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Fear God or Fear Everything Else

Fear God or Fear Everything Else

Safe but afraid

I am grateful that we are some of the safest people who have ever lived. Some of us live with the kind of comfort, prosperity, and longevity that people across history and geography couldn’t have even been able to dream about. Yet, we are also arguably the most fearful, anxiety-driven people who have ever lived. Could it be that we are the safest and the most scared all at the same time–both safe and afraid simultaneously? Michael Reeves writes: “Protected like never before, we are skittish and panicky like never before.”

Much has been written on this, and we could point to all kinds of culprits for our chronic low-grade terror. Some have argued that we now simply live with too much information. We receive a constant barrage of bad news, delivered to us almost instantly, 24 hours a day. It reminds me of what the Teacher says in Ecclesiastes 1:18: “…he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.” I certainly feel that, and I sometimes wonder if part of my fear is that I simply know too much. You and I were never designed to know all the bad things all the time everywhere. I’m sure this contributes to my fear.

Others have made the case that it’s the comfort, ease, and prosperity for many of us that have increased our fears. The more you have, the more you fear to lose, and the more comfortable you are, the softer you may become. This also feels incredibly plausible and rather personal. I’m sure this contributes to my fear, and again, much has been written on both subjects.

Fear God or fear everything else

A third major contributor that I hadn’t considered, recently captured my attention. Could it be that we now fear everything because we no longer fear God? And could a proper fear of God actually be the prescribed antidote for our nagging fears of everything else?

I first began to consider this while reading a brilliant little book, Rejoice and Tremble: The Surprising Good News of the Fear of the Lord by Michael Reeves. Consider this blog as simply my best effort to get you to read this book.

He writes: “With society having lost God as the proper object of healthy fear, our culture is necessarily becoming ever more neurotic, ever more anxious about the unknown–indeed, ever more anxious about anything and everything. Without a kind and fatherly God’s providential care, we are left utterly uncertain about the shifting sands of both morality and reality. In ousting God from our culture, other concerns–from personal health to the health of the planet–have assumed a divine ultimacy in our minds. Good things have become cruel and pitiless idols. And thus we feel helplessly fragile. No longer anchored, society fills with free-floating anxieties.”

When I read those words, I thought: that doesn’t just sound like us, that sounds like me. Even as Christians, if we’re honest, we often struggle to believe that God is real, and even more so to believe that He is actively engaged in our lives and in our world. We don’t typically trust Him to know and do what is best, and because we no longer fear Him, we fear everything else.

Fear God

At the same time, I think many of us find great reservation with the idea that we should “fear God.” We either dismiss it as an outdated bit of theology or we try to water down the word “fear” until it means almost nothing at all. Yet, the Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments, speak regularly of the joy of fearing God.

Most famously, Proverbs 9:10 declares: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” Essentially, you cannot be wise without it, and wisdom is part of what helps us discern between our fears. In Psalm 86:11, King David actually asks for fear. “Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name.” I’m not sure I’ve ever asked God to help me fear Him.

In Ecclesiastes, our entire duty to God and the summary of the good life is this: “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil” (12:13-14). 

Lest you think this is purely an Old Testament notion, remember what Mary sings when she discovers she’s pregnant with the Savior of the World, the One who frees us from all fear? “And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation” (Luke 1:50).

While there are many other examples, let me include just one more, from Jesus himself. Jesus makes the contrast between our typical fears and a proper fear of God when He says: “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” 

Essentially He says, God is the only thing we should fear. No one and nothing else can really hurt you. Yet somehow we’ve reversed the two. Instead of fearing Him we fear almost everything else.

What does it mean to fear God?

So if we want to overcome our chronic fears, we have to ask: what does it mean to fear God? Some have called it awe, which is close, but according to Reeves we should take it a bit further. We can be in awe of the amazing footwork of Patrick Mahomes but I wouldn’t exactly say that I fear him. Fearing God is more than just awe.

I think of it a bit like this. A few years ago our family hiked Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park, called by Outside Magazine one of the top 20 most dangerous hikes in the world. We did it with our then 10 and 12-year-olds. You have to hike up this crazy ridge, at some points only 3 feet wide, with a 1000 foot drop off on one side and 800 feet on the other. We did this with our children! Take a moment to google “angel’s landing” and get a glimpse of what I’m talking about.

We were terrified. We were also overwhelmed with the spectacular beauty of the place. We were filled with intense joy at having to work together. We knew this was not something to be trifled with, but we also knew that if we respected the boundaries, we would not just be ok. We would be filled with an incredible sense of wonder and sheer delight. 

