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

God’s constant provision as seen in the Wizard of Oz

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Scarecrow from Oz

The local movie theater shows kids’ classics for free in the summer.  Accompanied by my granddaughters I relived this childhood favorite for the first time on the big screen. Startling were the illustrations of how God provides in the moment. I don’t mean to say that He is actually invoked and evident in L. Frank Baum’s cinematic version of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.  But seeing the scarecrow use brains he didn’t think he had to guide Dorothy and the others in escaping the Wicked Witch of the West and her winged monkeys and guards brought to mind life lived walking with Jesus. One could almost call this film a parable of the Christian life.

I’ve been meditating this summer on the stunning promise from our Jehovah-Jireh in Romans 8:32 – Since He (God) did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else?  That’s enough provision to settle anyone’s heart.

Yet……I perversely WANT to see – ahead of time – all the provision I’ll ever need, IN PLAIN SIGHT!  But that is not the way God has set up this world. He is training us to trust Him, to lean on Him moment by moment, to live by faith in who He is, to treasure Him as our greatest provision.  Time and time again, God exhorts us to be content with Him as our greatest good.

Viewing again this vintage film drove home in a gentle and nostalgic way the futility of worrying about the future.

The lion, tin man, scarecrow and Dorothy had NO idea what circumstances would be like just around the corner.  How could they have anticipated that the guards who worked for the evil witch would rejoice to see their tyrannical sorceress melt away?

Witch melting

And when the ‘Wizard’ inadvertently departed Oz without Dorothy, she had no need to worry about what to do next.  For Glinda, the good witch, appeared with all that was necessary at the opportune moment.

So, too, is our God and Father always with us, to provide just what we need in the kairos moment.  Psalm 23:1 – The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not lack a thing! 

Isn’t our God amazing in how He uses EVERYthing to teach us.  That’s a love that never stops!

‘The Big Fall’ into sin – again!

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I noticed the contradiction for a couple of days and named it. Preached it, even.
Then I fell for it.  And sinned big.  (Like in those days before I had heard about God’s biblical plan for wives.)
But back to truth.  Here’s the insight:
“It makes NO sense to believe in the sovereignty of God over every molecule AND worry about how I want my day to go.”  That is irrational and stupid.
But it’s been that kind of week.  I’m going out of town on Monday and the days were filling up.  I WANTED to do X, Y and Z and I saw only limited windows of time open for me to take care of those ‘important’ things on my list.  And I panicked.  Even though I know better.  Even though God patiently sets up this lesson time and time again so I can trust Him.
This past Wednesday, the day of THE BIG FALL, I even comforted myself remembering that God has ALWAYS provided in the past.  Without fail.
Not enough time
And yet…the banner over me was NOT ENOUGH TIME, so I grimmed up and grew hard.  Our conversation through dinner prep and on into the meal took on a combative edge.
That was when I found myself dishing back to him in like manner, feeling fully justified.  Just like during all those selfish years, when I would rationalize – “If he’s allowed to play the dramatic, then I should as well!”  But you know how THAT always ends.
Sin is a shortcut to what SEEMS like a good idea in the moment.  But it never satisfies.  Emotion short-circuits clear thinking. Praying to God didn’t occur to me in the midst of feeling sorry for myself.
So, how did it all end?  My husband chose the ‘mature’ card of love and softness toward me.  Having put as many chores as I could between my eventually wanting to absorb the cool mountain air of an evening in the Smokies I sat down next to him in silence.  He let no more than a minute go by before turning to me. His question drew me out, back to the truth of how much we love each other.  The humble features and pleading eyes showed me how much his heart has grown Christ-like since our last ‘raise your own barricades’ skirmish.
That glimpse and the remedial lesson in trusting God’s provision were worth the pain!
1 Corinthians 13: 7 (Love ….. )  always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Resting in Doctrine – God’s in charge!

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Job 14:5A person’s days are determined; you have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed.

Psalm 139:16Your eyes saw me when I was formless; all my days were written in Your book and planned before a single one of them began.

News of a recent hostage death has caused me to think through whether God is in charge or not.  What we believe about God is called doctrine and doctrines DO matter.  They affect our thoughts, which influence our feelings.  These rational and emotional aspects reside at different layers within us, some conscious and others beyond our conscious awareness.  It’s apparent to me that we are guided by thoughts and feelings originating in both camps, whether we know it or not.  Who hasn’t been appalled at a choice comment that slipped out before we could filter it: ‘Where did THAT come from?” we genuinely exclaim in horror.

Garbage in, Garbage out: ‘right’ thinking about God matters.  So what is ‘right’ thinking or doctrine when it comes to whether God is in control of all that happens in our universe? The Bible, the definitive source of doctrine, affirms that He is in fact the first cause* for all that happens. The term for that 100% authority and rule that belongs to God’s is His Sovereignty.

If a king is sovereign over his lands, then what he says is the law of the land.  How much more is it with God who is the author (hence – authority) and creator of all that IS.  And if He is sovereign, by definition then, that quality of being in charge includes the notion of having and exercising all power.  There is no such thing as impotent sovereignty.

