DEALING WITH FEAR AND ANXIETY (PART 9)

FEAR

9

LEARNING TO BE CONTENT

We now close this series by focusing on our most essential weapon. The Christian’s Excalibur against the dragon Anxiety is named Contentment. It likewise is the banner under which Christ’s troops advance to personal victory.

As we saw earlier, the Bible speaks of contentment not only as a virtue but also as a command. Nowhere is that clearer than in Paul’s closing comments to the Philippian church. He had just told them never to succumb to anxiety (Phil. 4:6) and then went on to illustrate how with a glimpse from his own life:

“I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that … you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity. Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. Nevertheless, you have done well to share with me in my affliction.

You yourselves also know, Philippians, that at the first preaching of the gospel, after I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you alone; for even in Thessalonica you sent a gift more than once for my needs. Not that I seek the gift itself, but I seek for the profit which increases to your account. But I have received everything in full and have an abundance; I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent, a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God. And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (vv. 10–19)

In the context of this inspired thank-you note, it is clear Paul knew what it was to be content. At the time of this writing Paul was a prisoner under house arrest in Rome. He was chained to a Roman soldier twenty-four hours a day. He had little of what this life considers benefits, but still he was content. “The peace of God” (Phil. 4:7) and “the God of peace” (v. 9) were obvious realities in Paul’s life. They can likewise be in ours as we learn how to be content.

INDEPENDENCE

The Greek word translated “content” (autark∑s [ ]) means “to be self-sufficient,” “to be satisfied,” “to have enough.” It indicates a certain independence and lack of need for help. Sometimes it was used to refer to a person who supported himself or herself without anyone’s aid.

Paul was saying, “I have learned to be sufficient in myself—yet not in myself as myself, but as indwelt by Christ.” He elsewhere expressed that subtle distinction: “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Gal. 2:20). Christ and contentment go together.

SECRETS TO CONTENTMENT

Notice that Paul said, “I have learned to be content.… I have learned the secret” (Phil. 4:11–12). Paul became privy to the secret of contentment, and it’s one he passed on to all who have been initiated by faith in Jesus Christ. Here are its key facets:

Confidence in God’s Providence

Paul said, “I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that … you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity” (Phil. 4:10). About ten years had passed since Paul was last in Philippi. Acts 16 relates what happened during his first visit.

Paul and his traveling companions met a businesswoman named Lydia and preached the gospel to her and her companions. Their conversion resulted in the formation of a church. During the early days of that church, Paul cast out a spirit of divination from a slave girl. The girl’s owners—livid over the loss of the income they had derived from her fortunetelling abilities—had Paul flogged, thrown into prison, and locked in stocks. Instead of complaining about the miserable situation in which he found himself, he praised God through thankful prayer and song far into the night.

God responded in an amazing way: He shook the foundations of the prison so violently that all its doors opened wide and the chains fell off the prisoners’ feet and wrists. That incredible experience, plus Paul’s incredible response to his dismal circumstances, led to the salvation of the jailer—and the jailer’s entire household. As the church at Philippi grew, it’s apparent that they helped fund Paul for further missionary outreach.

Our text in Philippians makes it clear, however, that it had been a while since they last were able to help support him in that endeavor. But that was fine with Paul. He knew it wasn’t that they lacked concern, but that they lacked “opportunity” (Gk., kairos). That’s a reference to a season or window of opportunity, not to chronological time.

The point is that Paul had a patient confidence in God’s sovereign providence. He was content to do without and wait on the Lord’s timing. He didn’t resort to panic or manipulation of others. Those things are never called for. Paul was certain that in due time God would order the circumstances so that his needs would be met. We can have that same certainty today.

Until we truly learn that God is sovereign, ordering everything for His own holy purposes and the ultimate good of those who love Him, we can’t help but be discontent. That’s because in taking on the responsibility of ordering our lives, we will be frustrated in repeatedly discovering that we can’t control everything. Everything already is under control however, by Someone far greater than ourselves.

A synonym for God’s providence is divine provision, but that’s a skimpy label for a complex theological reality. Providence is how God orchestrates everything to accomplish His purposes.

There are two ways God can act in the world: by miracle and by providence. A miracle has no natural explanation. In the flow of normal life, God suddenly stems the tide and injects a miracle. Think, for example, of how God providentially ordered the lives of Joseph, Ruth, and Esther. Today He does the same for us.

Contentment comes from learning that God is sovereign not only by supernatural intervention but also by natural orchestration. Appreciate the complexity of what God is doing every moment just to keep us alive. When we look at things from that perspective, we see what folly it is to think we can control our lives. When we give up that vain pursuit, we give up a major source of anxiety.

Paul was content because he had confidence in the providence of God. That confidence, however, never led him to a fatalistic “It doesn’t matter what I do” attitude. The example of Paul’s life throughout the New Testament is this: Work as hard as you can and be content that God is in control of the results.

Satisfaction with Little

Here is another secret to contentment from Paul’s life: “Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity” (Phil. 4:11–12). He appreciated the revived generosity of the Philippian church but wanted them to know he hadn’t been coveting it. He kept his wants or desires in check, not confusing them with his needs.

“Not that I speak from want” is another way of saying “I really don’t have any needs that aren’t being met.” Our needs as human beings are simple: food, clothing, shelter, and godliness with contentment. Scripture says to be content with the bare necessities of life.

That attitude is in marked contrast to the attitude of our culture. People today aren’t content—with little or much. The more people have, the more discontent they’re apt to be. Often, the most unhappy people you’ll meet are very wealthy. They seem to believe their needs can never be met. Unlike Paul, they assume their wants are needs. They’ve followed our materialistic culture’s lead in redefining human needs.

You’ll never come across a commercial or ad that tells you to eat food, drink water, or go to sleep. Mass media advertise items that are far more optional and discretionary, but you’d never know it from the sales pitch. The appeal isn’t “Wouldn’t you like to have this?” but “You need this!” If you expose yourself to such appeals without thinking, you’ll find yourself needing things you don’t even want! The goal of this kind of advertising is to produce discontent and make a sale.

To protect yourself, pay careful attention to whenever you attach the word need to something in your thoughts or speech. Edit any use of it that goes beyond life’s bare essentials. Paul did, and you can too. Thankfully regard any surplus as a blessing from God. You will be satisfied with little when you refuse to depend on luxuries the world redefines as needs.

Detachment from Circumstances

The one thing that steals our contentment more than anything else is trying circumstances. We crumble and lose our sense of satisfaction and peace when we allow our circumstances to victimize us. No doubt Paul was human and suffered that way too, but then he learned a different way: remaining content no matter what his circumstances were. “I have learned to be content,” he said, “in whatever circumstances I am” (Phil. 4:11). And he really meant whatever circumstances, for in the next verse he ran the gamut of extremes from great poverty to great wealth.

It’s possible for us as Christians to learn to be content in facing any situation in life. And we don’t have to wait for the next life to be able to do this. We do need to keep one foot in the next life, however. Paul said it this way: “Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2). “Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor. 4:17–18 NIV). Paul endured many horrific circumstances (note his summary in 2 Cor. 11:23–33), but through them he learned to be content by having an eternal perspective. Realize any circumstance you face is only temporary. The energy you’re tempted to expend on it by getting anxious isn’t worth being compared to your eternal reward. Learn to be content by not taking your earthly circumstances too seriously. This is not always that easy to do, but worth practicing.

Being Sustained by Divine Power

Paul could face any earthly circumstance with this confident assurance: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13). He had learned that no matter how difficult things get in this material world, every Christian has a spiritual undergirding.

In saying he could do all things through Christ, Paul was referring to endurance, not miraculous provision. He didn’t mean he could go on forever without eating or drinking. He couldn’t be battered five thousand times and still survive. There’s a limit to the physical hardships any human being can endure. Instead Paul was saying, “When I have come to the end of my own resources, then I experience the power of Christ to sustain me until a provision is made.” He believed in the promise of Isaiah 40:31: “Those who wait for the LORD will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.”

Contentment is a by-product of distress. It comes when you experience the sustaining power of Christ when you simply have run out of steam: “To him who lacks might He increases power” (Isa. 40:29). We do well to experience enough difficulty in our lives to see Christ’s power on display in us.

Do you know how a pacemaker works? It kicks in when the heart it’s attached to doesn’t work right. It’s a sustaining power. We as believers have a reservoir of spiritual power that moves into action when we have come to the end of our resources. Therefore we can “do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us” (Eph. 3:20).

You’ll learn contentment when you’ve stood in the valley of the shadow of death, when you’ve been at the brink, when you can’t resolve your problems, when you can’t eliminate the conflict, when you can’t fix your marriage, when you can’t do anything about the kids, when you can’t change your work environment, when you’re unable to fight the disease that’s wracking your body. That’s when you’ll turn to God and find the strength to get through the situation.

