Month: January 2018

Overcoming Anxiety 06

In the Bible, three different kinds of peace are talked about in reference to God. Peace WITH God is the peace that comes about when we find ourselves no longer enemies of God… but in fact, beloved by God. That is a grace given at the moment of redemption. It is the peace that is arrived at in a court of law when a suit is settled. This peace may or may not be felt by us emotionally.

There is a peace FROM God that comes and can occasionally be experienced by all people. At Christmas, we hear the angels proclaim the coming of this peace, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth PEACE toward men….” This is what is known in theological circles as a “common” grace. It is a reminder… an evidence of God’s pleasure. It is a momentary, circumstantially-driven lack of conflict… lack of warfare… lack of turmoil. We can occasionally feel that peace when circumstances allow. It is a “teaser,” if you will, of an abiding peace that is available toward those with whom God is pleased. But it is fleeting, and explained by the alignment of events so that we feel happy.

But there is another peace… one that we do feel. It is the peace OF God that comes to those who belong to Him… when they fulfill the preconditions of the Scriptures. In this instance, when we “have no anxiety about anything, but in everything with thanksgiving, let our requests be made known to God….” We choose, by the act of our volition and will… to release our anxiety in obedience to His Word. Then, instead of living in the turmoil of anxious and worrisome thoughts, we turn our energy toward thanksgiving and prayer. And THEN, “the peace of God, which surpasses our understanding, will keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

We release anxiety… decisively and ruthlessly… not tolerating a shred of worry… and turn our effort instead… again, deliberately, decisively and ruthlessly… toward giving THANKS for what God is going to do to handle our circumstance and by prayer and supplication let our requests (or, tell our concerns) to God. And when we do this, PEACE is God’s gift to us.

Let’s flip it around. If we DON’T have peace, then either a). We haven’t fully and completely released our worries and/or b). We are not letting our requests be known to God by prayer and supplication.

God does not desire for His children to live in anxiety and worry. Jesus did say the non-believing world “chases after” all these things. They continually “fall to pieces” with worry about food and clothing and daily necessities and making ends meet. But God’s people are to be known, not by anxiety… but by PEACE. It marks us as belonging to Him, and actually is a way to bear witness TO His care.

A child who has a loving father who cares for their needs, but who would go door-to-door begging for food to eat from their neighbors is saying something about his father. The child, in essence is saying to the neighbors, “my father does not take care of me. He doesn’t care about my need for food or clothing or shelter.” Now if the father was neglectful and uncaring of his son’s needs, the boy SHOULD be begging and telling other people about him. But if he cares for his needs, the boy is doing a great disservice and is discrediting a good father who really does care.

It’s a silly illustration, but it’s exactly what we do when we refuse to trust our Father for His provision when, all the while, He is abundantly and generously supplying our needs. Does your life bear witness to a good, good Father who cares constantly for your needs… or does your anxiety say “I don’t have a Father who loves and cares for my needs?”

FOR REFLECTION

  1. Based on your thoughts and communications the past few days and hours, what have you really been saying you believe about God?
  2. Do you know by experience the “peace of God?” Is it something that “keeps your heart and mind in Christ,” or do you continually take your “heart and mind” away and deposit it into anxiety?
  3. How can your use of gratitude change the way you process anxiety? Can you be thankful for how God will take care of you even when you aren’t yet sure about the outcome.

Overcoming Anxiety 05

Anxiety Free Living

We desperately want our battle with anxiety to be like losing unwanted pounds or “getting in shape.” (The cynic in me always wants to ask ‘which shape?’) You know what I mean. We want to pop a pill, or go through a five step to-do list. But I have learned that getting to the root of this prolific weed that chokes our spiritual vitality and saps us of piece requires understanding anew who we are, and not just ‘what should I do.’ We have to become rooted, if you would, in a new garden!

One of the earlier heroes of the faith was a missionary named Hudson Taylor. This man, whose life impacted literally hundreds of thousands through his ministry and life story, struggled with anxiety. This is what he learned, in his own words:

“The sweetest part … is the rest which full identification with Christ brings. I am no longer anxious about anything, as I realize this; for He, I know, is able to carry out His will, and His will is mine. It makes no matter where He places me, or how. That is rather for Him to consider than for me; for in the easiest position He must give me His grace, and in the most difficult His grace is sufficient. …So, if God should place me in serious perplexity, must He not give me much guidance; in positions of great difficulty, much grace; in circumstances of great pressure and trials, much strength? No fear that His resources will prove unequal to the emergency! And His resources are mine, for He is mine, and is with me and dwells in me.”

Taylor learned that the battle with anxiety is not won on the battlefield but in hiding in the shelter of the Almighty. (Psalm 91) This is not our battle to win, but a total surrender we must make to the only One who can win the battle!

