One antidote to lessen anxiety

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We all know that fear and anxiety tend to be the common human response to the unknown future.  I say ‘future’ because few are anxious about the present moment.   It’s already here! Our stress tends to be when we anticipate what MAY lie ahead.

But here’s where I think we go wrong.  When we imagine the next 5 minutes, or tomorrow with trepidation, we anticipate what I call ‘NAKED’ trials or suffering.  All we can picture is the worse that we think might happen.  But without taking into account God’s mercies and grace that He promises to provide IN the suffering.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end

They are new every morning; Great is your faithfulness!  Lamentations 3:22-23

What do we think all those promises in the Bible are for?  Poetry?  Or maybe they are true only for people ‘back then’ or ‘super Christians with a lot of faith’?

Here’s the good news.  If you have ANY modicum of faith in Jesus as your rescuer and substitute, those promises are YOURS!  How do I know?  Because the faith that you have is not something you initiated. God GAVE it to you.  You wouldn’t have even asked for the gift of faith or wanted it!  It’s ‘unnatural’ to desire God.  Only the man or woman or child who has been brought to spiritual life finds Jesus appealing.   So if you have ever exercised any measure of reliance or faith in the biblical Jesus, you belong to God as His child.

I once heard John Piper talk about his fear of betraying God were he to face a martyr’s death like those burned at the stake for translating the Bible into English.  What he finally realized that overcame this fear was that even in that extreme a circumstance, God provides GRACE for the moment to endure and die well.  How can we possibly imagine what that grace would look like or feel?  We can’t.

That is why we walk by faith and not by sight.

Take heart, dear fellow Christian.  Bank your all on God and His Word.  His promises and His character keep Him faithful to all His children.  God can NOT lie or change.

God in the future

Love my boundary lines!

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Sheep in a pen

The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places. Psalm 16:6a

My thorn in the flesh that keeps driving me back to God in desperate need is my tendency to overeat and then get down on myself. I thought I had been liberated from that vicious cycle back in December.  It was then that I renounced once and for all slavishly weighing myself and tracking my exercise day by day.  But then, 10 days ago, I noticed that a certain pair of pants felt tight.  Immediately I spiraled into fear and loathing.

In a nutshell, I suffer from conflicting desires of wanting both to be lean AND to eat as much as I want.  I also fear future hunger and despise feeling stuffed. Taking liberty with the apostle Paul’s cry,

Oh wretched woman that I am! Who will deliver me out of this ….(ceaseless struggle!) – Romans 7:24

As I went round and round with God both in prayer and reading my Bible, He brought to mind that psalm snippet above about limits.  Yes!  I NEED boundaries, both to feel safe and to forget about myself. I’m not much different from a dog that escapes from his restrictive yard only to find himself in a big, scary world on the other side.  Once he’s back home on the safe side of his fence or wall, he might then trust his owner’s wisdom and leave off future waywardness.  Actually I bet a dog needs far fewer repeat lessons than I do! After all, I’ve been fighting that wall with God since I was 16.

The Holy Spirit also reminded me what I have recently absorbed, that as Christians, our primary ministry is to our family. For me, my husband must be my focus. And if I am sucked inward, feeling bad about MY body, MY choices and MY satisfaction, I am NOT ministering to this man God has lovingly brought me.

Quickly my plea for guidance, “What am I to do, Lord?” turned into thanksgiving and praise for His Truth revealed in my heart.

Yes, I DO need limits and they DO make me happy.  Once THAT fact was settled, what I was to do fell into place.  No, I would not go back to weighing myself each day.  But I could cut out certain foods and reduce my portion size of others.

And if those parameters are what allow me to forget myself and focus on Mike and others in my sphere, then they truly ARE my happy limits.  Staying INSIDE the parameter is best.

Well, what about this fear of hunger and desire to eat abundantly?  I MUST ‘risk’ taking God at His Word and rely on His promise that I can do ALL things through him (Christ) who strengthens me – Phil 4:13. And all things means happily living with limited portions and occasional hunger pangs. For ifGod is leading me to stay within my boundary lines, then what He commands me to do, He will likewise enable me to do with Holy Spirit power.  As a Christian, it’s a fact that the Holy Spirit resides IN me. 2 Timothy 1:7 – For God has NOT given us a spirit of fear, but One of love, power and integral/sound thinking.

Does God need anything?

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Yes, He does. He needs our weakness!

Checkbook of Grace

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me2 Cor 12:9

What an amazing and imbalanced swap!  We give God our weaknesses and in exchange, He provides His unlimited power and strength.

In Paul’s case, God did not remove the illness or disease (that ambiguous thorn in his side), but gave Paul endurance not only to bear it but to rejoice in it.

