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Archive for the ‘WORRY’ Category

No Surprises

SOURCE:  Charles Swindoll

For more than three decades, Saul controlled his own life. His record in Judaism ranked second to none. On his way to make an even greater name for himself, the laser of God’s presence stopped him in his tracks, striking him blind. Like that group of shepherds faithfully watching their sheep years earlier on another significant night outside Jerusalem, Saul and his companions fell to the ground, stunned.

That’s what still happens today when calamity strikes.

You get the news in the middle of the night on the telephone, and you can’t move. As the policeman describes the head-on collision, you stand frozen in disbelief. After hearing the word “cancer,” you’re so shocked you can hardly walk out the doctor’s office doors. A friend once admitted to me that, after hearing his dreaded diagnosis, he stumbled to the men’s room, vomited, dropped to his knees, and sobbed uncontrollably.

Life’s unexpected jolts grip us with such fear we can scarcely go on.

For the first time in his proud, self-sustained life, Saul found himself a desperate dependent. Not only was he pinned to the ground, he was blind. His other senses were on alert and, to his amazement, he heard a voice from heaven say, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (Acts 9:4). Saul was convinced he had been persecuting people—cultic followers of a false Messiah. Instead, he discovered that the true object of his vile brutality was Christ Himself.

We live in a culture that regularly confuses humanity with deity. The lines get blurred. It’s the kind of sloppy theology that suggests God sits on the edge of heaven thinking, Wonder what they’ll do next. How absurd! God is omniscient—all-knowing. This implies, clearly, that God never learns anything, our sinful decisions and evil deeds notwithstanding. Nothing ever surprises Him. From the moment we’re conceived to the moment we die, we remain safely within the frame of His watchful gaze and His sovereign plan for us.

God never learns anything new He didn’t know about us. Nothing surprises Him.

— Charles R. Swindoll

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7 Truths to Remember in Troubled Times

SOURCE:  Family Life/Dennis – Barbara Rainey

Concerned about economic, political, racial, and moral instability in our culture?  Disheartened by struggles in your personal life?  Here’s what to focus on when the ground shakes beneath your feet.

Years ago our family of eight and some dear friends of ours with their two kids vacationed in a small condo on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Southern California. It was a beautiful setting and a wonderful time for our families, but one night we were introduced to an experience that Southern Californians face regularly.

At 2 a.m. we awoke to a boom that made us think a truck had hit the building. Then we noticed that everything was shaking. We jumped out of bed and hurried to the living room where all our children were sleeping on the floor in sleeping bags. The chandelier over the dining room table was swinging.

It was an earthquake—not very large, but very unsettling. We felt disoriented and confused. We wondered how long it would last and what we should do. The earth is supposed to be steady and solid, and now it wasn’t. When it finally stopped we couldn’t go back to sleep for hours because our fears had been awakened and our security threatened.

Unsettling times

Does our experience describe how you have felt recently? Many Americans have felt shaken by economic instability, racial conflict, mass shootings, and terrorist threats in recent years. Even the current political races have left us feeling anxious, troubled, disoriented. We wonder what to do. We feel afraid as the ground shakes beneath our feet.

Many followers of Christ feel just as unsettled over the unprecedented transformation in the moral climate of our culture. The world’s views on human sexuality, especially, have changed so quickly that Christians are now labeled as bigots for holding to biblical standards. We don’t know how to act, what to say or not say.

And inside our individual homes, many may be feeling disoriented and disheartened because of illness, hardships, failed relationships, or recent deaths of friends or family. Like a friend of ours who just received a cancer diagnosis—her world has just been shaken. Perhaps your world has been shaken, too.

Our stability

A couple of years ago I (Barbara) was reading through the book of Isaiah, and I came across a passage I had never noticed before. Isaiah 33:5-6 says, “The Lord is exalted, for he dwells on high; he will fill Zion with justice and righteousness, and he will be the stability of your times, abundance of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is Zion’s treasure.”

