Confronting Worry Part Five: Assurance

I was only about six or seven, so I didn’t completely understand what I was witnessing. I stood in the doorway of my parents’ bedroom. I saw my mom, kneeling by the bed with her head pressed into her folded hands. She was praying, but this wasn’t a ‘normal’ prayer. She was audibly crying out to God, begging for His salvation. She rocked back and forth, and cried, and repeated herself over and over again.

It wad strange because I knew my mom was already a Christian. She had trusted Jesus as her Savior in her early teens, after listening to a Billy Graham broadcast. She grew up in a Christian family and her dad had helped start a Christian school and also did his fair share of preaching.

Why was she begging for something God had already given her?

I learned many years later that those were some of the darkest moments in my mom’s life. She had suffered many deep wounds – spiritually, emotionally, and mentally. These wounds led her to anxiety about her standing before God. She doubted her salvation. She feared she had committed the ‘unpardonable sin.’

At one point she sought counsel from a well-known Christian leader. But this leader’s heretical teaching led my mom down an even darker path; she was led to believe that because of her struggles she just may not be one of God’s ‘elect.’ This left her with almost no hope. Hell seemed like her only option.

As I grew older, I began to understand, to a lesser degree, some of those same feelings. Feelings of unworthiness, spiritual uncertainty, doom, and worthlessness. And I can’t imagine someone telling me, in the midst of such  darkness, that because I struggled I just must not be chosen by God to be a Christian. How devastating!

Our Adversary thrills at the chance to plant seeds of doubt in their relationship with the Lord. That doubt can cause crippling worry and anxiety.

Worry about our relationship to God can darken every square centimeter of our being so that even experiencing the best circumstances in life is still miserable. Because why does life even matter if we can’t be sure of God’s salvation and love? What else is there?

If we cannot find rest and peace in Christ, there is no rest or peace to be found anywhere else.

Have you ever felt like God is just waiting for you to mess up? Or that He will be angry with you if you make the wrong choice? Does it sometimes seem like God is constantly putting you to the test to see if you will measure up? Do you fear His punishment? Do you dread His disappointment? Do you feel like you have to be the perfect Christian in order to receive God’s love and approval?

You are not alone.

But when we dwell in these feelings we dwell in lies.

We must continually fill our minds with God’s truth so that we don’t drown in the false feelings Satan delights in feeding to us.

I have learned to be confident in my salvation, but I still often struggle with the ‘now what’ aspect of my walk with the Lord. There are still trials, temptations, difficulties, doubts. I know I am saved but sometimes I don’t always feel loved or cradled in His caring arms. But those feelings are a lie.

The only cure for a lie is the truth.

So, prepare yourself to be invaded with some serious Truth!

When you feel guilty or ashamed:

“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Romans 8:1

When circumstances lead you to despair:

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”

Romans 8:28

Confronting Worry Part Four: Acceptance From Others

I am judgmental. In those deepest, darkest places of my soul, that do their best to remain hidden, I can chew someone up and spit them out, maybe better than most. I hate that it is a part of me, and I’ve seen the Holy Spirit’s work in that area of my life, but it still lurks – ready to seize the day if I give but a millimeter.

That intimacy with judgment makes me keenly aware of being judged by others in return. I hate that too.

The result is that I have become most cruelly judgmental of myself.

Maybe you know the feeling?

I want to feel love and acceptance. It was an especially agonizing desire in my teens and early twenties. A desire that led me astray. Away from my identity in Christ.

I gave control of my identity to my peers and family. I sought people’s praise instead of God’s. And through that I lost myself. I was comfortable in academics, but insecure in relationships, so I became a friendless good student. I was so anxious about being judged by my peers, so cautious of every move I made, that I made almost no attempt to take any relational initiative. The me God made me to be was swallowed up by the me that craved acceptance.

I was anxiously ill before and during school, church functions, and family get-togethers. I lost my capacity to function as a child of God. And I was an unfit conduit for God’s love to anyone around me.

Maybe you know that feeling too?

We are not alone in these feelings.

The Bible is full of people who worried about what others thought.

Moses was worried about being God’s mouthpiece because in the eyes of man he was no great orator. So he argued with God. (Ex. 4)

The reverse was the case for the prophet Samuel. He took on the role of judge, assuming that God would choose one of Jesse’s tall and handsome sons as the future king, not young David. God corrected Samuel’s misguided judgments. (1 Sam. 16)

Annanis and Saphira sold some property and wanted to look good to others by appearing to give all the proceeds to the church. So they lied. And then they died. (Acts 5)

Peter succumbed to pressure from the Jews and so fell back in to certain Jewish practices that Christ specifically had come to free us all from! He ‘began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision’ (Gal. 2:12) and so failed the gospel. So Paul rebuked him.

