Pastor Tad has abundant experience as a counselor, including helping many who struggle with anger. As more of us struggle with anger during COVID-19 days, he has wisdom to offer us from the book of James.
It has been about four weeks since the stay-at-home orders from the governor, and if you are anything like me, you are experiencing a myriad of emotions. Perhaps you are sad; maybe you are even bordering on depressed over the changes to your lifestyle. Some of you may be a bit relieved or even happy as you now have a break from what you believed was a rotten normal routine. Many others of you are experiencing fear, grave concern, and anxiety over finances, job loss, and your futures.
But certainly, one emotion that more of us have felt than any other singular feeling in the past few weeks is anger. COVID-19 was not in your plans for the spring of 2020, and this just stinks!
One of the difficulties we often face with anger is a poor understanding of the source of our anger. We’re short-tempered with our children or parents, we lash out at the media, we express anger towards our political leaders. We get frustrated about our living situation, the change to our job status, or because we can’t get haircuts. But often, we don’t know why we’re so angry nor do we usually even think about the source. Worse, we default to excusing our anger as normal or as something we’re helpless to address. If we wrongly believe that the source of our anger is outside of us, then our anger compounds, as we can’t easily control our children, parents, bosses, roommates, or hairdressers—and we certainly can’t control our political leaders!
So, if it is not other people, what is the source of our anger? Well, God is so good to us as, of course, his Word provides the answer. James 4:1-3 tells us, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”
God’s Word helpfully tells us that the source of our anger is not our external relationships, nor is it political leaders, nor is it the way people adhere to stay-at-home directives. The source of our anger lies within us. We desire and covet. And when our perceived “needs” go unmet, it causes anger and anxiety. We throw little tantrums in our internal dialogue and often that spills out onto those around us.
We may not murder as the passage states. But as Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount, do we not commit murder in our hearts by hating our brothers and sisters? We may not use the words “fight and quarrel,” but do we not passive-aggressively tear others down or exhibit a short temper and a lack of grace toward them?
If we drill down even further beneath desiring and coveting, we find pride. Why do we expect all of our wants to be met? Too often we have a poor understanding of our needs. We think we deserve things that are not really needs. We incorrectly assess our needs. We measure our needs to the standards of the American middle class. If I were to summarize that, I would say that we think too highly of ourselves.
For example, we believe that our kids must leave us alone and let us work or rest. (“Can’t you figure out your homework on your own?”) Or, that our government must allow us to continue to have the lifestyle with which we are accustomed. (“Give me my money! Oh, and this is not nearly enough!”) Or, that those people at Fry’s must leave me some dadgum toilet paper! (“Do they really need that much?!”)
We’re an entitled bunch, aren’t we? And we get angry when we don’t get what we think we deserve. Look again at what James tells us. He gives us the antidote to our prideful anger. “You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”
First, James tells us that we do not have because we are not asking. We have these desires and passions and needs and yet we’re not taking them to God. God is the giver of all good things. He created us. He knows what we need. He knows us better than we know ourselves. And yet we often don’t go directly to him.
Sometimes of course, we do go to God. We ask, but we do not always receive. James says that when we do not receive, it’s because we have asked wrongly. How do we ask wrongly? By asking out of our selfish pride, wanting something to satisfy what we believe is best for us. How might we be doing that? The list of ways is endless, but here are three examples to get us thinking.
Perhaps you’re angry that your children are interrupting your day with their questions or their attitudes or simply the noise they make as children. In our selfishness, we can act as though they are not rightly prioritizing our needs. We then respond harshly or unkindly in telling them to be quiet or to get along with their siblings. Instead, what would happen if we asked God for the patience to care for them, asked him the desire to take this opportunity to recite the gospel to them, or praised him for the wonderful reminder that our life is not really about us?
Perhaps you’re angry that your semester was moved online and that you were forced to return home rather than spend more time with your friends. We are tempted to ask with purely selfish motives for God to end this pandemic soon so that we can go back to ASU or school this fall. It’s not necessarily wrong to ask that of God, but we should first ask God to use this pandemic to reveal himself to more and more people so that lives are saved from a much greater and eternal threat.
Perhaps you’re angry that the government is not doing enough to stem the tide of the virus, or perhaps you’re angry that the government is not doing enough to plug the drain that the economy is circling. We ask wrongly for God to make those “idiots” stay home or to let all of us leave home. We use the language of asking God to “provide,” when really we want him to keep our standard of living the same as it has always been. Instead, we could be asking God to give supernatural wisdom to our leaders, to use this opportunity to bring a revival to our land, or to help us see his provision in a new light.
Wouldn’t that be wonderful?! Instead of his people focusing inward on our unmet “needs” (desires, in the language of James), what if we turned outward to ask rightly for God to intervene in ways that bring more glory to himself? May we ask that God would bring salvation to a number of people whose primary need is not a cure for COVID-19 but is a cure for sin!
When we rightly center our conversation with God upon him, his glory, and his great plan to bring his Word of life to every tribe, tongue, and nation, there remains no room for coveting or for our sinful passions. Jesus is truly better than anything we could covet or any passion that we pursue, and when we let our worlds revolve around him instead of our own desires, our anger fades away.