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Fear God or Fear Everything Else

Fear God or Fear Everything Else

Safe but afraid

I am grateful that we are some of the safest people who have ever lived. Some of us live with the kind of comfort, prosperity, and longevity that people across history and geography couldn’t have even been able to dream about. Yet, we are also arguably the most fearful, anxiety-driven people who have ever lived. Could it be that we are the safest and the most scared all at the same time–both safe and afraid simultaneously? Michael Reeves writes: “Protected like never before, we are skittish and panicky like never before.”

Much has been written on this, and we could point to all kinds of culprits for our chronic low-grade terror. Some have argued that we now simply live with too much information. We receive a constant barrage of bad news, delivered to us almost instantly, 24 hours a day. It reminds me of what the Teacher says in Ecclesiastes 1:18: “…he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.” I certainly feel that, and I sometimes wonder if part of my fear is that I simply know too much. You and I were never designed to know all the bad things all the time everywhere. I’m sure this contributes to my fear.

Others have made the case that it’s the comfort, ease, and prosperity for many of us that have increased our fears. The more you have, the more you fear to lose, and the more comfortable you are, the softer you may become. This also feels incredibly plausible and rather personal. I’m sure this contributes to my fear, and again, much has been written on both subjects.

Fear God or fear everything else

A third major contributor that I hadn’t considered, recently captured my attention. Could it be that we now fear everything because we no longer fear God? And could a proper fear of God actually be the prescribed antidote for our nagging fears of everything else?

I first began to consider this while reading a brilliant little book, Rejoice and Tremble: The Surprising Good News of the Fear of the Lord by Michael Reeves. Consider this blog as simply my best effort to get you to read this book.

He writes: “With society having lost God as the proper object of healthy fear, our culture is necessarily becoming ever more neurotic, ever more anxious about the unknown–indeed, ever more anxious about anything and everything. Without a kind and fatherly God’s providential care, we are left utterly uncertain about the shifting sands of both morality and reality. In ousting God from our culture, other concerns–from personal health to the health of the planet–have assumed a divine ultimacy in our minds. Good things have become cruel and pitiless idols. And thus we feel helplessly fragile. No longer anchored, society fills with free-floating anxieties.”

When I read those words, I thought: that doesn’t just sound like us, that sounds like me. Even as Christians, if we’re honest, we often struggle to believe that God is real, and even more so to believe that He is actively engaged in our lives and in our world. We don’t typically trust Him to know and do what is best, and because we no longer fear Him, we fear everything else.

Fear God

At the same time, I think many of us find great reservation with the idea that we should “fear God.” We either dismiss it as an outdated bit of theology or we try to water down the word “fear” until it means almost nothing at all. Yet, the Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments, speak regularly of the joy of fearing God.

Most famously, Proverbs 9:10 declares: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” Essentially, you cannot be wise without it, and wisdom is part of what helps us discern between our fears. In Psalm 86:11, King David actually asks for fear. “Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name.” I’m not sure I’ve ever asked God to help me fear Him.

In Ecclesiastes, our entire duty to God and the summary of the good life is this: “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil” (12:13-14). 

Lest you think this is purely an Old Testament notion, remember what Mary sings when she discovers she’s pregnant with the Savior of the World, the One who frees us from all fear? “And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation” (Luke 1:50).

While there are many other examples, let me include just one more, from Jesus himself. Jesus makes the contrast between our typical fears and a proper fear of God when He says: “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” 

Essentially He says, God is the only thing we should fear. No one and nothing else can really hurt you. Yet somehow we’ve reversed the two. Instead of fearing Him we fear almost everything else.

What does it mean to fear God?

So if we want to overcome our chronic fears, we have to ask: what does it mean to fear God? Some have called it awe, which is close, but according to Reeves we should take it a bit further. We can be in awe of the amazing footwork of Patrick Mahomes but I wouldn’t exactly say that I fear him. Fearing God is more than just awe.

I think of it a bit like this. A few years ago our family hiked Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park, called by Outside Magazine one of the top 20 most dangerous hikes in the world. We did it with our then 10 and 12-year-olds. You have to hike up this crazy ridge, at some points only 3 feet wide, with a 1000 foot drop off on one side and 800 feet on the other. We did this with our children! Take a moment to google “angel’s landing” and get a glimpse of what I’m talking about.