To add an important qualifier, however, if you’ve been living a life of sin and you’re now at the bottom of the pit where sin has led you, don’t expect the Lord to step in, put on a dazzling display of His power, and make you feel content. What He’s more apt to do is add corrective discipline to the pain that your circumstances have naturally produced. There’s no quick fix for a sinful pattern of living.

Preoccupation with the Well-Being of Others

If you live for yourself, you will never be content. Many of us don’t experience contentment because we demand our world to be exactly the way we want it to be. We want our spouse to fulfill our expectations and agenda. We want our children to conform to a prewritten plan we have ordained for them to fulfill. And we want everything else to fall into its perfect niche in the little cupboard where we compartmentalize every element of existence.

Paul prayed for the Philippians to have a different perspective. He began his letter to them with a prayer that their love for one another might be abundant (Phil. 1:9) and went on to give this practical advice: “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves” (Phil. 2:3). He wanted them to lose themselves by being preoccupied with the well-being of others. This was the example he gave to them and us:

“Nevertheless, you have done well to share with me in my affliction.

You yourselves also know, Philippians, that at the first preaching of the gospel, after I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you alone; for even in Thessalonica you sent a gift more than once for my needs. Not that I seek the gift itself, but I seek for the profit which increases to your account. But I have received everything in full, and have an abundance; I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent, a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God. And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:14–19)

Even though Paul was assured of God’s providence, independent of his circumstances, and strengthened by divine power, he knew how to write a gracious thank-you note. He wanted the Philippians to know they had done a noble thing in caring for his needs. They were a poor church from Macedonia (an area whose poverty is described in 2 Cor. 8—9) that had apparently sent food, clothing, and money to Paul in Rome through Epaphroditus. Their generosity impressed Paul.

Notice what made him happiest of all about the gift: “Not that I seek the gift itself, but I seek for the profit which increases to your account” (Phil. 4:17). He was more interested in their spiritual benefit than his material gain. Being comfortable, well fed, and satisfied weren’t Paul’s main concerns in life. Rather, he was interested in accruing eternal dividends to the lives of the people he loved. Here are the timeless scriptural principles that apply:

  • Proverbs 11:24–25: “There is one who scatters, yet increases all the more, and there is one who withholds what is justly due, and yet it results only in want. The generous man will be prosperous, and he who waters will himself be watered.”
  • Proverbs 19:17: “One who is gracious to a poor man lends to the LORD, and He will repay him for his good deed.”
  • Luke 6:38: “Give, and it will be given to you.”
  • 2 Corinthians 9:6: “He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.”

Paul described the gift he had received as “a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God” (Phil. 4:18). He was using Old Testament imagery to say, “Not only did you give it to me, but you also gave it to God.” At the beginning of our passage, in verse 10, we noted how happy Paul was to receive the gift. His joy came not because he finally received what he had been wanting (as we saw in verse 11, he politely mentioned that he didn’t need it) but because the Philippians had given him something that honored God and would accrue to their spiritual benefit.

Their acts led Paul to say in closing, “My God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19). That is one of the most often-quoted verses of Scripture, but it needs to be set in its context. Paul was saying, “You gave to me in a way that left you in need. I want to assure you that God will not remain in your debt. He will supply all your needs.” It refers to material, earthly needs sacrificed by the Philippians that God in response to their sacrifice would amply replenish.

If you likewise “honor the LORD from your wealth … your barns will be filled with plenty and your vats will overflow with new wine” (Prov. 3:9–10). God’s not going to give you back spiritual blessings only and let you die of hunger. If you’re in Christ, the riches of God in glory are yours. That is why, as we learned in the first part of the series, we are not to be preoccupied with what we eat, drink, or wear. Instead we are to “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and … not [to] worry” (Matt. 6:33–34).

Attack anxiety in your life by applying what you have learned about contentment. Be confident in God’s sovereign providence, and don’t allow your circumstances to trouble you. Instead of giving in to panic, cling to the promise of Romans 8:28: “We know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God.” Regard that verse as a spiritual lifeline for the rest of your life. Also, buck the tide of our materialistic, selfish society by being satisfied with little and being more concerned about the spiritual welfare of others than your material needs. Be obedient to God’s Word and confident in His power to meet all your needs. May our Lord keep all these principles in the forefront of our minds that we might be content—and free from anxiety!

DEALING WITH FEAR AND ANXIETY (PART 8)

FEAR

8

DOING ALL THINGS WITHOUT COMPLAINING

One of the first biblical passages we examined on anxiety was Paul’s straightforward command in Philippians 4:6: “Be anxious for nothing.” In the last two parts of this series, we will probe two other passages from Philippians. One comes before the command, and the other comes afterward. They bracket our understanding of how to attack anxiety by specifying a habit to avoid and an attitude to cultivate. Follow through with what you learn and you will see for yourself that Paul wasn’t issuing an impossible command. Our first text is: “Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life” (Phil. 2:14–16).

Discontent in Society

We live in a society that loves to complain. Ironically, the most indulged society the world has known thus far is also the most discontent. The more people have, the more discontent they are apt to be with what they have—and these types don’t believe in silent suffering. We seem to be breeding a generation of complainers.

Most families in the Western World nowadays have either one or two children, if any. These small families in a materialistic society are apt to breed selfish, self-indulgent children. Picture this scene at the breakfast table: The mother asks her one or two children, “What would you like me to fix you to take to school for lunch?” One says peanut butter, the other says tuna. She says okay and starts preparing customized lunches. Before they leave for school, Mom asks, “What time will you be home? What time should I plan dinner?” The kids collaborate and say, “Let’s see, we’ll probably be home somewhere between four and five. Better make it five thirty.” At the dinner table of the modern family, after taking one bite, at least one of the kids will probably say, “I don’t like it. I want something else.”

If you were raised before the 1980’s or even the 1990’s, a different reality prevailed. When you got up in the morning and made it down to the kitchen, you got handed a bag. And when you left the house, your mother said to you, “Dinner is at five thirty. You’re here, you eat.”

The difference is that in most modern families, authority defers to the child. Before the 1990’s —in most instances, the child had to defer to authority. So what you have, is a generation growing up in an environment where authority defers to them. It is the unfortunate product of child-centered parenting.

When I was a child, I looked forward to growing up because I wanted my freedom. I was expected to conform to my surroundings, and I did. I ate what my parents gave me and wore whatever my mother brought home. I was eager to assume the responsibilities of adulthood so I could be free to make my own choices.

The reverse is now true. Children who grow up controlling the family environment don’t want to become adults because that means conformity for them. They don’t want to get a job because nobody at work is going to say, “How would you like your office decorated? And what time would you like to break for lunch?” Rather, they put you on an assembly line or in some other place, and you are expected to conform to their rules. No wonder we have a generation of young people who don’t want to grow up and leave home!

Ask the average high school or college student what he or she wants to do after graduation, and you’ll receive the usual response: So many of them feel this way because they’re postponing responsibility. The freedom of their childhood seems so much more attractive than conformity to a system. Their parents, although usually well meaning, are unwittingly training them to be irresponsible.

When reality hits, when children raised this way are finally forced to get a job, count on them to look for whatever offers the most amount of money for the least amount of work. They have no work ethic or sense of excellence for excellence’s sake. The objective of these adult children is to finance themselves so they can indulge in the things they enjoy. They try making the most out of the necessary evil of adulthood by collecting gadgets, boats, cars, vacation trips, and whatever else might reignite the flame of their lost childhood.

That is a hollow pursuit, however, because “not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions,” said Jesus (Luke 12:15). These adult children will feel empty inside and know that something is missing. Rather than seeing it’s because they’re emphasizing the physical at the expense of the spiritual, most will assume it’s because they don’t have enough—and whatever they have is never enough to these individuals! Moreover, their attitude is infectious, and that’s why our society tends to be critical.

The complaints have become more and more petty over time. Think about the things most people complain about, get anxious over, and even become enraged over. You may feel convicted. I know I’ve been guilty of letting some of these things bother me more than they should. Something as commonplace as a traffic jam can bring on incredible anger. Slow drivers in front of us and people who cut us off can be enough to make us fall back into sin! Talkative people irritate us. Long lines, short lines—any lines—drive us crazy. We want it our way, and we want it now!

Think how distressed people become over crying babies. Rather than accepting them as part of life, a terrible brooding discontent has led to a frightening increase in child abuse. Phone calls at inconvenient times, misplaced keys, non-housebroken puppies, stuck zippers, tight clothes, unsuccessful diets, being rushed or interrupted by someone—we get distressed by the biggies, don’t we?

