Practical Tips for Taming Your Temper
“I think he’s faking,” my husband said, as our son stared at him from the floor with tears streaming down his face.
I replied, “He’s six months old. He doesn’t think like that. He just wants you to pick him up.”
As the screaming elevated, my husband got down on the floor and scooped him up. Our little boy lifted his head over his dad’s shoulder and turned to smile at me. I couldn’t help but laugh. My husband was more perceptive than I was regarding the manipulative element of our son’s tantrum.
My anger acts in a similar way at times. It screams and refuses to be overlooked until it gets what it wants. It demands to be noticed.
What can we do to control our anger when it demands its way? How can we submit it to God’s commands to be patient, loving, and kind? We begin in our hearts.
Our hearts are the source of all our desires and thoughts.
Anger is a product of our hearts, and our hearts are the source of all our desires and thoughts. Jesus explained this in Luke 6:45:
“A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.”
Anger is a sign of what is actually going on in our hearts; all that we say and do (including our anger) originates in our hearts.
Modifying our behavior is not enough.
Our first response to an untamed temper may be to modify our behavior—to stifle the anger rather than pouring it out, biting our tongue to keep the angry words inside, or screaming into a pillow rather than screaming in someone’s face. Yet, simply stifling or hiding our anger isn’t going to create true and lasting change. If our anger is first a product of our hearts, then we must deal with our hearts if we want to truly attack any sin at hand.
When our anger rages, we need to question the motives behind it:
Why am I feeling this way?
What do I want that I am not getting?
What did I get that I didn’t want?
What do I want so badly right now that I am willing to sin to get it?
Why is this so important to me?
Going through these simple questions can reveal what is truly going on in our hearts and motivating our anger.
We need to examine and understand our motives.
Once the heart issue is revealed, we can pinpoint the motive behind our anger instead of modifying behaviors. We may discover that our desires are actually good and not outright sinful. A wife who desires to see her husband lead their family has a godly desire. Yet, if that desire comes out in harsh words towards her husband when he doesn’t lead, then it is sinful. It’s okay to have desires, but we need to remember to steward them biblically.
Other times our desires are fully sinful. We need to kill those swiftly by cultivating godly desires in our hearts to replace them. The woman who desires her friend’s husband because he leads her family so much better is committing adultery in her heart.
In both cases, we need to take our heart’s desires to Scripture to examine and test them. Is this desire godly? Am I stewarding this desire well or idolizing it? Any desire that supersedes our love for God and our desire to obey his commands has become an idol that needs to be crushed.
As we know from the gospel, we are incapable of conquering sinful desires on our own. We need Christ and his atonement. We need the Holy Spirit who raised Christ from the dead. We need the word of God to cut our hearts like a double-edged sword.
So let’s bring our uprooted hearts to God and his word. Let’s go to him in prayer and repentance, seeking strength to overcome the heart issues leading to sin. And let’s not lose heart as sin is uprooted but instead remember the grace we receive at the cross.
Here are some practical tips for controlling our emotions in the moment.
In the moment, uprooting heart issues and dealing with them may not come so naturally. It’s still important to learn self-control and ways to bridle our anger for those heated moments. Here are a few tips:
Don’t react immediately. When people or situations upset us, our responses are often quick to follow with no thought. Proverbs says this is the way of the foolish (Prov. 29:20). Learn to pause and consider if your reaction lines up with Scripture.
Memorize Bible passages that address your anger. David said, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Ps. 119:11). In those tempting situations, the Holy Spirit has a way of bringing those verses to mind.
Pray. When our anger begins to boil over, we should stop and pray to God for wisdom and help—and ask others to pray as well. Prayer often calms our anger.
Take a break. In emotional situations, it can be helpful to step back to process. Leave the situation and take time to pray, meditate on Scripture, and consider what is actually going on. Take a moment to start asking questions. It’s useless to resolve a problem when heated with anger.
Lean on the Holy Spirit.
In all that you do, remember the Holy Spirit is the one who will enable you to overcome your anger. We can’t do this in our own power. Our hearts are desperately sick with sin, and the only one who can truly overcome is Christ through the Holy Spirit working in us. The power to change our temper isn’t found in strong willpower or a controlled mind but rather in the saving grace of God. Only those saved by his grace and indwelt by the Holy Spirit can have true change in their hearts:
You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. (Rom. 8:9-11)
Let’s remember our desperate need for the Holy Spirit to change our hearts and enable us to obey. We can overcome these emotions—but only in Christ. He is our strength. May we rest in all our Lord has done—and continues to do—for us and find peace from our angry hearts.
Lara d’Entremont is a wife, mother, and biblical counselor-in-training. You can find more of her writing at laradentremont.com.
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