We were terrified. We were also overwhelmed with the spectacular beauty of the place. We were filled with intense joy at having to work together. We knew this was not something to be trifled with, but we also knew that if we respected the boundaries, we would not just be ok. We would be filled with an incredible sense of wonder and sheer delight. 

This is, I think, a little bit of what it means to fear the Lord. With God, however, He is also both loving and holy, merciful and sovereign, tender and all-powerful. He isn’t just a beautiful and dangerous hike. He is a Person who loves us but also expects something of us.

This is why Reeves titled his book Rejoice and Tremble — the fear of God is both. He writes: “This right fear of God, then, is not the minor-key gloomy flip side to proper joy in God. There is no tension between this fear and joy… As our love for God is a trembling and wonder-filled love, so our joy in God is, at its purest, a trembling and wonder-filled–yes, fearful–joy.  For the object of our joy is so overwhelmingly and fearfully wonderful. We are made to rejoice and tremble before God, to love and enjoy him with an intensity that is fitting for him. And what more benefits his infinite magnificent than an enjoyment of him that is more than our frail selves can bear, which overwhelms us and causes us to tremble?”

To fear God is to delight in Him, but in a way that gives Him His proper due as King of the universe. It’s to find our joy in Him, but to also recognize that He cannot be trifled with. It’s an acceptance of His sovereign rule, His definition of the good life, and His commands for living. It’s to believe deep down but with joy and relief that He knows better. 

How does a right fear of God free us from our fears?

When you fear God like this, what else is there to fear? Yes, lots of things. Our world is a scary place! Yet when God grips our hearts even the scary things begin to lose some of their power, for we know that our good Father loves us and takes care of us. We know that when the scary things do happen, they don’t happen outside of His tender provision for us.

If we rejoice and tremble daily before God, fearing Him above all else, all the other fears begin to seem just a little less terrible. Let me quote Reeves one more time: “I want you to rejoice in this strange paradox that the gospel both frees us from fear and gives us fear. It frees us from our crippling fears, giving us instead a most delightful, happy, and wonderful fear.”

Embracing the better fear

So how do we embrace this better fear, learning to fear God instead of fearing everything else? First, always find ways to get to know God better. Who is this One we are to fear? We do this through His Word, through prayer, through others, by spending time at church, and time in His wonder-filled world with our eyes wide open. The more we know God for who He truly is (and not just how we imagine Him to be) the more we feel the commingling feelings of fear and joy.

Second, as we do that, compare Him to your fears and ask yourself: whom shall I fear? For example, I fear something bad happening to my children…but God loves them more than I do and He is sovereign over them. Fear the Lord.

I fear the messes in our world, the divisions, the polarization, the hatred…but God sees all and knows what is best for His people. Even though He never promises us a comfortable life, He does promise us life to the full. Fear the Lord.

I fear illness for me or for someone I love, and ultimately death…but nothing can touch me apart from my Father’s hand, and because of Jesus, even the grave no longer has any power over me. Fear the Lord.

No, none of this will fix it and none of it is easy. Our world is still scary and many of us will continue to carry our anxieties. But as we daily bring them to Him, over time He will help us put them in their proper place. For when we fear God we have nothing else left to fear.

Nurturing Our Natures

Nurturing Our Natures

By Curt Thompson, MD
Reposted with permission from
https://curtthompsonmd.com/resources/

As I have written elsewhere,

And there is no better vocational effort that we have been called and commissioned to put forth than that which takes place day in and day out in families, churches, and schools in order to create a world of goodness and beauty. But evil has other intentions, and as such finds no more lucrative work than in those very communities where we first learn how to learn. Where our natures are first nurtured with the intention of growing us up to become effective, loving parents, students, educators, farmers, park rangers, teachers, police officers, and all the other vocational domains we occupy.

It is therefore helpful to know that shame begins to take root in our minds as early as fifteen to eighteen months of age. This means that we initially take it in and are largely affected by it more so via our nonverbal brain activity than we do via language. Hence, if we are parents, it behooves us to be aware of our own narratives and where shame is trying to tell our story such that we can prevent it from having as much of a say in the stories our children are beginning to tell. As we rear our children, knowing where our own shame attendants are hiding out is the first step to quieting the attendants that have our children in their crosshairs.

