Missionaries Ought to Know About ...
What Missionaries Ought to Know
by Dr. Ronald Koteskey
download this as a pdf file
When Jonah is mentioned,
we usually think of his disobedience. In reality Jonah was a cross-cultural
missionary whose ministry was incredibly successful. After some hesitation, he
went into the large, important city where God had called him and preached the
message God had given him. The people, including the king, responded by
fasting, praying, and giving up their evil ways. However, instead of returning
to his passport country with exciting reports of the salvation of 120,000
people, he sat down to pout.
Jonah's attitudes did not
match his successful ministry. He became angry, and his anger generalized to
many different categories of people and things.
- He was angry with the people group to whom God had
called him to minister. It was an evil city, one which a fellow prophet
had pointed out was filled with liars, killers, and thieves (Nahum 3:1).
Jonah's anger had turned to hatred, and though he preached to them, he
really wanted them destroyed because they had been so cruel to his people.
- He was angry with God. He said to God, "I knew
it! That is why I didn't want to come in the first place. I knew that you
were a loving, compassionate God who would forgive them!" God did not
destroy the people as he had hoped; Jonah asked God to take his life; and
then he went outside to city and sat down to see what would happen
- He was angry with the vine when it withered and no
longer gave him shade (4:6-9). If living today, he would be angry with the
electricity when it went off, with the computer when it crashed, and with
the car when it quit.
Like many people you
know, perhaps including yourself, Jonah had a problem with anger. Let us
consider whether or not anger is sinful, why we get angry, what we can do with
the anger, and whether or not we can change people who make us angry.
Is anger sinful?
Some Christians maintain
that if we are truly spiritual, we will never become angry, or never express it
if we do. However, the Bible approves of anger in some instances, but with
warnings about it. We must never forget that "anger" is only one
letter away from "danger." Even as Jonah was praying to God and
mentioning his grace and compassion, he pointed out that God was slow to anger
- Jesus was angry on occasion, but also warned about
it. When people were watching him to see if they could accuse him of
healing on the Sabbath, he "looked around at them in anger," was
distressed about their attitude, and went ahead and healed the man (Mark
3; 1-6). However, he also said that people angry at someone (perhaps
without cause) were subject to judgment (Matthew 5:22).
- Both Old and New Testaments tell us, "In your
anger, do not sin." (Psalm 4:4; Ephesians 4:26). Paul to tells the
Ephesians to get over their anger soon, and continues on telling them to
"get rid of all bitterness, rage, and anger" (4:31).
- Both Old and New Testaments point out the importance
of being "slow to anger." As noted above, Jonah said that God
was slow to anger. James notes that we should be "quick to listen,
slow to speak and slow to become angry" if we want righteousness
Anger is one of those
things that may be sinful at some times and not at others, so we must be very
careful of the danger of falling into sin when we become angry.
Why do we get angry?
Here are a few of the
many reasons people become angry.
- Genetics. Just as some people are born with a
predisposition toward depression (another emotion), some people may be
born with a predisposition to respond with anger. Things that would be
shrugged off by most people result in anger.
- Learning. Others see the expression of anger modeled
inappropriately as they are growing up and/or are rewarded for angry
behavior themselves, so they learn to respond with anger.
- Control. Still others have discovered that when they
respond with anger, they can manipulate other people, so they use it as a
means of control.
- Frustration. One of the responses to having
something, or someone, keep us from getting what we want is anger.
- Injustice. Of course, most people have experienced
anger being aroused when they perceive injustice being done, especially to
someone for whom they care deeply.
What do we do with
Cultures vary widely in
their prescriptions for how to handle anger, and those prescriptions change
with time and place.
- Suppression. From the time of Plato through the
Puritans to the present, some people in western culture have said that you
must suppress anger at all costs. You can control it; therefore you must
control it. Living in silent submission changes nothing, and such people
may progress to chronic bitterness-or occasionally even to a sudden
- Catharsis. Likewise, others have said that it is
unhealthy for you to control your anger, so you should not be expected to
control it. In fact, if you do control it, you may become physically ill
or emotionally disturbed. If you just express your anger and get it out of
your system, you will feel relieved and all will be OK. Phineas (Joshua
22:13-20) is a good example of this approach. He was ready to go to war
with the other tribes (reminiscent of his action in Numbers 25), and he
launched into a "How could you, how could you" tirade.
Unfortunately, research shows that expressing your anger may become a
habit. Your relief is short-lived, and you become more likely to respond
with rage in the future.
- Both. What is needed is neither complete suppression
nor unbridled expression, but a controlled expression. Rather than the
result being bitterness or rage, anger can result in appropriate
confrontation. A good example of this is found in the answer to Phineas
(Joshua 22:21-29) as shown in the next section.
What are some
guidelines for expressing anger?
Phineas had unjustly
accused the people of building another altar, displeasing God, and perhaps
bringing destruction on everyone (Joshua 22). We do not know the name or names
of the persons who answered him, but their principles can be expressed in a
double acrostic of the English vowels AEIOU.
- A: Affirm the Almighty (v. 22). They began by
declaring their allegiance to God. This means that the goal of pleasing
God is one that both groups have in common.
- E: Explain your Excogitating (a big word for thinking
that starts with an "E") (vs. 23-29). They elaborate on their
thinking to explain their motivations and intentions. They seem to overdo
it and go through the explanation too many times, but often that is
necessary if the other party is also upset.
- I: "I" messages (not "you"
messages) on the Issue (vs. 23-29). Their presentation is done in the
first person with "we," "us," and "our"
(plural of "I") occurring 21 times. They talked about their
thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, rather than pointing their fingers and
saying, "You…." They also stuck to the issue of the memorial,
rather than accusing Phineas and his group of offending God themselves by
what they were doing.
- O: Open to being the Offender (v. 23). They also remained
open to the possibility that they had done something wrong, "If we
have.…" Remember, you may be the one in the wrong, and you may be the
one who has to repent.
- U: Unity before Unanimity (v. 30-31). They were not
trying to persuade Phineas and his group that their position was right,
but really to get back into fellowship with them. It worked. Everyone was
pleased, placated, and praised God.
How can we change
people who make us angry?
You can't change anyone
else, but you can change yourself. The anger is yours, and only you can
determine how you will react to what other people do. Your anger can serve you,
or it can destroy you. Anger, like other emotions, involves your mind, your
body, your spirit, and your behavior.
- Mind. Change how you perceive and interpret things.
For example, instead of blaming the other person, consider how you have
reacted inappropriately in similar situations in the past. For example,
instead of thinking how bad the other person is, think about how his or
her day may be going badly.
- Body. Learn some relaxation and cooling-off
techniques that will calm your body down. For example, pause, take a few
deep breaths, and intentionally relax the muscles you feel tensing
throughout your body.
- Spirit. Missionaries, like other Christians, would
know that things such as prayer, reading scripture, and meditation are
spiritually uplifting, helpful with anger.
- Behavior. Learn new habits and skills to help you
respond in an anger-producing situation. For example, instead of raising
your voice, silently count to 10 (or 20, or whatever it takes). Instead of
sulking or pouting, get some exercise by taking a walk or jog. Instead of
arguing, engage in some enjoyable distraction (hobby, game, etc.) for a
We do not know if Jonah
ever resolved his anger, but we do know that we do not have to leave our anger
unresolved and become bitter as he did.
Member Care Consultant