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Is Praying Anger Away Really Possible?

I’ve talked about David in blog posts before related to anxiety and depression. Today, I wanted to take a different look at David’s emotions. I started reading 2 Samuel and found multiple accounts of David killing those who killed Saul’s family. It was a smart move for uniting a country after years of political unrest, and in it David demonstrated his reverence for God’s ultimate authority. However, David’s response also rockets from grief to anger and violence then back to grief.

It brought me to the idea of praying away your anger. It was honestly a strategy my mom tried to instill in my brother and me as children so that we would calm down and process our emotions instead of hitting or kicking each other. But is praying anger away really a viable strategy for handling emotion? Let’s dig in!

The Passage

“What happened?” David asked [the Amalekite]. “Tell me.”

“The men fled from the battle,” he replied. “Many of them fell and died. And Saul and his son Jonathan are dead.”

Then David and all the men with him took hold of their clothes and tore them. They mourned and wept and fasted till the evening for Saul and his son Jonathan, and the army of the LORD and for the nation of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword.

David said to the young man who brought him the report, “Where are you from?”

“I am a foreigner, an Amalekite,” he answered.

David asked him, “Why weren’t you afraid to lift your hand to destroy the LORD’s anointed?”

Then David called down one of his men and said, “Go, strike him down!” So he struck him down, and he died. For David had said to him, “Your blood be on your own head. You own mouth testified against you when you said, ‘I killed the LORD’s anointed.'”

2 Samuel 1:4, 11-16

Your Anger May Be Something Else

In researching emotions and anger, I was shocked to find this article discussing people whose anger and violent thoughts flared out of control. Most of the individuals affected by these violent thoughts had some sort of head trauma as a young child that affected their temporal lobes. One individual even had a genetic condition that altered the structure of his temporal lobe, which gave him terrifying violent thoughts.

I love watching CBS’ Seal Team. Last season dealt a great deal with traumatic brain injuries and how they can affect mood, behavior, and memory. However, I had no idea that trauma could occur to the temporal lobe as a child or due to genetics that would influence a child’s anger forever. Thankfully, the individuals in the article all received treatment and gained control of their anger. As with other mental illnesses, it turned out that these individuals’ anger issues actually had a deeper physiological root.

If Your Anger is Purely Emotion

For those whose anger is not caused by a malformation or injury to the brain, there are techniques available for controlling our anger. This article from the American Psychological Association has a great list of ways to cope with and redirect anger. Does prayer make the cut?

If you use prayer as a “calming” tool or to help you reframe the experience in your mind, then you should absolutely continue using prayer to control your emotion. However, whether you habitually pray to control anger or are trying prayer for the first time, make sure that you do not suppress your feelings with prayer. Our goal is to express the source of our anger in a nonjudgemental way so that we can improve in the future.

If you feel that your emotions swing like David’s or you are having explosive anger, you may benefit from seeking counsel from a certified professional. Please check out the APA website for more resources and to find a counselor in your area.

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6 Ways to Praise God’s Power

Psalm 21:13 ESV – “Be exalted, O LORD, in your strength! We will sing and praise your power.”

The phrase “in your strength” sticks out to me in this passage. So often, my strength fails me. For instance, I helped with childcare for a prospective church member meeting last week, and I’m pretty sure that wiping the snot off of one sweet four-year-old’s face is the cause of the sinus headache I’ve had the past three days. (I even washed my hands… c’est la vie.) But it is the LORD’s strength that we exalt, not our own. We sing and praise HIS power.

I’m definitely not the best at praising God’s power. David spends a whole psalm giving examples of God’s justice and faithfulness for which “the king rejoices” (Psalm 21:1.) If I don’t sit down with a pen and paper or with this laptop, I will most likely get distracted after praising God for one singular thing He has done. So, if you are like me and need some ideas for ways to praise God, here’s a list of six ideas below.

1.) Make a Mind Map.

I’m pretty sure we called these “thinking webs” when I was in 2nd grade, but the principle is the same. Start with a central bubble that lists the topic you are thinking about. In this instance, God will go in your central bubble. Then, for every trait you recall, write it in a bubble shooting off of the central bubble. I love making these really complicated and extending long chains of bubbles.

Extra credit: For each trait you recall about God, write down a corresponding event where you saw God fulfill that trait in your life.

2.) Make a list.

This one is the more obvious cousin of Mind Mapping. If circles aren’t your thing, just make a straight list of traits about God. Listing out the things I knew to be true of God really helped me through a season of doubt.

