Sure remedy for anxiety – it’s as close as your face!

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No matter our maturity as Christians, we still struggle with worry and anxiety.  We all know that we are supposed to cast our cares into our Father’s lap, but earthly matters tend to dog our minds, keeping us sleepless.

worry

Jesus’ remedy against worry (which also serves as an explicit command to refrain from worrying – Just stop it!!) seems simplistic on the surface.

  • Matt 6:33 (don’t worry about the ordinary but necessary stuff of life, like non-Christians) But seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and ALL these things will be added to you.

What struck me the other day were the first 3 letters of the command SEEK.  We’re to SEE, to LOOK UP from our immediate and pressing concern.  And what is the object we are to seek out?  God’s Kingdom.  

Now what in the world does THAT mean?  First things first, let’s hearken back to where we might have heard this phrase. One obvious place is in the Gospel of Mark, that quick-paced eyewitness account of Jesus’ ministry. Right from the get-go, Jesus travelled around proclaiming the startling news that because HE was HERE in their midst as the incarnate God on earth, that the Kingdom of God had arrived. 

I think that by intentionally SEEing this fact, the new government and what that implies, we can reboot.  That means we exhale our distracting thoughts and breathe in life-giving truths, like: 

  • If Jesus has inaugurated His kingdom, then He is also ruling it
  • that He loves me (how do I know that? – if I am trusting Him as my righteousness, then I have already accepted the fact that He died for me on purpose.  That’s pretty strong evidence of love, wouldn’t you say?)
  • that I have an inheritance awaiting me in the near future and hundreds of grace-filled promises at my disposal RIGHT NOW in the midst of all these troublesome situations

So at the break of the new day, in every circumstance, whether segueing to a new task or initiating a difficult conversation or fulfilling an obligation, we are to stop and look up and SEE reality, which is this: “King Jesus is alive and well and at God’s right hand praying for us and talking to His and our GOOD Father”

Well, what about the 2nd part – the exhortation to SEEk His righteousness?

The term ‘righteousness’ is an example of ‘METONYMY’, that is – a shorthand term representing a concept.  For example ‘Hollywood’ is a metonymy that stands for the US film industry.  Or calling a white-collar managerial-level employee a ‘suit’, or the top generals in the army are referred to as the ‘brass’.

Righteousness 

When Jesus calls us to stop being anxious like the pagans and SEE (consider, observe, remember, center back on, enjoy the fact of) evidence of His Kingdom, He also is reminding us to SEE Him.  The righteousness that goes along with the Kingdom IS Jesus.  Jesus is Jehovah-Tsedek, the LORD-Our Righteousness.

Again when we look up and center on Jesus, we lose the craziness.  The needs are still there, but we don’t have to panic or distract and fracture ourselves by all the pieces and layers of concerns.  Jesus has PROMISED to provide; He is trustworthy; we can therefore trust Him. 

For those of you who are interested, here are Strong’s definitions of the two Greek verbs.   Do you see how close in meaning they are? 

The Greek word for SEEK is 2212 or ZETEO – to search, look for, inquire, demand, 

The Greek word for SEE is 3708 or HORAO – to notice, perceive, recognize (and understand)

By the way, I heard a pastor mention that the most common command in the entire Bible IS the verb to SEE or LOOK (1100 times).  We even use this verb in everyday parlance when we’re trying to make a point. Did you ever hear anyone say: “Lookit!” to strengthen his case?

It DOES matter what we focus on, whether we use our physical eyes or the eyes of our hearts.  

And if Paul is correct, that we become more like Jesus by looking at Him, then why not really take Him at His word and shift our gaze from our very present and real worries to the very present, real and powerful Creator of the Universe, Jesus Christ who ALWAYS acts righteously. 

taste and see

I

The danger of worry and anxiety

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When I was mucking around in my anxiety, Satan’s lies slipped past my defenses and entered my mind as MY own thoughts and MY own analysis of reality.

Satan's lies

 

 

 

You can call this blog post Prayer Part 5 – what happens when you don’t trust God ON whom you had cast all your worries.

A couple of months ago, I offered to share some insights I had learned about contentment at a conference I attended in June.   A Saturday morning workshop for the women of my church seemed like a good idea back in July.  I don’t work during the summer and I was enjoying a more leisurely-paced life when I suggested this to my pastor.

Here’s reality:  School has been underway for 4 weeks now. The workshop is scheduled for 6 days from now.  I still need to review and finalize the material.   I didn’t realize that I was counting on VISIBLE chunks of time later in the week.  Just the night before one of those chunks became rescheduled with something else – a very good something else.  Nonetheless, that block of time dropped off my schedule and I had been fighting anxiety for 24 hours.

