Revive Our Hearts Podcast

When Good Things Become Too Important

Leslie Basham: Anger can be seen in loud outbursts, but it also shows up in quiet resentments. Here’s Paul David Tripp.

Paul David Tripp: So if you’re sitting here thinking, I don’t have an anger problem, because I don’t ever explode in one of those dramatic ways, you’ve missed the point.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Monday, April 29.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: What makes you mad? Did you know that the things that make you angry tell a lot about your heart? We’re about to hear a message from counselor and author Paul David Tripp that gets to the heart of this issue of anger—something I think we all struggle with.

Before we start, I want to mention that Dr. Tripp and Elyse Fitzpatrick will be joining me, along with worship leader Shannon Wexelberg, at Revive ’13. That’s a conference we’re holding this September in the Chicago area. It’s a conference for women who are involved in helping other women. That may be a pastor’s wife or a women’s ministry leader or a counselor or a small group leader.

If you interact with women one-on-one or in a church setting, this is a great opportunity for you to get a lot of insight into how you can be more effective in ministering to other women. I want to remind you that the early registration discount ends this Wednesday. For all the details, and to sign up for Revive ’13, visit us at ReviveOurHearts.com. [NOTE—early registration deadline has been extended to June 1.]

Leslie: Thanks, Nancy. The message we’re about to hear over the next few days is from a longer video series by Dr. Tripp called "Good and Angry." In the portion we’ll hear, Dr. Tripp will be referring to James chapter 4. He began by explaining how anger can take a lot of different forms.

Dr. Tripp: I was a very angry man. The problem was that I didn’t know I was angry. My wife knew I was angry, my kids knew I was angry, but I didn’t see myself as an angry person. In fact, I was a counselor and I was particularly good at counseling angry husbands. I understood these guys, but I didn’t know why.

Luella, my wife, would very patiently and perseveringly come and try to talk to me about gaps in my love for her and her struggle with my anger. I always sort of wrapped my robes of righteousness around me, and told her what a great husband she had.

I’m a domestic sort of guy—I don’t mind doing things around the house—I love to cook, and I would just sort of rehearse what a wonderful guy she was married to. I told her that her problem was discontent, and I would pray for her, that God would help her.

I was coming back from a weekend, much like what we’re doing this afternoon, and I was riding with my brother Ted on the Northeast Extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. He said, “You know, Paul, we probably ought to try to make what we’ve learned practical to our own lives. Why don’t you start?”

We were going sixty-five miles per hour—I couldn’t jump out of the car. He just began to ask me questions, and as he was asking me questions, it was like God was ripping down curtains, and I was seeing myself as I’d never seen myself before, and I didn’t like what I saw.

I couldn’t wait to talk to Luella that evening when I got home. When I came in the house, she could tell that I was serious, and I told her that we needed to talk. I said, “I know that for years you’ve been trying to talk to me about my anger, and I’ve just been unwilling to listen. I think for the first time, tonight, I can honestly say I’m ready to listen. I want to hear.”

She told me that she loved me, and then she talked for two hours. In those two hours, God began a process of change in my heart. It didn’t happen overnight. Change is most often a process and not an event, although we would like it to be an event.

I’ll never forget the afternoon I was coming down into our living room, and Luella was sitting with her back to me. I looked at her and I couldn’t remember the last time I had felt that bold, explosive, ugly anger that had been so much a part of my life.

I’m not saying I’m incapable of moments of irritation, but the dominance of that theme was gone. I came up behind her and put my hands on her shoulders. She looked up at me, and I said, “I’m not angry at you anymore in the way I was.”

She looked up at me and said, “Yes, I know,” and we kind of laughed/cried/prayed—whatever. It was this moment of celebration.

I think, if we’re honest, we are living in a shockingly angry culture. I literally think anger is everywhere. It’s the low-burn anger of cynicism and irritation that’s around us all the time. It’s why it doesn’t take much—someone pulls in front of you when you’re in the car or somebody bumps you out of line at the grocery store—and you are raging  . . . your emotional temperature changing that fast [he snaps his fingers].

It can be violent, explosive yelling and screaming . . . it can be an act of fury, but on behalf of somebody else, to rescue them or preserve or defend them. It can be a dark act of self-injury, or that depressive repeating over and over again of all the dark things that others have done to you.

It can be words that never, ever should have been spoken, never in the way that they’re spoken. It could be shutting the door on the rest or humanity, saying, “I’ve been taken once—I won’t be taken again—and I live by myself.” It just has a variety of forms, and that’s why it’s important for us to ask the question, “What does it really look like, to be good and angry?”

Anger can be a very, very confusing thing, and so we want to examine it from Scripture. I want to take you to what I think is the treatise in Scripture, the passage that most powerfully, and with most detail, unpacks anger. What I like about the Bible is, it’s the world’s best diagnostic. You’ll only get cure, proper appropriate cure, if you get proper diagnosis. Proper cure is always attached to proper diagnosis.

