Learning to Pray in the School of the Psalms
Part 5 - How to Talk to God When You Need to Get Things Off Your Chest
Rev. Jeff Chapman ~ June 19, 2005
When was the last time when you were really angry? Can you remember?
I do not get angry easily in most situations. But, as my wife will tell you, I do not do well with things around our house that I cannot quickly fix. I would never hit my kids, but I could be accused of appliance abuse.
Recently the dryer vent in our utility room became detached from the outside wall. So I set out to fix it. But what I thought would be a 10 minute chore turned into a three hour fiasco.
This vent had fallen off and, for the life of me, I could not get it reattached. And I exploded. I screamed some things at that stupid dryer vent that I would not want to repeat here this morning. Let’s just say it was not the proudest moment of my life. Have you been there?
We get angry in life when we don’t get what we want. In a way, anger is sort of like pain. When you cut your finger open while chopping tomatoes, the pain serves the vital function of letting you know that that something is wrong with your finger. In the same way, anger is like this little sensor inside us that tells you that something in your life is not going the way you want it to go. Think about it. This is always true.
So if that’s what anger is – this response within us that alerts us that something is getting in the way of what we want to see happen – if that’s what anger is, is it wrong? Put another way, is anger, by nature, a sin? It is listed, after all, as one of the 7 deadly sins, right there next to pride, and lust, and greed
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God gets angry. You know that, right?
I could show you dozens and dozens of instances in scripture where God is angry.
Remember the time, for instance, when Jesus goes into the temple one day and sees these greedy businessmen there taking advantage of the temple sacrifice system to make a quick buck. Essentially, these guys were price-gouging. And Jesus is outraged. So much so that he grabs some ropes, twists them into a whip, and drives those men out of the temple, turning over their tables along the way.
Just like us, God gets angry when things don’t go the way he thinks they should go. When people don’t practice justice. When people don’t share with each other. When people become hypocrites.
So, I want you to see that anger isn’t necessarily a sin. Because God, himself, gets angry. And if our anger is motivated by the things in this world that also anger God, than our anger can be righteous anger. A lot of good has come in this world, as you know, because God’s people got angry by what they saw and it motivated them to action.
Now granted, sometimes we fly off the handle because the dryer vent falls off, or because someone cuts us off on the highway, or because somebody imposes on our schedule. And in those instances we really need to question the source of our anger. There is righteous anger, but there is also selfish anger. By the way, which one are you more prone to? (That’s a sermon for another day.)
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Now if anger, as I hope you see, can be a righteous thing, is it ever okay for us to be angry with God? Because there’s lots of people out there today who have been angry at God. And a few people in here as well.
Let me ask you, what are some of the reasons people have for becoming angry with God?
Haven’t a lot of us, at one time or another, been mad at God? Things in our lives, things in the world, haven’t gone the way we want them to go, or the way we think God is supposed to make them go, and we get angry at God. And when that happens, what do you do? Do you let God have it? Have you ever yelled at God, demanded an answer? Some of us aren’t so sure we’re allowed to do that. Right?
I want you to watch a short scene from a movie called The Apostle. In this film, Robert Duvall plays a man named Sonny, a rough-around-the-edges Pentecostal preacher who has just discovered that his wife has cheated on him and that his church has kicked him out. And Sonny, as you’re about to see, is angry at God.
(A part of the prayer in the scene includes these words from Sonny to God – “I'm confused and I'm mad at you. I’m mad at you! But I love you, Lord. Give me a sign. I know I'm a sinner. I'm your servant. What should I do? Tell me. I've always called you Jesus. You've always called me Sonny."
When was the last time you had a prayer time like that?
I don’t know about you, but when I first watched that scene there was a part of me that so badly wanted to be able to pray like that. To be able to go to God at times in my life and to say, straight up, “Lord, things are not going the way I think they should be going. In fact, things are not going the way that I thought you promised they would go. And I have served you faithfully. I have given my life to you. I want some answers, God. I love you, but I want some answers!”
Isn’t there a part of us that longs to have the kind of relationship with our God where we feel we have the freedom to pray like that?
Did you pay attention this morning to the words of Psalm 13? The psalmist prays like that. And the psalms give us permission to pray like that, even give us the language to use when we do.
Another translation of those verses reads this way:
Long enough, God – you’ve ignored me long enough.
I’ve looked at the back of your head long enough
I’ve carried this ton of trouble, lived with a stomach full of pain
Long enough my arrogant enemies have looked down their noses at me.
Take a good look at me, God, my God;I want to look life in the eye.
I could stand up here this morning and read you dozens of Psalms filled with language like this. And I don’t know about you, but that is a great encouragement to me, to know that I am apparently allowed to bring my anger and frustration to God.
Now sometimes the anger we want to bring to God is righteous anger. We are angry, in other words, about the same things God is angry about. And of course, God makes room for us to express that anger to Him, to get things off our chest in his presence.