This is, I think, a little bit of what it means to fear the Lord. With God, however, He is also both loving and holy, merciful and sovereign, tender and all-powerful. He isn’t just a beautiful and dangerous hike. He is a Person who loves us but also expects something of us.

This is why Reeves titled his book Rejoice and Tremble — the fear of God is both. He writes: “This right fear of God, then, is not the minor-key gloomy flip side to proper joy in God. There is no tension between this fear and joy… As our love for God is a trembling and wonder-filled love, so our joy in God is, at its purest, a trembling and wonder-filled–yes, fearful–joy.  For the object of our joy is so overwhelmingly and fearfully wonderful. We are made to rejoice and tremble before God, to love and enjoy him with an intensity that is fitting for him. And what more benefits his infinite magnificent than an enjoyment of him that is more than our frail selves can bear, which overwhelms us and causes us to tremble?”

To fear God is to delight in Him, but in a way that gives Him His proper due as King of the universe. It’s to find our joy in Him, but to also recognize that He cannot be trifled with. It’s an acceptance of His sovereign rule, His definition of the good life, and His commands for living. It’s to believe deep down but with joy and relief that He knows better. 

How does a right fear of God free us from our fears?

When you fear God like this, what else is there to fear? Yes, lots of things. Our world is a scary place! Yet when God grips our hearts even the scary things begin to lose some of their power, for we know that our good Father loves us and takes care of us. We know that when the scary things do happen, they don’t happen outside of His tender provision for us.

If we rejoice and tremble daily before God, fearing Him above all else, all the other fears begin to seem just a little less terrible. Let me quote Reeves one more time: “I want you to rejoice in this strange paradox that the gospel both frees us from fear and gives us fear. It frees us from our crippling fears, giving us instead a most delightful, happy, and wonderful fear.”

Embracing the better fear

So how do we embrace this better fear, learning to fear God instead of fearing everything else? First, always find ways to get to know God better. Who is this One we are to fear? We do this through His Word, through prayer, through others, by spending time at church, and time in His wonder-filled world with our eyes wide open. The more we know God for who He truly is (and not just how we imagine Him to be) the more we feel the commingling feelings of fear and joy.

Second, as we do that, compare Him to your fears and ask yourself: whom shall I fear? For example, I fear something bad happening to my children…but God loves them more than I do and He is sovereign over them. Fear the Lord.

I fear the messes in our world, the divisions, the polarization, the hatred…but God sees all and knows what is best for His people. Even though He never promises us a comfortable life, He does promise us life to the full. Fear the Lord.

I fear illness for me or for someone I love, and ultimately death…but nothing can touch me apart from my Father’s hand, and because of Jesus, even the grave no longer has any power over me. Fear the Lord.

No, none of this will fix it and none of it is easy. Our world is still scary and many of us will continue to carry our anxieties. But as we daily bring them to Him, over time He will help us put them in their proper place. For when we fear God we have nothing else left to fear.

New Creation Now

New Creation Now

Desiring New Creation

We all long for things to be complete, to be whole (James 1:4). We long for our marriages to be whole. We ache for our family relationships to be safe, close, and deep and we want the same for our friendships. We feel the groaning of churches full of broken, still-in-process people, and the difficulty of life within a broken, still-in-process world. We long for wholeness in our communities, cities, and nations. Ultimately, all this longing points to a desire for new creation.

God desires the same thing. In fact, He desires it more deeply, more excruciatingly than we ever could, with a vision for newness that far exceeds anything we could dream up or hope to imagine. His heart’s desire is for the integral restoration–reconciliation–of the whole creation (Colossians 1:20). We, all people and creatures, exist in an interdependent community, which author Wendell Berry likes to call a “membership.” We are members one of another. We belong to one another and to the land.

Genesis 1-2 sets the stage for this membership of God’s creatures. In Genesis 1:24-31, humans and land animals are created on the same day. Humans are unique in bearing God’s image, but not so unique as to warrant our own creation day. We belong to the same land, knit together in mutual dependence on God and all that He had created thus far—sunlight, soil, water, vegetation. God takes up the role of a gardener, calling us into life from the earth like a seed sprouting into a fruiting tree: “Let the earth bring forth living creatures…” (Genesis 1:24). We are earthlings bonded to the earth and to one another—for good or for ill.