If we can simply remember who our Father is, and keep reminding our thoughts and emotions of that reality, much of our anxiety will have no shadow in which to hide. And this will happen when WE learn to dwell in the shelter of the Most High God as our hiding place!

FOR REFLECTION

  1. Spend some time meditating on verses of Scripture that remind you of your new identity in Christ. These verses reprogram us in accepting our new reality of life in Christ.
  2. Identify “triggers” that cause your anxiety to rise up. Much of it, we will find, is concerned with the “what ifs” or “how will I” statements about the future. These are lies being implanted as seeds of the weed of worry. Don’t let them grow. Address them immediately before they grow into plants that choke your spiritual life.
  3. The Bible promises that God will provide all that we need WHEN we need it. Take your real problems to God now… He has promised to take care of them as you trust Him with them now.

Overcoming Anxiety 04

Anxiety can be defined in a lot of different ways. The best way to understand it is through the lens of Jesus. Worry can do a lot of things to us… it can give us sleepless nights, ulcers in our stomach, or even heart problems. As a medical condition, it can ultimately be a killer when it is taken to ultimate extremes.

Jesus was visiting in the home of two women who were among His most devoted followers. Mary and Martha and Lazarus opened their home often to Jesus and His band of disciples. Sometimes they would come and stay… and other times they would come for an evening meal.

On one such occasion, we read in the Gospel of Luke, they came for a meal. As Jesus sat at the large outer “family” area of the house, Martha slaved away in the kitchen. The Bible tells us, “She was distracted by her many preparations…” (Luke 10: 40) She had guests! Stomachs to fill! A table to set! Counting her sisters, there would be at least fifteen people… probably unexpected guests at that.

Martha was stressed… especially when she looked away from her kneading bowl and saw her sister Mary… sitting with the men at the feet of Jesus as He talked! Martha went from flustered by her task, to a state of rising blood pressure, to an angry outburst driven by stress and overload. She came into the family area, and said to Jesus, “tell Mary to come and help me in the kitchen!”

Never one to lose an opportunity to teach, Jesus calmly said, “Martha, Martha you are worried and anxious about many things.” The word for “worried” and “distracted” are the very same word in Greek: a word that means “you are going to pieces over many things.”

Isn’t that interesting? To worry means “to fall to pieces.” We find ourselves “distracted” over many things… so many things calling for our attention and focus. “But only one thing is needful, and Mary has chosen that one thing.”

The key to overcoming anxiety? Learning not to “fall to pieces,” not to allow distractions to pull us in many directions, each calling for our attention. We find the ONE voice, the ONE thing that is most important, and focus there.

Professional golfers usually hire coaches or counselors to work with and sometimes travel with them to help them not be distracted in the moment the “big putt” has to be made… often the money shot. They learn to shut out every other voice… even the one in their head… that distracts and tells them they can’t make it.

One thing. The one thing that deserves our attention, our focus. Jesus said “GIVE YOUR ATTENTION FIRST TO THAT MOST IMPORTANT THING.” And nothing is more important to the Christian than our focus on Jesus… the author of our peace.

FOR REFLECTION:

  1. Stop yourself sometime and count… how many things are you “distracted” by in a given moment?
  2. Practice when alone the discipline of single-mindedness… of focusing on that which is most important. Can you make yourself close out competing voices and images, noises and distractions… for five minutes at a time two or three times a day… and just meditate on Jesus in that time?
  3. What are the places and circumstances where you “go to pieces” with anxiety? How can you change that environment or circumstance to allow less input and distraction? Can you find Jesus in the midst of a busy kitchen… or in rush hour traffic… or in a classroom?
  4. How can we become more Mary than Martha? Do you sit daily at the feet of Jesus?

Overcoming Anxiety 03

Before we dig much deeper into our journey to overcome anxiety, let’s take a brief detour. Most people want a “quick” solution when they experience pain, frustration and anxiety. This is normal, and typical for our human condition.

However, the biblical standard for finding wholeness and change does not promise an immediate solution. Yes, there are verses that say, “if any man is in Christ, he is a new creation….” And other verses seem to go along with that kind of thought as well.

But for Scripture to really affect us on the deepest level… the level that results in transformation… we need to allow it to seep deeply into our spiritual “pores” and to truly become part of our mindset and makeup.

This does not happen because we simply read or hear the Bible. While it is certainly far better to read the Bible and hear the Word of God than NOT to do so, we all know people (probably ourselves) who have read and heard… maybe repeatedly and for long periods… and yet frustratingly, the change seems reluctant to come.

We are missing… something. What is it? Obedience may be one answer. “Be not only hearers of the Word, but be doers also,” James admonishes us. But it may be more than that. I am really learning, as I enter my forty-third year of walking with Jesus (as of Dec 26), that the missing ingredient is meditation.

