Putting Anxiety in its Place

May 16, 2014 § 2 Comments

As my own anxieties are uncovered lately, I’ve been trying to uncover what really makes me worry, aside from the circumstances of life that at times can seem very heavy. What exactly puts me in a position where I feel I must worry about them? This thinking has resulted in the discovery that, for me, my thinking informs and dictates my emotional response to life’s trials.

Chewed Pencil with path

There’s a lot to be said about the important roles of both your head and your heart and the connection between the two. But what has really helped me is the understanding that what I feel ultimately comes from what I think, so what I think about a situation critically determines whether I will worry about it or not.

Living as a Christian, I have a responsibility to think differently about anxiety than the world does. The world shares certain Biblical principals about anxiety, such as the wisdom of Jesus in Matthew 6:25/Luke 12:25, asking, “who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?” In a practical sense, worrying never helps anything, and most people can get their minds around this.

But what the world does not readily consider is the role of God Himself plays in our anxiety. We have promises in Scripture that speak directly to our worries: The Psalmist wrote “Cast your cares on the Lord and He will sustain you…” (Psalm 55:22), and Peter later taught believers to Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7)

Considering that God wants us to trust Him with our anxieties, I have to humbly consider that my anxious self is not giving Him my trust. Maybe it’s because I don’t feel His presence at times. And if I don’t “feel” God, I need to examine how I “think” about Him. He hasn’t gone away and I know this. If I get my thinking right, I can let what I know about God’s control over this world direct how I feel about my control over the world. If we know God is there and cares about us, that should steer our emotions. If our mind is preoccupied with God and less on our own problems, our attention will be on God and how He promises to deal with our problems.

That’s what we can know about God, but what can we know about our anxieties?  “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) Jesus promises we will have trouble in this world, but thank God, they are isolated and temporary. We only deal with them “in this world,” a natural world reeling from the corruptive effects of Adam’s sin, effects that are both physical and mental. There will be no trouble in the next world for those who claim Christ as Lord, so take heart. God is bigger than whatever you are facing. Our anxieties will not win; they lie in defeat at the foot of the cross. “Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (See the rest of 2 Corinthians 4).

Garden_called_Gethsemane_Wallpaper_gs7a2We don’t ignore our problems, but can look at them through God’s eternal lens. This doesn’t mean we completely detach our emotions from responding to the present reality of trouble. God doesn’t even appear to do that. The man Jesus knew anxiety, revealed in His appeal to the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane on the eve of His crucifixion: “’Father, if You are willing, take this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.’ An angel from heaven appeared to Him and strengthened Him. And being in anguish, He prayed more earnestly, and His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” (Luke 22:42-44)

Sweat blood lately? The stress Jesus felt was real, but even more real was the knowledge that His Father’s will in saving us from all that is wrong in the world must be done. His anguish and death would, after all, make life and peace available to us all.

Everyone’s anxieties are different, and getting to the right understanding of our worries in light of God’s sovereignty won’t look the same for everyone. For many, medication and counseling are necessary steps. The destination, ultimately, is our right thinking about God and His control, which determines whether anxiety will control us. The culture we live in often confuses thinking with feeling, but we need to be clear about the distinction, and that what we know ultimately guides how we feel. And know the truth: Whatever our circumstances, God knows, God cares, and God rules. That should help us put our burdens in their rightful place, on His shoulders—not ours.

(Related post: Whoa, Feelings! Are We Losing Our Minds Over Emotion?)

 

What Does Prayer Change?

July 3, 2012 § 2 Comments

They say “prayer changes things”, but what does that mean exactly? Who or what is truly changed by our requests made to God? In numerous places throughout Scripture, we are to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17) and reassured that “He hears us.” (1 John 5:14). We know that God answers prayer with either “yes,” “no” or “wait.” Jesus says, “If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.” (John 14:14)

PRAYER DOESN’T CHANGE GOD

It seems that our prayers have the power to change the will of God. But do we really pray to a God who would bend to our requests? Our immutable Creator Himself says, “I the Lord do not change.” (Malachi 3:6) Can an unchanging God change His mind?

In Jeremiah 26:19, God appears to change His mind.

“Did Hezekiah king of Judah and all Judah put him to death? Did he not fear the Lord and entreat the favor of the Lord, and the Lord changed His mind about the misfortune which He had pronounced against them?”

Some scholars have pointed out that nacham, the Hebrew term for “change his mind”, can mean just that, but more often it means to change direction.

God’s omniscience and His perfect foreknowledge of what Hezekiah did, and what Hezekiah was going to pray, enables God’s will to include how He will answer prayer. In other words, when God changes our situation in response to our prayer, our prayers haven’t really changed His will. But before our prayers are even offered, God has already planned to change His course of action according to His ultimate plan. God knows everything all along.

PRAYER CHANGES US

This might prompt us to wonder why God urges us to pray when our prayers and His responses are already planned out. Why doesn’t He just act out His will from the start since He isn’t going to allow us to change His mind about it anyway? Why entertain the requests?

Because God desires a relationship with us, and relationships are grown through trust. As Christians, we should yearn to be closer to God, and we are closer to someone if we trust them. Prayer is one way of practicing and nurturing trust in God.

When we pray for answers, we trust that He is El-Roi—God who sees. When we pray for forgiveness, we trust that He is El-Nahsah—God who forgives. When we need His protection, we trust that He is Yahweh Nissi—the God who is our Banner. When we need healing, we trust that He is Jehovah-Rapha—the Lord that heals. When we need peace, we trust that He is Jehovah-Shalom—which means God is peace. When we ask God for anything at all, we are naturally trusting in the idea that He is strong enough, wise enough, caring enough to provide it. And trust strengthens any relationship.

There are conditions to God’s response to prayer, as James 4:3 warns: “You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.” What are the right motives for prayer? The right motive is to ask for things that God would want. In others words, praying according to the will of God. In Matthew 6:10, Jesus teaches us to pray to the Father, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done…” Trust is built when we desire God’s will be done in our prayers, even when it isn’t what we were expecting or wanting for ourselves.

Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:15)

Prayer doesn’t change God’s will; it changes ours by bringing us closer to Him. By wanting what our loving God wants, we see our thinking renewed and transformed, walking in step with Him. Is there a greater blessing we could expect if we were to pray in our own will?

Amen.

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