wonderful perfect adherence to the Law. Remember, I was a dead rebellious sinner who had no concept of the Law. God's Spirit gave me life and I became a Christian. I then discovered the Law and then I felt the need to adhere to the Law. The Law then became a curse for me because I could not master it.
Verse 13 tells me some wonderful liberating news. It tells me that Christ redeemed me from that curse and the cycle of pride and defeat. WHAT........ GREAT........ NEWS!!
Now....THAT gives me great joy automatically.....without even trying to have joy. This simple revelation puts great joy in my soul..... instantly!!!
What I love about the reformed way of studying God or reading my Bible through a reformed perspective is that it always brings me back to the beginning of my Christian life. It brings me back to Christ....the Author and Perfecter of my faith.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 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 12:1-3)
When I get to a point where I cannot overcome an issue I struggle with, in this case it was anger, but it could easily be pride, resentment, jealousy, discontentment, the reformed way of reading my Bible leads me right back to Christ and what He has already done for me....not "try harder" or "do better".
So going back to my original question on whether or not God wanted me to feel defeat and desperation? I would venture to say YES. Yes....because in my sin I think I have "moved passed" the basic message of the the wonderful good news of Christ...and in my defeat and desperation I crawl back to Christ.....broken once again. Once I re-encounter my Savior He automatically lifts me up and reminds me....lovingly.....that I have been redeemed.... and that now I needed to live in that. Not try harder or do better. Just live in Christ's salvation and redemption and that would be enough.
Does this mean I no longer struggle with anger stealing my joy or ruining my day? Nope. However, it does remind me that I NEED to stay in God's word so that I get daily reminders of His grace and salvation for me. I don't have to feel defeat and depression because I cant seem to master my anger, irritation or frustration.
......reading God's Word gets rid of my anger, irritation and frustration..and reminds me of MY Savior, King and Healer..and that makes me happy....joyful and at peace...not a superficial laugh out loud happy...but a deep strong slow moving river happy...even if it's just for today. This proves to me that I am one "those" followers that needs to stay super close to Jesus.....like a groupie...or a stalker.....because the further away I get....well.....its not good for my sanity and peace of mind.