Man is body, soul and spirit. The soul is made up of the will, intellect and emotions. The devil's strategy is to deceive the mind, alter our emotions so that our will the wrong thing. A lot of Christians live at the level of the soul rather than at the level of the spirit, which results in responding emotionally rather than biblically. There are three emotions that the devil likes to use against the believer – anger, depression and bitterness.
Anger and Bitterness
Recently, there was a honeymoon couple from the United States. They went walking, but as they went they got into a serious argument. That argument would prove fatal as the angered wife pushed her husband over the edge of a cliff. The Bible has much to say about anger. Ephesians 4:26, 27 says, "In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold." Anger can lead to bitterness. Some years ago in Barbados, a homosexual man was so bitter that his lover was leaving him that he stabbed and killed him. He claimed that they had made vows. There are individuals who are so angry that they have contracted HIV that they go around infecting others through sexual encounters. Joseph in the book of Genesis was not bitter in spite of all that his brothers had done to him. Ephesians 4:31 says, "Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice." Hebrews 12:15 says, "See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root raises up to cause trouble and defile many."
Human anger is normal and not unnecessarily sinful. The verse in Ephesians that was previously mentioned indicates that we do get angry, but we do not have to sin. There are some things in life that we should get angry about. For example, we should get angry at social evils like abortion, discrimination and domestic violence. Such anger should lead us to pray, to agitate and to take action that can correct the problems. Human anger may result from not having the right view of a situation – we are limited in our knowledge and may misjudge a situation. A person's perception often becomes his / her reality whether it is based on objective truth or not. We get angry because we think the situation warrants it.
Human anger often leads to sin, which is why it is often condemned in the Bible. Sinful anger can be expressed in various ways. We may want to take vengeance on persons who have hurt us. Vengeance includes bitterness – strong feelings of animosity, resentment or cynicism. People who are bitter are harsh, critical, judgmental; their view of life and people is skewed and negative. Vengeance includes hatred and the desire for and taking revenge. Another expression of sinful anger is verbal abuse. We get angry and we give people a piece of our mind. " We include, shout, argument and denigrate others with the intention of humiliating them. At the other extreme, sinful anger may be evidenced in refusing to share how we feel. Instead of openly communicating with others telling them how they have hurt us, we internalize our feelings, so that the person does not know that we are angry with them.
Human anger can be controlled. The first step is to admit that we're angry. Some people do not want to admit that they are angry to others, but worst yet, they do not want to admit to themselves that they are angry. Once anger is not admitted, the person can not deal with it. We must learn to control our outbursts, which involves thinking before we act and praying and talking to others. The Holy Spirit has given us fruit that we must daily cultivate. The Bible tells us that if we walk in the spirit, we will not carry out the desires of the sinful nature. We must practice confession and forgiveness. We must confess to God and others the sinful expressions of anger and we need to be willing to forgive and to receive forgiveness. Additionally, we must avoid ruminating on the problem – the source of anger. To ruminate is to constantly think about the problem, which may lead to the feeling of revenge; that must be resisted. To get your mind to stop thinking about something, you have to preoccupy it with other things: reading a novel, watching television, talking to others, working on a project, reading the Word and praying are some of the ways in which this could be done.
There are various causes for anger. There are physical causes – things that are physically wrong with persons that cause them to react angrily and / or aggressively. People become angry in reaction to injustice, either directed against themselves or against loved ones. People also become angry because of frustration; they are angry because there are obstacles blocking them from realizing a goal or accomplishing what they want. Anger also comes because of threat and hurt: when persons perceive that they are rejected, put down, ignored, humiliated, unjustly criticized or threatened in some other way. Anger is typically a mask for the hurt that we feel: we may be disappointed or hurt by a person's actions or negligence, but instead of expressing that hurt, we hide it behind anger. For example, some children are really hurt because of rejection, and they express that hurt through expressions of anger. Anger is also caused through learning. We can learn how to respond to various situations by seeing the examples of others. If our parents were previously to react angrily, then we may have been conditioned to react angrily to various situations.
The effects of anger can be either negative or positive. Remember the Bible does not always condemn anger, but it does condemn sinful anger. It is that type of anger that has negative effects. One such effect is holding back: this forms any form of withdrawal. We may choose to withdraw from the person that we're angry with, or we can go further and withdraw from others including those who love us. We may also choose to withdraw from a situation. In some cases, withdrawal is a positive action. It gives us time to calm down and to think and pray about the situation. Anger is very serious when it is internalized.
