Prescription for Unhealthy Anger

“Instead, dress yourself with the Lord Jesus Christ, and don’t plan to indulge your selfish desires.”

Romans 13:14 (Common English Bible)

“Be angry without sinning. Don’t let the sun set on your anger.”

Ephesians 4:26 (Common English Bible)

If you are like most people, you were raised with the old maxim, “feed a cold, starve a fever.” Writing for Scientific, Mark Fischetti has traced this maxim to a 1574 dictionary by John Withals, which noted that “fasting is a great remedy of fever. The belief is that eating food may help the body generate warmth during a ‘cold’ and that avoiding food may help it cool down when overheated.”i But recent medical science says that that old wisdom is wrong. It should be “feed a cold, feed a fever.” Naturally, doctors advise meals that are balanced and nutritious for optimal support of the body’s struggle to overcome the illness. Apparently, what still holds true is the value of a simmering bowl of chicken soup.

That old maxim has been disproved by modern medicine but a portion of it—“starve a fever”—is precisely the spiritual prescription the Apostle Paul advises for unhealthy anger: “don’t plan to indulge your selfish desires.” Anger is one of the most common sins when it stirs within us a passion of fury that can result in threats and violence. The world has witnessed this anger in the increased level of violence often done in the name of religion. Fear occupies the thoughts of many simply because they may be found to have a different religion or point-of-view. Broken relationships and estrangement from loved ones due to anger also rips at the fabric of God’s good intention for all of humanity. Paul offers counsel: let the selfishness of anger be destroyed by the withholding of appropriate support—“don’t plan to indulge.”

There is no method more efficient and assured of victory over the sin of anger than destruction by neglect. As another maxim goes, “deny the fuel, you exhaust the flame.” In practice, what Paul urges in all of his letters is that we redirect our thoughts from those things we disagree to the one conviction that holds each of us together, the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Dwelling on the things that divide us results in aroused feelings. Unchecked, those feelings boil over and scalds and destroys the more gentle places of our spirit. We can control our passion by wisely directing our thought to our unity in Jesus and a common striving to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Paul is clear than anger itself isn’t sin. Anger often signals that something is wrong, requires attention, and calls for a measured response. At the deepest level, anger demonstrates that we are awake, aware, and care deeply about the world we live in. “Be angry,” writes Paul to the church in Ephesus, “without sinning.” Those last two words must not be glossed over. We are not to sin whenever anger is present. There is no consideration given to whether the anger is justified or not. And when we do experience anger, resolve it quickly before it arouses those passions that lead to destruction. We have been baptized into the life of Jesus Christ. At its most basic meaning, that means that Christ is placed first in our lives, not our ideology, our prejudices, and our convictions. If we keep our eyes on what our baptism means, we will make no provision for the care of selfish desires. And, an unhealthy anger withers.



i Mark Fischetti,, January 3, 2014


The Disciple’s Rest

“‘Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Put on my yoke, and learn from me. I’m gentle and humble. And you will find rest for yourselves.’”

Matthew 11:28, 29 (Common English Bible)

There is a saying among pastors that in every congregation a third of the people are in a crisis, a third of the people are coming out of a crisis, and a third of the people are about to go into a crisis. If you are not in a crisis, chances are, there is something out in front of you heading your way. Anxiety and uncertainty seems to mark the countenance of many people today. Everywhere there is evidence of a certain strain – exhaustion from struggling to carry more than one person can reasonably bear. Attempting to face challenges that are beyond our strength, people move with fear, the wrinkle of worry etched deeply in their face. Absent are the rest, the assurance, and the strength available in the person of Jesus Christ.

We require the stimulus of a companionship with Jesus – the restful realization of God’s presence and care for us. Such rest is offered here by Jesus, “Come to me…I will give you rest.” This rest is always a gift. It is not earned. This rest comes as the fruit of a relationship. It is not from our labor. It is an immediate gift but its value is continuously experienced as we probe deeply into the riches of the relationship with Jesus. Much as falling in love, there are continually rich discoveries that are uncovered and realized as the relationship grows deeper, is explored, and cherished. The invitation to, “Come to me” prepares for, and actually leads to, the second part of the invitation, “Learn from me.’

Presbyterian pastor, author, and teacher, Eugene Peterson once declared that if you are too busy to read, you are to busy. Similarly, if we are too busy to spend time each day with God, to read the Bible and devotional literature, to “learn of Jesus,” then we are too busy. Each day is then powered by our own strength, which, eventually, becomes exhausted. Writers cannot write from exhaustion. Musicians perform poorly without adequate rest. Those who fight experience defeat without the replenishment received from time off on the battlefield. Woven into the fabric of God’s good creation is the “seventh day” that is for rest and simply knowing God. Jesus asks that we learn from him that the gift of rest might be fully experienced.

Instead of living with aimlessness and exhaustion as though we were on our own, Jesus invites us to a sure and restful intimacy with him. A person who comes to Jesus and spends time in that relationship – learning from Jesus – discovers someone whose strength and force is tremendous! Such people move through the darkest storms of life with apparent ease. But it is the ease that is linked with the infinite – the very God who created all there is. Such people possess spiritual energy rather than manifest symptoms of panic. They recognize the wealth and power of allies in God and face the difficulties of life with restful assurance. “Come to me” invites Jesus, and we will be distinguished from the world. We will have rest.



A New Outlook

“Therefore, you are no longer a slave but a son or daughter, and if you are his child, then you are also an heir through God.”

