Anxiety and anger are staples in our lives. There probably isn't a day that goes by where we don't feel a twinge of worry or some shred of underlying irritation. Why is that? And what do we do about it?
1. The anatomy of anxiety and anger
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear...Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:25, 34).
Do you see how Jesus links anxiety to the future? Anxiety is this: there’s something out there we think we need or want, but we’re not sure we’re going to get it. You have a meeting this week and in your mind you have it mapped out how you would like it to go, but you’re not sure it’s going to go the way you want it to. And so you feel a twinge of anxiety over it.
Anxiety looks out into the future with longing for something, but because there’s uncertainty about whether or not we’ll get what we long for, we feel anxiety.
What about anger?
James puts his finger on it:
"What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill" (James 4:1-2a).
Do you hear the anger in these verses? Where there are fights and quarrels there is bound to be anger. Where does anger come from? “Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill."
Notice the similarity between anxiety and anger. Rather than looking into the future with a longing for something, anger looks into the present or the past. There’s something you think you need or want, but someone or something has blocked you from getting that thing and you respond with anger.
Anxiety - “I want, but might not get…"
Anger - “I wanted, but didn’t get…"
Do you see the connection?
At the root of anxiety and anger is: I want…I long for…I desire…I love...
2. The antidotes to anxiety and anger
a. Grow in your knowledge of your sin
At the root of anxiety and anger is: I want, I long for, I desire, I love…and believe I should get. Do you hear the entitlement in these words? At the root of anxiety and anger is the belief that I’m entitled to what I want, long for, desire, and love. At the root of both anxiety and anger is pride.
Might it be we perpetually walk around thinking we deserve more than we actually do? Might it be we overestimate what we’re entitled to?
The stronger our desire to get what we want, the more often we’ll battle anxiety and anger and the more rigorous those battles will be. And that works in the opposite direction as well. The more often we find ourselves contending with anxiety and anger, the stronger our desire to get what we want really is. At the root of both anxiety and anger is pride. We need to be humbled.
A fantastic passage to meditate on is Romans 3:10-18.
b. Grow in your knowledge of Jesus
The famous story of Jesus calming the storm fits this perfectly. The disciples are rowing across the Sea of Galilee. Jesus is asleep in the boat. A massive storm comes upon them which must have been serious because even the professional fishermen in the boat are freaking out over it. In their plea for Jesus to wake up there’s a combination of anxiety and anger. They want to live, but they’re not sure they’re going to. They’re looking out into the future, but they’re not sure they’re going to have one. And additionally, they’re agitated with Jesus because his nap seems to indicate he doesn’t really care about what’s going on.
In their anxious and angered panic, they wake Jesus. Jesus calms the storm and then turns to them and says, “Where is your faith?” In other words, Jesus is saying, “The way you responded to this storm is a problem. You wouldn’t have responded this way if you had faith."
Notice the disciples’ response: “Who is this?”
That question explains why the disciples reacted to this storm the way they did. That question explains why the disciples reacted to this hardship with anxiety and anger. They didn’t really know Jesus.
In fact, the two questions put together make a profound statement: “Where is your faith?” and “Who is this?” Faith isn’t an energy we try to well up within us. It’s not a force we try to create through an act of our willpower. Faith is a byproduct of knowing Jesus.
We'll never make progress in experiencing freedom from anxiety and anger unless we're taking proactive steps to grow in our knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Trusting Jesus is an antidote to anxiety and anger. But trusting Jesus is a byproduct of knowing Jesus.
c. Grow in your knowledge of God's love
Both anxiety and anger are rooted in: “I want…I long for…I desire…I love” And whatever it is we want, long for, desire, and love we also think is good for us. If it wasn’t good for us, we wouldn’t desire it. We want that thing, we long for that thing because we think it will be good for us. It might be a bigger paycheck; a nicer house; a more reliable car; better behaved children; a job we like. It might be something smaller: a hot meal on the table, self-assembling toys for our kids. We feel anxiety or anger when something threatens or blocks us from getting what we think will be good for us.
So here’s the million dollar question: to what extent does God want what’s good for you? How do you know God is really invested in securing for you what’s good? The less I’m convinced God is really invested in securing for me what’s good for me, the more vulnerable I am to anxiety and anger.
The answers to these questions are magnificently portrayed in the cross of Jesus Christ. Not only does the cross depict what we deserve, but aren’t getting: condemnation; the justice of God. It also depicts what we don’t deserve, but are getting: the lavish love of God poured out for us. On the cross, Jesus is demonstrating the lengths he’s willing to go to in order to secure for you what is ultimately good for you.
How invested is God in securing for you what’s good for you? There can be no more emphatic answer to that question than the cross of Jesus Christ.