I’ve been thinking about 3 things – ‘boasting in weakness’ as Paul puts it, God’s provisions and my needs.  John Piper writes in his book Faith in Future Grace that most of God’s word to us is in the form of promises.  It’s like God hands his redeemed kids an unlimited checkbook called Grace.   If grace is the set of all of God’s gifts to us, then within that purse or checking account or cupboard (whatever metaphor you prefer) are coins/checks/containers of different resources.

God's Grace Venn Diagram  You probably can’t read the small titles, but I think you’ll get the idea.  The big circle is all the grace available to us; the points are names of the forms of provision like:

  • mercy
  • strength
  • forgiveness
  • peace
  • financial resources
  • time
  • healing
  • patience
  • understanding
  • faith
  • rescue

The promises become precious to you and me only when we are desperate and bank our all on them, moving out of the paralysis of fear into the open space called ‘trusting God to do what He says’.  Hence the checkbook.  Some of us carry a checkbook around in a pocket or purse and when we need something and don’t have the money in hand, we write a check and count on both the merchant accepting it in lieu of cash and our bank honoring it.

It’d be stupid to continue to be needy all the while carrying a valid checkbook!  But that is how we act with God’s word.

Okay – so here is where this gets real for me.  What is my # 1 weakness?  It’s the continual fear that I won’t have ENOUGH TIME to do what I need to do for school and home AND……have some time left over for me to do what Maria wants.  Daily and hourly I face and fight that fear.  So God, in His kind design to wean me off my fear and grow my default mechanism to trust Him continually, SEEMS to give me more stuff to do than I can SEE time available to me.

I’m a slow learner.  But I’m getting better.  My thoughts are lining up more times than not (80%) with God’s word. My heart, however, still drags its feet.

To help both you and me, here are some encouraging words.  Take them as reasons to believe that these promises ARE indeed meant to be used.  The first one states the fact that we actually POSSESS these promises if we are indeed Children of God:

  • (Paul lists several promises and ends a chapter quoting a promise from the Old Testament in 2 Sam 7:14 ) “I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” (Paul then reasons…) Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends…... 2 Cor 6:18 – 7:1a   

  • But my God shall supply all your needs according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus – Phil 4:19
  • For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength – Phil 4:13
  • I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of Egypt.  Open wide your mouth and I will fill it – Psalm 81:1

There are hundreds and hundreds of promises that will stun you if you will accept them as truthful words from a reliable source.

But how can we really know that God will come through and the check not bounce? I’ll leave you with two realities that reassure me:

  1. All I have to do is look back over my past (recent and long ago) and see the many ways He has come through when I both relied on Him and doubted Him. (call that “mercy and kindness added to provision”).
  2. The definition of God is composed of His attributes.  So when you consider just ONE characteristic –  ‘faithfulness to His word’, if anyone could top God then that person would be God.  The very definition of ‘God’ means that no thing or no one tops Him in  ANY and ALL of these qualities.  So we can reason and relax that when it comes to doing what He pronounces He will do, then He WILL do it!

So tell me, which promise of God is most precious to you?  What is your # 1 ‘go-to’ pronouncement of provision in this season of your life?  I’m composing my own ABC list of promises that I can have at my disposal and I’d love to be reminded of other treasures in the Bible.

Is worry normal or is it a sin?

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Worry

Yes!

Yes, anxiety is normal and yes, practicing anxiety is a sin.

And there is good news.

I’m being trained to look behind a statement in scripture to reason about the condition of the author.  For example, yesterday morning I paused at verse 4 while reading Psalm 86:

  • Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.

Since it was a rainy, gloomy Saturday morning I immediately asked God to gladden both my and my husband’s hearts.  But afterwards I realized that the only reason the Psalmist would have penned such a request was because he was struggling with the blahs or worse and knew he could count on God to help him!  Why ask for something of which you have no need????

Here’s another verse from Matthew 6:25

  • I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.

Why would Jesus dedicate these minutes to expound on worry if He didn’t SEE or KNOW that worry was present in the hearts and minds of those listening to Him?

How about the command NOT to fear?  I read in the on-line Christian Post (5 Nov 2014 blog post entitled Faith over Fear) that Jesus’ primary teaching was: to love others. (125 times taught in the Gospels) According to the writer of the post, Jesus presented and organized His teachings by theme.  And the primary theme (21 times) for His instruction was about FEAR.  Do not fear; don’t be afraid; be courageous; be firm in your faith.  This means that Jesus exhorts us to LOVE by NOT FEARING.  Hmmm, could it be that fear drives out love?  Is that the reason that the apostle John pens in 1 John 4:18?:

  • There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear,

And why would Jesus repeat such a message if it weren’t a glaring problem?