3.) Draw sketches of God’s character.

Maybe you see God in a child’s laugh or a caterpillar’s stripes more than you see God in abstract terms. If so, that’s great! You probably recognize God’s creative, humorous side more than the theologians stuck in rounds of Biblical hermeneutics. Use this gift to your advantage! Sketch or photograph those things that best reflect God’s character to you.

4.) Play music that reflects God’s character.

Music can magically reflect so many different emotions in the world around us. If creating music is your thing, then play the bright, major keys that remind you of God’s playful, loving side! Try playing minor swells that reflect verses like Psalm 21:9, “You will make them as a blazing oven when you appear. The LORD will swallow them up in his wrath, and fire will consume them.” Use the music lilting inside of you to tease out those complex aspects of God’s character we humans have difficulty understanding.

5.) Study science.

If you look at the veins on a leathery leaf falling from a tree, you will most likely wind up with a feeling of awe at something greater than yourself. At least, I usually have that reaction when I stop to study the minute workings of life more closely. Maybe you need something more tangible than letters and emotion to recognize God’s character. Look around and see how many tiny miracles are causing life to function that most of us don’t even notice. On the rare instances I stop to recognize this, I’m usually left with, “Wow, God!” That’s all the prayer I need in that moment.

6.) Study numbers in Scripture.

Numbers in the Bible often come with symbolic meaning. If counting makes you happy, try counting generations in genealogies and comparing it to where that number is used elsewhere in the Bible. See how many 7’s and 12’s you can find. Research other important numbers in the Bible and see if you can find them in your everyday life.

Do you have other ways of praising God’s power? Let me know in the comments below!

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Parade Candy Prayers

Psalm 18 begins, “I love you, O LORD, my strength.”

What a way to begin a song or prayer!

We learn from the introduction that this psalm was written by David when he was “delivered from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul” (ESV translation).

David said “the cords of death encompassed me” (Psalm 18:5) and no joke! In 1 Samuel 19, King Saul keeps going back and forth between welcoming David into his house and trying to kill him! In verses 9-10, it says Saul literally “tried to pin [David] to the wall with a spear.” I imagine that’s not quite the response David was looking for when he played his lyre; he probably would have preferred rotten tomatoes.

In response to the multitudinous attacks on David’s life that continued for years after he fled Saul’s house, the most beautiful thing happened. David said, “In my distress I called upon the LORD; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears,” (Psalm 18:6, emphasis added.)

Sometimes it’s hard to believe our prayers actually go anywhere other than the ceiling. At a Wednesday night youth group service in high school, I sat in a circle with seven or eight other girls. It was dark because the walls were purple and the floors were charcoal carpet. We huddled in a corner of the hallway between the food stand and a support pillar. I looked up at the black-tile ceiling and made a tossing motion. “Sometimes, it feels like throwing candy at a parade. I’m throwing prayers up to Heaven and hoping one sticks. It doesn’t always feel like they’re going anywhere, so I just keep throwing.”

“Parade candy prayers! I’ll have to remember that!” our no-makeup-wearing, always-soft-smiling leader said.

There have been days when I walked into our windowless little sanctuary at church, listened to the first worship song of the service, and thought, “I just don’t believe this today.” It sure didn’t feel like God was listening, that He had good plans, or that my prayers were doing anything other than getting caught in that space between the Earth-bound ceiling and the golden floor of Heaven.

It finally hit me between the third and fourth worship songs one Sunday. I wasn’t going to feel God’s promises into existence. I had days when my brain didn’t feel much of anything, so I certainly wasn’t going to create truth and hope through emotion.

I had to fight to believe.

David was a pretty good fighter. I mean, he killed a giant with a slingshot and a stone when he was so young his dad didn’t even bring him in from the shepherd fields to join the family anointing (1 Samuel 16-17). I think David sometimes had to fight to believe, too. He knew that even if his prayers seemed to hit the ceiling of Earth and get trampled underfoot on the floor of Heaven, he could say, “For it is you who light my lamp; the LORD my God lightens my darkness,” (Psalm 18:28).

I hope this encourages you today if you feel like your prayers are going nowhere. Keep praying, friends! God has the power to “lighten our darkness,” and He “shows steadfast love to his anointed,” (Psalm 18:28 & 50). It may not feel like it, but we can fight to believe God’s faithfulness is true.