This is a very personal and penetrating diagnostic in this area of anger. “What causes fights and quarrels among you?” What a great question! Why do we live with such conflict in our lives? You should not get used to it. People were meant to live in harmony with one another.

Here’s why we’re so able to live in that kind of conflict—because it usually happens in little, mundane moments. Most of our struggle with anger is not big, explosive, life-altering anger. There are those moments, but for most of us, it’s little-moment anger.

Now, you shouldn’t say that means it’s not important. The reason that little-moment anger is important is because that’s where you live. You and I don’t live in big, grand moments. We don’t do very many significant things with our lives.

We only make three or four big decisions. Most of us won’t be written up in history books; several decades after you die, the people you leave behind will struggle to remember the events of your life. Sorry—it’s true. You live in the mundane, and what characterizes your mundane, characterizes your life.

The character of a life isn’t set in two or three big moments—the character of a life is set in ten thousand little moments. So, let me turn this around . . . the reason anger is such a significant topic is because it actually lives in all those little moments.

So, if you’re sitting here thinking, I don’t have an anger problem because I don’t ever explode in one of those dramatic ways, you’ve missed the point. The point is that we all live with a shocking amount of this stuff in our lives, and it lives in all those little moments of our everyday world. You can’t be around another person long without having that relationship harmed by anger in some little moment. That’s why this topic is so significant.

Let me read again, “What causes fights and quarrels among you?” Notice, Paul answers with another question: “Don’t they come from those people you live with?” Is that what it says? You wish the Bible said that, right? Because when you get angry, isn’t that where you go? “He makes me so angry. She makes me so angry.”

So we say, “It’s my husband/wife/boss/friend/neighbor . . . it’s the traffic/all those people on the street/everyone who owns a car . . . it’s every human government . . . and if we’ve got nothing else, we kick the dog. That seems to make a lot of sense. Here’s that why that is plausible—because you do live in a broken world, and people around you mess up.

It’s very easy to think that my problem with anger exists outside of me, and not inside of me. Let me give you a bit of a principle here—listen to what I’m about to say. No one is more influential in your life than you are, because no one talks to you more than you do.

What you tell yourself about your anger is terribly important, because you are forming—in yourself—a particular way of thinking about your anger. You’re telling yourself things that are very influential and very formative, as you talk to you all the time. Most of us are smart enough not to move our lips, or to change positions when we answer (then people begin to worry about us.)

You are constantly talking to yourself, and what you have to say is significant and influential. Now notice what James says:

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? [Wow!] You want something but you don’t get it. You kill and covet but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. (vv. 1–3 NIV paraphrased)

And we’ll stop there. Here’s what we tend to do: When we’re angry, we all tend to look to look the wrong way, to understand and to explain our anger. (“It’s the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker—whatever.”) Think of a biblical view of human relationships—a flawed person, in a relationship with a flawed person—in a fallen world (are you encouraged yet?), but with a faithful God. That’s a biblical view of relationships. We tend to look this way, outside ourselves.

James says, “No, no, no, no—if you ever want to understand your anger, you have to look this way (at self), because your anger is connected—not just to events outside of you—your anger is connected to something going on inside of you. You will never gain ground with your anger unless you get this.

Anger is not just about what’s going on outside of you. The color, the nature, the character, the expression of your anger is always controlled by something going on inside of you. Let me say this this way. It may be initiated by what’s outside of you, but it’s colored and controlled and shaped by what’s inside of you—very significant distinction.

Let me give you a couple of illustrations: You’re in traffic. You’re rushing through the streets of the city, and you decide you’re going to cut across to another street, and you find yourself on one of those streets where there’s a couple trucks unloading. And you can’t believe it. You just can’t believe you’ve chosen this street!

You’re pounding on your dash, and you’re saying, “This traffic makes me so angry.” Then you look out of your car, and there’s a lady right next to you in her car, and she’s got a big smile on her face. She’s got her make-up kit open, and she’s thinking, God must love me, ‘cause He’s given me a little extra time to get myself to the level of beauty that I want to be at before I hit my workplace.

She’s not having your experience at all. If anger had the power to make us summarily angry, you would think that that woman would be just as angry as you are. Behind you is this guy who’s fifty-four years old, and he has something physically wrong with him, and he doesn’t want to face the encroaching old age that he’s dealing with . . . but his wife has harangued him long enough to force him to go to the doctor.

He’s thinking what he’s going to say to his wife: Honey, I love you. You know how much I love you. I made that appointment just because I love you. And a terrible thing happened. I got in this horrible traffic jam, and I wasn’t able to go to that appointment. (sigh) I was so sad. I’ll make another appointment for the same time of day, and I’ll drive the same way.

