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 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.

DEALING WITH FEAR AND ANXIETY (PART 2)

FEAR

2

AVOIDING ANXIETY THROUGH PRAYER

Philippians 4 provides the apostle Paul’s advice on how to avoid anxiety. It is the most comprehensive portion of Scripture dealing with anxiety and therefore is foundational to understand how God feels about anxiety and why He feels that way. In Philippians 4:6–9, Paul issued a series of commands:

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”

The best way to eliminate a bad habit is to replace it with a good one, and few habits are as bad as worrying. The foremost way to avoid anxiety is through prayer. Right thinking and action are the next logical steps, but it all begins with prayer.

React to Problems with Thankful Prayer

Instead of praying to God with feelings of doubt, discouragement, or discontent, we are to approach Him with a thankful attitude before we utter even one word. We can only do that with sincerity when we realize that God promises not to allow anything to happen to us that will be too much for us to bear (1 Cor. 10:13), to work out everything for our good in the end (Rom. 8:28), and to “perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish” us in the midst of our suffering (1 Peter 5:10).

Know that all your difficulties are within God’s purpose and thank Him for His available power and promises. Being thankful will release you from fear and worry. There are so many blessings to be thankful for: knowing that God will supply all our needs (Phil. 4:19), that He stays closely in touch with our lives (Ps. 139:3), that He cares about us (1 Peter 5:7), that all power belongs to Him (Ps. 62:11), that He is making us more and more like Christ (Rom. 8:29; Phil. 1:6), and that no detail escapes Him (Ps. 147:5).

That’s the promise of Philippians 4:7: “The peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” This precious verse promises inner calm and tranquillity to believers who pray with a thankful attitude. Notice, however, it doesn’t promise what the answer to our prayers will be.

The real challenge of Christian living is not to eliminate every uncomfortable circumstance from our lives, but to trust our sovereign, wise, good, and powerful God in the midst of every situation. Things that might trouble us can actually be sources of strength, not weakness.

Jesus said to His disciples, “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation but take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). As disciples of Christ, we need to accept the fact that we live in an imperfect world and allow God to do His perfect work in us. Our Lord will give us His peace as we confidently entrust ourselves to His care. The peace of God “will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:7).

The believer who doesn’t live in the confidence of God’s sovereignty will lack God’s peace and be left to the chaos of a troubled heart. But our confident trust in the Lord will allow us to thank Him in the midst of trials because we have God’s peace on duty to protect our hearts.

Focus on Godly Virtues

Prayer is our chief means of avoiding anxiety. After Paul said not to be anxious (Phil. 4:6), he added two complete sentences specifying how we’re to pray and what the benefits will be. Philippians 4 is often oversimplified and misrepresented as a mere grocery list on how to deal with worry, but it is much more than that. As believers, we’re to leave the sin of worry behind with our prayers and gradually become different people through new ways of thinking and acting.

Paul wrote these words: “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things” (Phil. 4:8). We are the products of our thinking. According to Proverbs 23:7, “As [a person] thinks within himself, so he is.” Unfortunately, many psychologists believe an individual can find stability by recalling his past sins, hurts, and abuses. That kind of thinking has infiltrated Christianity. The apostle Paul, however, said to focus only on what is right and honorable, not on the sins of darkness (see Eph. 5:12).

How We Think

Now let’s survey what Scripture says about our thinking patterns before, at, and after salvation.

Describing unredeemed humanity, Paul wrote: “As they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind” (Rom. 1:28). Once, our minds were corrupt. Worse, our minds were also blind, for “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving” (2 Cor. 4:4). As a result, our minds were engaged in futile thoughts (Eph. 4:17). Indeed, prior to salvation, people’s minds are “darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them” (v. 18).

The ability to think clearly and correctly is a blessing from God. It all begins with the gospel, which is “the power of God for salvation” (Rom. 1:16). The Lord uses the gospel to illumine the mind of the unbeliever. Salvation begins in the mind as an individual comes to realize the seriousness of sin and Christ’s atoning work on his or her behalf. The Holy Spirit is at work in us, renewing us; and we receive a new mind or way of thinking. Divine and supernatural thoughts inject our human thought patterns.