Galatians 4:7 (Common English Bible)

When Sara Roosevelt was asked if she ever imagined that her son, Franklin Roosevelt, might become president, she replied: “Never, no never! That was the last thing I should ever have imagined for him, or that he should be in public life of any sort.” Both she and her son, she insisted, shared a far simpler ambition – “The highest ideal – to grow to be like his father, straight and honorable, just and kind, an upstanding American.”i An only child, and with few playmates his own age, Franklin viewed his attentive and protective father as a companion and friend. Presidential biographer, Doris Kearns Goodwin observes that Franklin’s optimistic spirit and general expectation that things would turn out happily is a testament to the self-confidence developed within the atmosphere of love and affection that enveloped him as a child.ii

The prevailing wisdom today – and imbedded in many approaches to psychological counseling – is that all of life consists of two elements: first, the facts, and second, our way of looking at them. Few of us escape some disappointment, some physical or mental limitation, or some distressing circumstance. It is a fact of life. We have very little control over these facts. Yet, what is largely within our power is how we look at these facts. We may permit these facts to debilitate us, to ruin our temper, spoil our work, and hurt our relationships with others, or we can become a master over their influence. Any cursory examination of Franklin Roosevelt’s life reveals a good measure of challenges, disappointments, and loss. But Roosevelt remained a master over everyone, convinced that there was a larger purpose for his life and nothing would stop his pursuit of that purpose. A positive home environment and the knowledge that he bore a strong and respected family name directed Roosevelt’s outlook.

The Christian faith is a call to a new outlook – a call to a changed point of view on the facts of life. In this teaching from Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia, Paul reminds us that we were once slaves and, consequently, of diminished value. And those who perceive to have a diminished value as a person have a dim view of life. But now, in the person of Jesus Christ, we are no longer slaves but children of God. If children of God, then an heir. Our name has been connected, as was Roosevelt’s, to a strong and respected name. For Paul, this makes a profound difference in how we are to live. We live as members of a royal household.

The deep divergence that commonly separates those who move positively through life from those who don’t lies in their outlook. Jesus’ word for “repent” meant to “change your mind” or “look at things differently”. When Jesus called those who would become his disciples he didn’t ask them to join a church or subscribe to some creed. He asked them to look at the facts differently. The laws concerning the Sabbath were reconsidered. The place of children was elevated. For those caught in the very act of sin, grace prevailed over punishment. Jesus called for a radical shift in how life would be lived – a shift that now recognized that with God on our side any handicap could be overcome and every challenge met positively. When we get a new way of seeing things it is then that we find a new life.



i Doris Kearns Goodwin, Leadership In Turbulent Times (New York, London, Toronto, Sydney, New Delhi: Simon & Schuster, 2018), 50.

ii Goodwin, 43.


Jesus’ Prayer Basics

“But when you pray, go to your room, shut the door, and pray to your Father who is present in that secret place. Your Father who sees what you do in secret will reward you. When you pray, don’t pour out a flood of empty words, as the Gentiles do. They think that saying many words they’ll be heard. Don’t be like them, because your Father knows what you need before you ask.”

Matthew 6:6-8 (Common English Bible)

What does Jesus say about prayer? It is important to return to Jesus’ teaching, as there is much foolish talk about prayer. Some of that talk is in its favor but develops in directions unknown to Jesus, such as finding the right structure or cadence that elevates the effectiveness of prayer. Other talk appeals to reason that suggests that prayer only shapes a positive mental attitude and no more. Neither conversation is helpful for a person of faith – a person who believes the Jesus of the Bible continues to be available to God’s people today as the risen Christ. In this teaching on prayer in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus assumes that God’s people will pray. On that assumption, Jesus makes two common sense observations – two basics of effective prayer.

Jesus first asks that any prayer be a sincere prayer. Honest, genuine prayer is a conversation with God, no one else. Prayer that is offered in a manner that hopes for or anticipates an audience is not authentic. Rather than a conversation with God, such prayer is for show. God’s response to prayer is of little importance – if at all. What is sought is the adulation and praise of another. The dominant desire is to advance a positive impression upon those who are near when the prayer is spoken. According to Jesus, the reward that is offered by the audience will be the only response to such prayers. God is not the primary audience of such prayers, so a response from God should not be expected.

Second, we must not indulge in repetitions – repeating a prayer over and over as though the flood of words will make a deeper impression on God. Jesus tells us that such repetitions become “empty” words. God will not be forced by such a pattern of prayer. Saying a prayer twenty, fifty, or a hundred times cannot unlock God’s gracious movement toward us. God desires a relationship, not one that is manipulated or cajoled by the repetition of pious expressions. Once again, Jesus is appealing to our common sense, appealing to us to approach God as we would a close friend. It would be ridiculous to approach anyone we are close to with a request that is made over and over again. That simply would not be very pleasing.

Prayer is communion with God. The aim of prayer is a deeper relationship with God – not drawing the attention of others or supposing the God who placed the stars in the sky and every living thing upon the earth can be harnessed by pious phrases. Jesus wants us to know that if we desire to draw near to God, that desire must come from a sincere heart. Standing in a public place while praying, seeking the notice of others, and searching for some magical formula to draw God’s attention isn’t sincere. Nor would we use either approach to draw near someone we cared about. A heart that is affectionate, attentive, and genuine is one that captures the same from another. This is the prayer that captures the heart of God.