Then, there is our larger family of faith—one that, if taken seriously, is potentially an equal if not more significant formational one. If it is true, as I said above, that evil does its best work in the middle of good work being done, why would we be surprised that we experience so much shame in the church? It only makes sense that in a place where we intentionally gather in response to Jesus’ invitation for all of us who are weary and heavy laden to come to him for rest, shame would be waiting for us.

Evil does not so much knock on our door and straightforwardly ask us to commit unspeakable horror. Rather, it waits for our movement to do good things, and simply joins our parade, weaving its way into the motion and direction in which we are already moving.

In our deep desire to love God, it reminds us that we don’t love him enough or in the right way. Only in the church, where we expect no one to shame anyone in any way, does it naturally catch us especially off guard. Only in the church does the proclamation of the good news so often begin by reminding us of how bad we are in the first place—often because we so fear that without that shaming element we might not respond as we should. Only in a place where like no other we genuinely desire to do the next right thing do we worry that we won’t. But let us be clear—this should not surprise us. Furthermore, it is not our fellow parishioners who are the enemy. Evil is the enemy, but would rather use shame to convince us that the enemy is sitting next to us in the pew.

It is therefore incumbent upon us to be as ready to meet the devil in our church families as Jesus was when he went to the synagogue in the third chapter of Mark’s gospel. It is in church where Jesus confronts—simultaneously—the woundedness and shame of both a deformed man and the religious community that was presumably responsible for nurturing his life in God. When we come to our worshipping communities expecting to work against shame, it will be less able to catch us off guard, and so be made more impotent to do what it usually does.

And from church, we send our children off to school, to institutions that themselves at times become cauldrons of shame. We know this not least because of the increase in the number of anxiety disorders in children in elementary schools who worry that they may not be making straight A’s, which might preclude them from eventually getting into Yale. This, not to mention how much school administrators worry that they are not providing enough for the worried parents they serve, and so, in their attempt to do the next right thing, apply more pressure to teachers who apply pressure to students who apply pressure to their parents who call the administrators to find out why their child is so anxious, yet is still not making straight A’s. And to be clear: all these people do not wake up in the morning planning to do these things. We are all trying to do the best we can. This is how evil wields shame: silently and subtly, largely outside of our awareness.

But there is hope. Indeed, to the degree that we are committed to allow our stories to be fully known and loved, whether that is at home, at church, or in our educational systems, we proclaim the gospel. Even as we learn math. As we learn how to make our beds and say please and thank you. As we preach sermons that proclaim God’s delight in the presence of the naturally occurring limits he has infused into the creation. As we discipline each other and ourselves.

So be of good cheer. As you have babies and then take them to church and then send them to school, know that as you are known and transfer that way of being known on to those for whom you are responsible, the Holy Trinity is working as hard as they can on your behalf, bringing you further up and further into the age that is here and is to come.

And if that’s not nurturing our natures, I don’t know what is.

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Dr. Curt Thompson will be speaking at Christ Community on October 14, 2021. Be sure to save the date for this upcoming event.

Courage for the Ordinary

Courage for the Ordinary

On January 23, 1943, the USS Dorchester set off on a transport mission with over 900 soldiers, seamen, and civilians on board. The vessel was torpedoed by a German U-boat two weeks later. In about 20 minutes, the ship was sunk. As the abandon ship signal sounded and passengers scrambled for the limited lifeboats and flotation devices, four men gave up their own life jackets in order to guide others to safety, tend to the injured, and administer last rites. When they had done all they could do, the men linked arms on deck to pray and sing hymns as they met the fate they had sacrificially chosen for themselves. These men were chaplains; a rabbi, a priest and two Protestant ministers. Their selfless actions were certainly courageous and a Distinguished Service Cross, a Purple Heart, and a Special Medal for Heroism were posthumously awarded to each of the men. 

Stories of such great courage can make the virtue of courage seem out of reach for the ordinary person. Courage, we may think, is for the soldiers, the firefighters, the undercover cops, etc. and Christian courage, if such a thing exists, is for the biblical heroes and the martyrs, the likes of Joshua, Daniel, the Three Youths in the fiery furnace, Ignatius, and Polycarp.

