Good News for the Anxious? Part IV of IV.

The apostle Paul, writing to “all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi”, said the following:

Rejoice in the Lord always.  I will say it again: Rejoice!  Let your gentleness be evident to all.  The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  (NIV, Philippians 4:4-7)

The rather tired Bible you may sometimes see me carrying around is a Bible I bought from a bookstore in Bryan, TX when I was about 20 years old.  It was a period in my life in which I was, as they say, “lost”. But I must have also, in addition to being “lost”, been “searching” because I found myself in a book store one evening purchasing a brand new (though, now tired) NIV Study Bible.  (I charged the purchase to my parents credit card, sooooo thanks Mom and Dad!)

When God began to really work in me a few years later, it was this Bible that I pulled off of my shelf.

And when I decided to read the Bible from “cover to cover” a few years after that, it was this Bible that I sat with day after day.

It took me a few months but I finally got to Philippians.  Chapter 4, verses 4 through 7, must have jumped out at me because I underlined them.  I can recall at the time being further impacted by the footnotes within my study Bible in relation to these verses.  Today, I see that I underlined these, too.  They read:

4:6anxious.  Self-centered, counterproductive worry, not legitimate cares and concerns for the spread of the gospel (see 2:28 and note; 2Co 11:28; see also Mt 6:25-31; 1Pe 5:7).  in everything, by prayer.  Anxiety and prayer are two great opposing forces in Christian experience.  thanksgiving.  The antidote to worry (along with prayer and petition).

4:7peace of God.  Not merely a psychological state of mind, but an inner tranquility based on peace with God – the peaceful state of those whose sins are forgiven (cf. Jn 14:27; Ro 5:1 and note).  The opposite of anxiety, it is the tranquility that comes when believers commit all their cares to God in prayer and worry about them no more.

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Good News for the Anxious? Part III of IV.

The following is an excerpt from a sermon delivered in Germany by Helmut Thielicke.  It was preached sometime during “the extraordinary years of 1942-1951.”  The sermon was titled, “I Am Not Alone with My Anxiety”. Mr. Thielicke concluded his message as follows.  

The surprising thing in the biblical message is that it finds in love the opposite of fear and anxiety. There is no terror – one might equally well say anxiety – in love, we are told in 1 John.

The surprising thing is that anxiety is not opposed by fortitude, courage or heroism, as one might expect. These are simply anxiety suppressed, not conquered.

The positive force which defeats anxiety is love.

What this means can be understood only when we have tackled anxiety in what we have tried to see as its final root. That is to say, anxiety is a broken bond and love is the bond restored.

Once we know in Christ that the world has a fatherly basis and that we are loved, we lose our anxiety. This is not because the powers referred to have gone. But they have lost their strength. To use a simple comparison – and simplicity is needed in ultimate questions – I need have no fear even in the darkest forest when I hold my father’s hand and I am sure of it.

Christ himself faces the constricting riddles of life. According to the oldest record, His final word on the cross is the anxious cry: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me.” It is characteristic, however, that He does not address this cry of despair into the night of Golgotha. He calls to His Father: “My God, my God.” He holds the Father’s hand firm in His own. He brings the anxiety to His Father. He has brought it once and for all. If I am anxious, and I know Christ, I may rest assured that I am not alone with my anxiety; He has suffered it for me.

The believer can also know that Christ is the goal of history. The primitive community knows that this One has not gone for ever, but will come again. It thus has a new relationship to the future. This is no longer a mist-covered landscape into which I peer anxiously because of the sinister events which will there befall me. Everything is now different. We do not know what will come. But we know who will come. And if the last hour belongs to us, we do not need to fear the next minute.

Good News for the Anxious? Part II of IV.

The question before the house (from the recent post, Good News for the Anxious? Part I of IV) goes something like this: what is the good news of the gospel for those who are anxious. Does Jesus speak a word to the anxiety of our day? If so, what?

I hope you will spend some time, if you haven’t already, thinking about this.

I also hope you will find a way to share your thoughts with me and others. Perhaps in the comment section of this blog?