Now, what’s different about those people is that there are different things going on inside of those people. They’re all in the same situation. Traffic’s not fun, generally. It is an obstacle to what we would like to accomplish, but they’re having remarkably different reactions because there’s something remarkably different inside of them.

Let me give you a physical illustration. I think this one is very easy to understand. This takes you all the way back to grammar school. Watch carefully. Okay—why did water come out of the bottle? The spontaneous answer is, “Because you shook it.”

Let me ask the question again with different emphasis: Why did water come out of the bottle? “Because water was in the bottle.” If this bottle was filled with milk, you could shake it for eternity, and water would never come out of it. You see, when you’re shaken by life (this is what James is going after), what comes out of you is what was already inside of you.

Unless you get hold of that, you will never ever gain ground in this area of anger. I find that very humbling, because I want to think that my anger doesn’t have anything to do with me. My anger only has to do with this creepy, broken world and all the weird people I have to deal with every day. It’s all them, it has nothing to do with me.

James says, “No, no, no, no . . . your anger is connected to something that is going on inside of you,” and when you get that, you’ll begin to gain ground in your anger. I love what it says in Luke 6. Jesus says, “It’s out of the heart that the mouth speaks.”

Before I say anything about that passage, let me define the biblical language for you. The Bible basically divides the human being into two pieces: the inner man and the outer man. The outer man is your physical body . . . it’s your physical self . . . it’s your earth suit. It’s the house for your heart that you’re given while you live on earth. When we go to eternity, we’re going to get another “suit” (some of us are very excited by that).

Then the Bible talks about the inner man. The inner man is your spiritual self. It’s the true you—the emotional, motivational, cognitive, thoughtful you. The Bible uses a lot of terms for that inner man: mind, emotions, spirit, soul, will . . . and all of those terms are collected in one big basket-term used all over Scripture. That term is “heart.”

“Heart” is the summary term for the inner person. The inner person is the true you, it’s the actual you, it’s the real you. You know you, you’re used to this. When I say I’m getting to know somebody, I don’t mean that I’m getting to know their nose better or their elbow. It means I know what makes them happy; I know what makes them sad; I know what they believe. I know that inner person.

Here’s what Jesus is saying; He’s saying it’s out of the heart—that inner you—that the mouth speaks. Have you ever said to somebody, “Ooh! I didn’t mean to say that!” Maybe it would be more honest to say, “I’m sorry I said what I meant.” If it wasn’t inside of you, it wouldn’t come out of you. That’s what Jesus is trying to say, and He’s trying to break down our propensity to always look this way (outside ourselves) for the cause of what we do and say.

Leslie: That’s Paul David Tripp. He’s been challenging us to discover what our anger says about what’s in our hearts. We’ll hear more practical insights on anger from Dr. Tripp in the next couple of days. He’ll join Nancy Leigh DeMoss and author Elyse Fitzpatrick this September at Revive ’13, a conference for women helping women.

Nancy, why was Dr. Tripp a good fit for this conference?

Nancy: I’m so thankful that Dr. Tripp is going to be with us, along with Elyse Fitzpatrick and worship leader Shannon Wexelberg, for our upcoming Revive ’13 conference. We’ve never had Dr. Tripp with us before for a Revive Our Hearts event. But over the years I’ve benefited from his writing, and more recently I’ve been following Dr. Tripp on Twitter, and I’ve found him to be an excellent source of daily wisdom. He has those three daily “tweets” that are profound, short insights that help me get my day started right—that help me calibrate my heart and my mind to biblical ways of thinking.

So I thought, if I got that much out of his one-hundred-forty-character “tweets,” that there would be even greater things to feed all of our hearts by having him at the Revive ’13 conference. As we’ve been sharing with you, this is a conference for women who are involved in helping other women.

If you are involved in some way in women’s ministry, I’m sure that you have women coming to you all the time asking for input, for counsel, for help and advice about dealing with all kinds of life issues. If you’re like me, you’re always looking for ways to serve those women more effectively.

Dr. Tripp has spent many years as a biblical counselor, as has our other speaker, Elyse Fitzpatrick. I think they’ll both be such a great resource to help us get to the heart of the issues of the women we’re seeking to serve. I hope you’ll join us at Revive ’13 if you’re involved in any way in helping other women.

This conference is coming to the Chicago area—Schaumburg, Illinois, September 20 and 21, and you get in on the discounted early registration fee through this Wednesday. Get all the details at ReviveOurHearts.com, and plan to join us for Revive ’13. [NOTE - early registration has been extended to June 1.]

Leslie: Thanks, Nancy. Tomorrow, Paul David Tripp continues to take us into the heart of anger.

Dr. Tripp: We are sinfully angry again and again, not because people have broken God’s law, but because they’ve broken our law, and we don’t like it.

Leslie: Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

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

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the podcast season.