While I acknowledge that these are good and true examples of courage, I caution us against limiting our definition of courage to include only those who face imminent physical danger. Courage deals primarily with our response to fear, and fear is a universal phenomenon. Our common everyday fears deal with our reputation, our health, our sense of agency and purpose, our plans for the future, our hopes for ourselves and our families, our perception of the world around us, and a myriad of other things big and small. And these fears require courage. Though few of us are called to lead armies or take bullets, we are all commanded more frequently than any other biblical admonishment, “Do not be afraid.” Courage, then, is an essential Christian virtue.

To be clear, this commandment does not require us to ignore our emotions, choke down our concerns, or feign some blind optimism. In many situations, fear is unavoidable, and that isn’t all bad.

At its best, fear can send us warning messages: press the brake, study for this final, be careful how much you share here. One could even argue that these warning messages are part of the God-given purpose of negative emotions, ultimately intended to remind us of our reliance on God.

However, we can also give ourselves over to our fears such that fear becomes our master. The spiritual warning message, “Rely on God,” becomes, “Rely on safety and comfort.” 

The “Do not fear” command, then, speaks not against acknowledging fear, but against serving fear as Lord. The language of Psalm 23 illustrates this:

“Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” The psalmist acknowledges the evil present in the dark valley, yet he continues his walk with courage. Why? Because he trusts in the presence of the Lord. He finds comfort in God’s rod and staff — His position as both king and shepherd. Thus, Christian courage is not turning a blind eye to fear; it is looking fear dead on and saying, “Christ is with me.”

It is this courage, founded on a dependence in the presence of Christ, that enables us to face our everyday fears. Our reliance on Christ is our common courage — the courage that it takes to confess a sin when you’re afraid of how others may respond. To speak up on behalf of the outcast. To listen to someone who sees things differently. To reach out to a hurting neighbor when you’re unsure what to say or do. To love your family when the marriage is rocky or the kids “hate” you. To live and work with intention when you feel like checking out. To trust your purpose in God’s Kingdom even when your body and mind aren’t capable of all they once were. To pray and believe even when you feel like every prayer returns unanswered. To face failure, unemployment, a diagnosis. This is not the courage of the war hero. This is the humble courage of the ordinary.

Nurturing Our Natures 

Nurturing Our Natures 

By Curt Thompson, MD
Reposted with permission from
https://curtthompsonmd.com/resources/

As I have written elsewhere,

And there is no better vocational effort that we have been called and commissioned to put forth than that which takes place day in and day out in families, churches, and schools in order to create a world of goodness and beauty. But evil has other intentions, and as such finds no more lucrative work than in those very communities where we first learn how to learn. Where our natures are first nurtured with the intention of growing us up to become effective, loving parents, students, educators, farmers, park rangers, teachers, police officers, and all the other vocational domains we occupy.

It is therefore helpful to know that shame begins to take root in our minds as early as fifteen to eighteen months of age. This means that we initially take it in and are largely affected by it more so via our nonverbal brain activity than we do via language. Hence, if we are parents, it behooves us to be aware of our own narratives and where shame is trying to tell our story such that we can prevent it from having as much of a say in the stories our children are beginning to tell. As we rear our children, knowing where our own shame attendants are hiding out is the first step to quieting the attendants that have our children in their crosshairs.

Then, there is our larger family of faith—one that, if taken seriously, is potentially an equal if not more significant formational one. If it is true, as I said above, that evil does its best work in the middle of good work being done, why would we be surprised that we experience so much shame in the church? It only makes sense that in a place where we intentionally gather in response to Jesus’ invitation for all of us who are weary and heavy laden to come to him for rest, shame would be waiting for us.

Evil does not so much knock on our door and straightforwardly ask us to commit unspeakable horror. Rather, it waits for our movement to do good things, and simply joins our parade, weaving its way into the motion and direction in which we are already moving.

In our deep desire to love God, it reminds us that we don’t love him enough or in the right way. Only in the church, where we expect no one to shame anyone in any way, does it naturally catch us especially off guard. Only in the church does the proclamation of the good news so often begin by reminding us of how bad we are in the first place—often because we so fear that without that shaming element we might not respond as we should. Only in a place where like no other we genuinely desire to do the next right thing do we worry that we won’t. But let us be clear—this should not surprise us. Furthermore, it is not our fellow parishioners who are the enemy. Evil is the enemy, but would rather use shame to convince us that the enemy is sitting next to us in the pew.

