(Note: A downloadable PDF copy of this lesson is available on the last page.)
Is being a little bit angry like being a little bit pregnant?
Put off . . . anger, wrath, malice. Colossians 3:8, NKJV
It is not very often that an author describes a session with his counselor. Jay Carty did just that and I happened to be the counselor.
I was on my way to teach a class at a Christian college when I was given a note requesting that I return a long distance phone call from Jay. I returned his call and he wanted to set up an appointment. We agreed on 2:00 p.m. that day and I hurried on to teach my class. In my rush to get to class on time, I did not make any notation about the appointment.
After class, a student invited me to play racquetball at 1:30 p.m. Our play was interrupted by a phone call: Jay Carty wanted to know why I hadn’t kept my appointment.
I showered and dressed as quickly as possible, but I was still about an hour late. On the way to the appointment I breathed a prayer to the Lord to help me handle a very embarrassing situation. I walked into the room where a very understandably irate Jay Carty, six feet, seven inches tall, former professional basketball player and all muscle, was waiting with his wife. To say the least, there was a very awkward beginning. I mumbled an apology and tried to explain that I took the call on my way to a class and failed to write the time in my schedule.
Jay handed me a folder containing his Taylor/Johnson Temperament Test. I could feel him glaring at me as I studied it and realized that he could be very intimidating to most people when he was angry. The test showed an extremely dominant, very hostile, strongly expressive person. I decided to take a highly aggressive approach. After all, he must have some biblical insights since he had been a camp director in a Christian camp and was now considering moving on to serve in another Christian organization.
Here is Jay’s version of the meeting:
I had been directing a Christian conference center in the mountains of southern California around Lake Arrowhead. The big problems at the camp had been solved, and I knew I wasn’t a fine tuner organizationally. The camp needed a true manager for the next step in its history.
I had two job options, but I couldn’t decide between them. I was either going with “Churches Alive,” a church disciplining organization, as their Northwest Director, or I was going to be the Team Director for Athletes in Action basketball, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.
I kept vacillating. My kids were saying, “What kind of a day is it, Dad, a Churches Alive day or an A.I.A. day?” Sometimes my indecision varied hourly.
I just couldn’t make up my mind; it was really tough. So we went to see Dr. Henry Brandt, a nationally acclaimed Christian counselor, now teaching at a Christian college. I needed help, and I hoped he could give it.
San Diego is a three-hour drive from Lake Arrowhead. When Mary and I arrived, Dr. Brandt wasn’t there. He had forgotten the meeting and showed up a half hour late. I was a bit upset about waiting after such a long drive.
We took our Taylor/Johnson Temperament Analysis Tests with us. When we went into the office, the good doctor spread out the tests, looked at them, and asked, ‘What’s the problem?”
I said, “I’m having trouble making a job change and thought you could help us sort out the decision making process.”
“Well, it’s easy for me to see what the problem is, Jay,” Henry responded. “There’s sin in your life.”
After a lengthy pause I offered a rather impatient response, “Henry perhaps you could elaborate just a little bit.”
Dr. Brandt spent the next three or four minutes undressing me emotionally. I was sitting there naked in front of him; he could see who I really was, and I knew it. I was upset. Now, you probably wouldn’t have known I was mad. My wife knew. Henry knew, because he’s a pro.
So, I’m sitting there mad, and Henry asks, “What seems to be bothering you, Jay?”
“Don’t compound the problem by lying about it. Tell me what’s on your mind.”
Well he picked the right guy. My Taylor/Johnson scored me 99 percent dominant, 96 percent hostile, strongly expressive, and placed me considerably more subjective than objective. In other words, I’m a walking time bomb. Apart from the Holy Spirit, I’m dangerous.
“You hotshot.” I was indignant. “You don’t care about me, or you wouldn’t have forgotten the appointment. Then you pull this grandstand move by telling me there’s sin in my life, pat me on the rear, send me on my way and tell me, ‘Hey, you just talked to the great Dr. Henry Brandt.’ Well, thank you, but I’m not impressed. I think you’re a fraud, and I think you stink.”
He disarmed me with a totally emotionless question, “What else seems to be bothering you, Jay?”
There wasn’t much fight left in me by this time. It’s so hard to fight with someone who won’t fight. I said, “Henry, never mind. Just forget about the whole thing.” I motioned to Mary for us to leave.
Henry said, “No, no, don’t go. Right now, how do you feel down in the pit of your stomach? Would you say the fruit of the Spirit as defined in Galatians 5:22 and 23, typifies the way you feel: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control?”