Humans are then called to be fruitful and rule, reproducing the goodness God had made (Genesis 1:27-31, 2:15). We were made to work for the flourishing of this community. But, tragically, we were-—we are—broken.

The curse earned by human rebellion against God’s goodness produces estrangement precisely in the interconnections we were created for. The labor of childbearing and the labor of cultivation are intermixed with pain and toil (Genesis 3:16-19). We and creation have never known a day without groaning since that rebellion (Romans 8:22-23). Infertility. miscarriages, droughts, hurricanes, war, and injustice; all of this brings us back to desire. Our groanings point to a deep desire for something more. We know, our very bodies—and we who are Christ’s Body—know, with every ache and disease and division, that we need to be changed, or perish.

Beholding New Creation

Graciously, this is exactly what God desires: to shape us into something new, to restore us to the wholeness we were made for. The prophet Isaiah looks forward, as through a fog, and voices God’s desire, “Behold, I am doing a new thing.” (Isaiah 43:19). In the last book of the Bible, John records the same desire as he hears Jesus proclaim in that vision of the new creation, “Behold, I am making all things new.” (Revelation 21:5).

Then, the angel shows John the vision: a city called the New Jerusalem, with twelve foundations and twelve open gates symbolizing God’s story of redemption revealed through Israel and the apostles. (Revelation 21:9-21).

Jesus, the Lamb, illuminates the city from its center, and all the peoples of the earth bring their glory into it—the beauty of each and every redeemed human culture (Revelation 21:22-26). Other creatures live there, too, worshiping God with His restored people (Revelation 5:13, 7:9-12). This is the new creation reality: every culture and every creature living together in the light of the Lamb. This is the integral wholeness for which we were created. Even in the present darkness, we behold the light of new creation shining back at us.

But can we be new now? Is this vision for us who groan in the midst of “this present evil age” (Galatians 1:4)? In our time, now, can our desires come to fruition, can they bear fruit and birth a new kind of life? Or are our desires to be cursed with toil and pain, barren and dormant until Jesus comes again?

Embodying New Creation

God would not have revealed our eternal tomorrow if He did not mean for it to change our today. To change us. Today.

When we see God, we’re changed (2 Corinthians 3:18, 1 John 3:2-3). Paul’s only use of the phrase “new creation” is when he is talking about the present people of God. Paul declares that the thing that matters most as a result of Christ’s work on the cross is this: new creation-that is, the newly created people of God from all possible strata of society (Galatians 3:28, 6:15). Then, in the context of describing the reconciled community, Paul says that anyone who is in Christ is “a new creation; the old has passed away; behold the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

There is a sense, then, in which the great change of new creation has already come. Not fully—Paul begins 2 Corinthians 5 describing his longing to put off the earthly body and dwell in the heavenly one—but somehow, truly and substantially, the new creation reality is already embodied by God’s people. This is the hope we live in, today, even as we wait for its consummation (Romans 8:24). This is the at-hand Kingdom of which we are ambassadors (Mark 1:15, 2 Corinthians 5:20). This is the truth to which we are called to bear witness (John 15:26-27).

The new creation reality exists in Christ Himself, and in any and all who have been reconciled to Him, to one another, and to the earth (Ephesians 1:10, 2:16).

He taught us to pray for His kingdom to come… later? Somewhere else? No. Here. Now. “On earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10).

If He wants us to pray for it, He wants us to labor for it.

Like a master sculptor bringing stone to life, He is already making us new (Ephesians 2:10). If you follow Jesus, you are His apprentice. Join with Him in the work of new creation. Let us labor for all the earth’s peoples to belong, by the blood of His cross, as we worship the Lamb together in one voice with all the earth’s creatures (Colossians 1:20, Revelation 5:13, 7:10).

Jesus has called us into the world, into all its groanings, so that we, the membership of all God’s creatures, might experience a foretaste of the fulfillment of our deepest desires to become something beautifully new.

 

Who Is Curt Thompson?

Who Is Curt Thompson?

“Who is Dallas Willard?” Those were the words expressed to me by a church member more than twenty years ago after I had announced with great enthusiasm that Dallas Willard had agreed to come to Christ Community for a weekend conference. However, I did understand the question being raised by a thoughtful congregant because Dr. Willard had yet to become a common name in most Christian circles.

I had read a good deal of Dallas Willard’s early writings on spiritual formation. I had also spent time with Dallas and sat under his teaching in a doctoral course. I was struck by his remarkable insight and the great importance of his teaching on spiritual formation and the spiritual disciplines. I knew that Dallas Willard getting on a plane and coming to Kansas City to teach our congregation was a great gift. Those who would eventually meet and learn from Dallas Willard would also recognize what an extraordinary gift he was to our church family.

