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 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 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.

DEALING WITH FEAR AND ANXIETY (PART 1)

FEAR

INTRODUCTION

Anxiety, fear, worry, and stress are familiar words in our day and familiar experiences to many. More and more we’re hearing of an extreme form of anxiety referred to as a “panic attack.” Anxiety is, at its core, an inappropriate response to circumstances.

The wrong way to handle the stresses of life is to worry about them. Jesus said three times, “Do not be anxious” (see Matt. 6:25, 31, 34). Paul later reiterated, “Be anxious for nothing” (Phil. 4:6). Worry at any time is a sin because it violates the clear biblical command.

Such thoughts are unproductive, and they end up controlling us. That brings on legitimate feelings of guilt. If we don’t deal with those feelings in a productive manner by getting back on track with our duties in life, we’ll lose hope instead of finding answers. When left unresolved, anxiety can debilitate one’s mind and body—and even lead to panic attacks.

You need to be careful how you deal with your worries and to also discern the kind of counsel you receive. To tackle anxiety in a biblical fashion, first we need to know the primary Scripture passages on the topic. Then we need to consider those passages in their context.

As we realign our thinking on anxiety with what God says about it in His Word and why, we will be different people. We will be ready to apply His precious Word to our hearts. We won’t just know we’re not to worry; we will have confidence and success in doing something about it.

1 – OBSERVING HOW GOD CARES FOR YOU

In Matthew 6:25–34 Jesus directly addressed the topic of worry, telling us what to do about it and why. Jesus said we need to take a good look around us and observe or think deeply about the meaning behind what we see. This is what Jesus told us to ponder if we want to be free from worry:

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

Expressions of Worry

We all have to admit that worry is a common temptation in life, and it can occupy a person’s thoughts for a great portion of the day. The Christian who worries is really thinking, God, I know You mean well by what You say, but I’m not sure You can pull it off. Anxiety is blatant distrust of the power and love of God.

We’re not much different from the people to whom Jesus spoke. They worried about what they were going to eat, drink, and wear. And if you want to legitimize your worry, what better way than to think, Well, after all, I’m not worrying about extravagant things; I’m just worrying about the basics. But even that is forbidden for the Christian.

God wants His children preoccupied with Him, not with the mundane, passing things of this world. Scripture says, “Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2). To free us to do that God says, “Don’t worry about the basics. I’ll take care of that.” Fully trusting our heavenly Father dispels anxiety. And the more we know about Him, the more we will trust Him. God promised to provide all your needs, and He will: “My God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19). That is His concern, not yours.

Believers are commanded to be financially responsible and care for their families (1 Tim. 5:8). Scripture does not imply that having a savings account, investing extra money, or owning insurance shows a lack of trust in God. Such provisions from the Lord are reasonable safeguards for the average person in any complex, modern society. However, they ought to be balanced with Jesus’ command to “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness” (Matt. 6:33) and to “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (v. 20 KJV).

What Jesus Said about Worry

Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:21). Focusing on earthly treasures produces earthly affections. It blinds our spiritual vision and draws us away from serving God. That’s why God promises to provide what we need.

As children of God we have a single goal—treasure in heaven; a single vision —God’s purposes; and a single Master—God, not money (Matt. 6:19–24). Therefore, we must not let ourselves become preoccupied with the mundane things of this world—“what [we] will eat or what [we] will drink” (v. 25).

Jesus then asked rhetorically, “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (v. 25). Of course it is, but you wouldn’t know it judging by what’s advertised today and what people seem to feel they need to be pursuing.

Why He Said It

Jesus gave us, His children, three reasons for not worrying about this life:

  1. Worry Is Unnecessary because of Our Father

If your concept of God is right and you see Him as Owner, Controller, and Provider, and beyond that as your loving Father, then you know you have nothing to worry about. Jesus said, “What man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!” (Matt. 7:9–11).

Since all things come under God’s control, rest assured He controls those things on behalf of His children.

God Always Feeds His Creatures

In Matthew 6:26 Jesus said, “Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?”

Jesus wants us to think about birds. They have no self-consciousness or ability to reason, but God has planted within them the instinct or divine capacity to find what is necessary to live. God doesn’t just create life; He also sustains life.

Now that isn’t an excuse for idleness. Perhaps you’ve noticed: It never rains worms! God feeds birds through the instinct that tells them where to find food. They work hard for it. They’re always busy searching, gobbling up little insects, migrating with the seasons, preparing their nests, caring for their young, then teaching them to fly and pushing them out of the nest at the right time, and so on.

Not even in your strangest dream would a bird say, “I’m going to build bigger nests. I’m going to store more worms. I’m going to say to myself.” Birds work within the framework of God’s design and never overindulge themselves.

Birds have no reason to worry, and if they don’t, what are you worrying for? Jesus put it this way: “Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows” (Matt. 10:29–31).

If God sustains the life of a bird, don’t you think He will take care of you? Life is a gift from God. If God gives you the greater gift of life itself, don’t you think He will give you the lesser gift of sustaining that life? Of course He will, so don’t worry about it.

Keep in mind, of course, that like a bird, we have to work because God has designed that people should earn their bread by the sweat of their brows (Gen. 3:19). If we don’t work, it is not fitting that we eat (2 Thess. 3:10). Just as God provides for the birds through their instinct, so God provides for people through their efforts.

