Gasoline or Water?

A Pastor I once worked for taught me a brilliant lesson about dealing with people, and it has revolutionized the way I see misunderstandings, conflicts, and flare-ups in relationship. It is even helping change the way I parent my kids and relate to my husband.

My Pastor used to say that we all carry around with us a bucket of gasoline and a bucket of water, and wisdom is knowing which bucket to throw on the “spark” of a given situation*.

See, conflicts don’t just explode out of nowhere. There is a spark. Most of the time that spark is small and commonplace – a miscommunication or an unmet expectation, a tone or even a look. And we have a choice in how we deal with that spark. Do we escalate, react, “take it to the next level”? Do we bring the gasoline and burn that thing up? Or do we walk away for a minute, process, deal calmly, ask questions, speak kindly. Is water what we employ to deal with the spark?

It sounds simple, but don’t forget it is a spark. Sparks lead to fire, and we have all been burned. So reaction is actually the normal, default mindset. Your adrenaline gets going. Your fear kicks in. Your instinct to protect and defend flares up. The “us” versus “them” sin-nature we all possess shifts into high gear.

  • You get an email that seems to attack you, and other people are copied on it. Gasoline or water?
  • You have a child throwing the fourth fit in 20 minutes. Gasoline or water?
  • You have worked hard all day, and immediately upon arriving home, your spouse starts in. Gasoline or water?

I think gasoline is easier, at least in the moment. It is quick, definitive. You feel strongly that bringing the gasoline is justified. But most of the time, after it is over, all you are left with is a charred mess.


Whereas water, well, water is harder. You have to stop. Slow down. Pray. Breathe. You have to try to warp your mind to see things from the other person’s perspective. You have to speak kindly, even when you are being spoken to in a harsh or disrespectful way. Water doesn’t come naturally – it’s entirely supernatural and only really possible when we get our eyes off ourself. But when we work at it, we see things differently. We can suddenly see that an angry reaction to an email will only provoke more angry emails, and a child who is exhausted cannot reason, and a tired overwhelmed spouse sometimes just needs to vent a second. Sometimes our relationships are worth humbling ourselves and choosing the water, because it restores what is broken.

Gasoline or water?

This is a gasoline world. Sound-bites flying, reactions spouted-off, rage and offense the default reaction to any perceived slight.

But we serve a water Jesus. He did get angry and bring the gasoline twice that we know of from Scripture, but it was rare and incredibly justified. Most of the time, peace, mercy, grace, and love flowed from him like a never-ending stream of water. He died refusing to fight. He had enough gasoline at his fingertips to torch the earth, and yet he held it back.

And when he breathed his last, the earth grew dark. And I have to wonder, do you think it rained?


If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Romans 12:18

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. James 1:19-20

Love is patient, love is kind, it does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud, it is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 1 Corinthians 13:4-5

*I believe my Pastor got this illustration from John Maxwell’s book “Go For Gold”

The Beast.

I knew this blog post, and with it this confession, was coming.  I have felt it rising in me.  This realization that I had a problem.  That there was a “beast” in my life, lurking under the surface.  And as I often do – I am going to be vulnerable and attempt to confess it and work through it here on my blog, in hopes that the Biblical act of confession will free me even as maybe it frees someone else from the sin that so easily entangles.

I have really struggled with anger the past few months.  Truthfully – I have struggled with anger my entire life.  But recently it has been rough.  I will erupt and feel out of control.  I will say and do things that are cruel.  I will be remorseful afterwards.  I will hate myself.  And yet I will do it again.  And often, the victim of my anger is someone I love more than my own life.

When I started receiving the promotional materials for the new series on anger at Keystone Church, TICK’D, I began to prepare my heart.  I knew I needed this message – I prayed it would change me.  I had been trying for months, with little success.  I had told Justin about my struggle.  We have been praying about it.  I told my brother.  I confessed it to a few trusted girlfriends.  I was fearful of this beast in my life.  I was tired of being out of control.  I felt helpless against it.  I am terrified that my daughters will be wounded and damaged by this sin in my life.  I am terrified they themselves will be angry and I will pass on this legacy of anger instead of the legacy I long to pass on to them.  I didn’t know where this was coming from.  I have seen anger from others around me for most of my life – but I wasn’t raised in a volatile environment.  So why do I struggle with this?  I even wondered if I was even saved?  I certainly didn’t feel I was acting like it.

All of these thoughts, questions and doubts have been swirling in my head the past few weeks as I have waited impatiently for this message (couldn’t even be patient for that).  And this week – something happened that completely illustrates what I am talking about.  I had a battle for control with Grace this week in which she was out of line, out of control, and rebellious in a dangerous way to her and me (in fact, I got hurt because of her rebellion).  In that moment, I was angry to a dangerous level.  Now don’t get me wrong, in some ways, anger in the situation was warranted.  What she did could not be tolerated.  But not to the level where I was on that day.  It took me hours to calm down.  I kept thinking to myself, “How can you teach her self-control when you yourself don’t demonstrate self-control?”  I was desperately praying for wisdom, for peace, for patience, for love, for help in that moment even as I seethed.  It was a scary place to be.

First of all – if you are like me and something is simmering just below the surface – listen to this message. There is so much in here that is true and good and directly from God.  And second, I ask for your prayers as I beg the Lord for freedom from this.  I want to be a person, I want to be a mom, I want to be a wife, who demonstrates the fruits of the Spirit.  Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Gentleness, Self-Control – that is what I want my children to see.  I don’t want to be this volatile tyrant.

Jesus I confess this horrible sin.  Please heal me.  Please help me.  Please become center of my life.  Please release me of my need to be in control, to look put together, to be respected.  Please take your proper place in the center of my life – the center of my heart.  Please grow in me the fruits that I cannot, by force, grow in myself.  I need You – I am lost without You.  Please free me and anyone else reading this struggling with this same sin.