Now if we’re in Hiroshima and it’s 1945, we have a problem worthy of considerable concern. But just because we lost out on a promotion, a business deal, or something else we wanted doesn’t mean we’re to complain about it and become anxious. We can surely find a way to survive, calm down, and review the situation. Our concerns are productive when they lead to a sensible course of action, but not when they lead to anxiety. Be aware that our concerns are far more apt to follow the path to anxiety and misery if accompanied by complaints.

It is a sin to complain against God, and we must see our complaints as such. “Who are you, O man, who answers back to God?” asked Paul rhetorically. “The thing molded will not say to the molder, ‘Why did you make me like this,’ will it?” (Rom. 9:20). Complaining against God is out of place and completely inappropriate. Don’t be fooled into thinking only the worst blasphemers commit that sin. Isn’t it God we are really complaining against when we gripe about our circumstances? After all, He is the one who put us where we are. A lack of thankfulness and contentment is ultimately an attack on God.

Complainers have a devastating effect on the church. Some are apostates, whom Jude described as “grumblers, finding fault, following after their own lusts” (Jude v. 16). Their sin is so defiling because it is highly contagious. We find abundant proof of that in the Old Testament. Let’s consider it carefully so we can protect ourselves and our churches from descending into a morass of complaints, discontentment, anxiety, and misery.

Discontent in the Old Testament

This is the scene: The Israelites are in the wilderness, heading toward the Promised Land after God miraculously delivered them from centuries of bondage in Egypt. God tells them to occupy the land. Joshua, Caleb, and ten others spy out the land and give their report:

Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, “We should by all means go up and take possession of it, for we will surely overcome it.” But the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are too strong for us.” So they gave out to the sons of Israel a bad report of the land which they had spied out, saying, “The land through which we have gone, in spying it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great size.… We became like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.”

Then all the congregation … grumbled against Moses and Aaron; and … said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the LORD bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become plunder; would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?” So they said to one another, “Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt.”

Then Moses and Aaron fell on their faces in the presence of all the assembly.… Joshua … and Caleb … spoke to all the congregation of the sons of Israel, saying, “… Do not rebel against the LORD; and do not fear the people of the land.… Their protection has been removed from them, and the LORD is with us.…” But all the congregation said to stone them with stones. (Num. 13:30—14:7, 9–10)

Those ten spies, those prophets of doom, kicked off nationwide discontent by complaining against what God had commanded them to do. What does Scripture say happened to them? “As for the men whom Moses sent to spy out the land and who returned and made all the congregation grumble … even those men who brought out the very bad report of the land died by a plague before the LORD” (Num. 14:36–37). Does that give you an idea of what God thinks about grumblers? They spread a noxious poison that quickly infects other people. They have the capability of setting into motion a group panic attack.

That happened many times in Israel’s history. Poor Moses had to suffer complaints regularly about his leadership and the food God provided for the people. According to Psalm 106, the complaints of the Israelites “tempted God in the desert.… They despised the pleasant land; they did not believe in His word, but grumbled in their tents.… Therefore He swore to them that He would cast them down in the wilderness, and that He would cast their seed among the nations” (vv. 14, 24–27). That divine judgment has dogged their nation throughout its history.

The New Testament makes it clear that the church is to learn from Israel’s mistake. After describing the incredible blessings Israel enjoyed from God’s hand, Paul stated, “Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness. Now these things [are] examples for us, so that we should not crave evil things, as they also craved … nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed” (1 Cor. 10:5–6, 10).

Complaining is the symptom of a deep-seated spiritual problem—a failure to trust God and submit to His will. It is not a trivial matter: “The one who does not believe God has made Him a liar” (1 John 5:10). Here’s a better text to adhere to: “Why should any living mortal … offer complaint in view of his sins?” (Lam. 3:39). God has forgiven our sins, and the only proper way to say thank you is to be grateful. As we learned previously, a spirit of thanksgiving drives away anxiety—and also makes it hard to complain.

Contentment as a Command

We now have the background for understanding Paul’s command in Philippians 2:14: “Do all things without grumbling or disputing.” The “all things” refers to what Paul had said previously: “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you” (vv. 12–13). In other words, while God is working in your life, be sure you never complain.

Life isn’t always going to serve us what we’d like. God will allow trials in our lives to help us pray, trust, and be grateful for what we have. Through it all, the Bible commands us to be content:

  • Luke 3:14: “Be content with your wages.”
  • 1 Timothy 6:6, 8: “Godliness with contentment is great gain.… If we have food and clothing, we will be content with that” (NIV).
  • Hebrews 13:5: “Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have.”

Two roadblocks to contentment are grumbling and disputing. The Greek word translated “grumbling” in Philippians 2:14 is gongusmos. It’s a grouchy, grumbly, onomatopoeic word. It sounds as grumpy as its meaning. It refers to murmuring, an expression of discontent and muttering in a low voice. It’s the word used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament to describe the grumblings of Israel. It’s a complaint expressed with a negative attitude, an emotional rejection of God’s will.

The Greek word translated “disputing” (dialogismos) is more intellectual in nature. It refers to questioning and criticism.

This is when emotional bellyaching turns into a debate with God (as it did with Job). We start arguing with God about why things are the way they are or why we have to do what we’re supposed to do. We think we have a better idea than God about the job, marriage, church, home, or any other situation we’re in.

Paul said there’s a better way to live—working out our Christian life without complaining. It’s an attitude more in tune with life as it is. We are living in a fallen world. It isn’t always going to be the way we like it, and the people around us aren’t always going to be the way we’d like them to be. When we complain about them, we offend God and position ourselves for His judgment. James warned, “Do not complain, brethren, against one another, so that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door” (James 5:9). Imagine a little kid in his room complaining to his sister, “Boy, I sure hate the way Dad treats us.” But what he doesn’t know is that Dad is standing right outside the door! God, likewise, is always in earshot of our complaints.

The Reasons behind the Command

It would be wrong to conclude, however, that God is always waiting to get us. In His Word He not only tells us that He hates complaining, but He also makes it very clear why. He wants us to see that the reasons are as dear to our own hearts as to His and are clearly in our best interests.

Stop Complaining for Your Own Sake

A literal translation of the Greek text in Philippians 2:14–15 is: “Stop complaining in order that you may become blameless, innocent children of God.” There is a process here. Salvation has past, present, and future aspects to it. These verses refer to the present aspect. As God does His work in us, our part is not to complain.

Ask yourself a couple of questions: Whom do I belong to? Whose name do I bear? As Christians, we are to live consistently with who we are. Don’t you know who your heavenly Father is? How can you act like that? Keep that in mind the next time you’re tempted to become anxious or complain. Hold your head up high and realize that God has destined you for something better. You have been created to reflect His nature.

Stop Complaining for the Sake of Non-Christians

Paul explained that we reflect God’s nature to “prove [ourselves] to be … children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom [we] appear as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life” (Phil. 2:15–16). How we live has a dramatic effect not only on whether we’re consistent with who we are as children of God, but also on how we affect the world around us.

This statement addresses our evangelistic mandate and is the heart of Paul’s appeal. A simple definition of evangelism is God’s children shining as lights in a dark world. Doing that effectively involves two things: content and character. It’s not just what we say but what we are.

If you are a godly, obedient Christian, you will have an almost startling effect on most people. They will feel the light, and some may even shy away from it because it is so obvious that you possess something they don’t possess. Others will be attracted to it because they have a yearning to be something better than what they are. Their fate is inextricably intertwined with how we live our lives. As John Donne wrote hauntingly, “No man is an island, entire of itself” (“Meditation 17”). That is especially true of the Christian. A few sentences later Donne affirmed, “I am involved in mankind.” For the Christian, that is more than a resolve; it is a statement of fact.

The quality of your life is the platform of your personal testimony. A murmuring, discontent, grumbling, griping, and complaining Christian is never going to have a positive influence on others. It’s incongruous to be talking about the gospel of forgiveness, joy, peace, and comfort, yet be moaning and complaining much of the time. Give people more credit than that: They aren’t going to believe the gospel until they see it do what you say it will do. “Show me your redeemed lives, and I might be inclined to believe in your Redeemer” is a valid challenge for any non-Christian to make.

As said earlier, the equation for evangelism is character plus content. While appearing as lights in the world, we simultaneously are to be “holding fast the word of life” (Phil. 2:16). It is the Word of God that gives life. Since the people of the world are spiritually dead in their sins (Eph. 2:1), there is nothing they need more.

Stop grumbling, said Paul. Stop arguing with God. Obey Him joyfully. In the process of shining as lights in the world, you will find there will be a ready reception, because a transformed life is the greatest advertisement for the gospel. A negative, griping, complaining spirit is the worst.

