This past week, I posted a question on the Young Adults FB page, asking for help with preaching themes. I wanted to know what they face on a regular basis that I might be able to address. Someone suggested the topic of anxiety which I believe impacts people of all ages. In our staff meeting on Tuesday, God led me to pray that we would move from anxiety to anticipation, and that seemed to be God confirming His direction for us today. I want to share with you how that is possible as we follow Christ.
What I am going to talk to you about this morning is simply that which creates general anxiety. I’m not addressing anxiety disorders that are clinical psychological disorders that might require medication and even lifelong counseling, (although I believe God can heal us emotionally, just as He can heal us physically) but I want to look at the kinds of general anxieties we all face from time to time.
As I began to study for this message, I was reminded that the attack on Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden was an attempt to disrupt their peace with God and each other. As I thought about that, I considered how what took place might have also been a disruption of personal peace, the kind of peace we need within ourselves in order to stay fully engaged in our relationship with God and others. As I did, it became clear to me that anxiety is a form of spiritual satanic attack to try to disrupt our peace and to divert us from our God-ordained purpose by getting us to pursue self-reliance.
Many emotional and relational walls are built by people not because of offense, not because of bad history with someone, and not because of negative personal experiences, but many people close themselves off because they have believed some lies that Satan has told them. Satan wants you to believe that your safety, satisfaction and success are yours to work out. He doesn’t want you to think in terms of victory or anything that has to do with victory. He doesn’t want you focused on a finish line. He doesn’t want you inspired to pick up the pace. He doesn’t want you thinking about the prize or storing up treasures in Heaven. He doesn’t want you strategically training so that you’ll have more spiritual and emotional endurance. He doesn’t want you to believe you are part of the team. He wants you centered on everything that has to do with defeat. He wants you to believe you aren’t good enough, will never make it, it’s too hard, you can’t cut the mustard (as if mustard even needs cut)! He wants you convinced that you will fail, that you will be embarrassed and that your life will be forever changed in a negative way, so why bother to try?
Satan wants to foster personal anxiety that causes people to check out of life, to check out of relationships, to check out of experiences that would enhance their life, add value to their life and would enable them to grow as people in order to grow into the purposes for which God created them. Satan doesn’t want you living with the confidence that could cause you to positively impact someone else for the Kingdom of God.
As I read up on anxiety, I took note of one author’s premise (Davon Huss) of three root causes, three main elements that create a sense of anxiety:
- Insecurity: The constant mindset that something bad is going to happen.
- Helplessness: There is nothing I can do about what is going to happen.
- Isolation: There is no one to help me deal with it.
Let’s examine these and see what God’s Word has to say about them.
- Insecurity: The constant mindset that something bad is going to happen. Anyone who lives beyond a few minutes is subject to and will be the recipient of bad things. Bad things do happen. They are unavoidable. They happen sometimes in succession.
In John 16:33 Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble.” If you are franticly living with a fear of bad things and are feverishly doing all you can to minimize risk, to avoid trouble, and to play it safe, you will not only NOT accomplish what God puts in your heart to do, but you won’t be successful in avoiding trouble. And in that process, you will have a sense of insecurity that robs you of your peace and allows fear to creep into your heart.
Our security does not come from attempting to avoid trouble. We cannot have a perfect record when it comes to escaping pain, side-stepping conflict, and having everyone like us. There will be years of plenty and there will be lean years that we will have to deal with. Sickness comes to every family. Life is hard, and eventually, you will have a flat tire.
Hannah texted me this week and asked, “Did Dad tell you about my flat tire?” I said, “No,” and she replied, “I had to call a tow truck. It was a fiasco.” Tow trucks and fiascos await us all. Bad things do happen in our world every day. But aren’t you glad that isn’t the end of the story? Aren’t you glad that fiascos and health crises, and financial calamities can’t have the last word in the life of a believer? It is this reality that gives me security, that inspires my confidence, that enables me to live boldly in the midst of trouble.
“But” might be my favorite biblical word! Jesus didn’t stop in John 16:33 with “In this world you will have trouble,” did He? No, He put a conjunction after that, that moves us from insecurity to security. He said, “In this world you will have trouble, BUT take heart. I have overcome the world!”
Listen, if our spiritual, physical, or emotional well-being was dependent on conditions being perfect, we would always be anxious. We would always be fretting, fearful, and full of doubt. We would never move forward in the promises of God. We would never set out to conquer a mountain or to take a Promised Land that God has assigned to us, and anxiety would cripple us.
BUT there is a BUT in the passage. Jesus says, “But take heart.” That means, “Have courage.” Courage is what moves us on when bad things happen. It means, “Live boldly.” It means, “Don’t be defined by the happenings in your life.” It means, “Don’t give up, but get up.”
Satan’s plan for earthly trouble is to stop you. Jesus’ admonition here is “Don’t fall for it. Don’t shut down just because trouble comes your way.”
