If you struggle with your temper as we do, there’s no perfect formula that will prevent you from ever losing control again. But we can tell you what helps us.
Take a breather. One of the actions you can take that is most likely to rescue you in a tense situation is also one of the hardest to do: Walk away. Simply remove yourself from the situation and catch your breath before you address the problem at hand. The more calm you are, the more clearly you will see how to handle it.
Learn to let go. Scripture tells us that it is to our benefit to “overlook a transgression” (Prov. 19:11, NKJV). Receiving the grace to forgive and forget even when you are the one who has been wronged is an invaluable skill that will earn you the respect and friendship of others. It will also save you the trouble of having to repent from giving your temper free reign and hurting someone else.
“I am not responsible for the attitudes of the people who are against me,” Les Parrott wrote in an article in New Man magazine titled “Taming the Incredible Hulk” (Mar/Apr 2001). “I am only responsible for me.”
The way we remember this principle in our family is by reminding one another, “It’s not just how you act; it’s how you react.” Even though we cannot control the actions of those around us, we must strive to always respond in a way that honors Christ.
Ultimately, temper is a Holy Spirit issue. Remember that if you are a Christian the Holy Spirit is living inside you. He speaks to you, watches over you and empowers you to overcome life’s most insurmountable problems.
One of the fruits of His life in you is self-control (see Gal. 5:16-26). When you lose your temper, you take the Holy Spirit out of the equation. You allow your emotions to rule you instead of being ruled by the power of God inside you.
Anger’s Destructive Daughter
Have you ever seen kudzu? It is a climbing, vinelike plant native to East Asia that spreads like wildfire and has found a home in the Deep South of the United States, where we live.
It is incredibly aggressive, taking over everything it touches—abandoned fields, roadside trees, telephone poles, entire buildings. If kudzu ever creeps onto your property, you can’t rid yourself of it without an atomic bomb.
Anger’s destructive daughter, Bitterness, is similar to kudzu. You can tell she’s influencing you if you’re feeling resentful because someone has wronged you or life hasn’t gone your way. Like the tenacious plant, the root of bitterness needs little soil, requires a minimum of cultivation, grows quickly and is very difficult to remove. And if it takes root in your life, don’t bother trying to hide it—a bitter root always bears bitter fruit.
It doesn’t take a prophet to predict that many of you reading this article are full of bitterness. You may be bitter at a boss who fired you when you thought he was your friend. You may be bitter at a business partner who took advantage of you and your investment. Perhaps you are bitter at a parent who abused you or at God because He allowed a tragedy into your life.
People who are bitter exhibit telltale signs—a hardness in their faces, slumping shoulders, negative conversation. It is miserable to be around people who suffer from this sickness.
Bitterness initiates a response that is the opposite of displays of temper. Whereas temper causes you to give your anger full vent, bitterness grows when you bottle anger up inside you.
Whenever you feel indignant, you are faced with a threefold choice. You can release your indignation in a Christ-honoring way; you can release it in an uncontrolled, sinful way; or you can bottle it up and let it sour and spoil inside you.
Anger is a powerful reaction, but bitterness is equally powerful and even more destructive. As Jerry Bridges put it in his book The Practice of Godliness, “Resentment, bitterness, and self-pity build up inside our hearts and eat away at our spiritual lives like a slowly spreading cancer.”
Like acid, bitterness can destroy the vessel where it is being stored. It will depress you and cause you to destroy both yourself and others with complete abandon.
Anger and bitterness both draw their water from the same emotional well—they come from the same bloodline. In one case the emotion can be pure and healthy while in the other case it is polluted and poisonous.
Let me explain. As we have said, anger is sometimes right and justified, but bitterness is always sinful and unjustified. Indeed, the Scriptures allow anger (see Eph. 4:26), while bitterness is universally condemned (Heb. 12:15).