Try your best to make it through today without complaining about something. Make a note every time you do complain. You may be surprised to discover it has become a way of life. In addition to being highly contagious to others, a complaining spirit has an anesthetic effect on whoever possesses it. It quickly becomes so habitual that most people infected by it don’t even realize what a dominant characteristic it has become.

Put a check on the complaints you utter, and you will succeed in attacking anxiety at its source. You will be affirming that God knows what He is doing in your life. To hear yourself complain is to hear yourself affirm the contrary. The more you hear yourself talk like that, the more you’ll believe it. For peace of mind, stop it now.

DEALING WITH FEAR AND ANXIETY (PART 7)

FEAR

7

HAVING PEACE IN EVERY CIRCUMSTANCE

In this part we will see how Paul closed his second letter to the Thessalonians — with a prayer any anxious Christian would love someone to have prayed on his or her behalf: “May the Lord of peace Himself continually grant you peace in every circumstance.… The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you” (2 Thess. 3:16, 18).

A Prayer for God’s Peace

Peace is commonly defined as the sense of calm, tranquillity, quietness, bliss, contentment, and well-being that we feel when everything is going the way we’d like it to go. That definition, however, is incomplete because that feeling can also be produced by a pill—or by alcohol, a nap, a generous inheritance, or even deliberate deception. The reassurance of a friend or someone you love whispering sweet nothings into your ear can also produce that kind of peace.

That’s not the kind of peace Paul had in mind. Godly peace has nothing to do with human beings or human circumstances. In fact, godly peace cannot be produced on a human level at all. Any peace that can be produced by humans is very fragile. It can be destroyed instantly by failure, doubt, fear, difficulty, guilt, shame, distress, regret, sorrow, the anxiety of making a wrong choice, the anticipation of being mistreated or victimized by someone, the uncertainty of the future, and any challenge to our position or possessions. And we experience these things daily.

The peace that God gives is not subject to the vicissitudes of life. It is a spiritual peace; it is an attitude of heart and mind when we believe and thus know deep down that all is well between ourselves and God. Along with it is the assurance that He is lovingly in control of everything. We as Christians should know for sure that our sins are forgiven, that God is concerned with our well-being, and that heaven is our destiny. God’s peace is our possession and privilege by divine right. Let’s first consider its origin.

It Is Divine

This peace is defined for us in several ways in 2 Thessalonians 3:16. To begin with, it is divine: “May the Lord of peace Himself … grant you peace.” The Lord of peace is the one who gives it. The pronoun himself is emphatic in the Greek text and underscores God’s personal involvement. Christian peace, the peace unique to Christians, comes personally from Him. It is the very essence of His nature.

To put it simply, peace is an attribute of God. If I asked you to list the attributes of God, these are the ones that would probably come most readily to mind: His love, grace, mercy, justice, holiness, wisdom, truth, omnipotence, immutability, and immortality. But do you ever think of God as being characterized by peace? In fact, He is peace. Whatever it is that He gives us, He has, and He is. There is no lack of perfect peace in His being. God is never stressed. He is never anxious. He never worries. He never doubts. He never fears. God is never at cross-purposes with Himself. He never has problems making up His mind.

God lives in perfect calm and contentment. Why? Because He’s in charge of everything and can operate everything perfectly according to His own will. Since He is omniscient, He is never surprised. There are no threats to His omnipotence. There is no possible sin that can stain His holiness. Even His wrath is clear, controlled, and confident. There is no regret in His mind; for He has never done, said, or thought anything that He would change in any way.

God enjoys perfect harmony within Himself. Our Bibles call Him “the Lord of peace,” but in the Greek text a definite article appears before the word translated “peace,” meaning He literally is “the Lord of the peace.” This is real peace—the divine kind—not the kind the world has. Paul’s prayer is that we might experience that kind of peace. Its source is God and God alone.

It Is a Gift

Not only is this peace divine in origin, but it is also a gift. When Paul prayed, “Now may the Lord of peace Himself continually grant you peace,” the word translated “grant” is the verb meaning “to give.” It speaks of a gift. God’s peace is a sovereign, gracious gift given to those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.

In Psalm 85:8, the psalmist stated, “I will hear what God the LORD will say; for He will speak peace to His people, to His godly ones.” God grants peace to those who belong to Him. Jesus said, “My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful” (John 14:27). There’s no greater gift for the anxious than God’s peace.

Some, however, will seek relief for their anxieties through a false peace. God is generous to whom He grants His peace, but there is a limit. Isaiah wrote, “‘Peace, peace to him who is far and to him who is near,’ says the LORD, ‘and I will heal him.’ But the wicked are like the tossing sea, for it cannot be quiet, and its waters toss up refuse and mud. ‘There is no peace,’ says my God, ‘for the wicked’” (Isa. 57:19–21). He will grant peace to those who come to Him from near and far—those who grew up hearing much about Him and those who heard little to nothing—but those who don’t come to Him, the wicked, enjoy no real peace.

Thomas Watson explained further:

Peace flows from sanctification, but they being unregenerate, have nothing to do with peace.… They may have a truce, but no peace. God may forebear the wicked a while, and stop the roaring of his cannon; but though there be a truce, yet there is no peace. The wicked may have something which looks like peace, but it is not. They may be fearless and stupid; but there is a great difference between a stupefied conscience, and a pacified conscience.… This is the devil’s peace; he rocks men in the cradle of security; he cries, Peace, peace, when men are on the precipice of hell. The seeming peace a sinner has, is not from the knowledge of his happiness, but the ignorance of his danger.

The peace of the wicked is born of delusion. True peace is the child of saving grace. In a prayer similar to the one that closes 2 Thessalonians, Paul said, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing” (Rom. 15:13). Peace is a gift to those who believe.

It Is Always Available

God’s peace is the gift that keeps on giving. Another way to express that truth is how Paul said it: “May the Lord of peace Himself continually grant you peace” (2 Thess. 3:16). By adding “continually,” Paul was emphasizing that it is constantly available. The implication is, however, that it can be interrupted.

It isn’t God who interrupts our spiritual peace, but us. We can suspend the flow of peace in our lives by giving in to our flesh, which is still part of this world. Unless we “walk by the Spirit,” our means of controlling the flesh (Gal. 5:16), we are open season to all kinds of anxieties: the dread of the unknown, the fear of disease and death—and we all can list a string of others. This unfortunate process begins when we stop focusing on our permanent condition in Christ, who will certainly bring us into His glory, and when we start basing our happiness on the fleeting things of the world. Thus, if we continue to rely on worldly things, which by definition will always change, we will spend our lives in distress.

People who can ride through the toughest issues of life and remain calm are not indifferent; they’re just trusting God. What if our ride is a little bumpy? What if we’re feeling troubled, anxious, and fearful? How can we restore the peace? How can it remain uninterrupted?

The psalmist said to himself, “Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God” (Ps. 42:11). He reminded himself that God was there to help him. We can trust God because He is trustworthy. He genuinely cares for us.

Long ago, God made it perfectly clear to Israel that peace comes from obeying His Word (Lev. 26:1–6). The same truth applies today. Peace is restored through obedience. The first step is to turn away from sin. Sometimes the sin is the doubt, fear, or anxiety itself, but also it can be an underlying sin that has produced those feelings. Probe your heart and isolate the cause of its unrest. Give up the sin that has been revealed to you and obey God by applying the opposite virtue. In the case of anxiety, that means having faith in God to help you manage life’s details.

Something else that will restore your peace is to accept whatever stresses or challenges God has seen fit to bring into your life. In the book of Job we read:

“Behold, how happy is the man whom God reproves, so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty. For He inflicts pain, and gives relief; He wounds, and His hands also heal.… In famine He will redeem you from death, and in war from the power of the sword. You will be hidden from the scourge of the tongue, and you will not be afraid of violence when it comes. You will laugh at violence and famine, and you will not be afraid of wild beasts. For you will be in league with the stones of the field, and the beasts of the field will be at peace with you. You will know that your tent is secure, for you will visit your abode and fear no loss.” (Job 5:17–18, 20–24)

If you understand that God is using all the difficulties you face to perfect you, you’ll be at peace. It is not all for nothing. You may not always know why you’re going through this or that, but be encouraged that there is a good reason. Turning to the New Testament, Paul said that if you want peace, do good (Rom. 2:10). All who do good will enjoy peace. To be more specific, “the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable.… And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (James 3:17–18). Living according to the Word—according to heavenly wisdom, to God’s revealed standard of righteousness—brings peace.