It’s GOOD to plan ahead.  But we should not rely on or TRUST the provision we can plan, orchestrate and see in lieu of trusting the only true and most capable provider whose name is Jehovah Jireh – ‘the Lord will provide‘.

It was Thursday, almost 6 pm and I was en route home from Asheville having done the weekly grocery shopping.  I knew that I would have very little time to relax (aka READ) before having to go to bed.  There were groceries to put away, dinner to fix (albeit a simple one), my breakfast and lunch to sort, chop and prepare, dinner to enjoy with my husband and then dishes.  But I was praying and believing God that He could stretch my 15 minutes or so of ‘me time’ to make it AS satisfying as 45 minutes.  And I had finally turned over the workshop reduced planning time THING to God and was trusting Him in the present situation at hand.

But then Mike (who writes from home for World magazine) casually mentioned that his audio piece had aired that day. We usually grab our drinks and head downstairs to listen on the big speakers to his 4-minute technology segment he writes and records.

My first thought: This will cost me SEVEN whole minutes!  Grim Wife And out popped GRIM WIFE!

I said tight lipped, “I don’t have time to listen right now, would you mind terribly if we listen tomorrow?”  And I slid into the sin of unbelief AND idolatry.

The most important thing I could have done at that moment was value my husband and trust God to stretch the time.  Instead I put MY agenda over my husband’s needs.  My anxiety and panic and yes – my anger at being so limited in time began to grow as my vision took in JUST my needs and the resources I could see.

I’ll spare you the ‘bad-to-worse back and forth’ my anxiety caused my husband and me.  But you can imagine the 24-hour coldness that invaded our relationship.  The discouraging truth was that I was doing the very opposite of what God has been emphasizing to me over the past few weeks – trusting Him with my worries in order to be:

  • clear-headed,
  • single-minded and
  • focused on the one and only thing that is important – His kingdom right here

God commands us to humble ourselves AND hand over our worries to take care of because we actually have MORE important work to do than our own agenda.  We’re to pray.

And when we don’t, the ever-roaming enemy Satan, creeps in to devour our peace and contentment and joy in Jesus. How uncanny that this ‘fight’ happened right before a workshop that might help women step out of some unbelief in their lives….

Sorry

I’m happy to report that our Father gave me a repentant heart desiring to ask my husband’s forgiveness and to get back on track doing what is in my job description and NOT what is above my pay grade.

 

 

Disclaimer:  My husband IS a huge help around the house.  He cleans our house every Friday since he works from home and I commute almost an hour each way to school.  And it’s not like he was standing by idly while I was putting away groceries.  He had gotten our produce box from the farm.  He had carried in all the groceries and put away the 2nd frig stuff.  Much of the chopping and prep of salads and veggies is for my breakfast and lunch.

Fruit of NOT worrying

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Gentleness

 

Because my tendency to worry is one of my on-going battles with sin,  I’m drawn to pray and read God’s Word in hopes that I will be courageous enough to kill off this habit.  My last few posts have chronicled explorations in living ‘WORRY-FREE’, even if only for short periods of time.

Recently I was surprised when I was re-reading the famous passage in Philippians 4 where God says through Paul:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

What struck me this time was how GENTLENESS was set up in contrast to ANXIETY, aka WORRY.

It seems that God is saying that when we are NOT worried, then we can afford to be gentle with others, with ourselves, and all the potential annoying impediments to ‘our agenda’.

But under what kinds of circumstances could anyone NOT be worried?  Is it when we actually ARE care-free?  By all means NO.  If that were the case, then a life without worry would seem like ‘pie in the sky, by and by’!

No, a worry-free life FILLED with stress is what is described here, I think. Remember, this is Paul, the sometime on-the-run church planter and traveling pastor and inveterate writer. The one who was whipped, shipwrecked, stoned, left for dead, imprisoned and finally murdered.  He learned, practiced and encouraged fellow Christians by his example.

When we actually believe God and trust Him enough to hand over each and every (big and little) concern/worry/problem/situation/stress (whatever we euphemistically use to call that which consumes our thoughts and drives our negative feelings), we are beginning to learn how not to be anxious.

Casting Cares and Worries

 

Being gentle is the byproduct of entrusting God with all of our circumstances and ‘situations’.  It’s also a blatant statement of our belief in the sovereign control of God over every single circumstance.