Some people deny that they are angry; if anger is denied then it can not be deal with and resolved, which will very well lead to spiritual and neurotic problems. Anger that is turned inward may express itself in acting out, of which there are three types. The first is direct aggression: Cain was so angry and jealous that he killed his brother, Abel. The second is passive aggression: persons find subt ways at getting back at a person, for example, sarcastic jokes; in an office, a worker may work slowly or misplace an important file. The third is redirected aggression or displaced aggression: anger is taken out on other persons who were not the cause of the problem, but are simply innocent victims. A mature way of dealing with anger is to face the sources of anger: recognize what is causing the anger and find appropriate ways to deal with it.
We can take steps to minimize or to prevent anger. Biblical teaching is indispensable in helping us to accomplish this. The goal of Christianity is that we become Christ-like. In order for that to happen we must read, meditate on and live out the truth of Scripture. The Holy Spirit will give us the capacity to do this. He will produce His fruit in our lives that will enable us to positively respond to negative situations. We should try to avoid anger-arousing situations and people. This may be more easily said than done especially when the person or situation occurs in the home or in the workplace. In light of that, we should minimize our contact where possible or be willing to walk away when necessary. To this we should add learning to confront in a loving way (speaking the truth in love). Communication is needed to express how you feel, hear from the other person and to resolve problems.
We should also learn to reevaluate situations. We can be guilty of faulty perception, or the situation may not be as bad as we think, or may not merit an angry response. Reevaluating the situation may allow us to be more understanding and empathetic. Often we respond in an angry way because we have low self-esteem. We need to find ways to build our self-esteem. This may involve recognizing what the Word of God says about us, talking to a counselor, daily affirming our worth, developing good communication and social skills, learning new skills and other such self-esteem building activities. We need to avoid thinking about the problem / hurt. This is difficult since our mind seems to run in loops when we have been hurt. It is made worse if we tend to be obsessive-compulsive. One solution is to occupy our minds with other thoughts, for example by meditating on the Word of God or even relaxing our minds by reading a novel or watching a good movie. As mentioned previously, a great way of preventing anger is to be Spirit-controlled, yielding to the Holy Spirit so that He can influence and dominate our thoughts and actions.
1 Kings 19: 1-9 gives an account of one of Israel's foremost prophecies. Elijah had experienced a mighty victory against the prophecies of Baal, but when Queen Jezebel threatened to kill him, he became afraid and ran for his life. Here was a man who was not afraid of hundreds of false prophecies but was afraid of a woman to the extent that he became depressed. He felt that he had failed and wanted God to end his life. This shows that depression can affect even the most spiritual of men, but it is up to us to determine whether it will hold us down. Many pastors (and other fivefold ministers) struggle with depression, usually because of appointments in the ministry. Let's take a look at some of the signs of depression.
Depression is evidenced in sadness (accompanied by pessimism and hopelessness). People constantly feel sad and have a negative outlook on life. Depression is seen in apathy and inertia (makes it difficult to get going or face decisions). People reach a place in their lives where it takes too much effort to care and where it takes even greater effort to do anything that needs to be done. Victims of depression experience fatigue (loss of energy, lack of interest in work, sex, religion, etc.); they perpetually feel tired. Another symptom of depression is low self-esteem (accompanied often by self-criticism and feelings of guilt, shame, worthlessness and helplessness). Sanguine persons, persons who are accredited to being spontaneous and fun-loving, lose that spontaneity. Depression can produce insomnia and difficulties in concentration as well as loss of appetite.
There are various causes of depression including genetic-biological causes, physical causes and psychological-cognitive causes. Physical causes include such things as lack of sleep, lack of exercise, the side-effects of drugs, illness and improper diet. In women, physical causes include Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) and postpartum depression (after birth of a child). Psychological-cognitive causes include background and family causes. For example, depression is more likely when parents reject their children or when they set unrealistically high or rigid standards that children are unable to meet. It is even more likely if one or both parents suffer with depression. Under psychological-cognitive causes, we can include stress and significant losses. In our increasingly fast-paced world, deteriorating society and income challenged environment we can expect to see more cases of depression as people struggle to survive. Losses of opportunities, jobs, promotions, health, people that we love and other losses can lead to depression.
Psychological-cognitive causes also include learned helplessness: depression comes when we are faced with situations that we can not control. Cognitive causes specifically include negative thinking; people who allow their minds to perpetually dwell on negative thoughts will inevitably become depressed. Cognitive causes also include anger. Depression results because anger is internalized. Hurt leads to anger (anger hides the hurt) which leads to revenge (revenge hides the hurt and anger) which leads to destructive action, psychosomatic symptoms, depression (these hide the hurt, anger, revengefulness). Once people recognize the anger they can begin to condemn themselves for it, which leads to further depression. Under cognitive causes we can also talk about sin and guilt. Guilt causes depression, depression causes more guilt and that increased guilt leads to greater depression.