“That answer’s easy,” I snorted. “None of those qualities typify the way I feel, at least not right now.”
He asked, “Then it’s safe to conclude you are not filled with the Spirit of God?”
That question means lots of different things to lots of different people. Some people are really asking if you speak in tongues, but that wasn’t what Henry was asking. Some people would be asking if you truly know Jesus as Savior. That wasn’t what Henry was asking either. He wanted to know if I was currently experiencing the power of God in my life.
I put on my sarcastically theological facade and replied, “Now, Henry, I know Jesus Christ as Savior. My body is the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit’s in there. I’ve been sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise. I’ve been baptized into one body, and I drink of the same Spirit you do. But if what you’re talking about is the essence of Ephesians 5:18 (being constantly in the process of being filled or empowered by the Holy Spirit), then I’m not filled. Oh, it’s true, the Spirit’s in here,” as I pointed to my body, “but right now He doesn’t have all of me. I’m mad, and I’ve spent some time dwelling on my anger. As I understand it, until he has 100 percent of me, I’m not filled. If that’s what you’re talking about, then I’m not filled because none of the qualities you just mentioned are currently evident in my life.”
“That’s right,” he said. “If the qualities aren’t there, you can’t be filled.” He asked again, “You’re sure you’re not filled?”
“I’m sure,” I growled. “Right now I’m not filled, I’m real mad. I mean, I’m really mad at you, and I’m not handling it well. Henry you may not know it, but your upper lip is in danger of being pulled up over your forehead.”
Remember, I ran a Christian camp, and in Christian camping you live on the grounds, and everybody with whom you work lives on the grounds. In other words, you live with the same people you work with. You can’t get away from each other, except by going into your living quarters. So when you get one or two fellow workers who irritate you, you’re irritated most of the time. That was me for sure. . . .
It was then he asked me the blockbuster question. He asked gently, in a soft voice that was such a contrast to mine, “Jay, do you feel that way most of the time?”
It was so quiet you could hear our breathing.
It was true. Anger was an ongoing problem for me. I guess it started early in my life. Anger is often a problem for people who have had an alcoholic parent and who went through their parent’s divorce during early teenage years. I had quit a good job, an executive position. We sold a wonderful home in Corona del Mar in the Newport Beach area of southern California, with a view of the sun setting behind Catalina Island every night. We had keys to a private beach. I worked four minutes from my house and actually went home for lunch each day. Talk about having it made! We did, but we flicked it all in to go serve God. Then, four-and-a-half years later, I discovered I’d been serving Him in the power of my flesh, not in the power of the Spirit. You see, I was mad most of the time.
I said, “Henry how bad am I? What am I going to do? I’ve only spent a lifetime learning to live this way.”
“It’s like having a splinter in your thumb,” Henry responded. “You hurt your thumb a lot because you use it a lot. But if you pull the splinter, the thumb gets well rather quickly.”
“Please tell me how.”
“Confess it to God.”
I was still puzzled. “What are you talking about? How?” I was pleading now.
“Whenever you feel anger, talk to God about it before you sin. You might have to do it twenty times the first day, but it will only require eighteen the second. As you practice, your confession frequency will continue to decrease. You might go a few days or even a week or so without having to do it.”¹
Jay Carty was a man who had wrestled most of his life with anger. He experienced a miracle with his anger. I didn’t solve his anger problem; God did. Today, he is an easygoing, cheerful, gentle person. What made the difference? He got hold of the simple truth that Jesus died to save us from our sins and make His Spirit available to us. He trained himself to be alert to the first signs of anger, turn at once to God for cleansing, and be empowered by God’s Holy Spirit. Today, Jay has an ever-widening speaking ministry in which he teaches people how to yield themselves to God’s control.
During my meeting with Jay and his wife, I did not go into his past feelings toward his father or his mother or how his parents’ divorce affected him when he was younger. Our discussion lasted twenty to thirty minutes and focused on his sinful behavior of anger. I just directed him to the healing power of God in order to deal with the sin in his life today. God may have later brought issues from his past to his mind that needed attention, but the immediate issue was his current anger. This is the miracle available to everyone: we are a prayer away from peace and freedom from anger.
How fast can someone become angry? Five seconds is not too fast, is it? If I can get angry in less than five seconds, I can get un-angry in the time it takes to breathe a simple prayer. It is just that simple! It has worked in my own life and in thousands of lives over the years.
It is also true that I don’t understand the complete situation in people’s lives. And neither do you or any other counselor! But God does! That’s why we bring our anger to Him: He understands us and loves us and wants us to be free from anger.