If you’ve lost God’s peace in your life, you can find it again. Retrace your steps by trusting God in everything, turning away from sin and walking in obedience, enduring His refining work in your life, doing what is good, and living by the Word of God in a righteous way. As Paul said, God’s peace is continually available to you. Avail yourself of it.

It Is Not Subject to Circumstances

A final characteristic of God’s peace is that it is not subject to circumstances. Paul’s prayer was that we might continually enjoy it “in every circumstance” (2 Thess. 3:16). This peace is not subject to anything that happens in the worldly realm. It is not built on any human relationship. It is not built on any human circumstance. Rather, it is built on an unchanging divine relationship and a divine plan and promise from an unfailing God who will secure you in Himself and who will do everything for your good. This peace is unbreakable, unassailable, transcendent.

As we noted earlier, Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful” (John 14:27). He was saying, “There’s nothing to fear or be anxious about because I’m giving you a transcendent peace that—unlike the world’s peace—is unassailable by any human circumstance.” We demonstrate that Jesus keeps His promises when, in the midst of worldly upheavals that would normally tear us up and trouble our lives, we remain calm.

A Prayer for God’s Grace

Paul’s great desire was that we enjoy that kind of well-being, which is why he prayed toward that end. His parting wish was this: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all” (2 Thess. 3:18). He wanted every man and woman who would ever put his or her faith in Christ to experience the abiding presence of God’s grace.

Grace is God’s goodness or benevolence given to those who don’t deserve it. “Grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). It was in the person of God’s Son that “the grace of God has appeared,” making salvation available to all (Titus 2:11). Once we embrace this saving grace through faith in Christ, we are blessed with God’s grace, enabling us to withstand any difficulty that would tend to make us anxious. Paul described this grace while confessing to a difficulty that brought him great anxiety:

“There was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me.… Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor. 12:7–10)

As believers, we also are blessed with the grace that equips us for divine service. Paul expressed his appreciation for this grace in saying, “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy.… The grace of our Lord was more than abundant” (1 Tim. 1:12–14).

Grace is what enables us to grow spiritually in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18). In the material realm, Paul appealed to God’s grace in encouraging the Corinthian church to be generous in giving to the Lord’s work: “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed” (2 Cor. 9:8).

God’s grace saves us, helps us cope with our anxieties, equips us for service, and enables us to grow spiritually and to be rich in God. Like God’s peace, it is always available, and there is no limit to it. And again, like God’s peace, the conditions for receiving it are trusting God, turning from sin, enduring the refining process, doing good, and living by the Word. As we are what we ought to be, God infuses us with His peace and grace. And that has a wonderful way of crowding out anxiety.

DEALING WITH FEAR AND ANXIETY (PART 6)

FEAR

6

DEALING WITH PROBLEM PEOPLE

In Part 5, we saw how others can help us in our fight against anxiety. Here, however, we are going to do a reality check, for Christians don’t claim for a moment that they or the church is perfect. The church is full of problems because it is full of problem people. Everyone in it is a sinner, albeit saved by grace, but nonetheless influenced by unredeemed human flesh. The church grows spiritually in direct proportion to how well we deal with anxiety and other sins in our midst.

The apostle Paul said: “We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted [the anxious], help the weak, be patient with everyone. See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people” (1 Thess. 5:14–15).

Group number one is “the unruly.” Let’s call them the wayward. They’re never in step. “Get with the program” is something they hear often. When everyone else is moving ahead, they’re going backward. Out of either apathy or rebellion, they’ve gone spiritually AWOL, and they’re not interested in learning or serving.

Group number two is “the fainthearted”—the worriers. They fear the unknown. They hate change; they love tradition; they want no risk. All the issues of life seem far more than they can bear. They’re usually sad, perpetually worried, sometimes in despair, and often depressed or discouraged.

The third group is “the weak.” These believers are spiritually and morally weak. Because of weak self-discipline, they tend to fall into the same sins over and over. You barely get them up on their feet and dust them off when suddenly, they’re back in the same hole again. They find it hard to do God’s will consistently. They embarrass themselves, their church, and their Lord. Thus they require a lot of attention.

The fourth group could be called “the wearisome.” Paul said to “be patient with everyone.” Some people we encounter require an extra degree of patience. You can pour your energy into them, and when you look to see how close they might be to the overall goal of Christ-likeness (Phil. 3:12–15), they seem further away. Everything distracts them—they are not focused individuals. They’re very exasperating because you make the maximum effort and get the minimum return. They don’t grow at a normal pace.

Group five is “the outright wicked.” Even though Paul was addressing Christians, he found it necessary to say, “See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another” (1 Thess. 5:15). There are, sad to say, Christians who commit sins against other Christians. They break up marriages. They defile daughters. They steal. They gossip. They slander. They falsely accuse.

If a church or a fellowship group is to grow, it must minister to all five groups. The Lord would have you understand these groups of people so that you might use your spiritual gifts to help them. Then they, in turn, will be able to help others. Help a worrier not to worry, and your own worries disappear in the process. That is an effective way to attack anxiety.

The Wayward

Perhaps their way of sitting on the bench is moving farther back in the pews, hanging out on the fringes. They’re the first to cut out when the service ends. Either out of apathy or rebellion, they resist involvement. They are unwilling to go beyond an audience mentality.

Scripture says to admonish the wayward. If you know believers who are not doing their duty—not using their gifts, not being supportive of the team effort—come alongside them and try to put some sense into their heads. One way to do that is to speak softly and say, “I’ve noticed you you’re not involved in a ministry, and you tend to criticize the church and / or fellow believers. You do realize that if you continue on that path, there are spiritual consequences, and I do not want you to experience them.”

When you truly love someone, you don’t hesitate to warn him or her. It’s not because of some agenda, but because you don’t want them to have to deal with the inevitable consequences of being spiritually aloof. We want them and everyone else in the church or group to know the fullness of God’s blessing.

This confrontation is often necessary. It’s all abour fellowship; it’s being involved in the lives of fellow believers—including the troublesome ones.

The Fainthearted

These individuals aren’t on the fringes; they’re huddled in the middle. They don’t want to get near the edge—it’s too scary! They need encouragement from God’s Word, which is the solution to anxiety.

Paul described these anxious believers as “the fainthearted” (Gk., oligopsuchos). That term comes from two words meaning “small” and “soul.” Challenges threaten such individuals. Since they like what is familiar, they tend to cling to traditions. They are reluctant to do anything that hasn’t been done before; they love what is safe. They want a risk-free life with absolute security.

Since absolute security is impossible in this life, they’re usually depressed. They lack the strength to move out with the church or fellowship group and try new ministries. Because they fear persecution, they find it difficult to share the gospel. Instead of rising above their problems, they sink under everything. They seem to have a great weight upon them. Consequently, they themselves are like weights that the church or fellowship group needs to drag around. They lack vision and fear failure.

Often they admire courage and a sense of adventure, but rather than learning to cultivate those virtues, they find it much easier to fall into familiar patterns of anxiety.

Paul said simply to encourage them. If you know someone who’s fearful, worried, melancholy, depressed, or despairing, the Lord wants you to come alongside and develop a friendly relationship with him or her. If you tend to be that way yourself, develop friendships with godly people who will console, comfort, strengthen, reassure, cheer, refresh, and soothe you from God’s Word. You will be a different person because such relationships bring relief from anxiety.

What kinds of encouragement bring the most relief? The encouragement of prayer to the God of all encouragement, the encouragement of a secure salvation, the encouragement of our sovereign God working out everything for the believer’s good, the encouragement of the love of Christ, the encouragement of the final resurrection and the righting of all wrongs. All that and more help the worried to participate in the adventure of life.

The Weak

Paul said to “help the weak” (1 Thess. 5:14). Being weak in faith is one aspect of this problem. It characterizes believers who are so hypersensitive to sin that they see things as sin that aren’t really sin at all. Paul described such people as weaker brothers in his letters to the Roman and Corinthian Christians (Rom. 14—15; 1 Cor. 8). He implored these churches to be sensitive to their concerns.

Often these individuals come to Christ out of a particularly sinful lifestyle. They fear that anything associated with that lifestyle might drag them back into their old habits. They are susceptible to a wounded conscience that could lead them into more sin and more weakness. Therefore, they must not be pushed into doing anything they don’t think is right, even though Scripture gives no definitive yes or no about it. With help, largely in the form of patient instruction, they will understand the Word of God more perfectly over time (see Acts 18:24– 28).

Another group of people who could be classified as weak is those who keep falling into the same sins over and over again. They are morally weak. Probably, James had them in mind when he said, “Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him” (James 5:14). The word translated “sick” is the same one translated “weak” in 1 Thessalonians 5:14. When you’re feeling weak spiritually and morally, seek out those who are strong in the faith and ask for their prayer support.

