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How to Pray Through Your Anger

When you are passionate—even righteously angry—about a cause, these five Bible verses will guide you.

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“In church we’re not very good at talking about what makes us angry,” my friend Ron said to me. We were de-briefing on our small, ongoing study group discussion that had taken place earlier that week. This year we’re studying Christian history.

Maybe because it was a Zoom session, maybe because we were all feeling pretty distressed, Ron, who is African-American, noted something that I’d observed as well. The African-Americans in the group were unusually quiet at our most recent gathering. Ron and I are such good friends; I was grateful he could be frank with me.

The world going haywire, and some of my beloved brothers and sisters in Christ didn’t feel comfortable speaking out? Were we just being too polite? Or was it that as Christians, we didn’t know what to do with righteous anger? The irony of it was we’d been discussing the civil rights movement of the ‘60s and the church’s involvement—both active and reluctant.

In light of recent events, I found myself talking with Ron and going back to the Bible, looking for guidance. It would be easy enough to find an example of Jesus getting angry, like His overturning of the tables in the temple. But what did Scripture say about the causes that were provoking people’s anger?

1) The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because He has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free… . (Luke 4:18-19)

Jesus reads this passage from Isaiah in the synagogue early in His ministry. Then He rolls up the scroll and announces, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” If anybody had any doubts about what Jesus stood for, they were being put to rest.

2) Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow. (Isaiah 1:17)

This passage is posted on the tower of our church on a busy corner of New York City.

When I look up at it, I’m glad that I have a spiritual community to help me put these words into practice. I wouldn’t be able to do much on my own, but together as a group, in prayer, in listening, in worship, in reading, in reaching out, in serving, we can act.

3) You are the light of the world… . (Matthew 4:14)

So often I think of Jesus or God as the light but here, in the sermon on the Mount, Jesus is reminding us that we have that power. God puts it in us. The light shouldn’t be hidden under a bushel but put where it can be seen.

A cause that makes you passionate, a cause that makes you want to speak out on behalf of those less fortunate, that’s something that can fire you up. If you hold your anger in, it can burn you up. But if you talk about it—as Ron and I did—it can promote understanding. Your righteous anger can serve a larger purpose. You can become that light of the world.

4) You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. (Matthew 5:45-46)

This always shocks me. Love my enemies? Why should I have to do that? I want to say back to Jesus, “That’s just too hard.”

But love is at the center of it all, and loving your enemies means engaging with them, not living in an Us/Them world, seeing that we are all beloved of God. 

5) I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)

Peace. Isn’t that what we long for? Isn’t it what we need? The selfishness, greed and small-mindedness of the world won’t deliver it. Jesus will. He has overcome the world. For me, that takes conversations like the one I had with my friend—an openness, a willingness to share.

In the meanwhile, I pray: help me listen, Lord. Help me understand. Show me how to serve. Help me grow. 

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