Back to the hostage who died.  My heart goes out to the family who is dealing with pain and loss. If they are followers of God, there is one comfort that should hold them up in their grief:

God’s plan for their dear one was not thwarted.  Therefore, they need not take on all the piercing, painful ‘what ifs’ that often assault survivors.  Rescue attempts did not succeed because God sovereignly ordained the day the hostage would die.

This is NOT fatalism because that would mean that it doesn’t matter what one does, that regardless of our actions, the outcome is the same. God’s sovereignty is different because He chooses to carry out His will in our lives through both our human actions and His divine workings.  Rescue attempts ARE appropriate because they might be the means God uses to save lives.

We have an example of God sovereignly determining different outcomes with two of Jesus’ apostles.  James, son of Zebedee,  was the first to be murdered by the Romans.  Wasn’t anyone praying for his rescue?  Undoubtedly!  Then there was Peter, also imprisoned by the Romans.  This time similar prayers led to his miraculous rescue from jail. What made the difference?  God and His sovereign will!

So, why is this doctrine so important?  For one, it is PEACE-producing.  We don’t need to beat ourselves up with the ‘what-ifs’.  That self-inflicted torture implies our actions are sovereign.

So sweet is this aspect of God!  His unchanging character guarantees that His sovereign decrees will always be done.  This in turn lifts the immobilizing burden of possible mistakes off of me.

  • What if I make a wrong decision?
  • What if I should have known better than to make that trip to the Holy Land and fall prey to a terrorist attack?
  • What if I had taken a different route to the bank?
  • What if I had chosen a different spouse, a different job?
  • What if I hadn’t indulged in that immoral behavior?

I can easily wallow in regrets, if I start thinking that I am in charge of my life.

Jesus breathes comfort and peace into our troubled minds:

  • John 14:27Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

*Although God is the First Cause of all that happens, there are other doctrines that exclude Him from being charged with the evil we do. Even though God is sovereign, we are still guilty for bad stuff we do. That’s a complex theological discussion that I cannot take up here.

 

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

Stay in your boundary!

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A night at Cousin Terry’s home gifted us with more than good fellowship and food. We were also blessed with a powerful word-picture or image to remind us of how to live the Christian life, with peace and rest.  The picture below is what I’m calling a ‘boundary circle.’  I’ll explain in a few.

Heart Shaped boundary

 

 

 

 

Christians, by definition, are new creations.  They have been rescued from the futile, darkened kingdom of self & death (run by the Father of Lies) and transferred into the Kingdom of Light & Life, where the Triune God reigns.

Paul explains this to the believers in Colossae,

  • For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son (Col 1:13)

As freed prisoners, now owing our allegiance to our Rescuer, everything is different:

  • I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20

Although a Christian for the past 33 years, I’m a slow learner.  What I’ve found to be true in my life, and it probably is so with you, is this: to the extent that we take in knowledge about God, we grow more like Jesus.  If we don’t EAT spiritual food, we imbibe worldly food. Think Junk Food, ‘and there is no health in us’ as the Book of Common Prayer says in a morning confession.

From the moment of ‘transfer’ new believers belong to God as His adopted children, with full rights and privileges, to include a future, guaranteed inheritance. However, I’ve learned that unless I call myself back to present reality, I can revert back to that former, but still very comfortable way of thinking, that of a ‘slave to sin’.

Slavery

 

 

Here’s the rub.  Life is hard, whether you’re a ‘Christ-ling’ or a ‘World-ling’.  But as an adopted child of God, an heir with Christ, I have full access to the love, the power and the promises of God.  I’m not meant to live, dependent on my own resources.  I am a new creation: ‘Christus-Maria’ 

All that being said, despite having been a Christian since the age of 24, I still battle unbelief.  I find myself frequently imagining, worrying and fearing this or that. Our cousin Terry is a mature and wise Christian woman who has learned to trust God by trial and error (aka falling into sin and then repenting) through prayer and nourishment from God’s word.  She is also very real, the kind of Christian with whom you can feel SAFE in admitting your struggles.

So when I shared with her, during our overnight the content of the worries and fears that plague me, she passed on the advice gleaned from a wise Christian man who lovingly admonishes his fearful wife each time she shares a worry:

‘Honey, you’ve stepped out of the boundary of grace for the moment, for the day!  There’s no grace NOW for where you’re hanging out – the future. There’s only grace for the present. Get back inside the boundary!’

So back to the protective circle of love at the top of this post.  I picture myself yoked with Christ, WITHIN THAT CIRCLE OF LOVE.  As long as I keep step with Him, then all is well.  The strength and direction come easily as I walk, moment by moment, in conscious communion WITH Him.  It’s only when I run ahead in my thoughts to the future hypothetical ‘what-ifs’, that I find myself in the scary ‘badlands’ of possible dangers, outside of my boundary of love.

Yoked

 

 

How senseless to run on ahead, alone, as a weak and defenseless little donkey, leaving behind my supernatural Older Brother and Redeemer!

I find comfort in this image of a protective circle of love and grace surrounding the new me, harnessed to a comfortable restraint permanently linking me with Jesus. More and more, I am learning to ‘harness’ my thoughts, to rein them in, back to the HERE and NOW where Grace is King.

Question: Where are you running ahead of your provision?

 

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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