Sometimes we approach the Bible like a child approaches a plate of food at a buffet. He has a lot of stuff on the plate before him, and item by item he tastes it… maybe he doesn’t like it… and spits it out. Then he goes on to the next item, and the next.

Now that’s no doubt a distasteful image, but follow me here. We do the very same thing with God’s Word. We “taste and see that the Lord is good” but we don’t keep it “in our mouth” long enough for it to assimilate into our blood, into our bodies… to become part of us.

This is a tough assignment for a fast-food, microwave-meal society. We are conditioned to quick… everything. So when someone says, “you’re going to have to sit with this awhile… let it soak in,” we balk. We don’t have time! We have other “food” to taste!

I fear, in our instant gratification orientation, that we won’t give God’s Word time to “seep into our skin” and become part of who we are! The Psalms begin with a verse that talk about the blessed life. It says of the blessed person “…his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in that law he meditates day and night.” (Psalm 1:2).

Now go back and notice two things: First, “he meditates.” That means, “he hangs on to it long enough for it to make a difference.” This isn’t just Scripture memorization. That is also a fine discipline to develop, but mentally gathering and retaining information ALSO is not a guarantee it will transform us. We can, in the course of the day, think very little about what we memorized that morning.

Notice, “he meditates… day and night.” There’s the key. The secret. It’s letting “the Lord’s instruction,” the truth of God’s Word sink into our souls “day and night.” To meditate in Hebrew is the word used for an animal chewing a cud of grass or hay… slowly, over and over cows and camels, rabbits and other “critters” chew their food until it dissolves into their body.

That’s what we’re missing, I believe. The concepts we are studying… thinking about… considering in writing and hearing… MUST be meditated on for any value to result.

So here’s the trade. Your brain is always busy with something. It’s chewing on junk food or it’s chewing on something that brings value. You control the input. You select the channel. You decide whether your mind will be renewed resulting in new action… or whether you will allow it to return to the same thoughts… that got you where you are now!

FOR REFLECTION:

How much time would you be willing to spend thinking about what Paul wrote in Philippians 4:4-9? Ten minutes? Thirty? An hour? How much time do you spend in anxious thoughts that torment and distract you and steal your peace? Do an evaluation… log your time. How much better to lay awake for thirty or forty minutes meditating on “the peace of God that passes understanding” than on tormenting “what if’s?” At the end of the day, it’s your decision! How blessed is the man… who meditates day and night upon God’s Word!

Overcoming Anxiety 02

Let me stay with the subject of “joy” for a little longer. The key, I believe, to Paul’s “formula” for overcoming worry is having a joy that is bigger than the anxieties that confront us.

Joy, if we understand it correctly, is not having everything “together” in your circumstances. It means we have a deep, abiding assurance that we HAVE the most important thing… we KNOW the most important Person in our heart and spirit.

Joy is not silliness, or walking around with a grin on our face. It is possible to know great joy, even in the midst of great pain and sorrow. What Paul is advocating is FOCUSING on that joy instead of on the circumstances that confront us.

Jesus said, “In this world you will have tribulation.” We are going to have trouble, sorrow, heartache just like every other human being. To believe otherwise is to guarantee frustration and discontent.

To rejoice “continually” in the Lord means we are to change the focus and outlook of our life away from needing to have all of our circumstances working in sync. In the Lord, we have so many reasons to rejoice:

We have a “perfect peace.”
We have an abundant pardon.
We have generous provision.
We have continual protection.
We have a certain providence.

And that’s just the “p’s!” We have so much more to rejoice in than we have to be anxious about. Yet, we often default to anxiety in spite of that.

Paul’s command to “continually rejoice in the Lord” is not contingent on our circumstances being pleasant. In fact, Paul was being held as a prisoner by the Roman government at the time of this writing. Chained day and night to a Roman guard; awaiting the verdict of a sentence he would not be able to appeal.

And yet, he waited in joy! He had learned a secret that begins with the foundation of knowing where true happiness really rests… and it’s not in something we can purchase or earn, but in a gift given us by our Creator… in fact given to all who would ask!

Is your life characterized by joy? Ask someone who knows you well to be honest with you. Is that what they see? Have you ever found yourself in the midst of a crisis or a problem “rejoicing” even when there seemed to be no outward reason to do so?

That is what we must master. That is how we must seek to live. “Rejoice in the Lord always….”

FOR REFLECTION:

  1. Does “joyful” describe your outlook on life? Is there something within you that keeps you focused on the positive in spite of circumstances that may not be positive?
  2. Ask a person who is close to you to truly evaluate your “JQ” – your “Joy Quotient.”
  3. Have you reflected today on any reason or reasons for joy in your life… if not start with the list above!

