When Desire Becomes a Controlling Desire
About the Guest
Our expectations and desires often take over the rightful place in our hearts that belongs only to Christ. Robert D. Jones, assistant professor of biblical counseling at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and author of the book Uprooting Anger, explains how submitting our wishes to the Lord can chip away at the core anger issues we have.
Our expectations and desires often take over the rightful place in our hearts that belongs only to Christ.
When Desire Becomes a Controlling Desire
Robert: I can take the role of the lawgiver in someone's life; I become the prosecutor, the judge, I sound the gavel against that person.
I'll go a step further – I become the bailiff to take them off to prison; I become the executioner. I wear all these hats in this fantasy world that I live in of self-centeredness when you don't perform the way I want you to perform.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, January 20th. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. Everyone gets angry, right? So what does your kind of anger look like? We'll talk about that today. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Tuesday edition. Before we talk today about anger, we want to talk about love. This is Day 16 of our ongoing Love Dare. We're taking our assignment each day from the book, "The Love Dare," that was a part of the movie "Fireproof" that was out in theaters last fall, and that's going to be coming out on DVD here in another couple of weeks.
And between here and Valentine's Day we thought we all could use a little love alignment, and so today we're focusing in on the idea that love intercedes – that a part of loving one another means praying for one another. 3 John 2 says "Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health just as your soul prospers." Your assignment today in the Love Dare is to begin praying for your spouse's heart – pray for three specific areas where you'd like to see God do a work in your spouse's life and in your marriage, and you don't just do it today but you kind of keep building on this and make this a regular pattern for your life.
We post each day's Love Dare on our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, and if you miss any of them, you are welcome to visit the Web and catch your assignment for the day. And if you'd like to get a copy of the book, "The Love Dare," we have those in our FamilyLife Resource Center as well, and you can order a copy when you go online at FamilyLifeToday.com.
Now, we're going to talk today about anger, and this is one of those subjects – it's important to be very careful when you look at what the Bible has to say not only about this subject but about a lot of subjects.
For example, my daughter, Katy, came to me a number of years ago, and she said, "Dad, I have selected a life verse, and it's from Proverbs." And I'm thinking, "Well, this is good – a life verse coming from Proverbs."
Dennis: By your daughter.
Bob: Yeah, and she said, "It's right here. It's in Proverbs 6. It says, 'A little slumber, a little sleep, a little folding of the hands to rest.'" There it is, that's my life verse.
And I said, "Well, Katy, you can't quit there."
Dennis: She didn't finish the verse.
Bob: I don't know, maybe it's the next verse where it says, "and destruction will come upon you swiftly." And I said, "You know, you have to read the next verse." She said, "Well, I don't like that next verse. I don't want that to be my life verse. I just want the first one to be my life verse – a little slumber, a little sleep." And I was thinking about that related to the Bible passage that says "Be angry but do not sin." I like the first part of that verse okay, you know?
Dennis: Be angry?
Bob: Yeah, I'll just make that my verse.
Dennis: You can justify a lot there.
Bob: "Be angry" – the Bible teaches me to be angry, and I thought maybe I'll just make that my life passage right there, okay? Be angry.
Dennis: Well, what you're really putting your finger on there is the subject of anger and how we handle it. And we have a guest today, Dr. Robert Jones, who joins us again on FamilyLife Today. Bob, welcome back.
Robert: Thank you, glad to be here.
Dennis: Bob is a counselor, an author, a seminary professor; lives with his wife and two sons in Raleigh, North Carolina, and has written extensively on the subject of anger. And you really describe one point in your own marriage of coming home early in your pastorate. I couldn't believe you actually wrote this story down.
Bob: Confession is good for the soul.
Dennis: You were a pastor, and you were also painting houses, I guess, to make ends meet.
Robert: Yes, in small churches, yes.
Dennis: You arrived home after an 11-hour day, and you were kind of expecting something at that point.
Robert: Sure, I was coming home and expecting that my wife would have food ready for me, and that my children would, in a sense, bow down and let King Daddy come into the house and enjoy his relaxation, and he could put his feet up and relax, and that's not the reception that day I received.
Bob: What did you get?
Robert: Well, the food wasn't ready, and my children, who were young at this point, were desirous of Daddy time, as young children want.
Bob: They wanted to play with you, and they wanted to get you on their agenda.
Dennis: And you wanted to be selfish?
Robert: I had my own agenda.
Dennis: So what happened?
Robert: Well, anger and a miserable night in the Jones household.
Dennis: So what did you do? How did you express the anger?
