Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Anger and Being Critical

Let’s return to discipleship for a post or two. As always, we need to return to the sayings of Jesus Christ, our only Leader, our Teacher, our Head. In Matt 5:22, Jesus says that anyone who is angry is guilty before His throne of judgment or anyone who says “Raca” or “you fool” to his brother is guilty. We know from the Sermon on the Mount as a whole that what is done in the heart is just as real before God as the deed done in the body. Jesus teaches us to accept that when we criticize our brother or sister even in our heart, we are falling short of the glory of God. Saying “you fool” is the manifestation of a critical spirit. There is a place for going face to face with our friend and encouraging them to righteousness and, in this instance, we are helping them self evaluate. This is being critical as a helpful diagnostic tool in a discipleship relationship. There is a place for that. Here, I would like to call attention to the problem of a critical or fault finding heart.

If we are saying in our mind, “Bob (or Joe or whomever) just doesn’t get it”, we are in need of doing spiritual work on our critical heart. In the spiritual life, attitude is everything. We need to learn to be rigorously honest to discern our heart attitudes. The critical fault finding heart is not healthy for us who are sinners. Let us leave the criticism for people who can handle such deadly poison. A resentment is just like a toxic waste. If we are going to try and handle such volatile material, then we better take every precaution. Such hazardous material is known to cause cancer. Every sinner is in need of a thorough detox from criticism if we are to cure the problem of our fleshly impulses and sins. So it is best to be very thorough in our dealing with all anger, resentment, and critical attitudes. For some, we say “I don’t have any resentments. So, I ask, “Do you have a critical attitude toward any person or institution.” Discernment of this critical attitude will help clear the heart for the filling of the Spirit.

In fact, Jesus makes this principle very clear when he says. “Do not judge. Instead take the log out of your own eye and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” This most practical saying tells us that we should work on our own faults and our own heart before we start criticizing others. In fact, to take a speck out of someone’s eye, THEY HAVE TO POINT IT OUT TO YOU AND ASK FOR YOUR ASSISTANCE. We have no business looking at another person’s character unless they reveal their character to us voluntarily. In all, there is really no positive reason to criticize others, but the fact is us sinners are very critical creatures.

Let me give an example or two. I find it almost impossible to participate in political dialogue with Christians. So many Christians are critical of the other party. We are so often in a battle and a conflict with the other party that we have developed resentments and judgments that are very unhealthy spiritually. If someone who is partisan hears a person from another party speak on a subject there is virtually no ability to hear the other side as a result of the critical spirit. This attitude quenches the power of God in the Christian’s life.

Another example can be with respect to churches. One party is critical of another party. One is for home church another for mega-church. It is hard for one to feel at home with the other. This unease is a critical spirit. Whether in pretense or truth, if the gospel is preached, we ought to rejoice.

So what do we do? We take thorough stock of our critical heart. We list every person we are angry at or could harbor some resentment or are critical of. We are going to learn to turn our eyes from focusing on the speck in our brother’s eye to the log in our own and to do this we need to do this in every individual instance. So we begin by brainstorming a list.

Let me say that in every instance where people have taken this step and been thorough, they have found a shocking amount of resentment in their hearts. But if they turn that resentment into confession of sin and blessing of the other, they also have found a wonderful freedom and filling of love from the Holy Spirit. We must trust Jesus’ words that any insult in our heart or being the least bit critical is a spiritual disease that places us in spiritual danger. Do not turn away sad without following Jesus in this first real example of spiritual direction that Jesus gives us. He is our leader; we need to learn to take spiritual direction from Him. If we take this direction and allow ourselves to be alarmed and moved by the words of Christ and if we respond with zeal and urgency, then we will find the power we so desperately need.

