Heeding the Alarm of Anger
About the Guest
Is anger getting the best of you? Pastor Jeff Schreve and his wife, Debbie, open the Scriptures to glean wisdom from the book of Jonah, a man of God who didn't always control his temper.
Jeff and Debbie SchreveJeff Schreve is a passionate communicator of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He is a graduate of The University of Texas at Austin (1984), with a degree in Business Administration. After spending twelve years in sales, God called Jeff to preach. He graduated from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in December of 2000 with a Master of Divinity degree. He served as Pastor of Membership and Missions at Champion Forest Baptist Church in Houston, TX from 1997 to 2003. He was called to First Bap...more
Is anger getting the best of you?
Heeding the Alarm of Anger
Bob: Do you ever deal with issues in your life like depression, or guilt, anger, worry, loneliness, or embarrassment? Jeff Schreve says, “These emotions are pointing to something deeper.”
Jeff: Negative emotions serve like a smoke alarm. We know that if that goes off—it’s a piercing, shrill sound—we don’t like to hear that sound, but it lets us know that there’s a problem somewhere. The problem is not the alarm. The problem is there is a fire going on, somewhere, in your home. So, you’ve got to heed the alarm. Find the fire, and put it out. Then, the blaring alarm silences.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, July 18th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. How do we take the input we’re getting from the smoke detector to find the fire that may be loose in our lives? We’re going to talk about your runaway emotions today. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You know, I was looking at my copy of a book that we’re going to be talking about today. I thought, “I know which chapter Dennis went to right away.” Do you know which I—
Dennis: I don’t. I don’t. I’m—easily, you’re on target, though.
Bob: Chapter 4—Chapter 4 of this book. Look at Chapter 4 and tell me if I’m right. Am I right?
Dennis: Yes, well, it’s pretty close to home. My mom used to call me a worry-wart.
Bob: Yes, Chapter 4—the book is called Runaway Emotions: Why You Feel the Way You Do and What God Wants You to Do About It.
Dennis: I grew up—the son of a worrier—and got her DNA.
Bob: You got a little of that mixed into your bloodstream.
Dennis: I do. And I didn’t think about looking it over, wondering where you might be on here. [Laughter]
Bob: Let’s just move along. Let’s not go there! [Laughter]
Dennis: Let’s talk about who is the author of this and who joins us on the broadcast. Jeff and Debbie Schreve are joining us, here, on FamilyLife Today. Debbie, Jeff, welcome to the headquarters, here, at FamilyLife. Glad to have you.
Jeff: Thanks, Dennis. It’s great to be here.
Debbie: Wonderful to be here.
Dennis: Way to go, Debbie.
Debbie: Thank you.
Dennis: Way to go.
Debbie: Thank you.
Dennis: Jeff is a pastor, and he’s also the founder of From His Heart Ministries. He and Debbie have three daughters and one grandchild.
Jeff: One grandchild, yes.
Dennis: Way to go. They have served on the Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway speaker team for seven years.
Dennis: Glad you guys are on the team. You guys do a great job.
Bob: And they are also featured in The Art of Marriage®.
Dennis: Oh, yes!
Bob: Yes. You tell a little of your story—
Jeff: We do.
Debbie: We do.
Bob: —about your marriage in The Art of Marriage. I believe it’s in the intimacy section—right?—where you talk about it.
Jeff: It is.
Bob: And we won’t give away what you say. If folks want to know what you say, they are going to have to go to The Art of Marriage; alright?
Jeff: That’s right.
Dennis: I just want to ask you both—I want both of you to answer this question because you’ve written a book about runaway emotions—“Is some of this the story of your marriage—of what God has done in your relationship, over the years?”
Jeff: No, not really with our marriage. Probably, a lot with me—you know, as we talked before the broadcast, which one of these speaks about me is really every one of them—I’ve had difficulty with and had to work through those but not so much in our relationship.
Dennis: You outline, in your book, the emotions of embarrassment, loneliness, frustration, worry, anger, guilt, discontentment, and depression.
Dennis: You are a pastor. Where do you see people most struggling around—which of these emotions?
Jeff: Great question. I think everybody feels these from one degree or another. I think some of the biggest ones—anger is a huge one. Guilt is a big one. Worry. Loneliness—lots of lonely couples—lonely spouses—lonely wives. And then, as people get older—especially, if their spouse dies and their kids have moved away—they really deal with loneliness.
Bob: And you’ve preached on this subject of emotions at your church—
Bob: —because you really have seen how— if people don’t understand God’s perspective on emotions, it can torpedo relationships and ruin lives; can’t it?