Robert: Critical, loud voice, withdraw – all the yuck.
Bob: You kind of dragged it all out? You got the withdrawal, the shout, I mean, there are lots of different responses. You tried most of them, right?
Robert: Yes, yes, yes.
Dennis: But the next night you came home with a different attitude?
Robert: Well, God met me, and God met me as I was driving home the next night – He met me with Mark 10:45, a very simple passage – "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many," and the whole agenda of my mind, the whole agenda of my heart was exposed by that – that what God was calling me to do is leave my one job to go and do my other job – my job of loving my family.
And with Christ helping me to have that different motivation, I didn't come home with the same expectation. I came home with a desire to serve.
Bob: So you're saying that the anger that you experienced the first night had more to do with your frame of mind than it did with any of the external circumstance or stimulus that provoked it.
Robert: It had everything to do with that, because the same circumstances can be repeated the next night, and I can respond to them differently because I'm looking at them differently through a Christ-centered lens.
Bob: Now, do you think that is always the case when it comes to anger? I mean, some folks would look at their circumstance, and they would say, you know, you're coming home after a hard day with expectations. I'm going home, and the only expectation I've got is that somebody will be civil with me. Now, that's a fair expectation to have, isn't it? That somebody is going to be decent. And, instead, I get somebody who is abusive or scornful or inconsiderate or whatever else – that's a little different, isn't it?
Robert: Well, I think it's different in degree and different in quantity and the severity of the situation, but I don't think at the root it's different. I think it's still an issue of expectations.
Now, what we want to bring to what you just talked about where you're coming home, and it's an abusive situation is what is God calling me to do in that situation, and that might look different in terms of confrontation and how we're going to handle that.
But in terms of that anger of where is God in your life and having God your anchor, having a buoyancy about your life because there is a Savior who is empowering you, I think it's very similar.
Bob: And just to be clear here – are you saying the way to deal with anger is have no expectations and then you'll never get angry because you'll never be disappointed?
Robert: No, no, I think what we're talking about is learning to submit your desires that are often good and normal and natural and all that – learning how to submit them to the sovereignty and goodness and love of Christ in your life.
Dennis: Well, let's take another practical illustration. Let's say you like to be on time when you go places.
Bob: Gee, why did you pick this one, Dennis, huh?
Dennis: Well – you could almost …
Bob: Because confession is good for the soul, right?
Dennis: You could almost set your clock at church by when the Rainey family arrived – 15 minutes either side of the number, you know?
Bob: That's okay, yeah.
Dennis: That's on time. Speak to that, if you would, Bob. I mean, for a man who wants to be on time, and I started pulling my weight and helping get the kids ready, and I realized at a point I was not doing that. So I was wrong in that. But let's say you've pulled your weight, and you're still late?
Robert: I think anything can – any desire we have is capable of becoming – rising up and climbing up the staircase onto the throne of our hearts and becoming an inordinate, a controlling, ruling kind of demand.
Dennis: You're saying being on time can be a god?
Robert: Absolutely, it can be.
Bob: An idol in your heart? Would you say that's what happened with you – that being on time became an idol for you?
Dennis: Well, I'm hesitant to mention it, but I think that's probably accurate.
Dennis: I think it really is an issue of …
Robert: Confession is good for your soul, I think is what I just heard today.
Dennis: I've found that to be true, and listeners know that we regularly have this kind of honesty here on FamilyLife Today. But, you know, I have found, though, that what you have to realize is when you make on-time more valuable that human relationships, you really do end up damaging the things that are most valuable. Because being on time may be important to me, but it's not more important than my wife or my children. And when I get angry or if I get angry at them and say some things I shouldn't say to them, that's simply not right. That's simply a misuse of a God-given emotion.
Robert: There are three questions I try to counsel people to think about on how to tell when any kind of desire is rising up onto the throne, when it's becoming controlling or demanding, whatever it is. One question is this – what do I think about what I don't have to think about something? In other words, is this desire something that tends to consume me, and I get obsessed by it.
A second question would be do I sin in order to get it? And then maybe the one that's even more telltale is this – do I sin when I don't get it? So does it consume me? Is it something that I have to have so I will manipulate to get this? In other words, I have to be on time, I have to be on time. So all the children aren't ready, but or – they're having a conversation, I'm going to interrupt them, I'm going to be abrupt and demanding of them. Or when I don't get it, they're not on time. I'm angry, I'm fretting, I'm upset. Those kinds of questions, I think, help us discern when a desire is rising up onto the throne of our heart.