I have had several thoughtful members of Christ Community ask a similar question regarding Curt Thompson’s visit with us. “Who is Curt Thompson?” Curt Thompson is not yet a household name in Christian circles, but I believe his insightful voice in the area of spiritual formation and interpersonal neurobiology is really important. For the last several years, I have found his writings on spiritual formation, attachment theory and interpersonal neurobiology to be extraordinary for disciples of Jesus who in the power of the Holy Spirit seek greater wholeness and Christlikeness of life.

Liz and I have had the joy of spending time with Curt and have found him to be a devoted apprentice of Jesus. As a practicing psychiatrist, Curt exhibits a deep heart of empathy and authenticity that is warm, welcoming and engaging. In God’s kindness and good providence, Curt is coming to Kansas City in this time of the COVID-19 pandemic when mental health experts are telling us of the greater need to pay attention to the mental health of those we love as well as our own.

God created us as integral relational beings, and our flourishing in community encompasses our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual well-being.

Our church family is truly being given a remarkable opportunity for growth and flourishing as apprentices of Jesus. If you have not yet signed up for our evening with Curt Thompson on Thursday, October 14, go register as seating will be limited. You can also watch the event on our livestream. Don’t miss this opportunity to hear from such an important voice in our time, and please pray for our time together. I hope to see you in person or online October 14!

 

Demystifying the Holy Spirit

Demystifying the Holy Spirit

In a Bible study discussing our sermon series on the Holy Spirit, the facilitator asked the group if anyone had ever experienced the Spirit. After a long silence, a few people confessed that they never had any “crazy” encounters with the Spirit. This was met with murmurs of agreement from the rest of the group. This struck me because many of these people faithfully follow Jesus and are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. As a result, they are experiencing Him daily, whether they can identify it or not.

I don’t blame them for having nothing to say, because so often in Christian culture we assume encountering the Spirit must look a certain way. We intuitively think it must be dramatic and extreme, like tongues of fire, miraculous healings, or the audible voice of God.

Many followers of Jesus, myself included, know that the Holy Spirit lives within us and yet struggle to concretely identify what that looks like and miss out on the formation that occurs when we cooperate with Him. There is a need for Christians to demystify the Holy Spirit.

You may recoil at that statement. Shouldn’t we recognize God as mysterious and admit we will never fully understand him? Yes, of course. And yet, ironically, the impulse to view the Spirit’s work as ethereal and mysterious leads us to put His work in a box, missing out on what He is doing in our lives on a regular basis. We become like Elijah on Mount Horeb, expecting God’s presence to be something sensational, like a great wind, earthquake, or fire, when it is really a gentle voice (1 Kings 19:11-13). This is what I appreciated about our sermon series. It is important to expand our categories for what the Spirit does in our lives, and give concrete examples of them, so we can recognize what He is doing in us.

Whenever I find myself stuck in an implicit view of God, I find it helpful to listen to believers from a different time and place to see what my cultural blinders are concealing from me. The great reformer Martin Luther, though best known for expounding justification by grace alone, had a robust theology of the Spirit with applications that are surprisingly concrete for contemporary Christians.

Two helpful contributions Luther makes are designating the Spirit a special role in sanctification (the process of becoming holy) and illuminating how this primarily happens through Christian community.

First, Luther’s shorthand for explaining the Holy Spirit is “the spirit who makes us holy.” The Spirit takes the objective work of salvation that Christ accomplished for us on the cross in dying for our sins, and makes it a subjectively real experience for us. He does this by killing the flesh over time, that is, our corrupt human nature, and instilling a proper love for God in us. Luther says the flesh wants what benefits itself and avoids what is harmful. It enjoys and uses other people, things, and even God for its own benefit and the Spirit wants God for His own sake, which is the proper response. Luther adds that the Spirit works to reassure us we belong to God because of His grace, not our performance, so that we are not striving toward holiness out of fear. Any desire you have to do what is right, live the way God designed you to live, work for the best of another person without thinking about what you will get in return, is evidence of the Spirit working inside you, since these are not natural responses of human nature.