It is therefore incumbent upon us to be as ready to meet the devil in our church families as Jesus was when he went to the synagogue in the third chapter of Mark’s gospel. It is in church where Jesus confronts—simultaneously—the woundedness and shame of both a deformed man and the religious community that was presumably responsible for nurturing his life in God. When we come to our worshipping communities expecting to work against shame, it will be less able to catch us off guard, and so be made more impotent to do what it usually does.

And from church, we send our children off to school, to institutions that themselves at times become cauldrons of shame. We know this not least because of the increase in the number of anxiety disorders in children in elementary schools who worry that they may not be making straight A’s, which might preclude them from eventually getting into Yale. This, not to mention how much school administrators worry that they are not providing enough for the worried parents they serve, and so, in their attempt to do the next right thing, apply more pressure to teachers who apply pressure to students who apply pressure to their parents who call the administrators to find out why their child is so anxious, yet is still not making straight A’s. And to be clear: all these people do not wake up in the morning planning to do these things. We are all trying to do the best we can. This is how evil wields shame: silently and subtly, largely outside of our awareness.

But there is hope. Indeed, to the degree that we are committed to allow our stories to be fully known and loved, whether that is at home, at church, or in our educational systems, we proclaim the gospel. Even as we learn math. As we learn how to make our beds and say please and thank you. As we preach sermons that proclaim God’s delight in the presence of the naturally occurring limits he has infused into the creation. As we discipline each other and ourselves.

So be of good cheer. As you have babies and then take them to church and then send them to school, know that as you are known and transfer that way of being known on to those for whom you are responsible, the Holy Trinity is working as hard as they can on your behalf, bringing you further up and further into the age that is here and is to come.

And if that’s not nurturing our natures, I don’t know what is.

 

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Dr. Curt Thompson will be speaking at Christ Community on April 24, 2021. Be sure to save the date for this upcoming event.

How to Minimize Worry

How to Minimize Worry

When I was in high school, I got my driver’s license. Perhaps you did too. And when I got my license, there was one thing I heard again and again. Every time I’d get ready to leave the house, my mom would shout: “Call me when you get there,” which is the last thing any 16-year-old wants to hear from a parent.

“Call me when you get there,” she’d say as I was heading out.

“Call me when you get there,” she’d repeat as the door closed behind me.

“Call me when you get there.”

I’d get so mad whenever she said it. But no matter how much I protested, she didn’t stop. It was like a playlist on repeat.

So one evening, as I was walking towards the door, those familiar words followed after me. And I erupted.

I turned around and said, “Mom, you have GOT to stop saying that. It’s driving me crazy.” And I’ll never forget how she responded. She looked at me, knowing I was so mad, and said, Tyler, I’m sorry, but I’ll always be your momma.”

Her words were profound. “I’ll always be your momma…”

It was her way of saying, “Because of who I am, I can’t help but be concerned about you.” 

“Because I’m your momma, I’m compelled to tell you to call.”

“Because I’m your momma, I think about you when you leave.

Because of who I am, I have these concerns.”

And this is how it works, isn’t it?

Because of who we are, there are things that concern us.

Because we’re recent graduates, or because we live on our own. Because we’re in between jobs, or because we just got promoted. Because the test is coming up. Because the rent is almost due. Because we’ve reached a certain age, a certain income, or a certain low point in life.

Because of who we are, there are things that concern us. And that’s not always a bad thing. Some concerns are good concerns. They motivate us to plan for the future, or to cut back on our spending, or to eat like we know we should.

But there are times when our concerns become our worries. 

There are times when what concerns us comes to consume us. And when that happens, following Jesus tends to get placed on the back burner. Which is ironic because Jesus had a lot to say about worry.

In fact, one day Jesus told His followers: “I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.”

Imagine how audacious this must have sounded to Jesus’s original audience.

When Jesus spoke these words, food supplies were entirely dependent on how much it rained and whether or not a farmer could protect the crop from pests. A year of drought or a swarm of locusts could mean starvation. You couldn’t drive down the street to the grocery store. There was no safety net. If food ran out, it was over.

Nevertheless, Jesus instructed His disciples not to worry about what they were going to eat or about what they were going to drink or about what they were going to wear.

