Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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Escaping the Spiral of Anger

Leslie Basham: Paul David Tripp has seen the destructive effects of anger when he’s counseled couples.

Dr. Paul David Tripp: If I have a husband who says, “I live in an angry marriage, but it’s my wife . . .” And I have a wife who says, “I live in an angry marriage, but it’s my husband . . .” there’ll be no changing that marriage because you have a disastrously angry marriage, and you have two utterly innocent people living in the middle of it.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Wednesday, May 1.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Think about the last time you got angry. It might have looked like a big blow up, or maybe it was just a quiet simmer. Regardless, that incident probably shows you something important about your heart.

Over the last couple of days, Paul David Tripp has been showing us the connection between the desires in our hearts and our anger. It’s a really important concept, and today he’s going to show us why anger is less about outward circumstances—even though we usually think that’s what triggers our anger—but that it’s more about what’s going on under the surface.

Let’s listen to this final part of Dr. Tripp’s message.

Dr. Tripp: Here’s what sin does to us: Sin causes us to shrink our lives to the size of our lives. Second Corinthians 5:15 says this: “Jesus came that those who live [can you finish this anybody?] will no longer live for themselves.”

What sin does to me is it causes me to want to live in the claustrophobic confines of my own little self-defined world. I was never meant to live that way. I was never meant to have a life that is driven by what I want and where I want it and when I want it and how I want it and why I want it and all of those things.

I was meant to live in the transcended big-sky country of God’s existence and God’s grace and God’s will and God’s plan.

Whenever creation ascends and takes rulership where only God can be, what happens is then I never move out empty handed. I go out with a silent agenda. “I do love you, and I have a wonderful plan for your life, and I try to co-opt you into service of my kingdom, and when you do the things I like, I love you, and when you don’t, I’m spontaneous angry at you.” That’s what James is talking about.

You say, “Well, Paul, I’m not sure how my heart gets captured.” Let me explain it to you. It all starts this way: It all starts with desire.

Look at my hands here. This is how you properly hold desire. Desire is basically an “I want.” Nothing wrong with that. This is Jesus in Gethsemane saying, “Father, if it’s possible, let this cup pass from Me, but—[what?]—not My will but Yours be done.”

Now, watch my hands. Here’s a second stage. Desire very quickly morphs to demand. It’s no longer an “I want.” It’s now an “I must.” This desire has taken turf of my heart. It’s begun to control me a little more. Now if you’re going to take it from me, you’re going to have to wrestle with me a little bit because I’m not so willing to live without it anymore.

Okay? Stay with me. But desire morphs further to need. “I want” has become “I must,” and “I must” has become “I will.” I cannot live without it. I will have this thing.

You’ve got to know this. One of the sloppiest words used in Western culture is the word need. The vast majority of what we’ve convinced ourselves that we need is not actually essential for life. But hear this: When you call something need, you have made yourself unwilling to live without it, and you will expect the people in your life to deliver it.

Desire becomes demand; demand morphs into need. Now, that all happens inside of my heart. Now, watch this: It breaks out into my relationship. Need forms expectation. This is the next step. That’s “You should.”

Desire is, “I want.” Demand is, “I must.” Need is, “I will.” Expectation is, “You should.”

Now, there is a direct relationship between need and expectation because if I’m convinced it’s a need, and you tell me you love me, what does it seem right to expect? It seems right to expect that you will meet the need. And so there’s always a direct relationship between what I’ve said is a need and what I’m expecting for you. So now I’m not moving out empty handed. I’m moving out with an agenda. It’s very subtle.

I have wives say to me all the time, “The only thing . . . all I ever wanted was for my husband to make me happy.” I think right away, Well, then, he’s cooked. Because, think about this: As much as that man should be kind to you and should love you, he must not be the holder of your happiness. He will never deliver that. You have married a failing, flawed person.

Now, when you’re dating or in courtship, you try to convince yourself that you haven’t . . . You’re convinced you’ve met the person who fits well within your kingdom, the person who will help you realize your little kingdom dreams. It doesn’t take very long where you’ll wake up in the morning to this person who has zoo breath and is telling you, “If you want to take out the garbage, take it out yourself,” that you realize you haven’t married the ideal human being.

There’s a direct relationship between what we say is a need and what we expect of others. Now, watch this: Expectation then leads to disappointment. Okay, let me go through this again.

Desire morphs to demand. Demand morphs to need. So what I once held as a desire, I am now convinced I cannot live without.

A crucial thing that happens in my heart. That sense of need now sets my expectations for the people around me. They are no longer being judged by God’s Holy Law. They’re being judged by my silent, unspoken law. Nasty game it is.

Expectation leads to disappointment. “You didn’t . . .” Here’s the final: Disappointment leads to some aspect of punishment. “Because you didn’t ____, I will ____.” Maybe that’s ugly words I just yell at you. I can’t believe it. Maybe that’s an act of violence. Or maybe it’s something as seemingly innocuous as the silent treatment.