Second, for Luther this sanctification of the Spirit occurs in a caring community; the local church. So often contemporary Christians instinctually view their sanctification as a primarily personal journey. However, God does not make us holy in isolation but rather uses other Spirit-filled believers to produce Christlikeness in us. As someone who grew up in church, I have often heard Christian leaders quip, “it’s the Spirit’s job to convict, not mine,” while referencing John 16:8. However, Luther sees this verse referring not only to an internal guilt conscience, but also to Christians who, by the power of the Spirit, help other believers recognize where they might be going astray. Of course this must be done in a posture of grace and gentleness, with love and tact.

The internal holiness and the virtues the Spirit produces in us have a multiplying effect on other believers. For Luther, the fruits of the Spirit are not only vertical, but also horizontal by spurring other believers to do the same. Just like fruit contains seeds to produce other fruit-bearing trees, Luther views the Spirit’s work of renewing one believer as a tool used to develop holiness in another. Encountering Spirit-inspired gentleness in another person can lead us to grow similarly.

Luther picks up on how, in the structure of the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, the doctrines of the Church directly follow the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, meaning they are closely related. For Luther, the Church is the place and means of a believer’s sanctification because of the activity of the Spirit. He bemoans the enthusiasts of his day who became fanatical about the Spirit but left the church. They cut themselves off from the “bridge, the path, the way, the ladder” and all the other normal means He uses to affect the inner renewal of a believer. In looking for the spectacular and transcendent, many ignore the routine activities of the Spirit. Over time, these seemingly mundane practices of worship, preaching, prayers, communion, and Christian fellowship become supernatural catalysts for growth in holiness through the Spirit’s working.

If you are a follower of Jesus, you have this Spirit living inside you. Each day, whether you explicitly identify it or not, you are experiencing His work of making you holy. Each time you desire to act out of genuine love for another, this is God’s Spirit working inside you. Every time a still, small voice reminds you of God’s love for you when you might feel like a failure, you are hearing the Spirit’s voice. Whenever another believer encourages you to display Jesus better, you are experiencing the Spirit indwelling them. Every Sunday when you are comforted and challenged by God’s Word preached, it is the Spirit enabling that to occur for you. Even as we leave this sermon series behind, let us look for the concrete ways the Spirit shows up in our lives and cooperate with how He is working.

 

Additional Reading:

Luther, Martin. A Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians : Based on Lectures Delivered at the University of Wittenberg, in the Year 1531. Translated by Philip Watson. Westwood, NJ: F.H. Revell, 1953.

Lectures on Romans. Translated by Wilhelm Pauck. The Library of Christian Classics. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1961.

“On the Councils and the Church.” In The Annotated Luther: Church and Sacrament, edited by Hans J. Hillerbrand, Kirsi I. Stjerna, and Timothy J. Wengert, translated by Paul W. Robinson, Vol. 3. Minneapolis : Fortress Press, 2015.

“The Larger Catechism of Dr. Martin Luther.” In The Annotated Luther: Word and Faith, edited by Hans J. Hillerbrand, Kirsi I. Stjerna, and Timothy J. Wengert, Vol. 2. Minneapolis : Fortress Press, 2015.

Malcolm, Lois. “The Holy Spirit.” In Oxford Encyclopedia of Martin Luther, edited by Derek R. Nelson and Paul R. Hinlicky, Vol. 1. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017.

 

Real Faith

Real Faith

There are many reasons people choose not to follow Jesus. For some, belief in the supernatural is just too much. For others, the questions of eternity, meaning, and purpose are simply not a priority. However, the most devastating reason I hear from people who do not want to follow Jesus has nothing to do with Jesus. It has to do with His church. They are not interested in faith, not for some intellectual reason, but because they actually met a Christian, and found absolutely nothing compelling about their lives. Or worse, found something outright repulsive about their lives.

This reason, I’m afraid, has become more and more common in our culture.

Interestingly, it was not skeptics and doubters who first raised this problem. It was James, the brother of Jesus, and an apostle in the early church. James, who wrote the book that bears his name, has the audacity to ask us the same question we hear from the most hostile critics of Christianity: what good is your faith in Jesus if no one could tell by watching you?

For our own sake, and for the sake of a watching world, we are starting a new sermon series in James called Real Faith. The world needs our real faith now more than ever, and needs to see Christians living with integrity, with spiritual wholeness. So that what we believe, who we love, what we want, and how we act work together in seamless alignment. And how we spend our money, how we use our time, and how we speak point unambiguously to our obedience and apprenticeship to Jesus.

The world needs real faith, and Christians need it too. Of course, we will never do this perfectly. But that is the goal; ever increasing love for and obedience to Christ. Anything less than that, as James reminds us, is not only incomplete or immature faith; it is dead faith.