And here’s why:

Jesus mentions these specific necessities of life—food, water, and clothing—as a way of helping His followers understand that His solution for worry reaches all the way down to their most fundamental concerns. Jesus suggests that He knows a reason not to worry that will bring encouragement and comfort even when what’s most basic seems to be in jeopardy.

And then He makes His point.

“Look at the birds of the air. They do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”

“Consider the lilies of the field, how the grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.”

“If God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you?”

Are you following His logic?

Jesus says, do not worry about your life because your Father in heaven cares about you. You’re valuable to Him. If He makes sure the birds are fed and the fields look gorgeous, don’t you think He’ll watch out for you?

Jesus says you don’t need to worry because you’re valuable to God.

This is not to say that God doesn’t care about the Earth He made or the creatures in it. Nor is it to say that we, as responsible stewards of His creation, shouldn’t feel responsible and care for the natural world.

But, it is to say that when God made all that there is—the land and sea, the sky, the birds and fish and animals—He loved everything He formed. In fact, the Genesis account says He called every element of creation “good.” But then, He topped off all of creation with the stamp of His own image. God made humans and called them “very good,” marking us as special and treasured in His created order.

So there stands Jesus, looking at crowds of people just like us—people who are tempted to worry. And Jesus says: Don‘t fret. You’re valuable to your Heavenly Father.

Jesus insists that the key to leaving worry behind is trusting God’s concern for us.

But that isn’t always easy. In fact, most days it feels downright impossible. What makes it so tough?

I can think of three primary ways our trust for God can break down:

First, we can doubt His infinite love for us.

Second, we can doubt His infinite wisdom as it relates to our needs.

Third, we can doubt His ability to act on our behalf.

How does your trust in God get derailed?

Do you doubt God’s infinite love?

Do you believe He doesn’t love you? That maybe He loves all people in a general sense but not you specifically? And not you completely—especially after what you’ve done and where you’ve been. Do you think He loves you a little, or maybe even a lot, but not infinitely? Not enough for you to give Him your complete trust. Is that you? Do you doubt God’s infinite love?

Or Do you doubt God’s infinite wisdom?

Do you question whether He truly knows what’s best for you? Do you wonder if He really knows what you really need? Or do you feel like He knows what’s best for humans broadly, but not what’s best for you right this moment? Do you think He needs a little more input into how to respond best to your situation? Do you doubt God’s infinite wisdom?

Or Do you doubt God’s ability to act?

Do you question His power? Do you feel like He would be doing more to change your circumstances if He could? Do you feel like His hands are tied behind His back? Do you doubt God’s ability to act?

These are three primary ways our trust for God can break down.

How does your trust in God get derailed?

It’s worth knowing the answer to that question. Because knowing precisely how our trust tends to erode can help us focus our trust-building efforts.

If you’re tired of worry ruling your life, and if you’ve realized where your trust in God frequently fails, here’s one final suggestion:

Spend the next week reading and rereading Matthew 6:25-34. Reflect on Jesus’ words.

Jesus says: You’re valuable to God, and God notices what you need.

He says: The God who created and sustains the world thinks you’re the best thing on the planet, and He’s got your best interests in mind.

Remind yourself of this truth again and again and again. And as it sinks in, see if it doesn’t loosen worry’s grip. In the end, it can’t be denied: Because of who we are, there are things that concern us. And those concerns can come to consume us.

But because of who God is—because He’s our loving Heavenly Father—there are things that concern Him.

Our flourishing, our growth, our wholeness, and our relationship with Him number chief among them. So let Him focus His energy on you and your future while you focus your energy and your attention on Him and His care.

I promise, it will change everything.

3 Ways to Combat Anxiety

It was spring of 2011; I was sitting in speech class. About 20 minutes in, I started to feel my heart beat a little faster than normal. I didn’t pay much attention to it at first, but then it started to beat faster to the point where it was hard to catch my breath. I raised my hand in the middle of my professor’s lecture and said, “I can’t breathe.”

Puzzled and not knowing what to do, my professor asked if I needed to step out. So, I did. The problem was that my heart was still beating extremely fast. I went to the nurse’s office and she told me my pulse. 145 beats per minute. She panicked and called an ambulance, which then caused me to panic even more. The ambulance arrived, and I was rushed to the hospital. This was the beginning of my anxiety story.

Some of you reading have had a similar situation happen to you. Some of you have people you love who struggle with anxiety. Some of you have been present when someone you love has had a panic attack. Some of you know what it’s like to have panic attacks and be filled with fear because it feels like you are going to die.