Jeff: Yes, definitely; definitely. And the nice thing about preaching on emotions—it hits everybody, from the youngest to the oldest. They know what it’s like to be embarrassed. They know what it’s like to worry. They know what it’s like to get angry—to experience guilt.
So, I think the thing that I love about talking about these negative emotions—you know—everybody loves positive emotions. You don’t really have to prime the pump on that because it’s like, “Yes, I like to feel love, and joy, and peace; but what do I do when I feel the worry, when I feel the anger?” So, you instantly get people to say: “Alright, I have a problem with that. What can I do? What does God say that will help me there?” That’s why the subtitle, Why You Feel the Way You Do and What God Wants You to Do About It, is critical.
Dennis: When you sent me your book, I immediately thought—I thought, “Jeff and Debbie are really on to something here.” What you’ve put together—because I think most of us are born into families that don’t know how to equip us, educate, and train us around what the emotions are that we experience and, then, knowing what to do with them, from a biblical standpoint.
Dennis: We’re, for the most part, biblically illiterate about how to handle emotions. Debbie, the home you grew up in—your family—was it a Christian family?
Debbie: Yes, a Christian family; but I grew up in a situation where my mother never took responsibility for her emotions. In other words, it was: “That’s just the way I am. I can’t help it.” She was always a victim of her worry, of her fear, of her frustration, of her discontentment, of all these other things. So, as a child, growing up in that environment, that definitely influenced and impacted the way I dealt with my own emotions. I didn’t deal with them in a godly fashion because I didn’t know how to. I made excuses.
Dennis: So, you brought your mom’s victimization into your marriage?
Debbie: The U-Haul of destruction I brought into the marriage, indeed. I really—I mean, truly I did.
Bob: Jeff, what about the dynamics of the home that you grew up in? Was it an emotionally-expressive home or was it kind of all pushed back into the background?
Jeff: Not very emotionally-expressive. There wasn’t a lot of touching, and feeling, and hugs, and things like that with my brothers and sisters. My dad wasn’t like that. My mom was like that to a certain extent. But I grew up in a home—that we went to church and we knew about God—but we didn’t have a personal relationship with God. So, my parents taught me right from wrong; but none of the stuff—that I talk about in the book—did I learn that at home.
Dennis: So, you would say you were emotionally illiterate, as well?
Dennis: I was when we got married. I’ve learned a lot in a marriage relationship of being forced to go to the Bible and find out what it says about it. When you gave this series of messages at your church, you used an object lesson—
Dennis: —to illustrate what it was all about.
Bob: A rather piercing object lesson.
Jeff: Piercing object lesson, yes. The premise of the book is that negative emotions serve like a smoke alarm, and we all are familiar with smoke alarms. Most of us have those in our homes. We know if that goes off—it’s a piercing, shrill sound. We don’t like to hear that sound, but it lets us know there’s a problem somewhere. The problem is not the alarm. The problem is there is a fire—there’s smoke, fire going on somewhere in your home. So, you’ve got to heed the alarm. Find the fire, and put it out. Then, the blaring alarm silences.
But I think with lots of conventional ways to deal with emotions, all of the emphasis is on the alarm: “Okay, you feel like this. Let’s not try and trace it back to what the real problem is—from God’s perspective.” God made us in His image. So, He knows how we tick. He knows what ticks us off. He knows when something is wrong with us; and He tells us in His Word, “Hey, this is why you feel this way; and this is what you do about it.” I think, in the world we live in today—as Dennis, as you said—we’re a biblically-illiterate world, by and large. People don’t know what to do with those things.
Bob: I think there are a lot of people—like Debbie’s mom, and maybe, a little like you, Debbie—just feel: “If I feel this, it’s valid. I don’t need to adjust it. I shouldn’t have to mess with it. It’s who I am, and my feelings are valid.” Well, they may be valid; but that doesn’t mean that they control you; right?
Jeff: Right. Exactly right. You know, feelings are feelings. When you experience things that make you angry—I mean, you have the feelings of anger. What I talk about in the book—there is a difference between righteous indignation—Jesus got angry. God gets angry. It’s never sin. It’s never a smoke alarm in His heart and in His life.
I always deal with the negative emotion—it is anger that is not righteous indignation. It’s you’re getting out of control because things aren’t going the way you want them to go. How do you deal with that? What do you do with that? Most people don’t know what to do with that. So, they stuff it, which doesn’t work.
Jeff: Or they go off like a volcano, which definitely doesn’t work. In the book, I talk about—every chapter is rooted in a Scripture passage. In the book, when we talk about anger, we talk about Jonah. Jonah was an angry prophet. He was a wrong-way prophet, at first—has a little time, out in the belly of the fish [Laughter]—changes his outlook. Then, he’s willing to do what God wants him to do. But Jonah, Chapter 4, is amazing. He is the preacher that is used to bring about one of the greatest revivals in history—
Jeff: —and he’s mad about it. So mad that, when God talks to him, he won’t even speak to God. He just wants to die. He says twice, “Take my life.” If I had been God, I would have said: “Prayer answered! You’re dead.” [Laughter] But God didn’t do that and teaches us a lot about anger and how we process that.