Either way, in parts II, III & IV of this blog post, I want to share with you three unique responses to our current line of inquiry.

First. My own reflection.

The passage of Scripture I and many others first think of when thinking of anxiety is Chapter 6 of Matthew. It is part of Jesus’ sermon on the mount.

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t there more to life than food and more to the body than clothing?

Look at the birds in the sky: They do not sow, or reap, or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you more valuable than they are?

And which of you by worrying can add even one hour to his life?

Why do you worry about clothing? Think about how the flowers of the field grow; they do not work or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his glory was clothed like one of these! And if this is how God clothes the wild grass, which is here today and tomorrow is tossed into the fire to heat the oven, won’t he clothe you even more, you people of little faith?

So then, don’t worry saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For the unconverted pursue these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. (NET, Matthew 6:25-32.)

What do you hear Jesus saying?

I hear a few assurances and a command. Life is about more than just staying alive, Jesus is saying. Worrying about the future accomplishes nothing. Plus, God cares even more about you and me than the birds of the sky and the flowers of the field, and look how well the Father provides for them! So, do not worry!

If I’m being honest, at times, these words from Jesus remind me a bit of a comedy sketch with Bob Newhart.

I don’t want to downplay the assurances Christ offers. Truly, it is no small thing for the Son of God to remind us that the God of the universe cares for us. But, when I’m anxious, and I read this passage, I can’t help but feel like I’m sitting across from Bob Newhart being told to just “Stop it!”.

“I would if I could,” I want to yell back.

Fortunately, unlike Mr. Newhart, Jesus says more than this.  He goes on.

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (NIV, Matthew 6:33-34)

“Don’t worry,” Jesus says. “But, instead, seek the kingdom of God; seek it and seek it first.

It is this word which has been good news for me recently in the midst of my own anxiety.

Those who seek, they will find, Jesus says only a little while later in Matthew 7:7. Seek the kingdom of God and, indeed, the kingdom of God is what you will find.

But there is more. Not only does kingdom seeking result in kingdom finding (7:7), Jesus also promises (6:33-34) that kingdom seeking will result in (a) the meeting of our most basic needs, (b) the proper ordering of our lives, and (c) the lessening, if not elimination, of our anxieties.

Surely this is good news for the anxious.  I know that is how I have received it.

I was recently reminded of something C.S. Lewis said:

Aim at heaven and you will get the earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you will get neither.

Aiming at heaven and getting earth thrown in seems somewhat akin to seeking first the kingdom of God and having all the rest added.

As has always been the case, today, one can choose to live in any number of  kingdoms (put another way: today, one may allow any number of kingdoms to grow within them). There is the professional kingdom ruled by the dollar and/or recognition or promotion, the political kingdom ruled by influence and power, the on-line kingdom ruled by “likes”, “followers”, relevance and immediacy, plus many others.

However, as far as I can tell, the kingdom of God remains the only truly sovereign kingdom.  All others seem to me to be mere vassal states; that is, kingdoms which do not ultimately rule themselves, but rather are subordinate, or submissive, to another, outside kingdom or ruler.  That foreign ruler, today, is often anxiety.

If the choice is mine, I choose citizenship in the kingdom of God… a kingdom which stands as master over instead of mastered by anxiety… the one kingdom in which the king’s yoke is easy, and his burden is light. (Matthew 11:30)

Are we anxious because we find ourselves seeking the wrong thing first (i.e. not the kingdom of God)?

If I am anxious, does this necessarily mean I have been seeking first something other than the kingdom of God?

If you are like me, your typical response to anxiety is to work. Work harder. Work more. Work better. Make a to-do list and start knocking it out. But, again, if you are like me, this only gets you so far, for, it serves to bury anxiety, not eliminate it.

Seeking first the kingdom of God, however, is different… at least, according to Jesus.

According to Jesus, the kingdom of God is effective. “And all these things will be given to you as well.”

What would happen if we took Jesus at his word? What if doing more, i.e., seeking to accomplish, was no longer my response to my anxiety? What if instead of seeking to accomplish, I sought the kingdom of God, and I sought it first?