Listen, Jesus knew what trouble was. Ain’t nobody here had the kind of trouble Jesus lived with day in and day out. He knew what was possible, but He continued with, “Take heart! For I have overcome the world.” If you are following Christ, and I’m not talking about if you simply say you believe something, but I’m talking about if you truly follow Him, then you are following the One who knows the way out of trouble. Christ-follower, no problem you face has the spiritual or mental authority to rule you unless you give it to it.
You might have to take a class two or three times before you pass it. It will be OK. You might have to work two or three jobs during a season in your life. God will give you strength. Talk to Pastor Thom about his season as a server at Ruby Tuesday’s shortly before we moved here! You might need to seek outside help for relationship or personal issues. Part of God’s plan is that we support each other during difficult times. You might have to deal with health concerns that add extra stress to your life and require you to alter the way you do some things. You might. Pray for resilience and a spirit of flexibility. But what you DON’T have to do is live anxiously and insecurely because you have tied your sense of security to a trouble-free life. You will go from insecure to insane if your expectation is that you never have to deal with trouble. Someone needs to accept what Jesus has said. In this world, you will have trouble, but take heart because I have overcome the world!
Besides knowing that we follow the One who knows the way out of any earthly trouble, we also know from Scripture that we are following the One who can use trouble to cause us to triumph. He can transform a situation from a burden to a blessing. He can take pain and formulate it into purpose. This is the Romans 8:28 principle that says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
Besides knowing that we follow the One who knows the way out of any earthly trouble, and besides the reality that we are following the One who can use trouble to cause us to triumph, we also can be assured that we are following the One who will give us strength to persevere in and through any trial. Psalm 46:1 says, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” Your front row seat to see the safety and strength of God is found during times of trouble. That is when He is “ever-present.” That is when His Sovereign and powerful hand is clear. That is when other people can see Him best, as He sustains and supports you through the time of trouble.
So, while you do have to live with the reality of trouble, you don’t have to do so insecurely. You don’t have to do so with anxiety. Satan wants you focused on your trouble. Jesus wants you to rest in His triumph!
- The second mindset that can cause insecurity is a sense of Helplessness: (where you adopt the mindset that) There is nothing I can do about what is going to happen.
Now listen; Trouble reminds us of our limitations. Trouble reminds us of our frailties. That is a positive thing in that it encourages our reach for God. If you are a Christ-follower, you are not helpless. God has given us tools to access and authority to exercise. Remember, at the onset of this message, I said I believe anxiety is one of Satan’s strategies. We are not helpless against his attacks. We have an arsenal of weaponry at our disposal.
Ephesians 6:10ff details that we can stand against the devil’s schemes. Anything he tries to put on us, we can resist through wearing and utilizing the Full Armor of God. I’m not going to put up with anxious thoughts that distract me from my life’s purpose. I’m not going to accept that a negative circumstance is somehow a commentary on how God feels about me. I’m not going to adopt a worldly way of responding to the happenings around me, trying to fight fire with fire, but I’m going to fight fire with faith!
The Belt of Truth will remind me who I am and whose I am and what God has said about me and His plans for me. The Breastplate of Righteousness will stand guard over my heart, to enable me to dwell in peace and not panic. My feet will be fitted with God’s peace so that I will not be stalled or sidelined by turbulence. I will exercise my Shield of Faith by declaring that Satan is defeated in my life. I’ll keep the Helmet of Salvation on by staying connected to God like a vine is connected to a branch. We will be tight in troubling times. And I will wield the Sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God because every promise in it is “Yes and amen” for me. I am not helpless in trouble! You are not helpless in trouble! If you have a spirit of panic on your life, ask yourself, “How often am I in the Word of God, and am I wearing my armor?” These tools can break anxiety off of your life.
Church, we have what we need to combat negative, anxious thoughts. II Corinthians 10:4-5 says, 4 The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. God has given us the ability to have authority over our minds. We can know what truth is and we can know when we are being attacked. We can refute every evil dart, every anxious thought, and we can think on things that are helpful, peaceful and productive, Philippians 4:8.
We also have the mechanism of prayer which will extract anxiety out of us. Philippians 4:6 instructs us about this: 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
I’m not talking about a quick minute here and there or a desperate shout out, like trying to send up a quick flare in the sky hoping that there is a plane overhead to see it, although I believe God responds to any cry from His children. But I’m talking about a lifestyle of prayer, a systematic offloading, a regular focus on giving thanks to God and an ongoing discussion with Him about your needs with God.
Something I choose to regularly turn over to the Lord are anxious thoughts about my future. I enjoy wonderful health in spite of the fact that I am a Type 2 Diabetic. Almost daily I pray over my pancreas, my heart, all of the systems in my body, my feet, and my mind. Because I do that regularly, several times each week, my mind isn’t consumed with “what ifs” about my diagnosis. I can truly say, I am not worried about my future health at all. Before I made that prayer a habit, it crossed my mind several times each day and put me in a mindset of worry.