I’m reading Elizabeth Elliot’s 1976 book entitled: Let Me Be a Woman.  It’s a collection of letters of advice to her one and only daughter who is on the verge of marriage.  In chapter/letter/essay 33 she proclaims this fact:

‘What a relief it is to know that there is a divine design.  This knowledge is the secret of serenity. Jesus is the perfect example of a human life lived in serenity and obedience to the Father’s will.  He moved through the events of His life without fuss or hurry. He met men and women with grace.  He was able to say, “I do always those things that please the Father”……’

That whiff of a life lived gently, without anxiety or rush, doesn’t that appeal to you?  But does it sound TOO good to be true?  Did it only work for Jesus because He was God’s son?  Did it only work for Paul because he was super-apostle?

I’m sensing an actual growing excitement that this way of living could actually be true.  But if I can’t turn to my every day ordinary mess and apply God’s command ‘cum’ promise, then it doesn’t apply anywhere and it’s a patent lie.

The way I figure it, I have nothing to lose. I’m banking on God’s character, that every word He has uttered is true because HE is truth.

So:

  • problemsome 6th grade boys
  • bouts of constipation (just being real!)
  • potential of not meeting my principal’s expectations
  • a busy last week in September that might eat into ‘Maria Time’

all these I’m casting, casting….. hourly throughout each day ……on God for He IS the one who IS taking care of me.

 

Do sheep ever worry?

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sheep

 

Obedience, aka the humility to hand over my troubles, to my Heavenly Father has been this season’s lesson.

In the last two blog posts I  detailed how I can now see that the injunction to ‘Cast all your cares on Him, for He cares for you’ (1 Peter 5:7) can NOT be taken in isolation, as we Christians are wont to do.

What is missing is the all-important context without which we will MIS-understand God’s message to us.

So what DOES precede this comfortable command of letting go of our distracting worries? Oh..just..the fact that handing over these concerns and anxieties is one way God wants us to humble ourselves.

 

Ambassador for Christ

And what follows the command? Just the reminder of our mission and duty as an ambassador of Christ – that we are to be clear and single-minded so we can watch out for our enemy who is on the hunt for distracted Christians. We are actually assigned to be our ‘brother’s keeper’, our ‘brother’ being those dear fellow believers who are distracted by their worries.

 

With that review, let me give you a peek at Part 3 of God’s lesson plan. The Holy Spirit used a couple of teachings by John Piper to give me some concrete practice in trusting God.

In a series of talks about faith in future grace, Piper reminded me of the only way to prevent distracting worries. Power to hand over concerns and live single-mindedly and focused, as God commands, is only possible if we take as true and sure God’s promises of His adequate provision.

I need to recall that God’s interactions with me until now have been ALL GRACE. Two ways I see His past grace:

  • First – I was saved according to His unearned favor given me
  • Second – Everything I have received ….from energy, to eyesight to education to equipping for tasks has come as a gift from God

So there is a pile of past grace I can look back to for encouragement. But that is not all! His Word looks forward and announces brand new mercies and grace-giftings to come to me.

All I have to do, and I’m practicing REMEMBERING this throughout the day, is breathe in the assurance that whatever lies ahead in the next 5 seconds or 5 minutes is known by Him. And AS life unfolds both in the ordinary daily tasks of teaching French and tending my home as well as the crises, God IS providing what I need.

Simple to grasp, challenging to practice.

Jar of clay

To you, I can admit that I am the clay pot WITH cracks. I don’t HAVE to pretend that I am competent and have it all together. It’s only the world around me that clamors for proof of my self-exalting independence. What a trap!

 

Down to where the rubber meets the road: we’re on a trip to Mike’s alma mater for his 35th class reunion. So many all the many details and circumstances appear ARE out of our control. As I notice my tension, I breathe out my anxiety and breathe in Holy Spirit oxygen and relax. Everything from preparing the substitute plans, to packing, to cat-minding considerations as well as the travel and healthy food arrangements can easily overwhelm me.

I do the above, relax and then MORE concerns pop into my mind. For example, even after God provided for situations that occurred during the day, (rental car, NJ Turnpike, arriving at reunion events reasonably on time) later that night other future situations loomed large. I had to STOP thinking about those details and hand over my ‘right’ to worry. Hasn’t God promised to provide for the next day ON the morrow? Is He not trustworthy?

You’d think I’d come into my heavenly inheritance a week ago and was still getting used to the idea!

What patience Abba Dad exercises with His little kids! I’m thankful He sees this as training for the responsibilities that await us as co-heirs with Jesus.

May you and I trust Him enough to accept with relief and rest that each lesson does have a divine objective. Nothing is wasted or without purpose. Even the suffering.

Thanks be to God!

Question: What promise of future grace can you place your faith in right now?

