Killing Anxiety


For a Christian, anxious thinking is illogical thinking.  

When a Christian is anxious, he is assigning more weight, more power, to his problem than to God.  This is, after all, the God He professes is sovereign and who He claims loves him.  And yet here this Christian is, worried and nervous and agitated and irritable.  

This is why Jesus commands His disciples not to be anxious in Matthew 6.  He designates anxeity a lack of faith.  Anxiety in a Christian is doubt in Yahweh.  My anxiety is a defect of trust in my heart.  

When it plagues a Christian, anxiety peppers his mind with questions and dreads that are each threaded through and through with doubt in the goodness and sovereignty of God.  

What will I do?  

What if __________ happens?  

But we can’t live without _________!

How am I supposed to do all this?

When I’m fearful and fretful about a job or a health issue or a relationship, I’m indicating that my heart believes that thing is more in control than the God of Jesus, the Lord of my heart, is.  If I’m anxious, then in my mind I’m assigning more power and authority to the problem than the Bible says it really has.  

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. 

Matthew 6:25-34

A Christian who’s anxious is giving more gravity to the thing he’s anxious about than he is to God.  In that sense, anxiety is like a check engine light in a car.  It can let me know that there’s a probelm under the hood:  A misfire in my faith. 

But by taking my mind captive and putting it under the Gospel of God and the Christian story, I can start to think of my problems and my sufferings accurately:  As trials that passed through the hands of my good Father in order to make me more like His Son.  By casting my problems and pains and fears in the light of the Gospel (hint:  by reading and believing my Bible daily), I’ll remember and believe that Yahweh is more of a determinative factor in my finances, my physical ailments, my marriage, my parenting, and my vocation than any problem I might be worried about is.  This God is good, and I can trust Him.  I should trust Him.  

Listen, for the anxious Christian, faith can always make strong what worry has weakened. Trust in Christ can restore all that anxiety has stolen.  

When we rightly view our Abba as having far more clout than our problems do, our sinful, foolish, illogical anxieties will flicker out.  Because after all, they needed doubt to breathe and smolder, and like a fire in a dies in a vacuum, anxieties can’t survive more than a few moments in the presence of healthy Christian faith.  

30 Seconds of Christian Comfort

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on.  Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they?  And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?  And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

Matthew 6:25-30

Comfort.  

The disciple of Jesus is supposed to feel better, sense that he’s more secure, after reading this from His Savior.  He should be comforted.

Now, Jesus is not saying that every single believer will be given more beautiful clothing than the flowers.  Why do I know that?  Well, Solomon himself was a servant of God, and Jesus just said that he wasn’t clothed as beautifully as flowers are.  And of course Jesus Himself died with His clothes on the ground below Him, being gambled for by wicked Roman soldiers.  And Paul, His greatest missionary, died penniless.  I have to assume his wardrobe was relatively sparse.

So what is Jesus saying?  How exactly is this supposed to comfort me if I’m a disciple of King Jesus?

He is teaching His followers that God cares for them more than He cares for flowers.  God cares for them.  

God almighty has an intention, a purpose, to care for wildflowers and grass and little birds.  And each of His children is far more valuable than any of them.  After all, the Father spent His Son to have them.

So, how do these words from Christ comfort a Christian?  They teach him two things:  (1) That he is precious to God Almighty, and (2) that this is a caring God.

And so whatever comes, the Christian can know it is for his good.

15 Seconds On the Happier Life

  

 You can’t have a happy life and a fretful one at the same time.  The happier life is the self-forgetful one, the one where you don’t take your worldly standing or pecking order very seriously.  The one where you cherish Jesus and His Kingdom more than wealth or physical comfort or whether other people thought you were sexy or smart. 

The happier life starts with worshiping God, and with taking your heart back from whatever shadowy prize this world and your tortured psyche promised they’d give you if you were just anxious about it for a few more hours.  

Offered from one anxious hand to another.

The Last Set of Jitters

  
Two things happened.  One was fun and good, the other personally devastating.  

The bad one first.  

Instead of finding my identity in Christ’s forgiveness of me, His giving me new life and a spiritual home and family, I often cling to and locate my worth in being respected and admired by others.  My family, my peers, even strangers.  It’s sin, it’s harmful, and I’m in a long process of repentance over it.  God has showed it to me time and again, but I’m stubborn and stupid, and so I continue to go after this thing as though it’ll make me truly happy.  
So, three times in the last two weeks He’s let me get humiliated.  Or at least each one felt like humiliation.  The nature of the breakdowns doesn’t matter, but they were painful.  Embarrassment, shame, and self-loathing crushed me for hours and hours after each one.  When you were in school, did you ever have a project to present and thought that you had one more day to go home and knock the thing out but then, as the class started, heard the teacher say, “All right let’s start the presentations with _______,” and look at you?  They were like that.  

