Every man faces Goliath. Like David, we walk into the Valley of Elah and we come face to face with the enemy. Your Goliath may be anger. This Goliath taunts many men and leaves broken and scarred victims in its path. You may struggle with uncontrolled rage or maybe just passive-aggressive responses but either way your heart is constantly in turmoil rather than being ruled by the peace of Christ. This was the struggle of King Saul.
1 Samuel 18 records one of his outbursts with David, the giant killer. When the men were returning home after David had killed the Philistine, the women came out from all the towns of Israel to meet King Saul with singing and dancing, with joyful songs and with tambourines and lutes. "7 As they danced, they sang: 'Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.' 8 Saul was very angry; this refrain galled him. 'They have credited David with tens of thousands,' he thought, 'but me with only thousands. What more can he get but the kingdom?' 9 And from that time on Saul kept a jealous eye on David."
Anger can have many causes; unfulfilled expectations, blocked goals, traumatic circumstances, difficult people, biochemical change, even direct demonic attack. For Saul, his anger was fueled by jealousy. Saul was jealous of the attention that David received. David was the completion to Saul's praise and adulation. David was the new kid on the block and everyone was enamored with him. Saul was selfish, he wanted to be number one in people's eyes and he became jealous and angry at David's success.
Saul's jealousy caused him to have an angry attitude toward David. Underneath the surface of his kingly response, Saul harbored anger in his heart. This anger eventually found an unrighteous outlet.
1 Samuel 18:10-11 tells the story, "10 The next day an evil spirit from God came forcefully upon Saul. He was prophesying in his house, while David was playing the harp, as he usually did. Saul had a spear in his hand 11 and he hurled it, saying to himself, 'I'll pin David to the wall.' But David eluded him twice."
Saul's anger, left unchecked, unconfessed and without repentance, expressed itself in violent action. Saul tried to kill David. The text says, "The next day an evil spirit from God came forcefully upon Saul." A demonic spirit, allowed access by God, took advantage of Saul's sinful anger and deceived him into acting with murderous intent. Sinful anger is a Goliath that can have terrible consequences. I have already alluded to the fact that anger can have multiple origins.
I am driving on the freeway, minding my own business and all of a sudden a speeding driver zooms past me and unsafely changes lanes, cutting me off. In response I hit the horn and the jerk cuts me off... oh sorry I was venting my own experience from this morning's commute! Seriously, it could be as simple as being cut off on the freeway. Or maybe our spouse says something to us in a disrespectful tone and we think, "I deserve better than that." Rather than letting it go, we stew on it all day and by the time we get home and they warmly greet us at the door, we are mad and either vent our frustration or do the passive-aggressive thing and give them the silent treatment. Sometimes anger is a systemic thing that is rooted in unresolved conflict of painful experiences from the past.
Several years ago, in my first pastorate, I went through a season of anger. People bugged me. I felt like everyone had expectations on me and I could either establish personal boundaries and disappoint them or I could try to live by what other people wanted and lose myself. I felt screwed either way. (Pardon my French but that was how I felt) It was my first job as a senior pastor and I truly wanted to serve and be a success, so I went for option B and I was increasingly frustrated. It reached a point where I knew that I needed outside help and counsel.
A friend of mine was a Christian Therapist so I invited him to lunch to discuss the problem. As I unpacked the issues, he said he was aware of the church's culture and that I was dealing with some unhealthy people. "Yeah" I said, "But I'm not handling it well and I need some help." So, I scheduled an appointment and met in his office. We began to talk and he asked me a lot of questions about my life, my history and my family. I told him that at an early age my father had died and that my mom kept the family together, she was an awesome lady. He asked me to share an early memory of my father. I flashed back on an argument I remember my parents having when I was only 8 years old.
My dad had lung cancer and in those days the treatments were very limited. He had one of his lungs removed and had undergone radiation treatment on his remaining lung. We were always poor, but with my dad sick and unable to work, we had no income for our family. My mom didn't know how to drive, didn't have a job and we literally depended upon neighbors who would leave bags of groceries on our porch. Now to a kid, I wasn't aware of all the issues, just the tension they created. I had come home from school and my parents were having an argument. My mom was concerned about our family and our finances and my dad, typical men of his generation, didn't discuss anything with my mom. As I recounted this story, I shared what I remember of the dialogue. My dad screamed, "I'm going to take care of this family, don't worry." My mom answered, "But you're sick and you can't work, what are we going to do?" My dad yelled back, "I'll get a job."