And one final example – my twin. Yep, I didn’t know I had one for quite some time, but then I found her. She was busy preparing food and keeping house during Jesus’ visit, while her sister Mary just sat there and listened to the conversation.

Martha. I cringe to admit it, but I see so much of myself in her. Martha was obsessed with duty and responsibility, probably out of an unhealthy concern for what others thought of her. This had a tremendous impact on her decision making process. I can identify, can you?

Martha’s decision to spend her time taking care of the details aroused anger inside of her towards her sister, Mary, who sat listening to Jesus. That led Martha to ask Jesus to reprimand Mary. The audacity! But she didn’t get what she wanted. Quite the opposite. Instead, Jesus reprimanded Martha for neglecting Him and His words. Ouch! Oh, and he praised Mary for her choice to be with Him (that rubs salt in the wound!).

Because Martha let her sense of duty and worry about other’s opinions be her guide, she ultimately ended up displeasing God and missing opportunities with His Son!

(See Confronting Worry Part Two for more on how worry divides our devotion to God.)

Martha gave up control to those she thought would judge her instead of to the One who already loved her.

We give control to those who judge us, and love to those who accept us.

Who is your judge? Whose acceptance do you seek? This is the one who controls you.

In reality, God alone is our judge. It’s because of Jesus Christ that we are accepted by God too! This is such good news! Because He has judged His Son as righteous, and we are in His Son, He has judged us as righteous too. Not only that, He gives us the love and acceptance He has for His beloved Son, Jesus. And living in His perfect love will cast out our worries and fears.

As I have come to let that truth settle down in my mind and heart, it has been easier to fall under God’s control rather than people’s. And it’s been a joy to experience more love between My Savior and me!

I don’t know in what way you may be living for the approval of man. But know that God’s approval is eternal and it’s yours if you have trusted Christ as your Savior! How I hope and pray that you might journey along with me and come to a place of peace and rest in our Heavenly Father!

There is an old hymn that I can’t help but think of as I write about this topic. The title is “Accepted in the Beloved.” I especially like verse two and the chorus:

In the Beloved – how safe my retreat,

In the Beloved accounted complete;

Who can condemn me? In Him I am free,

Savior and Keeper forever is He.

In the Beloved, God’s marvelous grace

Calls me to dwell in this wonderful place;

God sees my Savior and then He sees me

In the Beloved accepted and free!

Let’s live in the freedom God has so powerfully provided for us!

Confronting Worry Part Three: Sustenance

“For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”  Matthew 6:25-34

As I have studied God’s Word, considered my life, and talked with others about theirs, I have come to the conclusion that there are three areas of concern that trigger worry and anxiety within us: sustenance, acceptance, and assurance.

I want to begin by addressing sustenance, and hopefully presenting some tools of Truth to guard against worry in this area.

The passage above, from Matthew chapter six, reminds me that in Jesus’ time, just as today, we can all get caught up worrying about whether or not our needs will be met. Food. Shelter. Clothing.

In our privileged society the list might look something a little more like this: job, health, retirement, etc…

If you’re anything like me, you want to make wise decisions that hopefully lead to the best outcomes in this physical and material life. But it can so easily become a worry trap for us. So much so that losing a job or being diagnosed with a disease can lead us down a spiral of anxiety, fear, anger, and struggle against God.

And the hard truth is that sometimes God doesn’t provide in the way we think He should. A

Yet Christ tells us not to worry. But how can we do that? How can we untangle worry from wisdom and become mentally and spiritually unshakable in the midst of troubles (which Jesus reminds us each day holds)?

The answer is in the first part of our passage. “Is not life more than……?”

What can take our minds to that ‘more than’ place? How can we have different priorities and different ambitions than the unsaved who clamor after wealth and power and beauty and comfort?

Hope.

Do you set your hope on retiring comfortably, or on hearing ‘well done my good and faithful servant’ when your sojourning on this earth is done.

Do you set your hope on avoiding all ailments and staving off aging, or is it in working to build His kingdom?

Do you set your hope on a stable, comfortable life, or on the glory that is to be revealed in eternity?

Hope and worry cannot coexist.