Dennis: Some of the issues, though, Bob, are pragmatic. I mean, let's say there's a spouse who is overspending in the budget, and there's only so much that comes in. Are you saying you shouldn't be angry in that situation maybe to get your point across? You can't keep overspending.
Robert: Well, I would still come back to the heart at this point. Is my heart under the control of Christ? Jesus manifest, on several occasions, a righteous anger when the – when His Father's temple was being desecrated. There is a right kind of righteous anger. Where I would want to start, though, is asking this person – where is God at that point in your life? Are you taking His control? Is your anger really righteous?
Because there is a way in which I think we can confront evil, confront sin, which is what I think you're talking about here, without it being something that's controlling my heart and producing an anger against that person.
Bob: Let me see if I understand what you're saying – Dennis's example of firm, loud speech – not shouting but somebody who would say …
Dennis: How about "intensity."
Bob: Yeah, there's some passion behind it.
Dennis: You're making your point very deliberately.
Bob: "Sweetheart, we cannot keep spending at this level because the money is not there." How do I dissect that and determine whether I've just been involved in some sinful outburst or whether that was an appropriate expression?"
Robert: I'm not sure that I, as an observer, could make that distinction about someone else, because I do think that firm and intense language is not sinful, necessarily. I come back to what's driving your heart at that point in time.
I would like to know how the spouse is receiving that, and perhaps there is a way in which you need to clarify that I wasn't angry at you. I'm not against you, I love you, but you need to understand that our funds are limited, et cetera.
Bob: Let's say I do look at my own heart, and I say, you know, I really do see that this wasn't just controlled emotional expression – this was out-of-control anger? This was what we're talking about here, and I don't know how to get my hands around it, and I don't like it. What is the first step? If somebody is confronted with the reality of their anger, and they really do want to turn from it, they want to repent of that behavior, what's Step 1?
Robert: Yes, I think that Step 1 would be for us to repent, not of the behavior, but to repent of the demanding heart that underlies that behavior – ways in which I have allowed a good desire to become a controlling thing; ways in which I need to learn how to dethrone those desires that are controlling my heart.
And I think the repentance comes in this way – Father in heaven, I have let this desire become more important – I think what we said earlier – more important than my relationship with my wife, with my children. I'm not seeing the big picture here.
Bob: You had a moment like that when you were trying to put a crib up once, is that right?
Robert: We laugh at this, my wife and I. We were assembling a crib with my – some friends were coming who had a baby, and we borrowed a crib – this was before we had children – and I'm on the left side, and she's on the right side, and we both have screwdrivers in hand, and she's screwing in on the one side; I'm on the other side, and she got done before I got done, and she innocently leaned over and said, "May I help you?" And that was – she was a newlywed who doesn't know you don't say those things to your husband.
No, I – we joke about that in hindsight, but I responded with anger because, as I looked at that later in the day, what I began to see was that I had – I was living, at that point, under a demand that I'd be respected, that I be the one who can infallibly screw in every screw, you know, in a single bound and faster than a speeding bullet, and it was that kind of deep pride that I think led to that angry reaction against my wife.
Bob: What caused you to look at it later. I mean, why did you analyze it, and then did you go through the process that you just talked about of repenting and confessing before God?
Robert: Yeah, I think the relationship at that point, I felt a distance from my wife, and the Spirit of God was working to convict me of that distance and how I was wrong to respond that way.
Dennis: What would you say to a woman who is married to a man, and the man isn't listening to the Spirit of God, and I've got an e-mail here in front of me – a young mom of four children. Her husband, she says, is a Christian, and he gets stressed out, and he blows his top, she says, swears at her, cusses out the children, has thrown things, leaves a dark cloud in the house, and yet here is a guy who has a Christian mentor and goes to a Bible study group with a group of men.
Now, this guy is not where you are, Bob. You were convicted of your inappropriate response to your wife and making something else more important than it should be. This dear woman here is in a marriage relationship, and she's saying, "I don't believe in divorce, Dennis, but this feels dangerous at points." What should she do?
Robert: Well, if he's a professing Christian, then she needs to confront him along those lines about his commitment to Christ, and she may need to bring someone else into the situation – to call her pastor, to call an elder or a deacon in the church.
Dennis: Maybe somebody in this Bible study group he goes to.
Robert: Yeah, very much, yes.
Dennis: Or the mentor that's mentoring him?
Robert: Yes, that would be the person that she might want to consider bringing into this, yes.
Dennis: And have him come physically and sit down at the dinner table, just the three of them, and confront him about his behavior around the house?
