the shape of leadership

Letting Go of Anger

Don’t allow bitterness to take root in your life and ministry

Anger is becoming increasingly pervasive in our culture today. One look at your social media feed, and you’ll quickly discover the many ugly shades of anger. Unfortunately, that same anger is showing up in leadership. Whether it’s church, business, politics, or entertainment, anger has become the tone of our times.

In his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul gives us a clear first step for dealing with our anger. He writes, “‘In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:26-27).

Anger is like the foyer to the sanctuary of sin. It’s the entry point, or access door, for sin to take ground in our lives. Paul even warned us that anger can give the devil a foothold. The word translated “foothold” literally means “location.” In other words, when the sun sets on your anger, you’re inviting the enemy to invade a new location in your life. He establishes his influence in a guest room of your heart when you harbor anger day after day.

Think for a moment about the last time you went to bed angry. Maybe you were angry at your spouse for saying something that hurt you. Perhaps you were angry at your boss for embarrassing you in front of your co-workers. Maybe you were angry at a relative for belittling your abilities, hopes or dreams. Or maybe you were angry at your pastor for preaching about anger.

How did you sleep that night? Did you wake up rested? Of course not. You tossed and turned as you concocted wild conversations in your head, giving your spouse, your boss, your relative, or your pastor a piece of your mind (literally). The sun went down on your anger, and your heart became the latest location for the devil to work. That’s the problem with holding onto anger — it puts you in a prison where the devil is your cellmate.

What inspired Paul to write, “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry”? Perhaps it was Jesus, who taught the same thing. In Matthew 5:25-26, Jesus said, “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.”

Reconciliation keeps anger’s baggage from turning into spiritual bondage.

Jesus says to “settle matters quickly.” And if you don’t settle your differences quickly, what is the result? “You may be thrown into prison.” The New Living Translation says, “you surely won’t be free again … .” In other words, there’s a direct correlation between settling your differences and spiritual freedom.

Paul said, “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.” Jesus said, “Settle matters quickly.” Simply put, quick reconciliation keeps anger’s baggage from turning into spiritual bondage.

The longer you are angry, the more dangerous your anger becomes. Why? Because there comes a time when you are no longer controlling your anger. Instead, your anger begins controlling you. When that happens, anger’s baggage turns into spiritual bondage. That’s why Paul warned us that anger can give the devil a foothold.

In leadership, there are many opportunities to become angry. Somebody criticizes your decisions, gossips behind your back, or bad-mouths you to the board. Maybe a staff member betrays you, a new initiative doesn’t perform as expected, or someone lies to your face. Maybe you become the target of a social media rant, or your name gets dragged through the mud for something that wasn’t even your fault.

All of these are opportunities for anger, and the enemy would love nothing more than to gain a fresh new location in your heart.

How do you deal with it? Quickly. That’s first key to letting go of anger. Anger isn’t easy to resolve, which is why many of us postpone our response to it. We let it simmer. We put out the welcome mat because our expectations aren’t being met. The problem is, anger grows roots. Hebrews 12:15 says, “See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.”

Notice what simmering bitterness does: It troubles you and defiles many. In other words, the deeper you nurse your anger, the wider you spread your anger. That’s especially true in leadership, because leadership is all about influence. When you don’t deal with your anger quickly, it negatively influences others. That’s why we have to pull up its poisonous root before it grows deep into our hearts. Again, “quickly” is the first key to dealing with anger.

What anger do you need to let go of today? What relationship do you need to make right? What expectation do you need to change? Stop putting it off. Maybe you need to humble yourself and go to your spouse or your kids today and ask them to forgive you. Maybe you need to go to your co-worker, your neighbor, or your friend, share what you’re struggling with, and make things right.

The only way to find freedom is to settle your differences quickly. I’m not suggesting it will be easy, but consider the alternative. Anger will destroy your heart and negatively impact the people you lead. But quick reconciliation keeps anger’s baggage from turning into spiritual bondage.


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