So, after at least one of these rough moments I felt crippling shame.  I felt lifeless.  I wanted to crawl into a hole.  

What you worship is the thing that, if taken from you, you’d fee like you couldn’t go on.  

Okay, so now the good thing that happened.  

We moved.  We bought our first house.  I’ve never lived in one place more than three years, and now I have a real “permanent address” to put on all those forms for the very first time.  So I sat on the front porch of our rented house in the morning sun last Saturday, waiting on the U-Haul and my friends and family, and I thought about how my kids probably won’t ever have the moving day jitters.  When I was growing up, we moved every couple of years, and I remember that nervous happiness of getting to start over somewhere.   There was a fun, hopeful anticipation of a new neighborhood, and a new home.

So as I waited for the moving day help, that good thing helped to drown the bad one.  I started to feel my shame and self-loathing get a little duller, like when a toothache or a pinched nerve or a migraine starts to slip after you’ve taken a painkiller.  And thankfully I was either too tired or too blessed to fight it.  The moving jitters, maybe the last set I’d ever have, reminded me of something good and true:  Those of us who love Christ are going home.  For real home.  

There will be a day of great anticipation and seriousness and excitement and goodness that will be much brighter and better than that sunlit morning when I was waiting to show my kids their new crib.  A day is approaching where the King will remake the earth and her stars, and then put His people in her brightest city, lit to the high heavens by Him.  We’ll love each other and be loved by each other, love Jesus and be loved by Jesus.  We’ll sing and we’ll pray and we’ll serve and we’ll be served, and every last cause for shame and guilt and fear will be thrown out into the darkness.  

That home is coming.  

Where there is no sin, there is no shame. Where there are no false gods, there is no fear.  

Our Jesus is coming to give us and be for us all we could ever possibly need, and everything we should want.  

I’ll wrestle with my embarrassment tonight, but I wanted to remind myself of that, and remind you, too.  

For those of us who have trusted in Jesus, home is around the corner.  

Some Help for Feeling Like a Failure

  
Here’s how I’m going to try to help:  By clarifying.  Nothing can be done when you have a merely vague, depressing sense of not measuring up, just a shapeless fog of hopeless inadequacy or shame or self-loathing.  

So, permit me to put “failure” into four categories:

  1. Actual Moral Failure.  This is the simplest type, in my opinion, to define.  This sort of failure is the failure to do what is good and/or to actively do that which is evil.  It is, simply put, sin against God and/or others.
  2. Imagined Moral Failure.  This would be something you feel shame or guilt over, but which has not actually been revealed by God as sin in His Word.
  3. Actual “Earthly” Failure.  Here I mean a failure that is not directly sinful; it is a mistake or a shortcoming, but not an ethical violation against man or God.  This would simply be having truly failed at a task/endeavor at which you were trying to succeed.
  4. Imagined “Earthly” Failure.  This is (a) thinking you blew it, failed, or were inadequate concenring some task when in reality you were not the root cause of the breakdown, or (b) fretting about about something that is not truly a failure at all (like distressing about your looks or your lack of charisma).  These are mistakenly labeled failures, and they may be (wrongly) thought to be failures due to pride, misplaced priorities, insecurity, vanity, fear of man, or some other problem in the heart of the person mischaracterizing them as failures.  

Let me give an example of each:

Actual Moral Failure:  Gossiping about a co-worker.  

Imagined Moral Failure:  Having a normal, healthy sexual desire for your spouse, but believing it is strange or sinful..

Actual “Earthly” Failure:  Having lost track of an assignment at work due to not prioritizing your time well.

Imagined “Earthly” Failure:  Despairing about a relative not liking you when the reason is something truly outside of your control.  

Now, I believe that the only one of these four types of failure we should feel healthy guilt (or conviction), over is the first category. 1 John 1:9 tells us to confess our sins to God, and that He can cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  We are not told to confess our inability to close a sale or our weight.  A little remorse or regret for a legitimate screwup at a vocation or for having forgotten something due to carelessness is one thing, but shame is for sin, and shame and sin are what Jesus resolves for all who trust in Him at the Cross.  

That is the consistent testimony of Scripture: We are, in our own selves, wicked and morally rebellious, morally damaged, and spiritually impotent creatures. And that, our actual moral failure, is what Jesus eternally rectifies in His perfect life, sacrificial death, and powerful resurrection. He has overcome the evil of everyone who believes in Him so that they can have peace with God.  

But while that first category is what we should be convicted about and seek forgiveness for (and is the type of failure that should generally attract most of our attention), what I find in myself is that I’m often drowning in shame or anxiety over things that fall into the latter three categories. To my own detriment, I might waste time and spiritual attention being:

  • Ashamed of things I’d heard or imagined were sinful (or less-than-holy), but which God never calls wicked (to which Paul would tell me, “for everything created by God is good, and and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the Word of God and prayer”). 
  • Despairing over not being as qualified or as talented as someone else I know. 
  • Allowing myself to become depressed or angry that I couldn’t provide something for my family which I’m not even called to provide (such as a perfect, magazine-spread house).
  • Hating myself for a dream not coming true that God never intended to come true.  