Overcoming Anxiety

Anxiety is the most commonplace disease of our day. It is not just an uncomfortable state of mind; it has become a major health crisis. While nearly 30% of diagnosed, anxiety-related illnesses have a medical or physiological root, much of our anxiety, fear and worry is something that we have been conditioned to experience.

If we have learned anxiety… we can unlearn it! Jesus said in Luke 12:22-31, “Don’t worry.” “Don’t be afraid.” “Don’t be anxious.” If the Word of God tells us we can stop anxiety from ruling and ruining our lives, then we can.

Paul gives us a four-step progression in Philippians 4:4-9 that I have simplified into four “R’s” to help us remember:

  • Rejoice in the Lord
  • Release our anxious thoughts
  • Let our Requests be made known to God
  • Renew our thinking.

None of these are complex in themselves, and each of them is based on faith in God to do them. The first and perhaps most important: REJOICE IN THE LORD.

To “rejoice in the Lord” means to find in God our HIGHEST joy, our GREATEST happiness, and our most FULFILLING dimension of life. It is not saying that other things should not be enjoyed. It is saying that they must be enjoyed UNDER our joy in the Lord, and not ABOVE it!

There is nothing wrong with finding joy in our mate, in our children, in our jobs, in our homes or possessions or in our health. Nothing at all wrong with these. It is wrong to enjoy these people or things at a higher capacity than we enjoy the Lord! It is then they become an idol, and not simply a means to point us back to our Creator.

God “richly gives us all things to enjoy,” we read in 1 Timothy 6:17. But if you gave your child or your spouse a gift for Christmas and they find more joy in that gift than they find in you, it would break your heart. If that gift helps them to love you more, then it accomplished the intended purpose!

When we love the things that the “giver of every good and perfect gift” brings to us more than the One who brought them, we have violated His purpose and created an idol.

Idols are any thing or any person that moves into the place of your affection, attention, and devotion where only God should be. Therefore, when we rejoice IN THE LORD, we are not saying we do not enjoy the good things God gives… we are saying that these things help us love God more… and most of all!

Rejoicing in the Lord takes a key ingredient of anxiety off the table… that being our fear that the thing or circumstances or people we most love could be lost to us. Anxiety comes as a result of that fear or loss of the most significant thing or person to us.

However, if we are “rejoicing in the Lord,” there is never a danger we will lose Him, and therefore fear and anxiety have no ground to build on.

Do you love God first? Do you love Him most? Or is there any person, any circumstance, any possession that is more the focus of your affection than God? If so, then you have a root of anxiety in your life that can torment and afflict you.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart… all your mind… all your soul… and all your strength.” And rejoice FIRST and MOST in the Lord!

FOR YOUR REFLECTION

  1. Do an inventory of everything in your world that brings your pleasure. Are there any that rival your joy in the Lord?
  2. Ask God to show you any place in your life where you have begun to build an idol. It may be your job or profession, your bank account, your home or your family. Give this idol over to God and ask Him to put it in proper perspective in your life.
  3. To “rejoice in the Lord” is a command that is not concerned with circumstances. Are you rejoicing… even when you are not necessarily happy with how your life is going? “The joy of the Lord is our strength.” Focus on the joy that comes from knowing God’s provision, God’s protection, God’s pardon, God’s peace. Joy will come when we put our eyes on what is most important.

Happy New Year

It is hard to believe that 2017 is gone… and 2018 is now upon us. We have wrongly set up a dichotomy in our thinking and have made “new” and “old” enemies of each other.

There is nothing good about “new” in and of itself… nothing virtuous about “old.” In fact, in Jeremiah, doesn’t God counsel His people, “seek the old paths?” Yes He does.

And yet, this is the same God who ends the Bible with a victorious shout, “Behold, I make all things NEW!” (Emphasis mine, of course). The same book. The same God.

The new is, in its best form, always a completion of the old. We have to have the old for the new to have roots, and we need the new for the old to bear fruit. So they are not in opposition. One completes the other!

The Bible tells us to “sing to the Lord a new song.” And, “if any man is in Christ, he is a NEW creation… old things have passed away, and all things have become new.”

So we stand between these words. There is virtue in the old. There is value in the new. Neither is more spiritual than the other, and properly understood each one strengthens the other.

God has set new paths for some of us this year. Don’t resist them because they are new. This is the “pilgrim’s progress,” moving toward “a city whose builder and maker is God.” A new city. A new Jerusalem.

And yet our paths are straightest when our roots are deepest in the “old” ways. To be new without roots is to be a kite without a tether. To be old without fruit is to be a pot without a purpose or an anchor with no boat.

This year, whatever the “new” may be, (and believe me, NONE of us knows), we can always trust the God who is “the Ancient of Days,” and who will make “all things new.”

He has been… and will always be… our constant in days of change and times of advance. And wherever we may go in life, He will always get there before us!

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