I was struck by that phrase in the middle: “and he will be the stability of your times…” At the time our country was experiencing an economic downturn. Everyone in America was feeling the impact.

When life feels insecure and unstable—not just in the world outside but also inside your family—remember that God is ultimately in control. No matter what is happening around you or how unsteady the world feels, He is our sure and stable foundation.

In many ways, America has been a pretty stable country for the last few decades. But it may not continue to be. When you feel the ground shift beneath your feet, it’s good to remember that Jesus is your Rock and your Fortress. He will be the stability of your times.

Dealing with the hardships of life

Life will never be easy. We will always face problems and hardship. That would be true even if our culture felt more stable than it does today, for the Scriptures promise us, “In the world you shall have tribulation.”

So how will we deal with loss, with grief, with fear, with suffering? How do we respond when things don’t go our way? And how do we teach our children to face the hardships of life?

Christians today need to know more about God, more about ourselves, and more about the mission God has given us. Here are seven things to remember:

1. God is alive. He has not disappeared. He is eternal, all-powerful, and all-knowing, just as He has been from the beginning of time. As Isaiah 40:28 tells us, “… The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.”

2. God never changes. Psalm 90 (KJV) begins, “Lord, Thou has been our dwelling place in all generations … even from everlasting to everlasting, Thou art God.” Inspired by these words, Isaac Watts wrote the following verses in the enduring hymn, “O God, Our Help in Ages Past.” They remind us that our fears, though circumstantially different than his in ages past, are still the same:

Our God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home.

Under the shadow of Thy throne
Thy saints have dwelt secure;
Sufficient is Thine arm alone,
And our defense is sure.

We all fear the loss of life, health, freedom, and peace. We fear the unknown future. But do you know who will be with us? Jesus, the One who is “the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

3. God offers eternal life. If you have received Christ as your Lord and Savior, your sins have been forgiven because of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. You are a child of God, and as Romans 8:38-39 tells us, “neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” That is encouraging.

4. God has won the battle. He has defeated death. History will culminate in Christ’s return. No matter what we experience in the world, we can find peace in Him. In John 16:33 Jesus tells us, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

5. God is still in control. He is not surprised by anything going on in the world, or in your life. He is the sovereign, omnipotent King of kings. Even in times of uncertainty and chaos, Romans 8:28 (NASB) is still in force: “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” So is 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NASB), which tells us, “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

6. God will provide for your needs. Especially in times of economic uncertainty it’s easy to grow anxious about the most basic things, like whether we will keep our jobs, or whether our families will have enough to eat. But in Matthew 6:26-33, Jesus tells us we should not be worried about what we eat, or what we will wear:

Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin,yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But 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, O you of little faith?But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

7. God has given us good works to do. Jesus’ words also remind us that there is more to life than meeting our daily material needs. When we seek God’s kingdom and His righteousness, we operate according to His priorities—we’re concerned about building our family relationships, and connecting the hearts of our children to God’s heart, and impacting future generations by proclaiming Christ. We’re concerned about God using us to reach and influence others with the gospel. That’s what life is really about.

Second Corinthians 5:20 tells us that we are ambassadors for Christ. Have you considered that your best opportunities to fulfill this role—to represent Christ and His Kingdom—may come in times like these when so many need help and encouragement?

Consider this: If you are feeling troubled by the instability in our world, then many of the people you encounter each day are concerned and fearful as well. What makes you different is that you have a firm foundation in Christ. This is an opportunity for you to shine. If you have built your home on the Rock (Matthew 7:24-27), you will remain unshaken. That in itself is a witness to the watching world that there is something different about Christians. And if you then reach out to help others who struggle without that foundation, that makes you rare indeed.

When life feels insecure and unstable, focus on these timeless truths. Read the never-changing Word of God with your spouse and to your children. No matter what troubles we are experiencing in our world and in our families, He is in control. He will not abandon us. He will provide for us. This may look different than you expect, but His promises have not expired in the 21st century.