Let’s pursue real faith together this fall as we study the book of James. We hope you’ll join us!

 

I Wonder Where The Anger Is

I Wonder Where The Anger Is

I wonder where the anger is?

My counselor said these words to me this past year, and yes, pastors see counselors too. The question caught me off guard for a few reasons. Not the least of which was that I don’t consider myself an angry person. I’m the fun guy, the joking guy, the adventurous guy, and, on rare occasions, the obnoxious guy. But I’m not the angry guy. 

As I was driving home from my session I remember having this internal dialogue with myself:

“Sure, I get angry sometimes. And yeah, I don’t like who I am when I get angry, but….” 

Right then it struck me. I don’t process or express anger very well precisely because I don’t think I am an angry person. That may sound noble at face value but in actuality it produces emotional ignorance and ineptitude. By denying that I get angry or that I have anger only serves to make my latent anger more potent when it does come out. The truth of the matter is that I am an angry person precisely because I am a person. 

To put it another way, my problem with anger is not that I have anger. It is tied to the things that cause anger and the things I do with my anger. That is true for all of us. Our problem with anger is not actually with anger itself. Our problem is with what evokes anger and with how we respond to our anger.

The biblical author James penned these familiar Spirit-inspired words:

James 1:19–20
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. 

Notice that James does not say “refrain from anger” or “turn from anger” but to be “slow to anger.” Implying that there is a time for anger. This is affirmed by the teaching of the apostle Paul in Ephesians.

Ephesians 4:26-27
Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. 

Anger is like a small crack in your windshield. It is not ideal when it happens but it still needs to be recognized and responded to right away, otherwise it will get worse. When you notice the crack and react accordingly, you can actually treat it in a way that won’t require replacing the entire windshield. In many ways, the problem isn’t the crack. The problem is in our failure to respond to the crack in an appropriate and orderly manner.

We may think that when we minimize, bury, or ignore our anger we are displaying patience. But it is a counterfeit patience. It is only adding pressure to the impending outburst of anger that will come out eventually. The person who claims that they are patient by ignoring their anger is like the person who claims to be good at auto maintenance by putting a post-it note over the check engine light on their dashboard. We are only deceiving ourselves and delaying the inevitable.

In the wisdom literature of the Old Testament we find this brief but powerful teaching on anger in Ecclesiastes.

Ecclesiastes 7:9b
Anger lodges in the heart of fools. 

That word “lodges” is the English translation of the Hebrew word nuwach, which means to rest in, settle down in, root in, or remain. It also has this picture of making a home in something. 

Think of anger like a tick. Although it is an unpleasant thing it can be dealt with properly when recognized on the surface right away. But it can also have lasting consequences when we ignore it and allow it to bury itself within us. And with that illustration I know that many of you stopped reading. It’s gross, but you will always remember it.

So let me offer four very quick ways that we can all grow in a more godly and sanctifying approach to our anger.

  • Feel it

Don’t shy away from feeling anger. Again, the feeling of anger is not our primary problem. Our main problem is what evokes anger and how we respond to it. But we won’t make any progress in working on our anger issues if we avoid feeling our feelings. Feel your feelings and pay attention to what these feelings do in you.

  • Name it

This may sound rather simple but say out loud that you are angry. Even if it is just to yourself. There is a power that comes to us over our emotions when we not only feel them but also when we name them. By stating clearly that you are angry it serves as a way of giving yourself control and agency over your emotions rather than forfeiting yourself to your emotions. We name emotions to tame emotions.

  • Pray it

One great way to express anger is through prayer. Turn your anger into prayer. The psalms are a great help to us in this work and Psalm 59 is a great example of this. It is a psalm of David crying out to God in response to the angering situation of being hunted down by king Saul. God is big enough to handle our anger in prayer,  and in doing so we can find ways to more effectively process our anger. But sometimes we need to turn to God in prayer to confess our anger. Anger turns sinful when it ceases to want the wrong righted or the wrongdoer restored and simply wants the wrongdoer wronged. 

  • Watch it

Pay attention to the situations, moments, environments, and even times of day that tend to evoke anger in you. Identify the things that routinely bring about anger in you and start to watch for it. So often we try to battle anger in the moment it arises. What we need is to be more preemptive in our work of mitigating unhealthy anger. Give attention to the things you give attention to. One way to do that is to ask yourself, “I wonder where the anger is.”