So YES – worry and anxiety are normal, but they are neither GOOD, nor HEALTHY, nor appropriate for Christians.  In fact, worrying is a sin since God commands us NOT to worry.

So how does it help to know that worry is both a sin AND a normal reflex?

Because God doesn’t leave us to battle it on our own. There is supernatural power to fight sin.  And we are called to enter into warfare every day of the Christian life. Through daily practice similar to our workouts at the gym, we will strengthen our reflex to rely on His promises and character, growing more like Jesus.  But let’s be realistic; we will not eliminate anxiety 100 %. Therefore, we can expect to have to engage this enemy of the faith daily, WITH the resources God provides. Even my hero of the faith, George Müller, admitted that the decade of his 90s were the hardest.  I imagine his struggles had to do with declining health and increased physical limitations.  There are always new fears to confront.  But God promises fresh mercies each day (‘our daily spiritual bread’)

It’s not for rhetorical reasons that Paul exhorts young pastor Timothy in his first letter, chapter 6, verse 12:

  • Fight the good fight of faith 

This same Paul is the one who explains how to dress daily for the warfare.  Besides defensive armor, he reminds us that there is ONE offensive weapon – God’s word.

The only way to drive the worry dragons away is by saying or singing or shouting or meditating on God’s many promises to BE our strength, to BE our peace and then to bank our life on those promises given to us by a Loving Father whose character is trustworthy.

Here’s one more look at a desperate psalmist and how he deals with danger or suffering

  • If your law had not been my meditation I would have perished in my affliction. Psalm 119:92

The fact that he mentions his affliction is significant.  Like us, he had a choice of mediating on how bad his circumstances were and how he couldn’t see a way out OR he could chew on the truth of God and what He has said.  This Old Testament man of faith makes it clear had he chosen the former course of limiting his view to the present, he would have died.

Aren’t we blessed to have the Bible which does not sugar-coat life’s sufferings?  Instead, it tells us that pain is real and there is help that is equally real and available.

I’ll leave you with an ‘oldie-but-goodie’ sermon link of the man who is teaching me to read my Bible and mine it for MORE than the explicit words:

You can either read or listen to the sermon here

More peace? Less anxiety?

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Would you like to FEEL at peace more and more each day?

Who wouldn’t!  Personal circumstances and problems as well as complex world situations seem to conspire to keep even the most placid in a state of agitation. Add to the warp and woof of 21st century life the seeming random as well as intentional violence! Just a glance at one’s iPhone in the morning is enough to draw up the covers and stay in bed!

stay in bed cat

Hear the promise of the Lord, however!

You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on you: because he trusts in you. Isaiah 26:3

The last 2 days I have whiffed peace.  God has been working in me for years as I grow to understand and love the FACT that He is sovereign and in control of everything that happens to you and me.  Just that knowledge has eased my anxiety about:

  • traffic delays
  • alarm clock malfunctions
  • minor and major wounds from other people
  • accidents or chronic physical conditions (constipation that dogs me!)
  • the pain of my own chosen sin (‘there I go again, blurting out something hurtful’/ ‘there I go again, overeating’/ ‘there I go again, choosing to indulge in self-pity’ / ‘there I go again, lying to look good’ / ‘there I go again, divulging a confidence’ / ‘there I go again, saying something negative about a friend or family member AND enjoying it!’ )

Coupled with a deeper appreciation for what it means for God to ordain/plan/send/prescribe/allow every event has been a growing understanding of God’s will for the lives of His children.

And you know that I’m talking about our growth in holiness, also translated as ‘sanctification’.   1 Thess 4:3a – For it is God’s will that you should be holy:

A very precious friend has played a significant role in my spiritual maturing.  Last October, she mailed me William Gurnall’s 800-page book called The Christian in Complete Armour. Eleven months later I am on page 422 of collected sermons.  It’s so rich that when I dip into it on weekends, I chew slowly, sucking out this English pastor’s exposition of Ephesians 6.  His 17th-century perspective is refreshingly deep.

Across recent pages Gurnall has been talking about the benefits of holiness.  Today, I read this quote:

“….perfect rest depends on perfect holiness….”