You see, hope is what shines through the smile of a poverty stricken young man – who knows that this world is not his home

Hope is in the eyes of a bed-ridden old woman gracefully facing the end of her life.

Hope is in the heart of the missionary who willingly sacrifices his life so that even one soul may receive that same earnest expectation, which is in Christ.

Hope in our Heavenly Father and the glory He has waiting for us is what makes it possible for us to bear up under the heaviest trials.

Why don’t we need to worry about our lives? Because God will provide. And if He chooses not to provide in the physical ways that make sense to the unbelieving, we have an utmost assurance that He has made the ultimate provision in Christ – a provision which provides an eternity of abundance.

If we desire to be wholehearted Christians, we must get this hope thing figured out. We must replace our worry over sustenance with the Hope we have because of Christ in us! We must set our minds on the things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father (Col. 3) and dwell on whatever is right, just, and holy (Phil. 4). We must seek first His kingdom and His righteousness (Matt. 6)

After all, our testimony to the world is not seen when we enjoy good circumstances, but when we have hope in hopeless times. It’s in hardship that the fortitude of our faith can be a witness to the world.

fortitude of faith

If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. C.S. Lewis

Confronting Worry Part Two: The Anatomy of Anxiety

We know we’re not supposed to, but we all do it. And for some of us it becomes life altering.

I remember, more vividly than I would like to, the great anxiety I experienced in my teens and early twenties. Most of my worry was rooted in social and relational fears. I spent countless nights crying myself to sleep. That sick-to-your-stomach anxiety was one of my closest companions. It even caused me to lose weight my freshman year of college instead of gaining the infamous ‘freshman 15.’

Worry can turn a fun-loving and kind person into a sickly, fearful, and irrational mess. I know. So do some of you.

Thankfully, God has brought me to a place where I usually don’t experience those anxiety symptoms much at all anymore. He has helped to be more secure in His Truth in so many aspects of life. And He has shown me a tremendous love that has cast out many of my fears.

But God impressed on me the need to devote time to study in this area so that I could share with others, concretely from His Word, about how to become an overcomer of worry. I have experienced a morsel of the immense Peace that God has to offer in return for our anxiety and I so desperately yearn to somehow encourage others to taste of that Peace too!

That’s why about a year ago I did a more serious study of what God’s Word has to say about worry.

There was one discovery from my study that for me was so poignant and convicting. It helped me to realize how much worry and anxiety (used somewhat synonymously in the New Testament) hinder growth in the believer’s life – how much it had in mine.

Μέριμνα. Yes, that’s Greek, but it’s what one important point hangs upon, so bear with me for a moment. This Greek word transliterated is ‘merimna,’ – for those of you who want to know the pronunciation.  It most often is translated as ‘care,’ or ‘anxiety’ in the New Testament. Through further examination though, I came to realize that there was another idea attached to this word. And that is the idea of being distracted or divided through worry. Let me illustrate with a Bible verse that exemplifies this nuance.

Mark 3:24-25 “And if a kingdom be divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” (KJV)

There it is, in the word ‘divided,’ our Greek word ‘merimna.’ Are you beginning to see what is implied?

Worry divides our attention, our emotions, our thinking in such a way that it does not allow us to function wholeheartedly in any given realm of life.

This concept hit me hard as I came face to face with the results of my anxiety. I began to realize how anxiety had divided me as a person. It distracted me from the truth, it distracted me from seeing God at work in my life and others’, and it therefore prevented spiritual growth in my life. I see now there were so many, many opportunities I have had to be a testimony to those around me, but because I had succumbed to worry, especially about what others would think, I missed out on what could have been life changing moments. And I missed out on the joy that comes from fearlessly obeying Jesus.

As I dug deeper into God’s Word, another passage confronted me with a similarly convicting message: worry and anxiety make us fruitless Christians.

In Matthew 13 Jesus tells the parable of the sower and the seed. He is explaining the different responses people have to hearing the Truth. Some don’t understand, some receive it temporarily and then walk away when difficulties arise. Then we get to verse 22: “And the one on whom seed was sown among the thorns, this is the man who hears the word, and the WORRY of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes UNFRUITFUL.” (NASB)

There you have it. God’s Word, His Truth, is squelched by worry. He longs for us to be fruitful, doing the good works He has prepared for us to do (Eph. 2:10). That is where we find abundant life, by being the people He created us to be and letting His power be at work through us.

But worry demolishes abundance. It makes a believer’s life impotent.

This is not what God desires for us, what I desire for myself, or what I desire for anyone else who knows the Truth and has the great privilege of walking in it.

