Anger & the Past
Topic: Sunday Message Verse: Romans 12:17–12:19, Colossians 3:13
How the Past Affects Us
The past doesn’t excuse our behavior, but the past can help explain our behavior.
How We Deal With the Past
There is a difference between coping and curing. Coping helps us “get by”; curing allows us to “get beyond.”
Overcoming Anger from Our Past #1: Face the Past
While we can’t change the events of our past, God can change the effects of our past. So when it comes to anger, while we need to avoid getting angry over the wrong things for the wrong reasons, it's equally damaging to not get angry over the right things for the right reasons, where we ignore the genuine impact of the unrighteous, malicious, and evil things done to us. Facing the past means prayerfully and consciously going back in time, and identifying those specific events from your past where you suffered at the hands of someone else’s cruelty and selfishness, and yet by the same token, you didn’t give yourself permission to get upset. To help in this process, Christian author and counselor, Gary Chapman, mentions two simple questions we can ask ourselves here:
“Who are the people who have done me wrong?”
“What have they done?”
Overcoming Anger from Our Past #2: Feel the Hurt
There are these two emotions and experiences that go side-by-side: anger and grief—anger over the injustice, and grief over the loss. “I’m so mad that this happened to me, and I’m so sad that it happened to me.” Both anger and grief are needed and necessary. Tapping into old memories and emotions can be tricky--when you have the courage to go down this road, things initially are going to feel like they’re getting worse, not better. But as hard as these first two steps are, this is what we need to do to go from coping to curing, and to get beyond the compliant and coping person everyone's used to.
Overcoming Anger from Our Past #3: Free the Offense
When you stir up all that justified anger and legitimate grief, it has to go somewhere. The temptation is revenge--taking matters into our own hands, and making people pay for how they’ve wronged us. Justice does need to be served. The question is: “Who’s going to do it?” This is where we as Christians need to trust God. He asks us to get out of the revenge business and leave the justice up to Him. So our job is to the release the past offense and give it over to Him, trusting Him as our Judge, Advocate, and Healer.
Romans 12:17-19 NIV
17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.
Overcoming Anger from Our Past #4: Forgive the Offender
Forgiveness is hard, but forgiveness is necessary. Jesus models forgiveness for us on the Cross: "Father, forgive them for they don't know what they're doing." Forgiveness is giving up the right to get even and trusting God instead. As Christians, we're expressing to others the forgiveness we've experienced from the Lord. Forgiveness recognizes the wrong done--it doesn't deny it or downplay it. It starts with a decision of the will where the confirming emotions usually follow later on. Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation nor does it automatically rebuild trust, though it is the first step to make those a possibility. In some situations, depending on the severity of the wrongs done, the biblically wisest thing to do might mean we never see our offender again. It doesn’t mean we haven’t forgiven them—it just means we’ve released them over to God and that we’re moving forward with our life.
Colossians 3:13 NIV
13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
Overcoming Anger from Our Past #5: Find the Freedom
This isn’t so much a step as it is a blessing, a positive consequence, and an eventual result. When we travel down the hard road of these first four steps, then we will see God at work, bringing us a freedom from our past unlike anything we’ve ever known before. Bitterness, resentment, grudges and revenge will begin to fall away, and the control they’ve had on our lives will finally be broken. This is what the power of God and the love of Jesus can do for us. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”
Redeeming our Past
Even better than escaping our past, God is able to redeem our past. He can take the bad that’s happened to us, and use it for our own good as well as the good of others. Joseph saw it happen in his life, years after being betrayed by his brothers. Jesus certainly saw it happen through His death, where the darkest of Fridays turned into the brightest of Sundays. And we can too. Pastor Rick Warren is right when he says, “We are products of our past, but we don't have to be prisoners of it.” So while we may never fully understand why God allows certain people to be able to do harmful things to others, we can be absolutely confident that those harmful things don’t have to have the final say in our lives because Jesus is our Redeemer.