  1. Worry Is Unable to Accomplish Anything Productive

Jesus gave another practical observation that highlights the folly of worry: “Who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?” (Matt. 6:27).

Not only will you not lengthen your life by worrying, but you will probably shorten it, as the observation was made that worry adversely affects the circulatory system, heart, glands, and entire nervous system.

We live in a day when people have an excessive interest in vitamins, health spas, diet, and exercise. God, however, has previously determined how long we shall live. Job 14:5 says of man, “His days are determined, the number of his months is with You; and his limits You have set so that he cannot pass.” To worry about how long you are going to live and how to add years onto your life is to distrust God. If you give Him your life and are obedient to Him, He will give you the fullness of days. You will experience life to the fullest when you live it to the glory of God.

God Clothes Even the Meadows in Splendor

Jesus gave another illustration from nature on why not to worry: “Why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith!” (Matt. 6:28–30).

For some people, the most important place in their whole world is the closet. Instead of being afraid they won’t have anything to wear, they fear not being able to look their best! Lusting after costly clothes is a common sin in our society.

“Your adornment must not be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God” (1 Peter 3:3–4).

If you want to talk about fancy clothing, though, Jesus said that the best this world has to offer doesn’t even compare to “the lilies of the field” (Matt. 6:28). “They do not toil nor do they spin” (v. 28). If you’ve ever taken a good look at a flower, you know there is a texture, form, design, substance, and color that man with all his ingenuity cannot come close to duplicating.

Jesus said, “if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you?” (Matt. 6:30). Wildflowers have a very short life span. A God who would lavish such beauty on temporary fire fodder certainly will provide the necessary clothing for His eternal children.

If you worry, what kind of faith do you manifest? “Little faith,” according to Jesus (Matt. 6:30). If you are a child of God, you by definition have a heavenly Father. To act like you don’t, nervously asking, “What will I eat? What will I drink? With what will I clothe myself?” is to act like an unbeliever in God’s eyes (see vv. 31–32).

Christians who worry believe God can redeem them, break the shackles of Satan, take them from hell to heaven, put them into His kingdom, and give them eternal life; but they just don’t think He can get them through the next couple of days. That is pretty ridiculous. We can believe God for the greater gift and then stumble and not believe Him for the lesser one.

The Worrier Strikes Out at God

When you worry, you are saying in effect, “God, I just don’t think I can trust You.” Worry strikes a blow at the person and character of God.

The Worrier Disbelieves Scripture

It is incongruous to say how much we believe the Bible and then worry about God fulfilling what He says in it.

The Worrier Is Mastered by Circumstances

When you or I worry, we are choosing to be mastered by our circumstances instead of by the truth of God. The hardships and trials of life are pale in comparison to the greatness of our salvation. Jesus wants us to realize it doesn’t make sense to believe God can save us from eternal hell but not help us in the practical matters of life.

The Worrier Distrusts God

When we worry, we are not trusting our heavenly Father. That means we don’t know Him well enough. Study the Word of God to find out who He really is and how He has supplied the needs of His people in the past. That will build confidence for the future. Stay fresh in the Word every day so that God is in your mind. Otherwise Satan is apt to move into the vacuum and tempt you to worry about something. Instead, let God’s track record in Scripture and in your own life assure you that worry is needless because of God’s bounty, senseless because of God’s promise, useless because of its impotence to do anything productive, and faithless because it is characteristic of unbelievers.

  1. Worry Is Unwise because of Our Future

Jesus said, “So do not worry for tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matt. 6:34). He was saying, “Don’t worry about the future. Even though it will have its share of problems, they have a way of working themselves out at the time. Just deal with them as they come, for there’s no way to solve them in advance.” Providing for tomorrow is good, but worrying about tomorrow is a sin because God is the God of tomorrow just as He is the God of today. Lamentations 3:23 tells us His mercies “are new every morning.” He feeds us as He fed the children of Israel—with just enough manna for the day.

Worry paralyzes its victim, making him or her too upset to accomplish anything productive. It will seek to do that to you by taking you mentally into tomorrow until you find something to worry about. Refuse to go along for the ride. The Lord said you have enough to deal with today. Apply today’s resources to today’s needs or you will lose today’s joy.

God gives you the glorious gift of life today; live in the light and full joy of that day, using the resources God supplies. Don’t push yourself into the future and forfeit the day’s joy over some tomorrow that may never happen. Today is all you really have, for God permits none of us to live in tomorrow until it turns into today.

Realize God gives you strength one day at a time. He gives you what you need when you need it. He doesn’t encumber you with excess baggage. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8). That means He will be doing the same thing tomorrow that He was doing yesterday. If you have any question about the future, look at the past. Did He sustain you then? He will sustain you in the future.

Replacing Worry with the Right Focus

This is what Jesus says to you today: “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:33). In other words, move your thoughts up to the divine level, and God will take care of all your physical needs. God wants to free His children from being preoccupied with the mundane. Colossians 3:2 says as directly as possible, “Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.” Therefore a materialistic Christian is a contradiction in terms.

When the world sees those virtues in your life instead of worry, it’s evidence that the kingdom of God is there. You can say, “I want to tell people about Jesus so they can be saved,” but if your life is marked by anxiety and fear, they will not believe you have anything they want. They are certainly going to question the power of God. Perhaps you already are painfully aware of your less-than-perfect testimony.

We as believers don’t need to do that. Our Lord “gives grace and glory; no good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Ps. 84:11).