Anxiety is an indicator of our fears, rational or not. Fear of never being loved again, fear of being left or rejected, fear of getting a life-shattering diagnosis, fear of being alone, fear that something bad is going to happen all the time, fear that no one will show up. So, what do we do? How do we combat our anxiety?

First, embrace your anxiety

If you are anything like me, I hated having anxiety. I couldn’t stand not being able to be calm in a movie theatre, a classroom, when I was at a friend’s house or home alone. I wanted to reject the fact that I had anxiety because I was ashamed of it. I didn’t like having panic attacks and wondering if I was having a heart attack.

As one person put it, “Anxiety is difficult because you don’t know if what you are thinking/feeling is true or not.” This is hard. For those of you who struggle, you understand the depths of what I’m saying.

However, hear me loud and clear: You are not bad, disgusting, or worthless because you struggle with anxiety. Your anxiety does not disqualify you or keep you out of reach. You are not your anxiety.

You are loved, worthy, valuable, and accepted just as you are. Period. You are a dignified human being who struggles with anxiety, and that’s okay. It’s okay if you need to take medication. It’s okay if you need constant reminders that you are loved. The more we are ashamed of this, the more we will believe that anxiety is who we are. It’s not.

As Genesis 1:27 states, “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” You are an image-bearer of God himself. Embrace your anxiety. Allow it to be your teacher. Because once you can embrace it, it loses its power over you.

Second, study your anxiety

It is helpful and vital to know you have anxiety and embrace it, but it doesn’t stop there. Anxiety affects us and our relationships in deep ways, and if we don’t deal with it, know what triggers it, and put intentional steps in place to combat it, we will always feel defeated by it.

Just like we take the time to get to know someone else, study for a test, exercise, and rest, we need to be aware of what sets off our anxiety and take the time to deal with it. One way we can study our anxiety is by reaching out to a trusted friend and sharing our struggle with them so that we have someone who is in it with us.

Another way is seeking out professional help from a therapist. Let me say that not every therapist is right for you. You get to be picky on who your therapist is and what you need from them. However, the counseling room can be a helpful tool in understanding your trauma, childhood wounds, and what triggers are affecting your anxiety or why you have it.

Also, be aware of when your anxiety is triggered. When you are feeling your anxiety come on, what’s happening? Where are you? Where do you feel it in your body? Did someone say something that reminded you of a hurtful experience? Having some awareness in the moment can help prepare you so that when something triggers your anxiety you become less reactive to it.

Sometimes we can’t physically do this on our own, and that’s why medication is often prescribed. If that is something you need, it is okay. This is why it’s important to have a trusted professional who can come alongside to help and give you the space to discern what you might need.

Dealing with your anxiety is not a one-time deal, it’s a life-time study. Be patient with yourself. For those who are in a relationship with someone who struggles, be patient with them. Do some research on how anxiety works and have a posture of grace and understanding. As Proverbs 12:25 states, “Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up.” Anxiety weighs heavily, and we need people who can come alongside us for the long haul ready to lift some of the weight.

Lastly, release your anxiety

There’s a verse in the Bible that people often use to help those who are struggling with anxiety. It’s Philippians 4:6-7, which states,

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, 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.”

It’s an amazing verse. However, some have used it to say to those who are anxious that you are bad or sinful just because you have anxiety. That’s not what this verse is saying. Paul is talking about release. In fact, to command someone to not be anxious presupposes that we will struggle with being anxious. Paul isn’t saying that if you are anxious you are sinning, but instead he is saying that when anxiety creeps in, remember that there is Someone who can give you peace in the midst of it.

Friends, some of us will struggle with anxiety for the rest of our lives. The beauty about being in relationship with Jesus is that He carried your anxiety and died for it; so that every time anxiety comes, He welcomes it and is ready to carry it with you and extend peace. You can release it to Him. He can handle it.

Now, this doesn’t mean that releasing it will automatically remove your struggle with anxiety, but it does mean that we can hang on with confidence to the hope that one day we will be given eternal peace. Our hearts and minds will forever be at ease. Oh, what a day that will be. The magnificent part about it is that we get to experience a taste of that peace here on earth.

“Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (Hebrews 13:20-21)

May it be so.