The Leader and Emotion: Anger

David is known as “a man after God’s own heart” for many reasons. But I believe that one of the reasons is because he was able to appropriately express to God a wide range of emotions. We’ll look at some of David’s emotions from the book of Psalms and consider what they mean for leaders.

First, consider David’s emotion when his own son, Absalom, turned against him and he was fleeing for his life. 7 Arise, Lord! Deliver me, my God! Strike all my enemies on the jaw; break the teeth of the wicked. From the Lord comes deliverance. May your blessing be on your people (Psalm 3:7-8).

David didn’t walk calmly out of Jerusalem; he was angry! All leaders will experience the emotion of anger and David gives an example to servant leaders of how to lead with anger.

Anger should be recognized. It is not difficult to recognize that David is angry; he makes no attempt to hide his feelings. After a lifetime of seeking to serve God as a leader, he was running away from a son. His anger was real. If he was leading today he might say, “God, punch my enemies in the face, knock their teeth out!” Servant leaders learn to recognize their anger. They realize that anger is an emotion that we all experience. The emotion itself can be good or bad. Often we are angry because we feel hurt or wronged. Repentance is the appropriate response. At other times, leaders may be angry because of injustice or sin. In this case, anger reflects God’s heart and should lead us to obedient action.

Many leaders try to hide their anger, especially those who, like me, have believed that the emotion itself is a sin. They may call it something else that seems less sinful. They might admit that they are “annoyed” or “upset” but the truth is that they are angry! When anger is not recognized, it cannot be handled appropriately. Recognition of anger is not sin; denial is!

Anger should be revealed. David revealed his anger, and recorded it so that we can still examine it thousands of years later! Thankfully, David did not try to hide his emotion as many leaders do. There are many ways to reveal anger—some are healthy and many are unhealthy! Anger is often revealed openly in violent outbursts with harsh words that destroy relationships. Most leaders recognize that this is not helpful. So, many leaders seek to suppress the explosion and instead resort to clenched jaws and tightened muscles which no one can see. They believe that because the emotion is not visible, it is under control.

But servant leaders learn to reveal anger as David did. They are able to say it first to themselves, and when helpful to others, “I am angry!” As they reveal their emotion in healthy ways, followers learn to trust them as authentic leaders with feelings. Appropriate expression of emotion also improves the leader’s own emotional health.

Anger should be restrained. David recognized his anger and revealed it for all of us to see. But he did not allow anger to control his leadership; he restrained his emotion. David turns from his anger to a focus on God. He wanted personal revenge on his enemies but realized that deliverance would come “from the LORD.” And he finishes this psalm with a request for God to bless His people! In one verse he goes from anger to blessing!

Servant leaders learn to restrain their anger. When their anger is wrong, they cry out to God for a change of heart, with a goal to be “slow to become angry” (James 1:19). They ask forgiveness from those they have offended and model how to admit sin.

When anger is the appropriate response to a situation, servant leaders channel the anger into action to address the issue and invite others to join them in the cause. They lead as humans who have anger as an emotion, but do not allow their leadership to become emotional.

Until next time, yours on the journey,

Jon Byler


For further reflection and discussion:

  • Am I aware of when I am angry, or do I deny it? Do others ever say to me, “You are angry,” but I deny it? What might they be able to see in me that I cannot see? What happens in my physical body when I am angry?
  • How do I usually reveal my anger? (An angry explosion, tears, withdrawal, silence, etc.) In what ways is my response godly and in what ways is it sinful?
  • Am I quick to repent and ask forgiveness from God and others when I am angry for the wrong things or express anger in hurtful ways? Is there anyone I need to go to and ask forgiveness?
  • Are there things which God wants me to be angry about which I have not allowed myself to feel? What might He want me to do about them as a leader?
  • Write a personal ‘psalm’ to God, expressing anger honestly. Make sure you end it with a note of praise.
  • For further study on anger consider these verses and reflect on what you learn. Cautions against anger: Psalm 37:8; Proverbs 14:17; 16:32; 22:24; Ecclesiastics 7:9; Titus 1:7; James 1:19. Examples of God’s anger: Numbers 25:3, Joshua 7:1; Psalm 7:11. Examples of “good” anger: Exodus 32:19; Nehemiah 5:6; Leviticus 10:16; 1 Samuel 11:16; Matthew 21:12. Other “angry” Psalms: 35, 37, 69:22-29, 79:1-13, 109, 137.


Copyright, Global Disciples 2018.