GOD WILL STILL BE IN CHARGE (Tomorrow)

The Counseling Moment editor’s Note:  In the following article, author Max Lucado brings a solid and needed perspective concerning God’s perspective about and His sovereignty over the affairs of humankind — specifically the presidential election in November 2016.  At the same time, we can apply this understanding toward any aspect of life we face (or will face) that has any measure of uncertainty, confusion, and is troublesome to us.

SOURCE:  Max Lucado

Max Lucado: My Prediction for the Presidential Election

I have a prediction. I know exactly what November 9 will bring. Another day of God’s perfect sovereignty. He will still be in charge. His throne will still be occupied. He will still manage the affairs of the world. Never before has His providence depended on a king, president, or ruler. And it won’t on November 9, 2016. “The LORD can control a king’s mind as he controls a river; he can direct it as he pleases” (Proverbs 21:1 NCV).

On one occasion the Lord turned the heart of the King of Assyria so that he aided them in the construction of the Temple. On another occasion, he stirred the heart of Cyrus to release the Jews to return to Jerusalem.

Nebuchadnezzar was considered to be the mightiest king of his generation. But God humbled and put him in “detention” for seven years. “The kingdom is the Lord’s, and He rules over the nations” (Psalms 22:28).

Understanding God’s sovereignty over the nations opens the door to peace. When we realize that God influences the hearts of all rulers, we can then choose to pray for them rather than fret about them. Rather than wring our hands we bend our knees, we select prayer over despair.

Jeremiah did this. He was the prophet to Israel during one of her darkest periods of rebellion. He was called “the weeping prophet” because he was one. He wept at the condition of the people and the depravity of their faith. He was so distraught that one of his books was entitled Lamentations. But then he considered the work of God. Note the intentionality of his words:

“This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have hope. The LORD’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.” (Lam. 3:21-23)

Imitate Jeremiah. Lift up your eyes. Dare to believe that good things will happen. Dare to believe that God was speaking to us when he said: “In everything God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28).

Many years ago, I spent a week visiting the interior of Brazil with a long-time missionary pilot. He flew a circuit of remote towns in a small plane that threatened to come undone at the slightest gust of wind. Wilbur and Orville had a sturdier aircraft.

I could not get comfortable. I kept thinking that the plane was going to crash in some Brazilian jungle and I’d be gobbled up by piranhas or swallowed by an anaconda.

I kept shifting around, looking down, and gripping my seat. (As if that would help.) Finally, the pilot had had enough of my squirming. He looked at me and shouted over the airplane noise. “We won’t face anything I can’t handle. You might as well trust me to fly the plane.”

Is God saying the same to you? If so, make this your prayer:

Dear Lord,

You are perfect. You could not be better than you are.

You are self-created. You exist because you choose to exist.

You are self-sustaining. No one helps you. No one gives you strength.

You are self-governing. Who can question your deeds? Who dares advise you?

You are correct. In every way. In every choice. You regret no decision.

You have never failed. Never! You cannot fail! You are God! You will accomplish
your plan.

You are happy. Eternally joyful. Endlessly content.

You are the king, supreme ruler, absolute monarch, overlord, and rajah of all history.

An arch of your eyebrow and a million angels will pivot and salute. Every throne is a footstool to yours. Every crown is papier–mâché to yours. No limitations, hesitations, questions, second thoughts, or backward glances. You consult no clock. You keep no calendar. You report to no one. You are in charge.

And I trust you.

How Worry Affects You (and others)

SOURCE:  Tim Lane/CareLeader

Surprising ways worry affects your people

Any quick search on Google or Amazon will confirm what we all already know: worry is harmful to our bodies. Here are a few physical symptoms associated with worry:

  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Muscle aches
  • Muscle tension
  • Nausea
  • Rapid breathing
  • Sweating
  • Trembling and twitching

You can almost get exhausted and anxious reading that list. All of these can be experienced to varying degrees depending on how severe a person’s worrying is. Most of the people in your church can probably identify many of these anxiety-producing experiences.