The Practice
1. Make a list of names:

So we begin with making a list. The first time I made a list I found that the list had over 100 names on it. It seemed I was critical of everyone. The whole world. Both political parties. All denominations. Most of my friends. My family. My extended family. My college roommates. Kids from grade school. Members of my small group. My kids. My parents. My parents old friends. My old friends. My old friend’s parents. My old friend’s brothers and sisters. The English. The French. The Germans. Pentecostals. Conservatives. Liberals. The elders of the church. The deacons. My mentor. My boss. My co-workers. My ex-co-workers. Old girlfriends. My brother. My sisters. My dad’s co-workers. My brother’s friends. Kids from the neighborhood. Musicians. Theologies. Men in general. Women in general. My circumstances. Basically, we are all mad at the world.

To have a large list does not mean that frustration with life is the main theme of our character. No one would look at me and say I am an angry person. But neither would a person dying from cyanide poisoning be made up mostly of cyanide. A little of this toxic stuff can make us spiritually sick. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. Therefore, we make sure that even the slightest remnant of frustration or criticalness be dealt with ruthlessly.

2. What specifically happened?
So after we make our list (which could take a few hours or a few days), we begin to list what they did that makes us angry or critical. For example, your brother….he didn’t defend me in front of the neighbor kids. Your mom….she divorced your dad. It is that simple. Do not write a lot of words. Some people greatly err on this point. When we write it all out, we are venting. Venting only teaches us to be angry. As a rule do not write more than 10 word on an instance. You may break down thinking about the injustice of it all. This is normal. But I warn against writing a lot about why you are angry on a certain point. Writing a long discertation is usually just rationalizing why you are angry as if we are trying to give reason to keep it. We are not trying to stay sore. Also, for some people say like a spouse, we may have many lines of things we are critical of or sore about.

A Sample List (A Portion)
My wife…she gets angry when I go out with my friends
My wife….she watches too much TV
My wife….she shows disrespect in front of the kids
My wife…she spends too much money. She bought this..
Bob Smith….he won’t return my call
Joe Jones…he criticized my preaching behind my back.
My boss…He threatened to fire me.
My co-worker…he told the boss I am not dependable.
My co-worker….he told the boss my department was a problem and didn’t speak to me first.

My co-worker….he said I have an ego problem
My friend…he won’t take my council.

The list can go on and on and it should. We must be very thorough.

3. List how did this incident hurt us?
What we are doing is accepting that an actual hurt occurred. The incident hurt us financially, emotionally. Our spouses spiritual immaturity hurts us sexually and socially. For this task, I have never taken a great deal of time. I just check off a list of boxes. Yes, that hurt emotionally, financially, socially. This process is simply to help us see that the stuff of life really does hurt us. We are getting real with our heart here. We are being honest that we are indeed quite sore about things.

4. Ask for Forgiveness for our Anger
At this point, we need to make sure we accept Jesus’ saying, “I say if you are angry, you are liable before the judgment” (Matt 5:22). This step is the most important. The word of God must be our standard. If we have anger, or words of judgment or a critical heart toward our brother or sister, we are liable to the judgment. Liable here means guilty of a civil violation. We have real guilt before God if we have anger. Therefore, we need to be convicted of this sin by the Word and the Spirit. This point cannot be over emphasized. Ask God to take away our anger and our hatred…we admit that we do not love and in fact do wish harm on some people. Hold the standard up high and get real!!!! This is the key!!!!

5. Finding our Fault (for next post)

Before coming to this step, we need to be thorough about the fourth step of confessing our sin of being angry and critical. It is best to take a day or so between steps four and five. Really we are now doing something different. First we were being ruthlessly honest with our sin of anger. We exposed to ourselves the reality that we are a pissed off sinful person. This confession of deep anger is a breakthrough in itself. I contend that everyone is “a pissed off sinful person”. Everyone!!! There are no exceptions.

I am actually a pretty happy go lucky positive person. This joviality is what is on the surface of my consciousness almost all the time. But inside, every sinner like me, is a pissed off angry murderous wretch. This anger and critical heart is the cyanide that is in our heart and kills our happiness. When we confess this sin, He is faithful to cleanse us and restore us to a new level of righteousness. This process is how we practically put into practice the teaching of Jesus Christ on anger in the Sermon on the Mount. This practice is following Jesus…Follow Him and find life….

God Bless, brad

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