PS: I have let this post percolate over our travel days. Early this morning as I lay in bed, the first faith skirmish of the day commenced. I started to worry about arriving home late with little time to repack and head off first thing Tuesday morning as a teacher/chaperone for the two-day 8th grade class camp experience. Would I be able to fix dinner, repack, sleep enough and head out the door at 6:45 am on Tuesday morning ready to extravert some more?

What finally settled my anxious heart and scattered mind was Psalm 23.

  • The Lord IS my shepherd
  • He WILL provide
  • There are still waters and green blades of grass in fields I don’t yet see

Good shepherd

I rested easier in bed as I meditated on these facts of future grace and mercy.

Why God wants to be the one to take care of our worries

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Last week I practiced handing over each worry/anxiety/problem/’concern’ as it came up as an act of obedience to God’s call to humble myself by transferring/dumping/casting them on Him. (…when I remembered!)

Not my problem

 

 

 

 

God’s words as recorded by Peter was my guide (1 Peter 5: 6-7):

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

The new thought that pressed in on me, though, was the ultimate reasons God gives for why we MUST hand over our burdens.  The first one is explicit, a kind of ‘DUH':

  • we are to hand them over to God because it is actually HE who is the one handling them!  It’s not something He says He WILL do, but that He right now is undertaking. So when we hold on to them and ‘think about‘, aka WORRY, we’re just spending precious energy in a maelstrom of anxiety that is accomplishing ZILCH.

But here’s what is even cooler about God’s command. I’ve always stopped after verse 7, not noticing what follows.  There happens to be an even MORE crucial reason why we are NOT to invest energy into our problems.  Look at the next exhortation as verses 8 and 9 continue the thought:

  • Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  Resist him, firm in your faith.

When I really read these words, letting them sink in, the Holy Spirit reminded me that ‘…I am not my own.  I was bought with a price….I am an ambassador for Christ..I am on duty – always!’

And what good is a soldier on duty if he is distracted?  Our orders are to be alert and watchful:

Enemy the devil

 

 

 

 

I’m beginning to see that my thinking has been too small.  My error was believing – falsely – that my worries were my own business and didn’t impact anyone else.

I obviously have forgotten that I am responsible ALSO to my brothers and sisters in Christ, to look out for their spiritual well being.  And if I am so self-absorbed; if I am acting like a functional atheist who has no good and loving Heavenly Father, I am hurting the Church.

Here’s what I want to remember this week, that with Holy Spirit power I am both encouraged and am capable to:

  • trust in my good Father at all times (Ps 62:8)
  • not depend on MY understanding of the problems, worries, concerns, needs that concern me and my loved ones (Prov 3:5)
  • not do anything from selfish conceit, but be concerned and interested in the lives of others (Phil 2:3-4)

Family of God

Man proposes and God disposes

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Proverbs 16:9  A man’s heart makes plans, but/and the Lord directs his path

Proverbs 16 9

Six weeks ago I received a group invitation to audit a seminary course.  The topic sounded fascinating – Biblical Theology of Women.  I had never thought of taking a course in theology, so it was intriguing.  But like everyone else, my schedule was already filled with more good things to read, study and learn than I had time for.

With some newfound wisdom AND at the same time desirous of taking on yet another ‘good’ thing, I did what I’ve never done before – think outside of the time box and make some serious choices about how I spend my 24 hours.

D.A. Carson, a wise, biblically-informed senior theologian, had counseled at a Bible conference that: If God has wired you to need 8 hours of sleep and you’re grumpy if you don’t, then SLEEP the 8 hours, for heaven’s sake!

So I made ‘enough sleep‘ a priority.

Enough sleep

And not just for the rest of the summer, but during the school year, too!  Obviously, other stuff had to go!  You can’t do it all. Even if ALL of it is ‘good’.  After sufficient sleep, I made my daily walk a priority.  Then came my quiet time which I re-arranged and divided into 2 separate daily time slots for the school-week.

None of that was too radical.  But I found myself faced with the need to eliminate a lot of reading.  Hard questions.  What do I truly WANT to read if I have to prioritize?  The answer was clear:  books!  I enjoy both French-language and English-language novels and books on the Bible, theology and the Christian life.   In order to allot at least 30 minutes a day to reading from them, I would have to eliminate the ever-growing email subscriptions I have kept up with for the past 7 to 8 years.  They had gotten to be a slave driver.  Just their presence in my inbox, piling up, always waiting was a reminder of ‘stuff I had to do!’

So I turned ruthless and cut all but 1 daily (John Piper’s Desiring God) and 1 weekly French and 1 neighbor’s weekly blog.

These steps (drastic for me!) were informed through new ideas from 4 books I providentially read this summer whose one theme was one’s dreams, goals, and purposes and new ways to think about what really matters.