There are various effects of depression. Individuals who are depressed demonstrate unhappiness and inefficiency. Inefficiency means that persons are not functioning at their best, for example, they may be sluggish at work and fail to do what the job requires. Depression may lead to various physical illnesses. It leads to feelings of low self-esteem. People who are depressed may also withdraw from people, spending a lot of time alone. In extreme cases, depression can lead to suicide. Depression also has a negative effect on others. People who live with depressed persons often feel burdened; they may want to help but feel powerless and inadequate to help. They themselves may battle with feelings of depression as a result.
We can prevent depression in various ways. The most important thing that we need to do is to trust God. Scriptures encourages us to trust the Lord and not to lean on our own understanding; we are to acknowledge Him in all our ways. At times God may seem distant, we may not even feel like calling on Him. This is where we need to operate by faith and where we must do as an act of our will in spite of how we feel. God is a faithful God. His covenant assures us of various benefits. He is our peace, our provider, our protector. Scriptures describes Him as a refugee and our strength, a present help in our time of trouble. Whenever we go through depressing times, we need to pray, to call on His name and to trust that He will hear and answer.
This may seem strange, but expect discouragement. Discouraging times will come. People will disappoint us. Some situations will not work out in our favor. Prayers may not be answered to our specifications. During such times we need to remember God's promises. He will continue to be with us. He will surround us with songs of deliverance. He will give us the grace that we need to overcome. We also need to be alert to depression-prone situations. For example, a widow will experience depression after her husband has died and at consequent special occasions. While she can prepare for those times, others who are familiar can offer encouragement. This is where the body of Christ becomes the agent of blessing that God wants it to be, being His hands extended, demonstrating His love in tangible ways.
We must learn to handle anger and guilt. We already deal with ways of dealing with anger. There are two kinds of guilt: subjective and objective. Subjective guilt is the feeling of guilt, whether we are actually guilty of doing something wrong or not. This feeling can be misleading because it may be based on neurotic perceptions. Objective guilty occurs when we have actually done something wrong, when we have violated God's principals: whether we feel guilty or not, we are actually guilty of sin. People who are plagued with subjective guilt must recognize that unless they have actually done something wrong, they do not need to feel guilty. This may require counseling to deal with unresolved issues. Persons who have objective guilt must confess their sin and ask God to forgive them. The Bible tells us that once we do that God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1: 9).
To avoid depression, we must learn to challenge negative thinking. Even though there are some harsh realities in life, God does not want us to dwell on the negative. In fact, the Word tells us to rejoice in the Lord always. Paul was in prison when he wrote this, but he refused to think negatively about his situation. He is trusted in the sovereignty of God. When he and Silas were in the Philippian jail, they not only prayed, but they praised God. Praise is a powerful weapon in defeating negative thoughts. We must cultivate the discipline of meditating on the Word of God. That Word contains powerful promises that can sustain us in the dark moments of life. Beyond that, the Word guides us into God's perfect will. Once we get it into our mind it will affect our outlook on life. It is also important to meditate on positive things: there are good things happening in your life and in society; why not think on these things other than lodging on the negative?
Life presents various challenges, and it is our responsibility to learn coping techniques. For example, time management is a good way of minimizing frustration and the feeling of being overwhelmed. We must also be willing to find support from loving and capable individuals who can help us to navigate through those tough times. God has put us in a body of believers for this kind of support. We are all called to be ministers, and the act of ministering to others is therapeutical. Self-absorbed persons can easily become depressed while persons who help others often feel good about themselves. However, this must be balanced: to get overly involved with others and to neglect ourselves, or to excessively take on the problems of others can lead to depression. Finally, we need to practice physical fitness; we feel much better emotionally when we are physically fit.
Anger, bitterness and depression can be overcome. It is counterproductive to excuse ourselves saying that we're only human. Too many people accept negative emotions, which prevent them from realizing their potential in Christ. Further, it is counterproductive to blame others and situations. People are what they are and life is what it is; we are powerless to change many of the things that come our way in life. Our goal is to be like Christ and to live an overlapping life. This leaves no room for anger, bitterness and depression. Rather, we can be filled with love, joy, peace and the other attributes of the fruit of the Spirit.