Okay – we will NEVER attain to perfect holiness until we SEE Jesus face to face.  But don’t you think it follows from the above premise that:

As we grow in holiness, we grow in rest and peace

What I wrote in my journal this morning was that ‘I should seek holiness and be GRATEFUL for all the circumstances God has planned for me THIS DAY……

  • if it is true that God works all things for the GOOD of those who love Him, who are called according to His purposes  (Romans 8:28)
  • if it is true that NO ‘GOOD’ thing does He withhold from those who are righteous  (Ps 84:11)
  • if it is true that God’s design to do us ‘good’ means to grow and shape us to think, act, react and feel more and more like His beloved Son’

If I take God at His Word, then it follows logically that I should see every event as bearing an opportunity for growth in my holiness or sanctification.  Yes, events can be evil and there is suffering and pain, but each circumstance is packed with holiness-making practical exercises.

And if the more I grow in holiness, the more PEACE I will feel, then why should I fear?  And if God allows/sends/ordains/plans good out of this next event then I SHOULD be able to relax, to rest if I truly trust Him.

Go back to that Isaiah quote and see for yourself.  The taking God at His word lies at the end of that promise…’because he trusts in You.’

Why is this a big deal for me?  Why do I care so much about growing my ability to rest and be at peace and be free from anxiety?  Because I live with fear – a lot of fear!

Some people fear the whole getting old and dying process.

Others fear not having enough money to take them through those final years on earth.

Existentially, I fear something happening to my kids and grandkids.  On a day-to-day basis, I fear not having enough time to get my work done (so I can READ and RELAX).  And in my profession, I fear that I won’t be able to be creative enough to sustain the interest of my students.

So, YES, I AM interested in TRUE and LASTING inner peace that doesn’t depend on circumstances.

And what the Holy Spirit is teaching me through His Word and writers like William Gurnall is that it is in my own personal best interests to see holiness.  I’ll close with a quote of his, taken from page 422:

“There is only perfect rest, because (of) perfect holiness.  Whence those frights and fears which make them a….terror about? (These) make men discontented in every condition.  They neither can relish the sweetness of their enjoyments, nor bear the bitter taste of their afflictions.”

What I am left with is this question:

Maria – why should you fear tomorrow if God promises to use every thing that happens in order to work MORE holiness in you, replacing what is unholy and selfish and destructive?

Just think!  If we could allow this thought to permeate our conscious, waking thoughts, maybe it would begin to seep down into the realm of the unconscious.

What do we have to lose?

The good kind of fear

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So many things to fear.  To be human and do MORE than huddle in bed, sheets pulled up over our head, takes courage.

Cowering in bed

The Bible is very forthright when it comes to fear.  I can’t think of one Bible character whose fear is not described.  Abraham worried about the Egyptians and thus passed his wife, Sarah, off as his sister. Moses shrank back from the task God wanted to give him, that of confronting Pharaoh.  Esther trembled at the idea of approaching her husband the King without his initial bidding.

The former blind man’s parents feared excommunication from the Temple community when asked to explain why their grown son could now see. The disciples feared the Romans and met furtively behind locked doors after Jesus’ execution.

And this week we faced horror after horror as events in Paris, Syria and Nigeria unfolded, just to name a few!

But there are also more mundane fears.  Friday, I had the occasion to chaperone middle school students on the first of five afternoons skiing here in Western North Carolina.  It had been 12 years since I took to the slopes.  I found myself feeling nervous due to the unknown arrangements of ski rental (will my feet cramp in those confining blocks of cement?), of navigating the ski lifts (will I ‘miss’ the moving seat and fall and make a fool of myself?), of avoiding dare-devil kids on snowboards (will I fall and break something and not be able to complete my daily walks?)

John Calvin observed that our hearts are ‘idol-factories’. Well, we are equally skilled at inventing fears.

Therefore, I felt greatly encouraged by a Desiring God blog post entitled Trading Fear for Fear

Reading it over several times (the link is above) and grappling to put the truths into my own words, I have concluded that God MEANS us to fear and has wired us to do so. But there is a right kind of fear and a wrong kind of fear.

I’m curious to learn how YOU would explain the godly kind of fear (no one needs any help in describing our default mechanism to fear the unknown and the threatening).  Here is what I have concluded from studying God’s word and letting it sink in:

  1. Fearing God – Hebrew word YIRAH (Strong’s # 3374) is experiencing  awe and respect and even a thrill at the ‘greater-than-we-can-grasp’ power and majesty and being of God.  Psalm 2:11 illustrates this posture as in “Worship/Serve the Lord in Yirah (reverence) and rejoice in trembling.
  2. The proper fear of the Lord is actually a gift granted to those to whom light is given.  Before this ability to see, we actually have a twisted view of the world and of God.  For in fact, we are by nature born into darkness and the light with which we see and evaluate the world is about as powerful as that emanating from your bathroom nightlight.  When God, via the Holy Spirit, flips on the switch giving us HIS light, we then see the truth of the world for the first time. We then begin to KNOW who God is and how life, liberty and joy are the birthright of all of us who grab hold of this true, forever and loving God who has given us new birth.
  3. Therefore, until we are transferred from the Kingdom of Darkness in to the Kingdom of Light, we can’t understand the right kind of fear, godly fear, because we don’t see/understand God correctly.  (Colossians 1:13 –He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son,  in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.)
  4. Once our eyes are opened, we can begin to fear God properly. And what blessings accompany this YIRAH/correct attitude and posture toward God! Just do a google search on ‘fear of the Lord’ and feast on the many promises of God.