But here’s the kicker, even when our anger is not righteous, when it’s selfish anger, I still think God welcomes us to bring it to him directly.
Let’s be honest. Sometimes we’re angry at God over something that was really our own fault. Sometimes we are angry with God because something didn’t happen that he never promised would happen in the first place. Or we’re angry with God because we don’t see him at work and then, down the road, we look back and realize he was at work all along, we just didn’t see it at the time. We’re angry at God because He doesn’t give us what we want, when all along He’s giving us what we need. Yet, even those instances, when our anger is as selfish and ignorant as can be, God wants us to express it to him.
When you think about it, to do otherwise when we’re angry at God, is just foolish. Because he already knows how we feel.
No one knows me better in this world than my wife. And after 13 years of marriage, I can’t go ten minutes around her when I’m angry without her knowing that I’m angry. Even if I want to, I just can’t hide it.
“Jeff, is something wrong?”
“No. Nothing’s wrong.”
“What’s wrong? Are you angry?”
“No! I’m not angry!”
“What are you angry about?”
“I’m not angry.”
I mean, if we have a hard time hiding our anger from one another, how well do you think we do hiding our anger from the one who sees into the deepest corners of our hearts? God knows how we feel, whether our feelings are rooted in righteousness or selfishness. So what is ever the sense of pretending with God?
Sometimes I wonder if the only kinds of prayers God really doesn’t accept are prayers where we try to put on a show. I’m pretty sure God won’t stand two seconds for those kinds of prayers. In fact, you want to make God angry, try playing games with him in your prayers.
But honest prayers, prayers that are raw, the kinds of prayers we read in the psalms, I think those are the prayer God desires. That’s why I love that scene from The Apostle. The words of his prayer match what is in his heart. They are full of anger, but they are honest. They are uncensored. And isn’t that how we are supposed to speak to God!
But notice this, both in the movie clip and in the Psalm, the one praying does not allow his anger towards God to overcome his trust in God. Did you hear that? Did you? Let me say that again slowly so you don’t miss it. The one praying does not allow his anger towards God to overcome his trust in God.
Sonny screams his anger at God, but then admits, “You know I love you Jesus. You know I love you.”
The psalmist, after he has laid out his anger and displeasure towards God, ends his prayer this way:
But I trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.I will sing to the Lord for he has dealt bountifully with me – he has been good to me.I have a good friend who I believe used to walk really closely with God in his life. But some hard things happened along the way. And at one point or another, his anger and disappointment in God has overshadowed his trust in, and love for, God.
And do you know what happens when that takes place? You walk away from God. And in doing so you walk away from every blessing that God wants to give you. And that, by the way, is the worst thing that you can ever do in life.
Anger and disappointment are a part of life, they are a part of faith. They happen. And God, I believe, is not threatened by them. He’s big enough to handle our anger, big enough to handle our frustration and disappointment when we bring them to Him. But he cannot, or he will not, handle our mistrust. We can be angry with God, but if we won’t trust God, he will have nothing to do with us.
And so when we get things off our chest to God, which I hope we all can learn to do with increasing levels of honestly and candor, we must continue to place our trust in God. We must trust in God’s unfailing goodness, in His sovereignty and purpose, in His constant compassion. None of life may make sense to us at the time, and our circumstances may make us spitting mad, but we must never allow anything to overcome our trust in the one who will never let us down.
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Did you know that in the last seven years, I’d estimate that about 98% of the anger I have witnessed in people has come from little children? And believe me, most of it has not been righteous anger.
Now I’m no child psychologist, and maybe Super Nanny would tell me I’ve got it all wrong, but still I have this hunch that perhaps one of the reasons children feel so free to get so angry so openly with their parents when things don’t go the way they want them to go, is because they trust them.
A wise parent knows that his children are going to be angry from time to time and doesn’t expect otherwise. A loving parent allows her children to express that anger in ways that are proper, yes, but also ways that are honest. And good parents don’t ever tell their children, “I love you, as long as you’re not angry with me.”
Jesus, at one point in his teaching, told his followers that unless they changed and became like little children they would never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Is not one of the characteristics of little children that they are so willing to trust? And isn’t that why they are so open, so often, with their anger.
Bring your anger, and all that you feel for that matter, openly and honestly to God. But never let your anger, or anything else, overcome your trust in God. Because nothing, not even your anger at it’s most selfish, can ever overcome God’s love for you.
For Further Study:
For Further Study in Scripture:
-A few of the other Psalms that might help us get things off our chest are Psalms 22, 55, 64, 74
-Scriptures reflecting the nature of God’s anger: Psalm 30:5, Psalm 78:38, Psalm 86:15, John 2:12-16
-Scriptures giving guidance to us about anger: James 1:19, Titus 1:7, I Timothy 2:8, Ephesians 4:26
See full story in John 2:12-16. Also, I was informed in the re-telling of this story by Bill Hybels’ book The God You’re Looking For, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, c. 1997), p. 65.