In addition to prayer, the weak need “help” (1 Thess. 5:14). Paul used a Greek term that means “to hold tightly to,” “cling to,” “support,” and “hold up.” Here’s what it looks like in action: “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:1–2). We help the weak by picking them up and then holding them up.

How do we do that? Again, intimacy in the fellowship is required. The church or fellowship group grows when the sheep help take care of the sheep—when we care enough to admonish the wayward, encourage the worried, and help the weak. That type of ministry necessitates involvement in people’s lives.

The Wearisome

“Be patient with everyone,” Paul said. It’s easy to get frustrated, angry, and exasperated with some people. You can give so much and receive so little in return. That’s especially common in discipleship relationships. If you’ve discipled people over the years, you know what it is like to have a major disappointment.

No one knew that better than Jesus. You can almost hear the exasperation in His voice when He said, “Oh you of little faith!” You’ll find that exclamation many times in the Gospels. It’s as if Jesus was saying to His disciples, “When are you guys gonna get what I’ve been trying to tell you all this time?” But He was patient with them, and in time they blossomed.

Whether you’re a pastor or not, how would the Lord have you respond to wearisome people? By being patient with them. How patient? More patient than you’ve been. Think how patient God has been with you. In fact, God describes Himself as “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger” (Ex. 34:6). Patience is a communicable attribute of God, which means it should also characterize His children.

Recall this interchange between Peter and Jesus: “‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven’” (Matt. 18:21–22). Such compassion and personal love change people—even the wearisome.

The Wicked

This group has a whole verse dedicated to it: “See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people” (1 Thess. 5:15). It is the most difficult circumstance we as Christians face—when we suffer painful treatment and abuse not from the world, but from our own brothers and sisters in Christ. It can cause the deepest pain, but our Christian faith must work at this level too.

Be prepared: There are people in the church or your fellowship group who will hurt you. They’ll harm you directly by attacking you face-to-face with wicked words. They’ll harm you indirectly by gossiping and slandering you behind your back. They might eliminate you from their social circle or keep you out of a ministry because of jealousy, bitterness, or anger. They might even break up your marriage, or influence one of your children toward sin. This is malicious harm we’re talking about here!

Believers who could even contemplate doing such terrible things to other believers must consider this sober warning:

“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it is better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes! … See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 18:6–7, 10)

The context of the passage makes it clear that these “little ones” are believers —children of God—not just children in general. Nonetheless, some believers will have the audacity to do just that. How are we to respond when we are on the receiving end of their wickedness? Paul said, “See that no one repays another with evil for evil” (1 Thess. 5:15). Don’t retaliate.

Only God has the right to retaliate. A text that closely parallels our passage in 1 Thessalonians 5 states this:

“Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Rom. 12:17–21)

Perhaps you’ve thought of a text elsewhere that appears to contradict this teaching. Doesn’t the Old Testament grant the right to demand an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, and a life for a life? Yes, but that was a governmental mandate for punishment to fit the crime. It was never a license for personal vengeance. Jesus addressed that misapplication of the governmental mandate, saying essentially, “You’ve perverted the law of God to the point of thinking you’re supposed to hate your enemy. I’m here to tell you God wants you to love your enemy and do good to those who do evil to you” (see Matt. 5:43–45).

Obey Jesus by saying to yourself, “These believers ought to know better, but in spite of how wickedly they’ve treated me, I’m going to return their hostility with goodness.” That applies not only to believers but also to all who mistreat us. As Paul said it, “Always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people” (1 Thess. 5:15). He expanded on the same concept to the Galatians: “While we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (Gal. 6:10).

The church or fellowship group does well as a whole when the shepherds and the sheep bond together to correct the wayward, encourage the worried, hold up the weak, be patient with the wearisome, and repay the wicked with love. That is the bigger picture on attacking anxiety.

DEALING WITH FEAR AND ANXIETY (PART 5)

FEAR

5

KNOWING OTHERS ARE LOOKING OUT FOR YOU

Fellow Believers at Your Service

One of the best ways we can be helped in our struggle with anxiety is when we serve one another with the same diligence as the angels serve us. Does that sound impossible? It’s not. The same God who equips the angels to serve us also equips us to serve one another. Paul said, “There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God who worketh all in all” (1 Cor. 12:4–6 SCO). God has given a variety of gifts to His church.

Using Our Gifts

Some of the gifts were of a temporary nature; others were and are permanent. The permanent ones are these:

  • Prophecy (Rom. 12:6; 1 Cor. 14:3), the ability to preach or proclaim God’s truth to others for their growth, correction, and comfort.
  • Teaching (Rom. 12:7), the ability to teach the truths of God’s Word.
  • Faith (1 Cor. 12:9), the ability to trust God without doubt or disturbance, regardless of one’s circumstances. People who are especially prone to anxiety would do well to get to know individuals gifted in this way and follow their example.
  • Wisdom (1 Cor. 12:8), the ability to apply spiritual truth to life. Believers gifted this way are also good models for the anxious.
  • Knowledge (1 Cor. 12:8), the ability to understand facts. It is the academic side of comprehending biblical truth.
  • Discernment (1 Cor. 12:10), the ability to distinguish truth from error —to discern what is of God and what is satanic deception.
  • Mercy (Rom. 12:8), the ability to demonstrate Christ’s love in acts of
  • Exhortation (Rom. 12:8), the ability to encourage, counsel, and comfort others with biblical truth and Christian love. Those prone to anxiety need to be humble enough to listen and value what these gifted individuals have to say.
  • Giving (Rom. 12:8), the ability to provide for the Lord’s work and for others who have difficulty meeting their own material needs. It flows from a decision to commit all earthly possessions to the Lord.
  • Administration (Rom. 12:8; 1 Cor. 12:28), the ability to organize and lead in spiritual endeavors. It is also known as the gift of ruling or government.
  • Helps (Rom. 12:7; 1 Cor. 12:28), the ability to serve faithfully behind the scenes, assisting the work of the ministry in practical ways.

All spiritual gifts are designed for the good of the church (1 Cor. 14:26 NIV). My gifts are not for my benefit, and your gifts are not for your benefit. We must build up and assist one another “until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13).

Fellowship is an interchange of mutual care and concern through the agency of our spiritual gifts. Some of the ways that interchange manifests itself are when we:

  • Confess our faults to one another (James 5:16).
  • Edify one another (1 Thess. 5:11; Rom. 14:19).
  • Bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2).
  • Pray for one another (James 5:16).
  • Are kind to one another (Eph. 4:32).
  • Submit to one another (Eph. 5:21).
  • Show hospitality to one another (1 Peter 4:9).
  • Serve one another (Gal. 5:13; 1 Peter 4:10).
  • Comfort one another (1 Thess. 4:18).
  • Restore one another (Gal. 6:1).
  • Forgive one another (2 Cor. 2:7; Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:13).
  • Admonish one another (Rom. 15:14; Col. 3:16).
  • Teach one another (Col. 3:16).
  • Exhort one another (Heb. 3:13; 10:25).
  • Love one another (Rom. 13:8; 1 Thess. 3:12; 4:9; 1 Peter 1:22; 1 John 3:11, 23; 4:7, 11).

Love is the key to effective ministry. Where love exists there is true humility, which is an essential ingredient in mutual ministries and freedom from anxiety. Pride and anxiety focus on self, whereas humility focuses on others.

If pride is hindering your ministry, concentrate on knowing Christ more intimately through prayer and Bible study. The more you understand His power and glory, the more humble you will be. Then you will give yourself more readily to others as Christ gave Himself to you.

Sharing Our Love

As a human body has connected tissues, muscles, bones, ligaments, and organs, the body of Christ is composed of members who are responsible to one another. No member exists detached from the rest of the body any more than lungs can lie on the floor in the next room and keep a person breathing. The health of the body, its witness, and its testimony are dependent on all members faithfully ministering to one another.

The church was never intended to be only a building—a place where lonely people walk in, listen, and walk out still alone—but a place of fellowship. In his book Dare to Live Now! Bruce Larson said,

“The neighborhood bar is possibly the best counterfeit there is to the fellowship Christ wants to give His Church. It’s an imitation, dispensing liquor instead of grace, escape rather than reality. But it is a permissive, accepting, and inclusive fellowship. It is unshockable, it is democratic. You can tell people secrets and they usually don’t tell others, or want to. The bar flourishes not because most people are alcoholics, but because God has put into the human heart the desire to know and be known, to love, and be loved, and so many seek a counterfeit at the price of a few beers. “

This need for fellowship is not met simply by attending the Sunday services, whether they be small groups where everyone is known or large congregations where that is not the case. A desperate need for personal, intimate fellowship exists in the church today. And this fellowship, like the gifts, is intrinsic to exhibiting practical unity. Finding a good church fellowship is no small matter in our onslaught against anxiety.