5. Finally (and this helps me the most), I can’t fear two completely opposite things at one time.  Why not?  Aren’t we good at multi-tasking?  Perhaps YOU are, but it’s more than holding 2 ideas together at one time.  What we fear, what we respond to is dictated by what we look at.  If I focus on troubling world circumstances like the evil terror that seems unrestrained and growing, or if I dwell on my imagined fears accompanying upcoming new experiences, or if I worry about what might happen if this or that happens, then I am fearing PRECISELY in a way that God commands me NOT to. Isaiah 8:12 is a good reminder: “Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread.”

However, when we fear/revere/thrill/look at the awe-FUL, wonder-FUL character and works of God, then all sorts of attendant resources are made available to us, besides JOY.  The same prophet Isaiah assures of that….

33:6 He will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure.

2a - Maria skiing for first time in 13 yrs - 9 Jan 2006

The pain of thinking wrongly

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My mom used to say that most of what we fear never comes to pass.  I can look at her worries and attest to the truth of her reasoning.

German Bread

My mom loved to travel to Europe ‘just to eat the bread’, she would often claim.  She was an extravert and also cherished rubbing shoulders with strangers, whether on those long plane rides to Zürich or in shops along the lakeshore of Lugano.  She would quickly encourage their stories as they happily opened up their hearts to her.

But the time leading up to the travel itself was the source of much worry and anxiety.

Travel Anxiety

Even local ordinary activities caused her anxiety.  Crossing the drawbridge grillwork of the James River Bridge near her house in order to get to the commissary on Ft Monroe was a big deal to her.  I’m not sure what she thought might happen – just maybe that the car would plunge over the side, into the river below.

When she died, it was probably not the way she had pictured or feared.  She collapsed one Thursday afternoon, walking on their property along the James River.  I was at the gym talking to a friend who had just attended a funeral that day. Funny the details you remember.  And my dad, who had meticulously planned HIS departure before his wife’s, was equally caught off guard by her sudden death.

Like my mom I, too, subject myself to needless pain, running scenarios through my head and praying that God would NOT bring my deepest fears to pass.  So I was startled, pleasantly, when I read a column by Andrée Seu Peterson about our fears in the latest issue of World Magazine.  She mentioned in passing how much help CS Lewis had been in this realm with his conclusion chronicled in A Grief Observed (his wife Joy had died from cancer).

This is important.  One never meets just Cancer, or War, or Unhappiness (or Happiness).  One only meets each hour or moment that comes.  All manner of ups and downs.  Many bad spots in our best times, many good ones in our worst”  (from A Grief Observed)

That is powerful.  It dissolves the size of all the things we dread, because it reduces them to a succession of moments. I know what pain in the moment is. When I am on my 27th pushup or hustling up that last stretch of 13 % incline gravel road leading to our house, I am in pain.

Old Cabin from below

But as soon as exertion is over, the pain is forgotten.  Most important, though, is how the pain comes to us – measured out like sand running through an hourglass, grain-by-grain, moment-by-moment.

So here it is Sunday and work looms tomorrow, especially noticeable after 5 days of relaxation over Thanksgiving week.   But when I launch out into the dark new day, taking on the Cove walk challenge and commuting to Asheville and having to grapple with an annoying 7th grade boy and come up with creative lesson plans, it will be moment by moment, not monolithically as I have been imagining my tomorrows.

 

Hourglass

Is it this way with you, too?  I want God to remove unpleasant things from my life, but He promises more – Himself:

  • Be content!
  • Do not covet what I haven’t given you!
  • Be free!
  • Rejoice, for I will be with you each of these moments of dreaded events or humdrum circumstances or even celebratory crazy-good times!

For, listen up! This is what really matters (says God)…… I am bigger than any of those instants, good or bad.  My transcendent but real presence dwarfs each and every blink-of-the-eye unit of time that comes to you.  What is the next grain of sand of pain or joy, compared to me?  I will give you exactly what you need for the grain-sized moment that comes. Fear not, relax and rest in my provision – my manna for the moment.

Manna for the day

Now THAT thought settles my restless mind.

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