Monday, February 2, 2009

Choosing to Whom we will Submit

When we not only submit to Christ's commands but make Him the leader of our lives, real intimacy with Christ develops. With this submission and intimacy come many resources for the battle: renewed faith, which dispels our fear; humility, which conquers our pride; self-sacrificing love, which overturns selfishness; and a greater willingness to please the Lord, which helps us overcome the power of flesh. When we choose not to submit, we are prone to several temptations, including an arrogant attitude, insisting on our rights to the harm of others, and uncontrolled anger. These all become spiritual battle grounds. The choice to become angry-and it is a real choice; we are never "forced" to become angry-can lead to a life of horror. Henry had this problem and came to me as a professing Christian. He said life was going well with one exception-his temper. As he talked, he told me about several times in recent weeks when he "lost it." One response startled me. "I was driving on such-and-such road when this jerk cut me off." Henry said, with a trace of irritation in his voice. "The jerk slowed down and refused to let me pass by keeping pace with a slow moving vehicle in the left lane. We came to a stoplight several miles down the road. I jumped out of my car and beat on the side window of his car. I swore at him and challenged him to a fight. When he wouldn't look at me, I became even more angry." His voice rising, Henry added, "That stupid jerk was wrong to cause me to get mad." At the end of his account, he paused. Then he asked, rather meekly, "Dr. Copley, what do you think?" I'm always somewhat taken back at what a person will do when angry, but I'm rarely shocked. I told him rather directly, "I think you have a problem controlling your anger. And if you don't get control of it, it will damage your life severely." Henry gulped, but decided to listen to me as a counselor and someone who truly wanted to help him overcome this problem. Over the next four weeks, I told him more of what I thought, a little bit at a time-I didn't want him to get angry at me! Such anger comes from many sources. Over time, I learned that Henry's father and grandfather also struggled with outbursts of anger. Henry learned it from these men and thought it was normal. This, of course, reflects an unwillingness to submit to others. The thinking is, "I'm in charge; he can't do that to me!" There's also frustration, attempting to control or regain control of a situation, lust, and the learned behavior of becoming angry whenever things don't go your way. Although feeling angry is not a sin, continual anger leads to bitterness or rage, which are sins. Paul warned, "Be angry, and do not sin" (Ephesians 4:26). Rage is what some people do when they do not know what else to do. For many people, it's the first reaction they carry in their emotional pocketbook. Regardless of the reasons for anger, though, the bottom line is that anger is a choice. In Henry's case, he chose to become angry. In fact, he lived on the edge of anger all the time, always ready to simply let it rip. In time Henry learned to cry out to God when situations came up that could lead to anger. To his delight he learned that one of the fruits of the Spirit is self-control (Galatians 5:23). As Henry learned to walk in the Spirit, he stopped giving in to the impulse to "cut loose." To conquer the wrong choice of anger, one must make the right choice of meekness, or gentleness. This marks a submissive person. But what about when one becomes so angry he sins in out-of-control actions? What can fix such a situation? God's answer is forgiveness. To forgive requires humility, another mark of a submissive spirit. And when we forgive others who sin against us or hurt us, the Holy Spirit cuts out the diseased part of our hearts, the part that would react with anger. It's a kind of spiritual surgery, as if God Himself had taken the knife and removed the offending organ. Through counsel, reading the Scriptures, and memorizing and applying specific passages about anger, Henry has learned to submit to God: to obey Him and His directives. He has learned not to submit to the emotion of the moment, the feeling of "righteous indignation's" (it wasn't righteous, but he often thought it was), and the desire to get even. It's all a matter of simple choice of whom you will submit to: God or the Devil. Dr. Ken Copley is available for counseling, conferences, and local church meetings.

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