In true fellowship Christians don’t judge one another; they don’t bite and devour each other; they don’t provoke, envy, lie to one another, speak evil, or grumble about one another. Since true fellowship builds up, the godly will receive one another and be kind and tenderhearted toward one another. They will bear with and forgive one another, serve one another, practice hospitality ungrudgingly to one another, correct, instruct, submit to one another, and comfort one another. That is the true fellowship of Christ’s body—life touching life to bring blessing and spiritual growth.

Too often Christians place themselves inside little glass bubbles and try to look like super saints, as if they hadn’t a problem or worry in the world. They aren’t willing to share openly and expose their sins to a fellow believer. They don’t know what it is to have another believer say, “That’s the same thing I’m going through. Let’s pray for each other.”

Confessing our sins to one another results in a purer fellowship of people who know and love one another—who understand one another’s needs, anxieties, and temptations. What strength resides in such a community!

Here is a key principle that all Christian communities should operate by: “If a Christian is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help him back onto the right path, remembering that next time it might be one of you who is in the wrong” (Gal. 6:1 TLB). Pick him or her up and say, “Let me show you from the Word of God what is going on. Let’s pray together. Let’s walk on the right track together.” That is restorative care. We as Christians haven’t done our duty if we only rebuke. We need to come alongside and restore —in love.

That verse is perhaps the clearest example from Scripture of how we as believers are to look out for one another. In attacking anxiety, be encouraged to know that angels are looking out for you, but also make a point of knowing and being known by mature believers in a context of ministering to each other. The responsibility of finding such a fellowship is yours. Never underestimate the power of godly fellowship in bearing the burden of your anxieties.

DEALING WITH FEAR AND ANXIETY (PART 4)

FEAR

4

LIVING A LIFE OF FAITH AND TRUST

George Müller was a well-known Christian evangelist and the director of the Ashley Down orphanage in Bristol. Unlike many today who say they “live by faith,” the Müllers never told anyone but God of their need for funds. He always abundantly provided through their thankful prayers and humble waiting on Him. George Müller said, “Where faith begins, anxiety ends; where anxiety begins, faith ends.”

Hebrews 11 and 12 can basically be called the “faith” chapters of the Bible. Chapter 11 gives a general definition of faith and a slew of Old Testament examples. Chapter 12 sums up the principles of living by faith. As we will see, there’s much more to it than the contemporary sense that limits it to handling one’s personal finances.

Lay Aside Any Encumbrance

The writer of Hebrews said to “lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1). The effective runner gets rid of the bulk and runs with the bare minimum.

Similarly, in the race of faith we need to strip off anything that will hold us back. Many things can weigh us down and hold us back in the Christian life: Materialism, sexual immorality, and excessive ambition are just a few that are common in our society. One of the things the writer of Hebrews probably had in mind was legalism. He was writing to a predominantly Jewish audience that struggled with that issue. They were trying to run the race with all their Jewish ceremonies, rituals, and rites. In essence, this writer said, “Get rid of all of that and run the race of faith. Live by faith, not Jewish works.”

Many Christians still live by works. They believe if they do certain things, God is obliged to keep score and say, “That’s wonderful: You went to a Bible study, had a quiet time in the Word today, did something nice for your neighbor, and went to church.” If those things are done in the overflow of one’s love for Jesus Christ as acts of devotion, that’s great. But there are many Christians who think they are meriting God’s favor that way. Instead of Jewish legalism, it’s Christian legalism.

Another weight or sin that “so easily entangles us” is doubt. A believer may strongly sense in his or her heart the truth of Philippians 4:19—“God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus”—but become filled with anxiety when financial trouble comes. When we worry, we are doubting that God can keep His promises, and that dishonors Him.

What is our protection against doubt? Paul said that above all, take “up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one” (Eph. 6:16). When Satan fires his temptations, we stop them with the shield of faith. It’s arming ourselves with an attitude that says, “Satan, you’re a big liar. Nothing you say is true, but everything God says is true, so I’m going to believe God.”

Look to Jesus

The writer of Hebrews also said we’re to be “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2). Jesus is the greatest example of faith who ever lived because He had the most to lose.

He came into the world as a man, bore the sins of the world, and died in the confidence that He would be raised by the Father and exalted once again. His act of faith remains forever unsurpassed. Our Lord Jesus Christ endured unimaginable suffering, but in believing God, He was victorious. That is why we’re to focus on Him.

The phrase “fixing our eyes on Jesus” is literally translated “looking away to Jesus.” Having the right focus is essential to completing any goal successfully. Your focal point must be beyond yourself. In fact, the sooner you take your eyes off yourself the better off you will be. When you run in a race, you shouldn’t look at your feet. You shouldn’t even look too intently at the other runners, comparing yourself too readily with other believers and jealously desire their faith or experiences.

What awaits us at the finish line of the race of faith? Joy and triumph. Jesus endured the cross “for the joy set before Him” (Heb. 12:2). For Jesus it was the joy of again being seated “at the right hand of the throne of God” (v. 2).

Ultimately, our real joy and reward as believers is to be in heaven with Christ, but here and now we can experience a great sense of triumph when we have victory over temptation. As you know, there are plenty of temptations to face. Here are some familiar voices, perhaps one being your own: “It’s not easy being a Christian. I’m ridiculed at work.… They short me on my office supplies.… My philosophy teacher attacks my beliefs in class.… My spouse makes our home life difficult.… It’s getting harder and harder to be a Christian in our society because we’re getting close to the end times.”

On that last point, more than ever I hear believers say, “We’re worried about what’s happening in the world. If things don’t change in our country real fast, we’re finished.” Christians shouldn’t live that way. We don’t live by the news; we live by faith in God.

The author of Hebrews was keenly aware that many such concerns in running the Christian marathon would plague us. Therefore, this is what he said to do: “Consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin” (Heb. 12:3–4). In other words, “I don’t see any of you bleeding. It may be a little rough at work, you may get hassled in class, and you probably won’t get preferential treatment by the government or anyone else, but you haven’t been crucified like Someone I know.”

When you start thinking it’s too tough to live the Christian life, consider One who endured such hostility that He went as far as death—and realize you haven’t gone that far yet. Having that in mind has a way of keeping your anxieties in check. When you grow weary in the race, focus that much more on Jesus. Remember that His life of faith led to joy and triumph, and yours will too.

Praise God Now

As mentioned earlier, the Christian’s joy isn’t relegated only to the future. A great part of our future will be devoted to joyfully praising God, and that’s something we can begin doing now. Proud people don’t praise God; they’re too consumed with themselves. Humble people are in awe of Him; thankful praise pours naturally from their hearts. The benefits of humility and thankful prayer join as one in praise, which in turn provides us with an awesome weapon in our growing arsenal for attacking anxious thoughts and feelings.

The Example of the Psalms

The point, as the author of Hebrews would say, is to get our focus off ourselves and onto God. Anxiety cannot survive in an environment of praise to God.

Praise is so much a part of God’s pattern for His people that He left us with a hymnbook filled with it. The Psalms are great hymns that the people of Israel sang and spoke. God wanted them—and us—to continually offer Him the praise of which He is so worthy. “It is good to give thanks to the LORD and to sing praises to Your name, O Most High; to declare Your lovingkindness in the morning and Your faithfulness by night” (Ps. 92:1–2). Praising the Lord morning and night sets the tone for our lives.

Aspects of Praise

What exactly does it mean to praise God? Some think it is singing a song. Some think it is saying, “Praise the Lord! Hallelujah!” Some think it is waving your hands in the air. Some think it is silent prayer. What is the right answer? How do we praise the Lord? According to the Bible, true praise involves two things:

Reciting God’s Attributes

One great reason to study the Old Testament is that it powerfully reveals the character of God, enabling us to praise Him better.

For example, Habakkuk praised God for His character—that He is a holy, almighty, eternal, covenant-keeping God (Hab. 1:12–13)—and that praise solved a great problem in his own heart. He didn’t understand why God was going to judge Israel by sending the evil Chaldeans to conquer them (vv. 6–11). Habakkuk wanted God to revive and restore His people, but they had overstepped the limit of His patience.

In the midst of his confusion, Habakkuk remembered this: God is holy—He doesn’t make mistakes. God is a covenant-keeping God—He doesn’t break His promises. God is eternal—He is outside the flux of history. Following his praise, Habakkuk affirmed what we have been learning throughout this chapter, that “the righteous will live by his faith” (Hab. 2:4).