Have you ever had anybody give you the silent treatment? You’re in a car with somebody who’s normally talkative, and you say, “My, you’re quiet.”

And the person says, “Is it a sin to be quiet?” That’s a clue.

And you say, “Well, usually you’re talkative.”

“You don’t want to talk to me right now.”

And you say, “Well, I think you’re angry.”

“I’m not angry. I’m just being quiet. It makes me so angry when you accuse me of being angry. I’m just being quiet.”

“I think we should talk.”

“You don’t want to talk to me right now.”

Now, let’s analyze that for a moment. It’s a little mundane thing, but here’s what’s going on. Because you have done something that offends me, because you haven’t delivered to me what I want out of this relationship, I’m not going to stab a knife in your chest, but I’ll rise to the throne of creator. I’ll treat you as if you’re dead for whatever period of time it takes to satisfy my personal vengeance.

That is a very, very ugly thing. In fact, there are times when we curse people with silence when what we actually need to do is talk. But we’re not going to do that because in order to talk means I have to give you myself, and I’m not going to give you myself because of what you’ve done to me.

Now, I know this is hard material to hear, because you do live in a fallen world. I want you to hear me say this: There are people in this room who have suffered at the hands of other people. I understand that. But you have to understand what James says: Your anger is never just about what has happened to you. It’s also powerfully about what’s inside of you.

Now, think about this: You cannot in a thought change your environment into a perfect one, but you can participate in radical changes inside of yourself and ask yourself the question: “What thing is ruling my heart that is perfectly okay to desire but should not rule me?”

Listen, the list could go on and on and on.

  • Maybe it’s a certain position in life.
  • Maybe it’s possessions.
  • Maybe it’s people.
  • Maybe it’s a certain place.
  • Maybe it’s power.
  • The list could go on and on and on and on. This is just a pump primer list.

You say, “Paul, I don’t know what rules my heart.”

  • Where do you tend to be irritated?
  • Where do you get regularly disappointed?
  • Where do you tend to struggle with discouragement?
  • Where do you tend to have flashes of anger?
  • Where are those moments where you say or do things that you know you shouldn’t say or do?

If you begin to locate those places, you’ll find themes in your life of things that were never meant to rule you. And when they take control of your life, they set the agenda that you have for the people that are in your life. You never go out into life then empty handed. You always go out loaded with silent agenda, loaded with silent expectations. You’re essentially saying to people, “I love you, and I have a wonderful plan for your life, and I will judge you by the law of my own little claustrophobic kingdom of one.”

You put two people like that in an apartment and there will be no end to the conflict. You put three people like that in the job and there will be no end to the stress of that environment. You put a husband and wife like that, and those people who once adored one another will get to the point where they can barely say a civil word to one another.

And what we do is we buy into the plausible lie that it’s not our problem, that the problem lives outside of us. Watch this: If I have a husband who says, “I live in an angry marriage, but it’s my wife . . .” And I have a wife who says, “I live in an angry marriage, but it’s my husband . . .” there will be no changing that marriage because you have a disastrously angry marriage, and you have two utterly innocent people living in the middle of it.

If you are not recognizing that anger connects to something inside of you—it may be initiated by what is outside of you, but it is controlled and shaped by what is inside of you—if you fail to acknowledge that, here’s what will happen. I want to give you several things, and they’re sort of in a logical order:

The first is this: You will personalize what is not personal. You’ll personalize what is not personal. You’ll make it all about you. It’s very tempting to do. Like that father who really believes that his son is scraping his fork on the plate to drive his father crazy.

Because you personalize what is not personal, you’ll do the second thing: You’ll turn God-given moments of ministry into moments of anger. God wants you to serve the people in your life, but as you’re taking offense, you don’t serve those people anymore. You’re standing apart from them, and you see them as adversaries.

When you personalize what is not personal, moments of ministry become moments of anger, and here’s the third thing: You’re adversarial in your response.

You personalize what is not personal. You turn a moment of ministry into a moment of anger. You’re adversarial in your response. Now, here’s the last thing: You settle for quick situational solutions that don’t get to the heart of what is really getting on. And so you settle for quick situational solutions that don’t really get to the heart of what is getting on.

  • You break a relationship.
  • You change locations.
  • You yell a condemnation at a person.
  • You make a threat.
  • You instill guilt.
  • You try to manipulate that person into your favor.
  • All of those are situational solutions that don’t really get to the heart of what is going on.

I personalize what is not personal, and so I turn a moment of ministry into a moment of anger. I’m adversarial in my response, and I settle for quick situational solutions that don’t get to the heart.

