I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting… (1 Timothy 2:8)
Of significance for modern Christians is St Paul’s exhortation that we pray everywhere but without wrath. Of significance, I think, because Christians in America seem angrier than ever – if they are to pray without wrath, there either is going to be a lot of repentance or far fewer prayers. I would think to pray without anger also means not praying about those things that make us angry or learning to eliminate the anger before approaching God in prayer. As St James notes: “... for the anger of man does not work the righteousness of God” (1:20). That is something for all of us Christians to remember. Jesus said God’s laws can be summed up in two commandments: love God and love neighbor. No mention of anger there. We don’t get to righteousness through anger but through loving others as Christ loves us. St Dorotheos of Gaza (6th Century) writes:
“Our fathers are in the habit of saying that if someone rebukes another when he is burning with anger, he is merely fulfilling his own evil inclination, and no wise man would destroy his own house to build up his neighbor’s. While the disturbance lasts, put a curb on your heart and pray in this way: ‘O Merciful God and lover of souls who created us out of nothing to communicate your own goodness to us and, when we fled away from your commandments, called us back through the bloody sacrifice of your Son, our Savior, come now to the help of our weakness, and as you once calmed the waves of the sea, so now put an end to the rage in our hearts.’ . . . After this prayer, when your heart has calmed down, you will then be able with an understanding heart to correct and convince according to the Apostle’s exhortations (Galatians 6:1), and to do it with sympathy so as to heal a weak member and set him on the right path. Then the brother will accept the correction with confidence and blame himself severely, and through your peace you will bring peace to his heart.” (DISCOURSES AND SAYINGS, p 238)
We may feel anger as a reaction to events happening around us, but as Christians we need to learn to control that anger rather than to vent it. Our anger is shaped by human sinfulness and is not righteous nor does it bring about the righteousness of God. We are wrong if we assume God would be angry about things that make us angry because then we assume our anger must be righteous. But our anger can lead to our sinning, and this is never righteous. “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil” (Ephesians 4:26-27). Anger itself is not necessarily the problem or always wrong. It was what we do after we become angry that determines right from evil. For if our anger leads to our sinning (failing to be people of love), then we have in fact denied and abandoned God. If we let anger be our reaction to events, we do give opportunity to the devil to direct our thoughts and actions toward evil.