“The thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God,” said Paul, but we as believers “have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we may know the things freely given to us by God” (1 Cor. 2:11– 12). In other words, because the Holy Spirit indwells us, the very thoughts of God are available to us.

The Bible is full of logic, and we must never think of faith as something purely mystical. We do not just sit down in an armchair and expect marvelous things to happen to us. That is not Christian faith. Christian faith is essentially about thinking. Look at the birds, think about them, and draw your deductions. Look at the grass, look at the lilies of the field, consider them.… The trouble with the person of little faith is that, instead of controlling his own thought, his thought is being controlled by something else, and he goes round and round in circles. Some people assume worry is the result of too much thinking. Actually, it’s the result of too little thinking in the right direction. If you know who God is and understand His purposes, promises, and plans, it will help you not to worry.

Faith isn’t psychological self-hypnosis or wishful thinking, but a reasoned response to revealed truth. When we in faith embrace Christ as our Lord and Savior, our minds are transformed.

Since we still live in a fallen world, however, our renewed minds need ongoing cleansing and refreshment. Jesus said that God’s chief agent for purifying our thinking is His Word (John 15:3). Paul reiterated that concept many times:

  • Romans 12:1–2: “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”
  • Ephesians 4:23: “Be renewed in the spirit of your mind.”
  • Colossians 3:10: “Put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him.”

The New Testament calls us to the mental discipline of right thinking. Paul said, “Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2). In addition, Peter said, “Prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:13).

What We Should Think About

What is that right focus? Dwelling on “whatever is true … honorable … right … pure … lovely … of good repute” (Phil. 4:8).

Truthful Things – We will find what is true in God’s Word. Jesus said, “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth” (John 17:17; see also Ps. 119:151). The truth is also in Christ Himself, “just as truth is in Jesus,” said Paul (Eph. 4:21). Dwelling on what is true necessitates meditating on God’s Word and “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of [our] faith” (Heb. 12:2).

Noble Things –  We are to dwell on whatever is worthy of awe and adoration—the sacred as opposed to the profane.

Righteous Things The term “right” speaks of righteousness. Our thoughts are to be in perfect harmony with the eternal, unchanging, divine standard of our Holy God as revealed in Scripture. Right thinking is always consistent with God’s absolute holiness.

Pure Things – “Pure” refers to something morally clean and undefiled. We are to dwell on what is clean, not soiled.

Gracious Things – The Greek term translated “lovely” occurs only here in the New Testament and means “pleasing” or “amiable.” The implication is that we are to focus on whatever is kind or gracious.

Praiseworthy Things – “Honorable” predominantly refers to something worthy of veneration by believers, but “good repute” refers more to what is reputable in the world at large. This term includes universally praised virtues such as courage and respect for others.

Whenever you catch your mind wandering back into the forbidden territory (and you can be sure that it will—more frequently at first, until you retrain and discipline it), change the direction of your thought. Instead, crisply ask God to help you to refocus upon those things that fit into Paul’s list recorded in Philippians 4:8–9.

Practice What’s Been Preached

All this godly thinking is to lead to a practical end. Paul put it this way: “The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Phil. 4:9).

Paul’s words speak of action that’s repetitious or continuous working to improve our skill. God’s Word cultivates the godly attitudes, thoughts, and actions that will keep trials and temptations from overwhelming us.

Right attitudes and thoughts must precede right practices. Only spiritual weapons will help in our warfare against the flesh (2 Cor. 10:4). By avoiding anxiety through prayer and making other such attitude adjustments, we can take “every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (v. 5).

Finally, “the God of peace will be with you” (Phil. 4:9), said Paul, who ended on this note because he was addressing the issue of spiritual stability in the midst of trialsWhen we follow that practice, “the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard [our] hearts and … minds in Christ Jesus” (v. 7). There’s no better protection from worry than that.