So instead of repenting over (turning from) real sins, I’m often dwelling on things that aren’t sins at all.  

Instead of resting in the forgiveness of my sins and letting the joyful, hopeful energy from that help me kill the remaining sin in my life, I can spend hours in anxiety over career missteps or things I don’t like about my personality or being angry that I’m not as captivating as another pastor. 

All right, a few words before exiting the stage:

Obviously these categories can overlap.  And I don’t mean to give an exhaustive description or explanation of failure and shame, here.  But this has helped me a bit as I’ve thought about failure from the inside of shame, guilt, and fear, recently.  

I’ll come back to these categories of failure in the coming weeks and expand on them, but I’ll leave this now by saying:  I hope God’s grace in Christ nourishes all His redeemed failures.  

30 Seconds of Gratitude 

  
It’s bursted in my heart over the last twelve hours or so.  I read Psalm 102 in the midst of a problem and some sinful anxiety and doubt, and God gave me miraculous comfort from this deep song in His Scriptures.  

Psalm 102 says that the God of Jesus Christ loves to bring dead people to life.  He loves to set people who are in bondage to their sins free forever.  

We worship an impossibly good Jesus. 

From Psalm 102:

“Let this be recorded for a generation to come, so that a people yet to be created may praise the Lord: that He looked down from His holy height; from heaven the Lord looked at the earth, to hear the groans of the prisoners, to set free those who were doomed to die, that they may declare in Zion the name of the Lord, and in Jerusalem His praise.”

God looked down from Heaven just to hear the groans of the prisoners.  

Jesus Christ is the Son of God who hears, who cares, who frees.  

This is a God of incomparable compassion and unsearchable mercies.  

Come and adore Him.  Come and be free.  

Rest

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I needed nine hours of sleep Monday night.

I was irritable and I was dragging, thanks to a fitful night of sleep the day before. I woke up the next morning feeling less frustrated, and one of my first thoughts (after “Are my eyes swollen shut? I can’t see.”) was how thankful I was for rest. Sleep had proven to be just what I needed.

A time to let burdens go and to be restored.

If you’re like me, you are prone to think when you read things like that, “I don’t have time to rest.” And if you are like me, I then direct you to the fourth commandment:

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or you livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”

I’m not getting into whether New Testament believers are supposed to keep the Sabbath, here. What I’m hoping to draw your attention to right now is the principle: “For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth… and rested on the seventh day.” What’s the principle? God did not need to rest but did; how much more should you who do need to rest do so? God, the Creator, rested; how much more should His creatures rest?

Embedded in that principle is a slap right to the face of my pride: I am not as important as I think I am.

Can I give your pride a slap? Brace for it, if you like.

You are not as important as you probably think you are.

If you have been redeemed by grace through faith in Jesus, then you are probably more valued than you imagine but less essential. I mean, few of us esteem the blood of Jesus as highly as it deserves, and so few of us who have been born again probably really get just how highly God prized our souls. God did not spare His own perfect, precious Son in the plan of His elect’s redemption. But on the flip side of that coin, this is His universe, and it is being worked together for His purposes. So while the called out people of God are intimately treasured, our skills and sweat will not be the deciding factor in practically anything. Therefore, God has no anxieties about commanding us to rest. His plan for creation will turn out just fine.

We are supposed to work hard, but as those who are being worked in, and as those whose works were prepared for them beforehand. We are to work hard, but we are also to rest in our God.

We are to rest in Jesus.

Jesus’ peace is enough to quell our anxieties. His promise of eternal life is enough to still our fears of death or earthly ruin. His love of sinners is sufficient to give us hope for the troubled people we worry about.

I know sometimes our burdens seem great. I know stress can feel white-hot, and that the pain of bankruptcy, a dying parent, an unknown prognosis, being laid off, a family member’s unfair hatred, or a seemingly inexplicable depression can be a sort searing and agonizing. But the Jesus who wept with the sisters of Lazarus at his tomb is also the Jesus who made it so the three of them could share dinner together later. He knows our pains, but He is also the Author of their greatest remedy.

Jesus calls us to great, meaningful, Gospel rest in Him.

Christians work. But we work for the Creator and King, the One brings all things together for His good ends. And as such we can sleep easily.

We are used by God because He is pleased to use us, not because we are intrinsically essential. He is in control. And knowing that makes both the work and the rest sweeter.

“Therefore, while the promise of entering His rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. For we who have believed enter that rest…”
From Hebrews 4