We could go on and touch upon all that modern psychology has to say about anxiety and it’s symptoms. But I think we all know and have at times experienced the physical and mental ramifications of a life led by anxiety.

Whatever angle you examine it from, worry is a destructive thing physically, spiritually, mentally, and socially. But above all else it is a tool of the Enemy to draw us away from the One, Jesus, who can truly bear all our burdens – and not only ours but the burdens of the whole world.

I urge you dear sister or brother, don’t let your abundant life in Christ be stolen! Fervently seek after the God of all peace and I guarantee you will find rest in Him!

“The next hour, the next moment, is as much beyond our grasp and as much in God’s care, as that a hundred years away. Care for the next minute is just as foolish as care for the morrow, or for a day in the next thousand years – in neither can we do anything, in both God is doing everything.”  George MacDonald 

Confronting Worry: My Story (Part 1)

I quickly wove the fingers of my left hand into my husband’s and gripped firmly. My right hand clutched the airplane seat arm rest. The lights flickered a few times and then went out. The hundreds of other people on our plane were tensely quiet, as was I. I watched as the long row of overhead storage running down the center of the cabin rapidly shook back and forth. Then we plummeted. I felt weightless for a moment, and then like someone was forcing me back down into my seat.

My grip tightened as I imagined what could possibly be happening to cause our giant double-decker Boeing 747 to be tossed around like nothing more than a feather. My tension redoubled as I thought about the fact that we were over the vast Pacific Ocean, with no place for an emergency landing, just the fierce water below.

Thoughts of my five young children potentially facing life without their parents swarmed in my mind. About the difficulties they would encounter that we might not be there to shepherd them through. And I wanted nothing more than to be home.

But the most terrifying realization was that I was helpless – at the mercy of our pilots and the sky.

Nothing could distract me from these frightening thoughts. Not a book, not the myriad in-flight movies available, not even the comfort of my husband. My senses were heightened to the extreme and aware of even the slightest jostle.

The intense turbulence continued off and on for the first three hours of our 11 hour flight from Taiwan to San Francisco. To say I spent the flight worried would be a gross understatement. Panic probably comes closer to reality.

The irony of my circumstance was that I had taught on overcoming worry just days before, during Shorebreak (camp for military High School students living abroad). God was reminding me that the victory over worry I have experienced in my life didn’t necessarily ensure no further struggle. It was time to practice what I taught.

I knew I needed to stand against this worry, whose root was my physical safety and life. I must “be anxious for nothing,” and “let my requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:6). So I prayed. And I relied on the fact that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us, because I certainly couldn’t eek out a complete sentence to God, such was the fear and anxiety.

But my feeble attempts didn’t bring the immediate rush of spiritual peace I longed for in that moment. Even so, I knew I had to keep resisting. Just as I had taught days before, I took hold of the command to think about what is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, etc…. (Phil. 4:8). The only way I was able to do this was to sing songs full of God’s truth. I racked my brain for hymns and choruses to focus on, rather than my fear.

As I was nearing the end of my repertoire, I remembered a little tune that I had made up for my oldest daughter when she was afraid.

You don’t need to be afraid,

There’s no cause for alarm.

You don’t need to be afraid,

When you trust in God above.

 

Have I not commanded you,

Be strong and of good courage?

For the Lord Your God

Is on your side!

 

You don’t need to be afraid,

There’s no cause for alarm.

You don’t need to be afraid,

When you trust in God above.

It’s such as simple little song, but for some reason God used those words to bring me the most peace in the midst of fearing for my life. He used them to remind me of His sovereignty. That my life was His, to do with as He pleased.

As difficult as it was for this mother to face, God reminded me that if He did choose to bring me home at that moment, He would care for my children. And perhaps, that was the plan He wanted to work out in their lives (though it cuts me to the heart to think about it).

Thankfully, it was God’s plan to leave us here with our family a little while longer! But, I emerged from this encounter with a bigger perspective of life. People come and go, they are born and they die, and yet God is in complete control. And more importantly, He can take tragedy and transform it into triumph.

Through the study of God’s Word and the work of the Holy Spirit in my life, I can confidently say that I am more of an ‘overcomer’ of worry and anxiety now than I have ever been before. I’m sure more circumstances will arise to put me to the test, but with God’s help I know it’s possible to be victorious.

There is much more I plan to share from my study of this topic. It is my deep hope and prayer that anyone else bound up by worry and anxiety might experience the true peace that God has to offer us all!