Good News for the anxious? Part I of IV.

How would you complete the following sentence:

Life is _________.

I would say, “good”, with the immediate qualifier, “But it is also really hard!”

A couple of weeks ago I spent some time with Grace Strohmeier; she is out of the hospital and looking good!  I asked Grace how she might complete the above sentence.  Her response was almost exactly the same as mine, just in reverse.  “I think I would say, ‘hard’”, she began, “But it is also really good!”, she then added immediately.

This captures one of life’s basic realities, does it not?

Life is good.

Life is hard.

In a poll conducted roughly sixty years ago, a group of young adults were asked, “What is your basic reaction to life?”  Sixty percent responded, “Anxiety.”

That’s an epidemic!

I wonder if maybe life today is so hard for us precisely because it incites so much anxiety in us.

Helmut Thielicke called anxiety “the secret wound of modern man”.  Again, this was some sixty years ago.  Are things much different now?

Anxiety lives among us like a plague, widespread and fatal.  Though we may not personally suffer from an anxiety disorder, per se, anxiety is nonetheless a frequent guest in our home, so to speak, if not a permanent resident.

Anxiety can plague a life from within as well as from without.  That is to say, the anxiety present in our life is not always our own.  Often, it is that of others.  We all know how the anxious presence of another can be contagious.  Or, at the very least, wearisome.  We might say things like, “Oh my goodness, so-and-so is so high-strung!  It is absolutely exhausting!”

On the other hand, having an anxious person in your life might also be the very reason you are not anxious.  I have personally found this to be true in marriage.  Jenn and I are hardly ever anxious at the same time.  We seem to take turns.  Someone, after all, has to keep it together!

Ultimately, I believe anxiety effects us all, one way or another.  And so, for all our sakes, I want to name the anxiety I see and hear among us.

Retirement makes us anxious.  Whether because we are being forced into it and are worried we haven’t saved enough money, or because we recently realized we may never get there… either way, retirement makes us anxious.

Health – both our own and that of others – makes us anxious.  Hips have to be replaced, gallbladders removed, and stones blasted.  We have alzheimers, depression, multiple sclerosis, diabetes and cancer.  Either we or the ones we love.

Work makes us anxious.  Whether we currently have a job or not, “employment” causes us a great deal of anxiety.  Many of us feel like we are “drowning” in work.  Many of the rest wish we had just a little bit of work to drown in.  We ask ourselves, “What happens if I lose this source of income?” or “What happens if I don’t find another source of income soon?”  These are serious questions.

Finances make us anxious.  The cost of living seems to be one of the more significant causes of death – at least in Illinois!  We save and invest, but we are not certain our investments are entirely secure.  Cars break down, furnaces need replacing, and the roof needs work.  And so we have to dip into our savings… assuming we have savings!

Being both parents to our children and children to our parents makes us anxious.

The future of Heritage makes us anxious.  We see people move away.  We see ourselves growing older.

Life is anxiety producing, and for that reason, hard.

In the same sermon in which he pronounced anxiety “the secret wound of modern man”, Helmut Thielicke also said the following:

Perhaps it is a fatal onesidedness of Christian churches that they see Christ only in the context of victory over guilt, of forgiveness and justification.  Rightly or wrongly, many men think that this reveals a failure to understand their deepest problems.

One would expect the gospel to have something to say to the wound of modernity, if indeed anxiety is such a wound.  Jesus has won victory for me over sin and judgment, true.  However, has he left me alone with my anxiety?  Or does the gospel have something to say to this, too?

What happens when we as the Christian church seek to see Christ in the context of victory over anxiety?

What does the good news of Jesus Christ have to say to an anxious world?

Again, Jesus stands victorious over sin and death, and this is no small thing! But having defeated such mighty foes, is he now struck dumb in face of anxiety?

What will you proclaim – and proclaim as the word of Jesus – to the next brother or sister you encounter who is suffering from anxiety?

[I have a few thoughts of my own, as you can imagine, however, I think I will share them as three separate posts so that you can think about your own answers before reading what I and/or others have to say.]