A few summers ago, I woke up one morning greatly burdened. I opened my Bible and read it as I normally did each day. Though God’s Word often brings me peace, that day my mind was spinning. For some reason, there was a real sense of uneasiness in my heart. I was frustrated and angry, and I wanted to simply drop everything I was doing in ministry and move on to something else.
The initial discouragement grew over time and spiraled into despair, and the despair eventually turned into disdain. I started losing sleep and fell sick easily. I no longer knew what to expect at church or from life in general. This instability and insecurity eventually numbed me to the point where I just couldn’t feel emotions anymore. I was absolutely burned out. Finally, I realized that I needed to start seeing a counselor.
I was sitting in the counselor’s office one session when God suddenly convicted me of my pride. He opened my eyes to see that I was not off the hook simply because I didn’t have money or lust issues. I realized that there was something way bigger that I had to deal with—my pride.
Because of my pride, I trusted in my own abilities to accomplish works in ministry. When things didn’t go my way, however, I responded in anger because I felt like I was robbed of my rightful due. I was tired of the constant waves of threatening questions and the promises of leadership responsibility which seemed to have been forgotten. Over time, my pride led me to become a bitter Christian, husband, father, and pastor. Eventually, that resulted in a season of depression.
It took a year and a half of counseling before I slowly began to taste again the freedom we have in Christ. Pride, I believe, is a deadly sin we often neglect. Through the hard lesson of my depression, God showed me how to counter the pride that so often leads to anger and bitterness. I still haven’t mastered it perfectly, but here are some things that have helped whenever I felt tempted to succumb to pride.
Be Humble and Repent
As a pastor, there have been times when I couldn’t admit to others or myself that I was actually really angry. Instead, when I felt like my right to call the shots or take on leadership tasks was challenged, I would say things like, “I’m irritated by this. I’m frustrated by this. I’m discouraged by this.”
At the root of it all, I was saying, “I didn’t get it my way.” This is the pride that leads to anger. It is not righteous anger. It is sinful, selfish anger. And there is only one way to put to an end to sinful anger: humility.
It felt like God had smacked me with a big spiritual stick and said, “Jonathan, this life is not about you. Humble yourself and repent and turn away from that sin.” I’m not the center of the world. My life is about God’s glory (1 Corinthians 10:31). Instead of covering up my sins, I needed to repent. I needed to admit that I have wronged God, and ask for His forgiveness.
C. S. Lewis put it this way in Mere Christianity, “Fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement: he is a rebel who must lay down his arms. . . . This process of surrender…is what Christians call repentance. Now repentance is no fun at all. It is something much harder than merely eating humble pie. . . . It means killing part of yourself, undergoing a kind of death.”
Repentance isn’t easy, but it is necessary if we are to find true freedom from our pride and anger. To do so, we must first expose our pseudo-righteous anger. This requires repenting not only of the anger itself, but also of our false justification of it in the name of “righteous” anger.
1 Peter 5:6 says, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time”. My advancement in ministry and in this world is really not up to me. My pride demands instant gratification. “This is what I deserve,” it says.
If we allow ourselves to become disappointed when things don’t go our way, Satan invites us to curse God and die (Job 2:9). But when we look to God and trust in Him, He will exalt us in due time.
Trust and Rest in the Sovereignty of God
It is hard to fight sinful pride and anger. I realize too, that the older I get, the more I am prone to justify my own anger problems. As John Piper said so well in an article posted on his website, “One of the most difficult battles of the Christian life is not to be angry when you’re not supposed to be angry.”
In the past, I did not want to rely on God. I often turned away from Him and tried to handle the situation myself. But there’s no rest in that. Refusing to surrender our anger to Him, refusing to trust God, is a form of pride called self-reliance. By not trusting God, I welcomed the devil to wreak havoc in my heart and relationships.
This is a battle we cannot win on our own. As much as we try, we simply cannot overcome our own sin. But our struggles can point us to the Creator who sustains all things. God’s grace causes us to grow in humility as God strips away our pride.
We know that Christ is sovereign over the whole world and everything that happens in it (Psalm 135:6). He is never helpless, never frustrated, never at a loss. And there are no limits to God’s rule. This is part of what it means to be God. This reality should give us hope, for it declares to us that God is bigger than our temporary problems. There is no reason to be upset over not getting our way, because we know, ultimately, that God is still in control of this world and every aspect of our lives.
Bring Your Struggles to God in Prayer
A very practical method to combat anxiety and anger is to pray. At any time, under any circumstance, we can have a little talk with Jesus. Let Him know how we’re feeling. He is not surprised by our request. He already knows what we’re going through. In acknowledging this, I place my trust in the sovereignty of God. This helps ease and rest my mind.
I would not have been able to say this at the beginning of my struggle with depression. I simply wanted to get rid of my anger. I wanted to feel happy and have a temporary peace of mind, and I was desperate to do anything that would save me from dealing with the hardship of suffering.
But God had other plans. He used my anger to show me that my heart was too close to the world and too far from God. He showed me that I was thinking all about myself. Ultimately, God helped me to see that I could look to Christ and trust in Him alone, and not my own ability to overcome my sin.
Just several weeks ago, my four-year-old nephew had a stroke and the left side of his body went absolutely numb. This was a life and death situation. There was a lot of uncertainty. Nobody told me how hard it was going to be. I wasn’t even sure that I had enough compassion to continue holding up his mother. It would have been easy to slip into my old habit of self-reliance. Instead I was reminded by my past experiences that we can overcome worry by not giving into it but coming to the Lord in prayer.
How do you respond to anger? Do you rail against the person you’re angry at? Do you ignore or withdraw from the issue? Or do you allow God to search your heart and show you areas of weaknesses in your own life? Do you remind yourself to be humble and place your trust in God’s sovereignty?
Take heart, brothers and sisters. Be encouraged, my friend. God is able to walk with us in the struggles we face. In the midst of the storm, place your faith in the One who is Creator of all things and who sustains us by His irresistible grace.