Bob: So, what did you learn from Jonah? What kinds of things? Somebody who says: “You know, this is an issue I deal with. I let my anger control me. It gets the best of me. I don’t know what to do with it. When it bubbles up inside of me, I say things I shouldn’t say. I act ways I shouldn’t act. So, how does the story of Jonah help me?”
Jeff: Well, I think that, in all the emotions that we talk about, it comes from the premise, as we trace them back, to victorious living and what God wants you to do about it. I look at it as God made us in His image. When we have negative emotions, it shows us something is wrong. Although we’re fallen, we’re still made in the image of God.
Jeff: When we experience the negative emotion—and I mean, God is not an angry God—but God does have and created us with this sense of control, and responsibility, and order because that’s how God is. So, when we get angry—because of the Fall, we have an anger that’s off base. It’s focused in on, “Things aren’t going the way I want them to go.” You know, the Fall caused everything to be self-oriented—
Jeff: —not God-oriented. That’s why they knew that they were naked: “Well, who told you were naked? Did you eat of the fruit I told you and commanded you not to eat?” All of a sudden, now, they don’t have a God-consciousness. They have self-consciousness, and anger comes when things aren’t going the way we want them to go.
If you really think about it, we don’t get mad if everything is going the way we want it to go. We get mad in traffic because the people aren’t going the way we want them to go—the roads aren’t clear—those kinds of things.
Jonah got mad at God because God didn’t do what Jonah thought He should have done, which was wipe out the Assyrians. If God had done right, then, Jonah would have been happy. He hated those people. You know, the Book of Jonah is a great book about God’s love for people—all people—you know, those that don’t know the difference between their right hand and their left hand. Jonah is an interesting book in that it ends with a question, and it doesn’t resolve anything.
Bob: So, the guy, who is dealing with his emotions, really does need to peel back and say: “What’s the unmet expectation? What am I thinking ought to go my way?” He’s really grumbling—he’s really angry with God that life is not going the way he thinks it should; right?
Jeff: Right. I personally think all anger is rooted in—I mean, you trace it back—it goes back to, “I’m mad at God because this didn’t go the way I wanted it to go.” Jonah is directly mad at God, but anger is a control issue. So, the way you address the control issue of anger is—you understand: “Really, I’m not in control. God is in control of all things.” We control very little when you think about it.
So, I have to choose grace over my control and say: “God, You are over this. I’m not over this. So, God, I choose to let You be God; and I’m going to humble myself, and to submit myself, and choose your grace. You give grace to those who are humble. You’re opposed to those who are proud. So, I’m just going to say, ‘Okay, You’re in charge. I accept whatever You are doing. I choose Your grace.’”
Bob: You’ve talked to husbands, wives, moms, dads—who deal with this issue of anger in their lives. This is a hard pattern to break. If you’ve been an angry person for a while, and this is just how you do life, this is not something that you just wake up one morning and go, “I’m going to do life differently now,” because it’s a reflexive pattern for you.
Dennis: Yes. In fact, didn’t I hear you say, Jeff—as we were coming into the studio—that this emotion—anger—was one you’ve battled?
Dennis: Give us an illustration, from your life, in terms of a situation where you had to deal with “God’s in control; I’m not.” Then, how did you ultimately handle it? If you can’t think of it, I’m looking at your wife, Debbie. She’s nodding her head, “Yes.”
Jeff: Did you want to share something about that?
Debbie: No, I just know some issues of anger that you’ve dealt with. [Laughter]
Jeff: Well, I think one of the things—being a pastor, I had a situation with a staff member—where I had a meeting that went badly. I got really angry because I didn’t feel like there was honesty in the meeting. I didn’t handle myself well because I allowed that to just control me—things didn’t go, in the meeting, like I wanted them to go. That meeting—because I got so angry—caused lots of problems.
Rather than just saying: “Lord, You’re in charge of this. You know what’s going on. You know that there are some things that aren’t being said correctly here”—if I had turned that over and trusted Him with that, but I didn’t. I took the steering wheel. I was going to control this, and I was going to make things go my way. It just blew up in my face. I relive that, in my mind, over and over because it caused lots of problems—caused problems for me. It caused problems in the church. I just wish I could back in time, which you can’t—
Jeff: —but you can learn from it. So, I have learned, in those situations, that I need to let the Lord really take control. I’m not in control. He is—especially, as it relates to the church. It doesn’t belong to me. It’s His church.