Standing there watching my parents, I looked up at my dad and said, "Daddy, when are you going to look for a job, you're always lying down in your chair." At that my dad, who was a big man at 6'4, rose up and screamed at me, "I'll get a job, I'll get a job!"
"JP, do you hear yourself, JP..." it was my friend the Counselor talking to me. I had become so engrossed in telling the story; I had become lost in the memory. "What?" I said. "Do you hear yourself; do you hear how you are talking?" All of a sudden I heard the way I was telling the story. My voice was like an imitation of a little boy. My friend said, "You are talking like you are still that little 8 year old kid." When he said that, out of nowhere, with the force of uncontrolled emotion, I began to weep and then to really weep! I felt like a flood gate was opened and I couldn't stop crying. I felt free but I also felt embarrassed. As I cried I thought, "Uh oh, now he is going to think I am really nuts!" The Counselor asked me some more questions and he seemed to be looking right into my soul.
As my appointment came to a close, he smiled at me and said, "JP, I don't think you have an anger problem. You have a shame problem. You internalized very early that you should be the helper, the good child, the perfect child. Somewhere you came to believe that when people around you were not happy, somehow that was your fault. You have carried a burden that you were never meant to have. Your anger is the warning sign that people are pushing your shame button. When people put expectations on you and you feel the burden to meet them, you get overloaded. You begin to resent the very people you love and want to serve because you rightly feel that you can't give them want they need. But you wrongly feel that you are supposed to be the one who can meet their needs. Your anger is really the result of the shame you are feeling. It's not just that you did something bad; you are feeling like you are bad. You are feeling like that 8 year old boy who made his dad mad; when really your dad was taking his anger and his shame out on you. Your healing process is about dealing with shame, the cause of your anger."
Those words of truth both cut and brought healing to my soul. The presenting issue was anger, but the cause was shame. Like Saul, like me, every man faces the Goliath of anger and anger is caused by something. Part of the healing process and a step on the path to victory is discovering the source of anger in our lives. David prayed this prayer in Psalm 139:23-24, "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. 24 See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." Maybe you need to pray the prayer of David.
Ask God to show you why anger churns in your soul. Ask Him why you feel frustrated and out of control. Ask Him to search your heart and to reveal to you the cause of your anger. And then, surrender your entire heart to Jesus. Ask Him to lead you in the everlasting way. We face the Goliath of anger when we open up our hearts to Jesus Christ. We ask Jesus for His grace and His truth to heal us and set us free. What we need is a gospel-centered game-plan to defeat this Goliath.
God gives us the template in Ephesians 4, "21 Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness." Paul argues that our salvation was a complete conversion. We put off our old self and we put on our new self. We are now being renewed in the attitude of our minds. God is making us like Himself in true righteousness and holiness.
Paul uses the terms, "put off" and "put on." These words describe taking off dirty clothes and putting on clean clothes. Playing football my senior year in high school, like many athletes, I was superstitious and tried to use a good luck charm. My good luck charm was my shirt that I wore under my shoulder pads and jersey. After practice, my shirt would be soaking wet from sweat and I would hang it up in my locker. The next day, dried out by the night's air, I would put that dirty stiff shirt back on. I managed to wear the same undershirt all season without washing it one time! Gross, I know, but like the commercial says, "It's only weird if it doesn't work."
The picture of putting on a dirty, sweaty shirt is incongruous. In the same way, when we who are new men in Christ, put on the "clothes of the flesh" it "doesn't make sense. We are new men; we put off the old man. What makes sense is to put on the clothes of love, mercy, kindness, justice, compassion, humility and all the fruit of the Spirit. We have been converted and we live the Christian life as new men in Christ who are in a process of being renewed. This is the baseline for Paul's words that follow. He is about to give us a game-plan for defeating the Goliath of anger but first he reminds us that we live out of our identity in Christ.