He felt better even though his circumstances hadn’t changed. God did allow the Chaldeans to overrun Israel for a time, but Habakkuk knew his God was strong enough to handle any circumstances.

Instead of worrying about problems we cannot solve, we should say, “Lord, You are bigger than history. You own everything in the entire universe. You can do anything You want to do. You love me and promise I will never be without the things I need. You said You would take care of me as You take care of the birds and the flowers. You have promised that Your character and power are at my disposal.” That kind of praise glorifies God.

Reciting God’s Works

God’s attributes are displayed in His works. The Psalms are filled with lists of the great things God has done for His people. They praise Him for parting the Red Sea, making water flow from a rock, feeding His people with manna in the wilderness, destroying their enemies, making the walls of Jericho fall, and many other powerful works.

After re-evaluating his problem, Habakkuk began to praise God for His works, trembling at the power displayed in them (Hab. 3:16). He affirmed that he would rejoice in the Lord, even if everything crumbled around him (vv. 17–18). Why? Because God had proved Himself in the past. That’s why the Old Testament contains such an extensive history of God’s works—so we can know specifically how God has proved faithful.

If you have a problem facing you that you don’t know how to solve, remember to praise God. Say to Him, “Lord, You are the God who put the stars and planets into space. You are the God who formed the earth and separated the land from the sea. Then You made humanity and everything else that lives. Although humanity fell, You planned our redemption. You are the God who carved out a nation for Yourself and preserved it through history, performing wonder after wonder for that nation. You are the God who came into this world in human form and then rose from the dead.” When we praise God like that, our problems pale in comparison to all He has done.

Remembering who God is and what He has done glorifies Him and strengthens our faith. To help you do that, read through the Psalms the next time you’re tempted to worry.

DEALING WITH FEAR AND ANXIETY (PART 3)

FEAR

3

CASTING YOUR CARES ON GOD

The apostle Peter was a worrier. He worried about drowning when he was walking on water, even though Jesus was right there with him (Matt. 14:29–31). He worried about what was going to happen to Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, so he pulled out his sword and tried to take on a battalion of Roman soldiers (John 18:2–3, 10). Nevertheless, although Peter had ongoing trouble with anxiety, he learned how to deal with it. He passed this lesson on to us:

“Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:5–7)

Only from humility comes the ability to truly hand over all our cares to God.

Develop a Humble Attitude

Humility toward Others

Humility is the attitude that you are not too good to serve others and that you are not too great to handle tasks that seem below you. Humble people today get mocked and trampled on. The world calls them wimps and instead exalts the proud. Although it was no different in Peter’s day, he called us to be different.

In instructing us to put on the garment of a slave and serve others, Peter might have been thinking about his Lord. Recall the incident recorded in John 13, where Jesus “got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself. Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded” (vv. 4–5).

Since none of the disciples volunteered to take on this servant role, Jesus took on the task Himself, leaving us all with an example of humble service. We clothe ourselves with humility toward one another when we meet each other’s needs without regarding any task as being beneath us. Don’t wait for someone else to step in and do the dirty work.

Humility toward God

“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5; see also Prov. 3:34 NIV). That verse provides keen motivation for displaying humility. We will be blessed if we are humble and chastised if we are not. As we will soon see, one of those blessings is the ability to deal with anxiety.

God hates pride. According to Proverbs 6:16, “There are six things which the LORD hates, yes, seven which are an abomination to Him.” What is first on the list? “Haughty eyes” (v. 17), a visual depiction of pride. A few chapters later, wisdom personified declares, “The fear of the LORD is to hate evil; pride and arrogance and the evil way and the perverted mouth, I hate” (8:13).

God has a strong reason for hating pride so much because it is the sin that led to the fall of humanity. Pride is what prompted Lucifer to say in his heart:

“I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, and I will sit on the mount of assembly in the recesses of the north. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.” (Isa. 14:13–14)

God’s grace is reserved for the humble.

God concluded His message to Isaiah by saying, “To this one I will look, to him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word” (Isa. 66:2). He blesses the humble, and He opposes the proud. Peter’s advice is, “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time” (1 Peter 5:6). After all, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Mic. 6:8). The key is never to contest God’s wisdom but instead to accept humbly whatever God brings into your life as coming from His hand. The humble person realizes that God is in charge, always accomplishing His sovereign purposes.

Let’s look at a specific example from the book of Job. In the midst of terrible suffering, Job tragically compounded his anguish by doing what he should have learned never to do: He contested God’s wisdom, expressly resenting what the mighty hand of God had brought him. Take time to sense the raw human emotion seething under the words of his lament:

I cry out to you, O God, but you do not answer; I stand up, but you merely look at me. You turn on me ruthlessly; with the might of your hand you attack me. You snatch me up and drive me before the wind; you toss me about in the storm. I know you will bring me down to death.” (Job 30:20–23 NIV)

Here the mighty hand of God is not the hand of deliverance but of testing, acting like the refiner’s fire to make Job’s faith come out like gold. Contrary to Job’s gloomy expectations, that’s exactly what happened. Once God had humbled him, Job confessed, “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.… My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:3, 5–6 NIV). Job was saying, “God, now I see You like never before! I have learned that my perceptions are seriously limited, but now I know I can trust You implicitly.”

Never view the mighty hand of God in your life as a slap in the face; instead, see it as grounds for hope. Realize He has only good intentions toward you as His child, and therefore, expect to see good results from your present circumstances. Such an attitude leaves no steam for worry to operate on.

Peter said when you humble yourself under God’s mighty hand, “He may exalt you at the proper time” (1 Peter 5:6). What’s the proper time? His time, not our time. When will it be? When He has accomplished His purpose. Now that might seem a little vague, but there’s no cause for concern: God has perfect timing. Indeed, our salvation depended on His perfect timing. Paul specified that the hope of eternal life was “at the proper time manifested” through Jesus Christ (Titus 1:2–3). Trusting in God’s timing is no light or peripheral matter to the Christian faith.

At the proper time God will exalt us. Paul used a Greek term that speaks of lifting us out of our present trouble. God promises to lift you out. How are we to conduct ourselves until the promised time of deliverance? Peter said, “Humble yourselves … casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6–7).

Learn to Trust

Humility requires strong confidence in a caring God. I can’t humble myself under God’s pressure if I don’t think He cares. You cast your anxiety on Him when you’re able to say, however haltingly, “Lord, it’s difficult.… I’m having trouble handling this trial, but I’m giving You the whole deal because I know You care for me.” Take all your anxiety—all the discontent, discouragement, despair, questioning, pain, and suffering that you’re going through—and toss it all onto God. Trade it in for trust in God, who really cares about you.

Hannah is a great illustration of someone who did just that. She didn’t have any children, which was a significant trial for a Jewish woman in ancient times. The book of 1 Samuel tells us what she did about her problem:

“She, greatly distressed, prayed to the LORD and wept bitterly. And she made a vow and said, “O LORD of hosts, if You will indeed look on the affliction of Your maidservant and remember me, and not forget Your maidservant, but will give Your maidservant a son, then I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life.…” Now it came about, as she continued praying before the LORD, that Eli [the priest] was watching her mouth. As for Hannah, she was speaking in her heart, only her lips were moving, but her voice was not heard. So Eli thought she was drunk. Then Eli said to her, “How long will you make yourself drunk? Put away your wine from you.” But Hannah replied, “No, my lord, I am a woman oppressed in spirit; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have poured out my soul before the LORD. Do not consider your maidservant as a worthless woman; for I have spoken until now out of my great concern and provocation.” Then Eli answered and said, “Go in peace; and may the God of Israel grant your petition that you have asked of Him.” She said, “Let your maidservant find favor in your sight.” So the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad.” (1 Sam. 1:10–18)

Her circumstances hadn’t changed, but she changed when she cast her care on the Lord. Soon thereafter, God blessed her with a son, Samuel, who grew to be a great man of God. God also gave her three other sons and two daughters. Hannah is proof: When you remain humble under the mighty hand of God, giving Him all your anxiety on His loving care, He will exalt you in due time.

Always remember Psalm 55:22: “Cast your burden upon the LORD and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken.” Now that doesn’t mean we won’t feel shaky at times. Think how Hannah felt when the priest accused her of being drunk. Sometimes when we’re bearing burdens that in themselves seem too great to bear, people treat us insensitively and heap more burdens on us. But, like Hannah, we can be gracious about it and find relief through prayer to the God who does care.

What will that attitude of trust look like when dealing with fear and anxiety?

As mentioned, Peter wrote: “Casting all of your care upon Him for He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). Then, make your plans and go ahead and do whatever God holds you responsible for doing. Fill your mind with concern for the other persons toward whom you are expressing love and how you will do so, in whatever you are doing.