Bob: When you start to feel anger bubbling up—because you still do; right?
Bob: I mean, there are still things—whether it’s traffic, or somebody, or—
Bob: —Debbie, or—
Jeff: Debbie’s driving, yes. [Laughter]
Bob: When something like that happens, what do you do differently today than you might have done ten years ago?
Jeff: One of the things is to go ahead and feel the anger. Then, just immediately bring that to the Lord and say, “Lord, I am so angry about this,”—whatever this is. If you need to clinch your fist to show how angry you are, then, go ahead and do that. Then, just release that and say: “And I just release that to You. You’re in charge. You’re in control, and I choose Your grace over my control because You are the Sovereign God.”
Dennis: It usually doesn’t pay to act on that anger.
Dennis: I mean, I reflect back on my marriage and my relationship with Barbara. I have learned that silence and working through it with God first is far superior than to just say everything I’m thinking—let the emotions out—and in the process, hurt the human being that I love the most on the planet.
Dennis: In that period of time, the best thing to do is pray. You talked about releasing it to God and saying: “Lord, You know what I’m thinking. Give me the discipline to keep my mouth shut right now.” Now, there may be a time when whatever it was that caused the anger—because, usually, anger is secondary. There is a cause. That’s what that smoke detector points out—that there is something wrong.
Bob: There is a flame somewhere.
Dennis: You need to go find the flame and have a discussion about it—
Dennis: —but not with it being fueled by anger.
Bob: No, you’ve got to speak the truth in love, and you’ve got to be ready to speak the truth in love. If you’re not ready to speak the truth in love, you’re not ready to speak.
Dennis: Yes. Have you found that to be true in your marriage, Debbie?
Debbie: Oh, goodness, yes.
Dennis: How so?
Debbie: Well, early on, I told Jeff—I would just spout. I’ve told him, in recent years, “Anytime that I keep my mouth shut, it’s a sign of great spiritual maturity.” [Laughter] I have learned to keep my mouth shut and take it to the Lord first because He’s the only person that never misunderstands me because He sees right into my heart, and He never misunderstands my—He knows exactly what I’m thinking, what I’m feeling. I can pray through that first before I go and open my mouth, and seek His wisdom as to how to speak it and how to say it because, in my humanness, I can really mess up saying something and be very misunderstood because I don’t say it correctly.
Dennis: Earlier, Jeff, you used the imagery of a volcano—some people erupt. At the FamilyLife Weekend to Remember marriage getaway, we use the illustration—especially, in dealing with conflict—that no one enjoys sitting at the base of an active volcano. I mean, having hot lava spewed out all over you is not conducive to want to go close—
Dennis: —to the volcano.
Jeff: That’s exactly right. You know, one of the things—and we talk about this at the Weekend to Remember—a huge part—and it’s a big part of the chapter on anger—is chronically-angry people tend to have a situation, back in their past, where someone hurt them; and they haven’t forgiven. The nice thing is—when you forgive—as someone well said, “Forgiveness is letting the captive go free—finding out the captive was you.”
And forgiveness—the reason—I believe the reason the Lord is so harsh on it—you know, He says in Matthew, Chapter 6, “If you don’t forgive men, I’m not going to forgive you.” The reason is because He loves us, and it’s going to just rot out everything in our lives.
Dennis: I think that’s really good advice. I’d just add what Paul said in Ephesians, Chapter 4, verses 31-32—that really challenges us—commands us: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another just as God in Christ forgave you.”
And I think what you ought to do—you know, we’ve kind of used a couple of visual illustrations here—I think the person who’s really got a problem with anger, who is hearing us today, ought to find some object that they can put in the trash, take outside, and burn it—something that visualizes your decision, before God, of leaving a different fragrance among those that you love in your marriage, in your family—with those you work with.
Jeff: Amen. That’s good.
Dennis: And to do business with God—make a decision, and put it away.
Bob: I think it really helps for somebody to read a chapter like the chapter Jeff has written in his book on anger and see, by reading the chapter, somebody gets this! “Somebody understands what’s going on in my life. Not only do they get it, but they know how to help me make sure that my anger is not sinful anger.”
We’ve got copies of Jeff Schreve’s book, Runaway Emotions: Why You Feel the Way You Do and What God Wants You to Do About It in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. Go, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com for information on how to get a copy of the book. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com. You can also request the book when you call 1-800-FL-TODAY. That’s 1-800-358-6329—1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY”. Ask about the book, Runaway Emotions, when you get in touch with us.
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And we hope you’ll join us back tomorrow. We’re going to continue to talk about some of our runaway emotions and what we do about them. I hope you can join us back for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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