“Hey! Don’t pick fights!” We can hear our teachers and parents echoing this advice from childhood. Chances are you have said these words to a young person as well. But what do we really mean when we tell children not to “pick” fights? Well, we are telling them not to be bullies. Don’t start fights. Don’t be that kid who will throw a punch every time someone disagrees with him. But picking fights and starting fights are really two very different things. Picking, as in choosing your battle, is a very important skill and often crucial to your Christian life.
Why You Should Choose Your Battles Wisely
Battles are inevitable. They are going to come your way whether you like it or not. The only control you have, is to choose which battles you will fight, and which battles you will allow to slide on past. If you do not learn how to do this, then you will spend huge amounts of emotional and maybe even physical energy fighting every single battle that pops up.
Your survival as a Christian depends greatly on how you handle battles and how you handle that pesky emotion of anger. Battles make us angry, no doubt about that. Anger, though, is not always a bad thing. Christians often misunderstand the emotion of anger and lump all anger into the same category and label it sin. This is not true. All anger is not sinful. Once we learn to manage the emotion of anger correctly, then we can learn the important skill of choosing our battles wisely.
Is Anger Always Wrong?
Let’s face it, most battles have their root in anger. Either someone is angry with you or you are angry with someone. Regardless of which came first, the chicken or the egg, by the time most battles get going both parties are angry. As this pertains to your Christian life, though, we need to figure out if this is sin. Is it a sin to be angry?
Be ye angry and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath. (Ephesians 4:26)
Anger, like all of our emotions, was created by God. Even God Himself was often angry throughout the Bible. Where do you think that whole flood thing came from? Anger was intended to help us fight evil in the world. God wants us to be angry at sin like Jesus was.
Jesus wasn’t a weakling walking around with a lamb in His arms all the time. Our Lord was fearless and brave. He wouldn’t tolerate the Pharisees hypocrisy and He told them so. “Woe unto you Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites,” he boldly says in Matthew 23. He said it right to their faces too! He was sinless in His anger, though. Unfortunately, most of us wind up sinning because of our anger. That’s why we are told in Ephesians 6:26… “Be angry and sin not.”
In Matthew 21:12 Jesus went into the temple in Jerusalem and when he saw merchants were using the church to make money, He became angry. “And Jesus went into the temple of God and cast out all that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers and the seats of them that sold doves.” I don’t know about you, but He sounds angry to me. He was not sinning, though. He chose that battle. He evaluated the situation and decided this was worth fighting for. Anger is a motivator. It should motivate you to speak out against wrong. What happens to most of us, though, is anger motivates us to speak out in the wrong.
Anger is not sin itself. Anger is a powerful emotion that God blessed us with. Anger can be used to motivate us into action when injustice is present and when danger is present. There are times when God wants us to fight, not with our fists, but to speak up and battle against evil.
We are told in Ephesians 6:11 Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
If we are putting on armor then there must be some fighting going on. Anger can give you the courage to stand up against pressure when people want you to do wrong. It gives you courage to speak out when you see others doing wrong. When Christian activists are protesting evils in our country, such as abortion or child abuse, they aren’t out there because it’s fun. It’s because they’re angry.
So, what about the wrong kind of anger? Our anger certainly can swell up for silly reasons too. How can we identify the wrong reasons?
Yoda Was On to Something
In Star Wars Episode 1, Yoda delivers one of his most famous quotes when discussing the darker side of human emotions. “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”
Of all the God given emotions, anger is probably the one that is easiest to be misused. Anger can turn a seemingly timid person into a hero or into a monster. Every violent criminal sitting in every prison today was once just an innocent little baby, but at some point in their life they indulged their anger. That emotion of anger when indulged improperly can lead to all kinds of sin.
Being able to identify good anger from bad anger is one of the most important skills you will ever learn as a Christian. Let’s look at some triggers that have absolutely nothing to do with Godly anger.
Now our pride may swell up and tell us otherwise, but hurt feelings are not the basis for Godly anger.
Great peace have they which love thy law, and nothing shall offend them. (Psalms 119:165)
If you are often offended and your feelings are often hurt, then you are not dwelling in the peace of God. God can help you with this. During his ministry, Jesus was accused of being filled with devils, blaspheming God, treason against the government and more. He was not offended, though. These things did not hurt his feelings.
Feelings get hurt when they are in the way. Just like a big foot stuck out in the aisle tripping others up as they pass by. Your feelings, when they are out of control and all over the place, will get hurt more often. The trick is to keep your feelings in their place. Feelings come and go. Take those feelings to Jesus in prayer. Don’t hand your feelings over to anger and expect anger to make things better.
Misunderstandings are a huge contributor to the wrong sort of anger. Misunderstandings can grow into huge problems. Jesus knew this, that is why he gave us a plan for dealing with misunderstandings.
Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. (Matthew 18:15)
If Christians would take this first step, which Jesus himself instructed, then misunderstandings could be figured out very quickly. What most Christians do, though, is discuss the problem with everyone except the person with whom the problem lies. So, if there is a misunderstanding it grows and grows and spreads around rather than getting resolved. What looks like a huge problem which is making you angry, could just be a misunderstanding. Go to the person like Jesus commanded and find out.
In our day to day life there are thousands of little problems that could have the potential to be big anger triggers and big battle triggers. Ask yourself this important question before you indulge that anger and take on that battle, “Will this matter in 10 years?”