Robert: Well, to hear it out. I mean, I'm not assuming that she's not telling the truth here but, obviously, we're going to need to have a third party listen to both sides and find out what's going on.
Bob: At some level, we've got to see that our anger – it's an attempt to play God. I mean, we've already talked about in idolatrous fashion, but we're really wanting to be the sovereign over our own universe, aren't we?
Robert: Yeah, that's the way James pictures it. In the middle of chapter 4, there at the end of a particular section, he says, "Who are you to judge your neighbor? There is only one lawgiver and judge – the one is able to save and to destroy. But you? Who are you to judge your neighbor?" And it very much is a way in which I play God.
I can take the role of the lawgiver in someone's life when that person fails to live up to that law. I become the prosecutor, I become the judge, I sound the gavel against that person, I'll go a step further – I become the bailiff to take them off to prison; I become the executioner. I wear all these hats in this fantasy world that I live in of self-centeredness when you don't perform the way I want you to perform. It is a playing of God.
Dennis: One thing that I've heard you talk about is there are really two ways for a person to express anger – one way is by venting it, the other way is by suppressing it or withdrawing, and that neither one of those is healthy.
Robert: Yeah, they're both not pleasing to God. They bring relational alienation, and they don't please God. Sure, if you'd ask me whether it's better for me to have anger inside and to think angry thoughts against you than to express them with a fist, then in one sense, yes, it's better. But Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 5 says they're both wrong. It's sin in the heart.
Dennis: You know what I think you have done through your book and just our time together is you constantly bring us back to – we need to see our behavior and our heart attitude compared to Scripture and compared to God's heart and His attitude. I just appreciate you doing that and then better equipping us to say, you know what? Once I see that, I've got to do something about it. I can't continue to put up with my anger and use anger from a controlling sense to manipulate my spouse to try to get my way, to try to be overpowering or intimidating to try to get them to go do something or my children to conform in a way that brings me happiness or pleasure.
Robert: And we don't do that alone. There is good news, Dennis, for us here. God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. And as we humble our hearts before God, as we see what Christ has done and is doing and shall do for us, we can uproot anger.
Bob: You know, I was thinking about that verse that "God gives grace to the humble, opposes the proud," and I'm thinking anybody who would pick up a book like this and say, "You know, I probably need to read this book," are starting at the right place. Because there is some humility involved in saying, "I probably need to deal with the issue of anger in my own heart and my own life," and I believe that someone who will take a step like that and will crack open a book like this, God is going to give that person grace, and they can take some steps in the right direction and begin to replace angry, self-centered thinking with kindness and compassion and humility and gentleness and things that the Bible says are characteristic of someone who is genuinely a follower of Christ.
We've got copies of the book, "Uprooting Anger," in our FamilyLife Resource Center. You can go to our website, which is FamilyLifeToday.com, and on our site, you'll see information about the book. You can order it from us online, if you'd like. We also have Lou Priolo's book, which is called "The Heart of Anger," that is specifically designed to help us deal with anger in our children.
So, again, if you need information about either of these resources, go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, or call us toll free at 1-800-FLTODAY, 1-800-358-6329. That's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY. When you get in touch with us, someone from our team can let you know how you can order either or both of these books or, as I said, you can order them from us online at FamilyLifeToday.com.
By the way, there is something special that we want to make available to those of you who may be able to support the ministry of FamilyLife Today with a donation of any amount this month. We'd love to send you a copy of Dennis and Barbara Rainey's devotional guide for couples called "Moments With You," 365 daily devotions that couples can go through together. They give you something that you can talk about together, something to think about, something to pray about, and it's a great way to build a stronger relationship with one another and a stronger relationship with God.
As you know, FamilyLife Today is a listener-supported ministry, so your donation of any amount helps us stay on this station and on other stations all across the country, and we do appreciate that financial support. If you'd like to receive the devotional guide when you make a donation this month, if you're making the donation online at FamilyLifeToday.com simply type the word "moments" into the keycode box, and we'll know to send a copy of the book out to you.
Or call 1-800-FLTODAY. You can make your donation by phone, and just mention that you'd like the "Moments With You" daily devotional from Dennis and Barbara Rainey. Again, we are happy to send it to you as our way of saying thank you for your financial support of this ministry, we appreciate your partnership with us very much.
Now, tomorrow we want to talk about an exciting national competition that is coming up very soon that could earn your son or your daughter – and even if they don't win the prize money, there is a great reward ahead for them. We'll talk about all that tomorrow, and I hope you can be with us.
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'll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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