Flashes in the Pan – Thoughts on Volatile Anger

“And Moses lifted up his hand, and with his rod he smote the rock twice: and the water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their beasts also.”

Numbers 20:11


Years ago, I attended a military college. As an upperclassman I shared in the role of training new recruits (freshman). As you might expect this required a lot of yelling and in your face intimidation. Those who know me best, know that this is not a natural part of who I am. Some people just seem to be good at it, but I am not one of them.  I tend to be the calm, quiet, reserved type. I had to make a conscious choice to do it. So, in those moments I developed what the military often calls “command voice.” I learned real quick, that while it was not really my thing, I was very capable of yelling and intimidating others. In fact I believe we are all capable of this under the right circumstances. Until the other day, it had been years since I saw that “command voice.” It has laid dormant all this time, which I am thankful for. But the other day it showed up unannounced and unexpected. I was having a difficult conversation with someone. They said something I didn’t like, and BAM! There was that voice, spurred on by my anger. I found myself yelling in rage and losing control of my emotions. I think the whole thing lasted all of 30 seconds, but it felt like 10 or 15 minutes. When my momentary rage subsided, I was ashamed. I kept thinking, “this is not who I am.” Everyone around me knows me as the calm, quiet voice of reason. Who had I become in those moments? I was ashamed, embarrassed, and shaken by the whole thing.

In moments like those ones, we need to turn to God and the Scriptures for answers. What happened to me next has shown me once again, that he will give me what I need when I need it. During my morning devotions I have been reading through the book of Numbers. That day the next chapter I read was about Moses striking the rock. In case you aren’t familiar with this story, it is a story about anger and its consequences. The people of Israel were always complaining to Moses. Every time things didn’t go the way they wanted, they would blame him. They would want to go back to Egypt where they had been slaves. The truth is that God would rescue them and miraculously supply their needs over and over again, but the minute a new difficulty was encountered they would complain. As the leader, Moses was always on the receiving end of these complaints. In Numbers chapter 20, they had no water and the complaints began to flow. God told Moses to speak to the rock and water would come out. Instead of obeying God, he hits the rock. Before this though,  he yells at the people. He says, “Hear now, ye rebels; must WE fetch you water out of this rock?” (Numbers 20:10) You can hear the anger seething out of these words and I can picture him as he screams in anger. In those moments his command voice is ringing out loud and clear. We don’t know what was going through his mind. Perhaps the people had pushed him to his breaking point. Perhaps he had had all he could take and he just lost it. He disobeyed God and the consequences were nothing short of tragic. Moses never got to enter the promised land.

Moses had dedicated his life to leading the people of Israel to the promised land. It was a God given mission that he dedicated time, effort, and energy to for a longer period of time then most people commit to anything. Surely, he hoped to one day stand on the land that God had promised and enjoy what he had worked so long for. The truth is that the result of one moment of anger ruined this for him. I like to call these moments, “flashes in the pan.” My wife likes to watch cooking shows. Have you ever seen them cook with oil at high heats? As soon as it hits the hot pan, flames come shooting out. Our anger can be like this. It can come in momentary flashes of flame that seer everything. Often they are gone as quickly as they come, but all too often they leave a trail of destruction. You see, the problem is not that we get angry. The problem is what we do with that anger. Anger is dangerous because it can be volatile and blinding. It can make us do things we immediately regret. How many relationships have been ruined by actions taken in anger. Ephesians 4:26 says, “Be ye angry and sin not.” It is possible to be angry and not sin. Just look at the righteous anger of Christ that drove the money changers from the temple. However, the truth is that most of us struggle with keeping that anger “righteous.” Flashes of anger are even more volatile, and my experience has been that most of us cannot control them. Moses was called the meekest, most humble man in all the earth. Yet, here we see him proudly declaring the he (not God) will bring water from the rock and then striking the rock in direct defiance of God. If a meek man like Moses was capable of such flashes of anger, where do we stand?

I am thankful that God brought healing to the relationship that I threatened with my angry  outburst. My sinful actions didn’t have the same tragic consequences that Moses’ did, but that was nothing short of the grace of God. None the less I found the whole thing very unsettling. It was a humbling reminder of what I am capable of. So I began thinking. What can I do that will help protect me from future “flashes in the pan”? Moments like the one I experienced and the one Moses experienced remind us of our sinful and fallen condition. They remind us that we need help, and the moments we need help the most are when we are most battered by the storm, most weakened by our own emotions, and most susceptible to temptation. When things are going well spiritually; we relax, kick up our feet, and act like it will always be that way. What we need to be doing is building! We need to be strengthening our defenses. For the Christian, that translates to being in the Word and praying without ceasing. 2 Corinthians 10:5 uses some strong language. We are told to cast down anything that exalts itself over Christ and “bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” If you are tired of the road that anger takes you down or you are frustrated by the stronghold volatile anger has in your life, then give God control. Cast it down and grind it to dust like children of Israel who remained faithful did to the golden calf. Then, lock away your thoughts and your heart filling them and inundating them with the things of God. Then and only then can you have victory over volatile anger and its consequences.



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