This is a great way to put those passing problems in perspective. Some problems are a big deal, and will matter down the road, but not all of them. You must evaluate these emotions of anger, evaluate where they are coming from and make wise choices. Take a minute to just evaluate that problem. Is it just a little passing problem that no one will remember in 10 years? If so, then just pass over it. When you act rashly, based on your anger you can damage relationships, hurt your testimony for Christ and ultimately hinder the work of God.
Consequences of Battles Mis-Fought
When we head into a battle too quickly, there can be terrible consequences. This is most especially true when we are fighting battles that stem from the reasons listed above. Although the types of consequences that can result from mis-fought battles could be endless, we are going to list two of the most common types of negative consequences you will face when you are too quick to jump on the battle band wagon.
Some of the most intense feelings of anger you will ever experience will be caused by and aimed toward the people you love the most. The closer the relationship, the more potential there is for anger and fighting. Why is this? Many people believe this is caused by the fact that anger and love are the emotions of passion, therefore they are closely related. Love can ignite great passion in us, but flip things around a little and that passion turns quickly to anger.
When dealing with people whom you are very close to, you must choose your battles very carefully. Damaged relationships are often very hard to repair. It is not impossible, but it can be very difficult.
If we are quick to jump into every battle or fight that comes our way, we will eventually begin to diminish our reputation with others. If you take a moment to think about it, you can probably think of someone right now who has a reputation of being short tempered. Everything sets them off. Every little problem becomes a battle. This person has developed, over time, a reputation of anger, fighting and struggle.
This is not a Christ like reputation. If you want to avoid developing this kind of reputation, then you must consciously make an effort to choose your battles wisely, fight your battles wisely and deal with your anger wisely.
Deal With Anger Wisely
The key to Ephesian 4:26 is to understand how to use anger wisely. When you can use anger wisely, then you can more easily choose your battles. In order to deal with anger wisely, though, you need to be able to pinpoint the different anger triggers that you have personally. The anger triggers mentioned above are just three, general areas that often ignite anger. You personally may have others.
Take some time to meditate on what triggers your anger. Do these triggers often lead to battles? Write down your own personal triggers, lay them before God and ask Him to help you better control your reactions to these triggers. A great verse to claim in regards to anger is Proverbs 19:11.
The discretion of a man deferreth his anger and it is his glory to pass over a transgression. (Proverbs 19:11)
The Webster’s 1828 dictionary defines discretion as, “That discernment which enables a person to judge critically of what is correct and proper, united with caution.”
The same dictionary also defines the word defer as, “To delay; to put off; to postpone to a future time.”
So, let’s think about Proverbs 19:11 in light of these definitions. When you are evaluating circumstances correctly, properly and cautiously, you will delay your anger at times and you will sometimes pass over a transgression.
Wait! Does this mean sometimes when we are really mad we should not react at all? I know this idea may seem very foreign to some, especially if you have trained yourself to react to everything that makes you mad, but yes. Sometimes the right thing to do with your anger is not react at all. Sometimes we are getting upset over really silly stuff. When this happens we need to take that anger to Jesus in prayer and leave it there. No reactions needed. Do not fight a battle over it. Simply leave it in prayer.
Sometimes, it is God’s will for us to not react even over something that seems like a big deal.
In Mark 14:65 we see Christ choosing not to fight right before His crucifixion. “And some began to spit on him and to cover his face and to buffet him.” In this battle He reacted differently than in Matthew 21:12. Here in Mark 16 He chose not to fight even though some serious stuff was going on. Wisdom is knowing when to fight and when not to.
How Do I Know The Difference?
One of the hardest things about this Christian life is knowing the right path. We are called to be different. In many cases Christ commands us to act against our very own human nature. We are to be better. Being better is hard. Sometimes being better is also lonely. Sometimes the path to being better is not very clear. What do we do?
In those not so clear times, when anger is high, when it seems a little gray and we aren’t sure if we are in the right or in the wrong, we must depend on the leading of the Holy Spirit.
But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. (John 14:26)
The Holy Spirit has been sent to us as our guide. Day in, day out, through all of these confusing human experiences, the Holy Spirit is there to lead us.
Training Our Spirit
The only way to have clear guidance, though, is to train your heart to listen. This training is done by daily, quiet time with the Lord. Although this is probably our single most powerful spiritual tool, it is often the most overlooked aspect of the Christian life.
Have you found yourself asking questions like these? Why is there a lack of peace? Why is there an abundance of battles? Take a moment to do some real soul searching. Are you spending that quiet time with the Lord every day? Are you spending time in His word? Are you spending time in prayer? Are you spending silent moments with an open heart to allow the Holy Spirit to guide you?
An untrained spirit cannot navigate the battles that this world is going to throw at you. Do you want to have wisdom to know how to choose battles wisely? Do you want the spiritual control to keep anger in check? Do you want the Godly discernment to know when to pass over a transgression?
If you want these things in your Christian life, then you must be willing to train your spirit. Salvation is freely given and easily received, but if you want your Christian life to continue on to another level, then you must be willing to train your spirit. When God saved you it was instant and for eternity. But growing as a Christian in faith and wisdom is a daily job. It will not make you “more saved” or more of a Christian, but it will make your Christian life more joyful and more peaceful.
When all is said and done, it is the Christians which put in the work which will accomplish the most for the Kingdom of God.
Battles are an inevitable part of life. In order to keep our relationships and our reputation intact as we move through this life, we must learn how to choose our battles wisely. The only way we will ever choose our battles wisely, is if we learn how to deal with our anger wisely. This is not easy work, but we can still, “do all things through Christ,” which strengthens us.”