Contented Jason in Lambie - 27 Mar

These past two weeks leading up to the start of a new school year have felt relaxed, almost as ‘relaxo’ as we describe one of our cats.  I haven’t been driven by the tyranny of my daily inbox to plow through and glean good stuff.  Each night after the dishes are done and the newspaper read, I have settled into my French novel, sitting out on our deck.  I have thoroughly relished reading for pleasure.  I now feel that I have a chance to make my way happily through a stack of books – the physical kind whose pages you turn.

Then I received the email with the syllabus to the course I had signed up for – the one that had prompted the weeding and gleaning and reorganizing of my time. And I had second thoughts.

Without ANY guilt, I have decided that I don’t want to add anything to this new ‘stasis’ in my life.  School has resumed and I am choosing to commute, teach, interact and listen to colleagues and students FEELING like I can spend the requisite time and not cheat them of my attention.

Let me draw this reflection to a close and pick up with the title of this blog post.  The adage and the proverb point out the truth that no matter what we plan, God is the one who directs our life.  God used the offer of a free course to bump my life around this summer, all for my good. And then He communicated to me that I should NOT take the course.  I’m not surprised.  But what IS a pleasant turn of events is this:  a friend to whom I mentioned the seminary course has jumped on it, eager to benefit.  God obviously had HER in mind all along.

So let us rest in knowing that even if we choose poorly, God is still in charge and will direct us if we willingly yield to His guidance.

Question:  when was a plan that you had laid out but that God re-directed and now you can see it was a ‘more excellent’ way?

 

 

 

How Prayer and Trust relate

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Call on me in the Day of Trouble

 

 

 

As Paul Miller says, we all think we stink at prayer!

I would imagine that this assessment is a plot of the devil and his evil pals.  If they can get us NOT to pray, then God won’t accomplish much.  At least this is what the Satan thinks, thus laboring steadily to dissuade us from spending the time and energy and getting our hopes up!

But God….(two powerful words that introduce HOPE)…is ALWAYS at work so we should keep on stumbling through prayer by faith and trust He’ll help us grow in this area.

*

I’ve been reading an encouraging book on prayer.

Link to the book

Power of Prayer - Samuel Prime

 

 

 

 

 

If you purchase this account of the New York revival of 1858, chapters 16, 17 and the final one are worth the price of the book.  They made me WANT to pray.

Here is my take-away after spending a month in these pages. Picture thick ice that covers a lake in winter. ice on a lake

 

 

 

When you trust in the efficacy of the ice to sustain your weight, you venture out.  The degree of faith in that ice has NO effect on whether the ice is sufficient to bear your weight. Whether you timidly step out onto the ice (a little bit of faith) or you stride out boldly (strong faith), the ice’s ability to hold you up is not effected one whit.

The promises of God are like the ice.  When God says in HIS WORD that He will do this or that, we can be sure that He will!   Why? – because He is a perfect God who never changes.  His character, the sum-total of His attributes, is consistently above-reproach.  If He is ever or even one time good, He is ALWAYS good. If He is faithful once, He is ALWAYS faithful.  If He does what is right one time (act with righteousness and justice), then He will ALWAYS do what is righteous and just.  Why?  because His character  is on the line at all times. His primary motivation is for the glory or reputation of His name

Closely intertwined with His character are His promises.  What He says He will do is as good as done.  It’s money in the bank, as some would say.  His character is the foundation for His Word.

So, when you step out onto the solid ice-covered lake of His Word, it’s NOT

  • the strength or quality or purity of your faith
  • nor is it even your goodness, aka faithfulness
  • nor the quality of your past few quiet times
  • nor how committed you are THIS time to do…

It’s ALL Him.  And that is good news.

To sum up, here is my analogy -

Throwing up a prayer to God and then resting in the PERFECT assurance that He will hear that prayer and use it and take care of the situation/desire/need as HE best sees fit, is akin to stepping out on the ice-covered lake and having confidence that it will hold you up so you can play to your heart’s content.

Taking that worry back for yourself is like running in off the lake before you even crossed over to the other side or played a game.

Here’s what we have to remember:

Once we pray, and when our mind STILL returns to the need/concern/situation/desire, we must remind ourselves that the ice WILL hold.  God WILL take care of “it”.  His character and His word are our guarantee.  If we have to remind ourselves twelve times in 2 hours to leave the need in His hands, that’s okay.  No shame – we can do it!  It’s part of our learning curve in trust.

So I ask – what do you have to lose besides your old friend – the worry habit?

Question: Which worry or need are you willing to risk losing, by discharging it on Him? 

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