I’m a big fan of schedules. I like to make a list of tasks, crossing out each one as it is accomplished. But there are days I don’t accomplish much on my list: I get interrupted, things go wrong and I sit down at the end of the day frustrated and angry at how fruitless those hours seemed to be.
Perhaps your frustration doesn’t come from being interrupted, but from a difficult friendship or the stress of a research paper deadline. Perhaps, like me, you struggle to keep a good attitude when anger and frustration enter your heart, and your impulse is to lash out at the first person who crosses your path. If so, you are not alone!
The Bible records the stories of people who struggled with anger and frustration. These emotions aren’t new to the human race! It is important to note that anger, in and of itself, is not a sin. In his letter to the Ephesian church, the apostle Paul warned, “Be angry, yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger. And do not give the devil an opportunity.” (Ephesians 4:26-27) In moments when frustration overtakes us, we must guard our hearts against bitterness in order to prevent the enemy from having an “opportunity” to destroy our relationships. This takes discipline.
Discipline keeps our anger from affecting our actions. While the word “discipline” often has a negative connotation, it simply means we make an effort to set boundaries on our emotions, aligning them with God’s standards. When our emotions are aligned with God, our actions will naturally follow. James talks about this concept in the first chapter of his letter: “But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger.” (James 1:19)
- Quick to hear: Being willing to listen always reduces conflict. When we are frustrated with someone, the last thing we want to do is listen to them! But by setting aside our emotions and choosing God’s way, we are able to hear all sides of an issue before reacting with anger. Being quick to listen is the first step to finding God in frustration, because it slows us down enough to see His plan and show love to others—even when we don’t feel like it.
- Slow to speak: We can’t talk and listen at the same time. If we are quick to hear, it follows that we will also be “slow to speak.” Our tongues get us into trouble all the time, don’t they? But our tongues are controlled by our hearts and minds! In order to stop angry words before they catapult out of our mouths, we have to discipline our hearts to choose the “gentle answer” (Proverbs 15:1). By listening closely and answering slowly and with wisdom, we can often diffuse an argument before it even begins.
- Slow to anger: If we follow the first two principles James outlined, we will naturally be slow to anger. But these godly attitudes don’t come easily; they must be practiced. That sounds simple in writing, but this means the next time you’re frustrated by your boss, your boyfriend or your mom, take a moment to “be angry, but do not sin.” By reacting with angry words and bitterness we give Satan an opportunity to destroy our relationships, killing the peace and joy God intends for us to have. In that moment, ask yourself: How can I be quick to hear and slow to speak right now?
It’s not the natural choice. It can often feel unjust and unfair. But the wonderful thing about living God’s way is our ability to walk out of conflict with no regret. We can also trust that God is our justifier and our defense (Psalm 65:5).
James concluded his discussion of anger with this note: “…for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.” (James 1:20) Anger and frustration can cloud our view of God in the heat of the moment. But if we live in that anger, we can’t honor the righteous standing God has given us in Christ Jesus. By being quick to listen and slow to speak, we echo the mercy and kindness of God, bringing glory to Him through our words and actions.