If you want the peace that passes understanding, if you want the guard for your heart that keeps you from being overtaken by anxiety, develop the habit of regular, daily prayer. IT WORKS! You are not helpless against anxieties, and you will realize it when you start utilizing the tools that are available to you. Watch anxiety lift off of your life when you develop the spiritual disciplines and when you wear your spiritual armor.
- The third thing that can open the door for anxiety to settle into your heart and mind is a feeling of Isolation: (When you adopt the false belief that) There is no one to help me when I am in trouble.
If we truly were left on our own to walk through life and to find a way to overcome life’s challenges, we would indeed be helpless. In and of ourselves, we will meet challenges that we cannot overcome. There will be moments when we won’t have the wisdom or resources or network or skill to navigate through the situation. There will be instances when we simply won’t know what to do. If you were alone, believer, you would be helpless. You would have great reason for anxiety to grip your heart. BUT you are not.
Remember, God is ever-present in times of trouble. He is with us in trouble. Isaiah 43:1-3-But now, this is what the LORD says—he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. 2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. 3 For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
We do not need to give anxiety a foothold in our lives in troubling times because God is present with us. God is never afraid. God is never perplexed. God is never worried that things won’t work out according to His plan. He isn’t trying to calculate what will happen if plan A doesn’t work. God is never out of options. God is never without the power needed to get you through something. He is always in charge.
Listen, God has made a personal commitment to His children. You will pass through the deep waters. You will walk through the fire. The rivers won’t consume you. The flames will not overtake you. God will strengthen you until He is ready for you to be with Him in your eternal home.
Trouble and a feeling of helplessness is meant to help us see our need for God to carry us through the tough times. We will be swept away by anxiety, we will be overtaken by fear, if we believe we have to rely on ourselves to make it through each challenge. Self-reliance will create anxiety. Perhaps it isn’t the bad things that happen that cause anxiety, but the false belief that we have to handle them on our own that does. Satan wanted Eve to be self-reliant instead of God-reliant, and when he was successful in getting her to rely on herself, anxiety crept in.
One of my favorite things about the story of Joseph’s life in the book of Genesis is a phrase that was repeated four times. You can find it in Genesis 39:2, 3, 21, and 23. “The Lord was with Joseph.” Horrific things happened to Joseph over the period of many years. Horrific. Things unthinkable. Things no one would ever want to have to talk about with anyone. Things that would crush a person’s spirit, demolish a person’s self-esteem, things that would kill a person’s dreams. He suffered through experiences that easily could have had him questioning God’s love, but because his heart was fixed on God, he had the capacity to see God with him in the midst of his distress. What Joseph went through had the capacity to finish him, BUT God was with him, and instead of being finished, he flourished.
God’s presence was a reminder to Joseph that God was in control. God’s presence gave him presence of mind and steadied his heart. God’s presence gave him courage to persevere, to hold on, for a better day. God’s presence sustained him when nothing else could have done so. In the natural, Joseph had no reason to hope for a change in his circumstances, but hope remained because he knew God was with him. And when God took him through his years of trouble…years of trouble…he elevated him, he honored him, he blessed him AND enabled him to be a blessing to those who had wronged him, and the list was long. I have to believe that Joseph experienced what the Psalmist did when he said in Psalm 94:19, “When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me great joy.” Hebrews 13:5 tells us God will never leave or forsake us. Never.
What if, instead of asking “What’s next, God?” as if the sky was falling, what if we learned to ask, “What’s next, God?” as if we were anticipating a miracle, anticipating Divine help, anticipating the presence of God to show up when and where we least expect it? Troubling times give us an opportunity to fully rely on God, to do life His way, and to lean on His everlasting arms.
I Chronicles 16:11 tells us, “For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.”
Here is what I know: God is always up to something. You can move from anxiety to anticipation if you will trust Him. Psalm 56:3 says, “When I am afraid, I will trust in You.”
If you are living for perfect, trouble-free conditions to give you a sense of security, today, you need to ask God to help you accept that we live in a world where bad things do happen, and ask Him to help you transfer your focus from your trouble to His triumph. God is your security.
If you are living with a sense of helplessness, as a victim of your circumstances, you need to ask God to help you put on your armor, to be renewed in your mind and to teach you how to pray every day for His peace in your life.
If you are living with a feeling of isolation, you need to look up. God is with you. He is for you. He will see you through.
You don’t have to live with a mindset of fear, just waiting for the next bad thing to happen. You can live with a spirit of anticipation that God is up to something good. He may work quietly, seemingly behind the scenes of your life at times, but you can trust Him. Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, “He makes all things beautiful in His time.” Just hold on. Beautiful is just down the road. Let Him take you there.