It’s very sad for me when I sit with one of those married couples, now fifteen years into their marriage, and they sit across the couch from one another. They’re barely able to say a civil word to one another. I know that there was a day in life when they adored one another. I know they loved to hear one another talk. I know they hung on one another’s words. I know they were excited to be with one another. I know when they were separate, they missed one another deeply. And now this legacy of undealt with anger is so ruling the relationship that it’s literally impossible for there to be a kind moment between them.

Oh, they’re not beating up on one another all the time, but they’ve become skilled at what I call "relational détente." It’s cold war. They’ve learned to live in the middle of the war. They’re not friends. They’re not companions. There’s no love. There’s little romance. It’s a dark legacy of anger undealt with, and I know how they’ve gotten there.

The husband has said to himself ten thousand times, “It’s all about her, and if she would change . . . this relationship has been different.” At the same time, the wife has been saying, “It’s all about him, and if he would change . . . this relationship was different.” And so nothing changes. It goes on, and it deepens.

You don’t have to live there. Jesus Christ was willing to suffer and die so that you would not have to live there. He gives us more grace. There’s grace for that angry moment at your work. There’s grace for that angry moment in your apartment. There’s grace for those things that you struggle with inside in anger that nobody knows about. There’s grace, there’s grace, there’s grace, there’s grace, there’s grace.

It’s not enough for us as Christians to believe in life after death. We better believe in life before death. A quality of love and peace, a quality of existence in our relationships and situations that would not be possible apart from the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Listen, Jesus Christ didn’t die just for you future. Jesus Christ died for your here and now. Praise Him!

He suffered so that you would not have to be held by ugly anger that’s a cancer on your heart and is a disease in your relationships.

Leslie: That’s Paul David Tripp. In that message, he’s been asking us to evaluate our hearts. The only way to stop sinning in anger is for the Lord to change us from the inside out. Will you pray for God to do that kind of work in your life? Nancy Leigh DeMoss is here to pray that that will happen.

Nancy: Lord, as we’ve heard this message, I’m just reminded that there’s such a fine line between having desires of our hearts and those desires turning into demands. I confess in my own heart that I’ve allowed many times good things to become too important, and I have begun to demand that You do things my way and give me what I think I want and need. And in the process, I often become angry in my spirit.

Maybe there’s some listeners today who would say the same thing. We’ve been thinking that our anger is because of what’s going on outside of us and because of our circumstances or because of people or things that aren’t falling into line the way that we thought they should or hoped they would.

I just pray that in these moments, Lord, that You’d help us be honest and to acknowledge that our anger, whether it’s expressed outwardly or it just kind of simmers in our hearts and in our thoughts, that it reveals something about our hearts, and it has something to do with us.

And, Lord, would You expose our hearts? Would You cleanse us? Would You set us free from this demanding, angry spirit, and allow us to have grateful, trusting hearts that glorify You in the midst of any life circumstance?

Thank You, Lord, for the reminder that You are our ultimate good, that when we have You, we have all that we truly need for our present life and happiness and for sure for our eternal life and eternal joy. I pray it in Jesus’ name, amen.

Well, I’m so thankful for the insights that we’ve heard from Dr. Paul David Tripp over the past few days about this whole issue of anger and what it says about what’s going on in our hearts. Now, if this series has been helpful to you in some way, I’d love to hear about that.

Would you take time to jot us an email and let us know how the Lord has spoken to you, or perhaps go to our website,, scroll down to the bottom of today’s transcript, and leave us a comment sharing how God has used this series to speak to you.

Now, as I’ve been sharing over the past several days, although I’ve never had the chance to meet Dr. Tripp personally, he’s been a real help to me over the years through his writing and his speaking. That’s why I’m so excited that he’s agreed to join us for Revive ’13. This is a conference for women who are involved in helping other women.

That means that if you have an official capacity of some sort in your church, in the women’s ministry or as a counselor or a small group leader, you’re going to get a lot out of this conference. And if you’re not sure whether you’re involved in women’s ministry or not, just ask, “Am I involved in discipling and giving biblical advice to women?” If so, I hope you’ll join us, too.

My friend Elyse Fitzpatrick who, like Dr. Tripp, is also an author and a biblical counselor, will be joining us at Revive ’13 along with worship leader Shannon Wexelburg.

Revive ’13 is coming to Schaumburg, Illinois—that’s in Chicago suburbs—on September 20 and 21. Today is the final day to get in on the early-bird discounted registration. So don’t put off making your plans. You can get all the details at [Note: Early registration has been extended to June 1.]

Leslie: Thanks, Nancy.

Well, what’s your biggest fear today? Do you realize that fear can make you ineffective in doing what God’s called you to do? Karen Loritts will show you how to say “no” to fear and “yes” to what God’s called you to do. That’s tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.


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About the Speaker

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has touched the lives of millions of women through Revive Our Hearts and the True Woman movement, calling them to heart revival and biblical womanhood. Her love …

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