Is it Anxiety or Responsibility?
Dad's stressing over money again!
I used to get that from my kids. What were they observing? "A man being responsible with the family budget," say I. Which is it?
Nothing stresses a person out so much as money. Those who have a lot of it worry about keeping it. Those who have little worry about getting it. I don't know anyone who isn't a little worried about money, both at the personal and the national level. You cannot read a paper or turn on the TV without seeing something about the impending fiscal cliff.
Then there are the Joel Osteens of the world who tell you that a little more faith will wipe away all your anxieties about money and health and whatever else stresses you. It is well known that there's a physiological component to anxiety, though in my opinion, it is over emphasized. Thus we look to pills and interminable therapy for relief.
The world's answer
Back to the Book
The most useful text on this subject is Philippians 4:4-7 "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, 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 understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."
That settles it, right? Except for this. In I Corinthians, the same biblical author, Paul, presents a long list of hardships he had endured ending with the following. "And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches." (I Cor.11:28)
The same inspired author who teaches us to be anxious about nothing admits to being anxious about the churches he serves. One could conclude that Paul was just being transparent about his own struggles. After all, this is the man who acknowledged to Timothy that he was the foremost of sinners. (I Timothy 1:15) Confused? Now hear this. "Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ." Yep, that was Paul.
So we're not to stress over anything, but imitate one who freely admitted to being anxious. This is when some are tempted to put down their Bibles and look elsewhere for relief from anxiety. And there are plenty of candidates offering to do just that: health and wealth preachers, drugs, yoga, exercise, music, mentors. Each is a classic seducer, offering a tiny bit of relief based on a partial truth, while pulling you deeper into the abyss.
The Lord is at hand
We'd like a solution that includes some fail-safe action. We'd perform it and enjoy the outcome: relief, peace, serenity, etc. But that's a false comfort, because what we're really enjoying is the satisfaction of whipping the demon inside. But have we really licked him? Can't really be sure. There again, anxiety stares us in the face.
But suppose One who owns the cattle on a thousand hills and who is the giver and sustainer of life were your friend and present at all times. Would that put anxiety to flight? Methinks so. This is exactly what the gospel offers. The believer can count on God's being his friend, for Christ has reconciled him to the Father by his death on the cross. God's covenant promise is that He will walk among his people. This was confirmed by God the Son when he assured his disciples, "Behold I am with you always."
Now we're on track
With the presence of God in your life established by Christ, not you, you are in a position to face anxiety. How? You crowd the beast out. Paul started this section with an enthusiastic call to rejoice and be thankful. With the Lord at hand your eyes are opened to features of your life you'd never noticed or appreciated before. Say what? You begin to see that delay is part of God's purpose to include you in his grand plan. You realize that suffering has a clear and good purpose. You wonder in amazement at the grand design God has for this world. In light of what God's presence opens up to you, what made you anxious recedes into the background. It looses its power to control your thoughts and attitudes.
No plastic smiles
Unless you're careful the enemy will turn your thanksgiving into another anxiety producer. How? By getting to think of it as an attitude-adjusting formula that works on demand, rather that a grateful lifestyle which courageously faces the demons. That's why Paul also counseled, "Let your reasonableness be evident to all. " This speaks of rational observation and analysis. You think through the issues that bother you in the presence of the Lord who is at hand. Isn't that prayer? David the psalmist did this often. Many of psalms start off with an expression of anxiety and wind up praising the Lord. Psalm 35 comes to mind where David struggles with vicious enemies and unreliable friends.
Reasonable yes, but still passing all understanding
As you reason with the God who is at hand about your fears and stresses something happens that is beyond rationality. You discover a "peace that passes all understanding." In other words, God does more than your mere reasoning with him produces. There's a spiritual synergy that brings about an experience of peace that cannot be explained rationally. It is God saying, "I'm here, it'll work out, stay tuned."
What worries me
When David wrote those psalms he didn't go from anxiety to peace and joy in an instant. The psalms show that the man has struggled and continues to struggle, but his peace rests in the presence of God, not an immediate outcome.
So these are the anxieties I'm engaging God about. Sometimes there's a sweet calm over them but other times I toss around in bed. I don't worry about death at all, but how I will die often gives me the shivers. Money? Sure, but somehow all the bills are paid. I used to reason, "If I have the money we do it or get it; if not we don't." That's a shortcut, not true faith. I now ask, "Is it the right thing to do or to get?" If it's right we do it and look to the Lord to provide.
OK, what else. I'm anxious over where people I love will spend eternity. I stress when my kids are hurting. I'm anxious over the church and, in particular, over the isolation and persecution that is certain to come to God's people. Old age gives me the jitters. How long will my body obey me when I tell it to get up at 2:30 a.m. to be at work? Who will care for me when I get old and drooly?
See? I'm not some sort of spiritual hero. My Savior doesn't expect me to be. He's at hand and we are working things out. And often, there's a peace that passes all understanding.