Unfortunately, this is not the only way people in your congregation are impacted by worry. If not addressed, it can have a bigger impact on one’s overall health. People who worry consistently are more prone to the following physical consequences:

  • Suppression of the immune system
  • Digestive disorders
  • Short-term memory loss
  • Premature coronary artery disease
  • Heart attack

In light of this, it is not surprising when we discover the original meanings of the words we use today to talk about worry and anxiety. The English word worry comes from the Old English word meaning “strangle.” The word anxiety is of Indo-Germanic origin, referring to suffering from narrowing, tightening feelings in the chest or throat.

Statistics reveal that nearly 20 percent of people living in the United States will experience life-debilitating anxiety annually. That is nearly 65 million people! In 2008, American physicians wrote more than 50 million prescriptions for anti-anxiety medications and more than 150 million prescriptions for antidepressants, many of which were used for anxiety-related conditions.

What would the doctor say?

Physicians and counselors will tell you that diet, exercise, rest, and some kind of meditation is a proven help to the person  struggling with anxiety. Sometimes medication, when taken wisely, can be helpful. You can use your body to fight what is actually trying to undermine it. No one can deny that. But is there another part of dealing with worry that you could share with those imprisoned by worry?

While these things are important, the people in your church also need to know how to connect to God when worries come. We all need God’s grace even if we are going to pursue exercise and diet in a way that is most helpful. Let’s consider the most fundamental aspect that must undergird everything else we do when taking care of our bodies.

What would Jesus say?

Jesus lived at a time in human history that was very unpredictable and less safe than ours. It was a world in which worry was epidemic, too. In every instance where He encouraged people not to worry, He did so with compassion because He knew firsthand what it felt like to be a human being. In Luke 12:32, He spoke these encouraging words to anxious people: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.” Those simple words sum up all that Jesus said over and over again. He commands them not to worry, but His command is one of encouragement, not shame.

Here are a few simple but profound phrases and truths based upon that passage that you can share with those in your congregation.

Do not be afraid …

Jesus knows that worry is a serious problem. He knows it is bad for you physically, as well as spiritually, and He gets right to the point because He loves you. His commands are always for your good. Whenever you are struggling with worry, it is connected to your relationship with God. The word worry that Jesus uses means “a divided mind.” Within the broader context of His teaching, Jesus says that worry happens when you try to love God and something in creation at the same time. As soon as you do this, you have begun to put your hope and security in something other than God. Anything else besides God is unstable (money, a relationship, a job, education, your own moral record, obedient children, your health). Do you see why Jesus is so straightforward? He cares for you. He knows that you can’t serve two masters (Matt. 6:24).

Little flock …

Don’t let this little phrase that Jesus utters evade you. Don’t miss those two powerful words:little flock. While Jesus challenges you to not worry or fear, He speaks to you as one who belongs to Him, whom He is shepherding and for whom He laid down His life. You are unimaginably dear to Him and loved by Him. You are one of His sheep. Be reassured—He cares for you and loves you even as you struggle with worry, even as you forget Him and His care and give in to your tendency to worry. You may be prone to wander, but you will always be part of His flock.

For your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom …

Your Father is not only going to care for you now, He is in the process and will ultimately give you His kingdom. Your future is certain and you can begin to experience it even now, because His kingdom has broken into your life by the presence of the Holy Spirit. He is a deposit guaranteeing that you will get it all one day. So, right now, in the ups and downs of life, the stresses and strains of the uncertain future, let the certainty of your eternal future be what you cling to.

With all of this in mind, encourage those in your congregation to allow the truth of God’s care for them to work its way into their daily life. We are to prioritize the kingdom by viewing everything through the lens of our faith. When we begin to live for God instead of the things of the world, we may find that our tendency to worry will lessen and our response to God and to the world, spiritually and physically, will change dramatically.

FEAR & PANIC: DO’S AND DON’TS for Family and Friends

SOURCE:  June Hunt

To support a loved one who is struggling with fear, learn what to do and what not to do. You can very well be that person’s answer to prayer.
“There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 18:24)

• Don’t become impatient when you don’t understand their fear.
Do understand that what fearful people feel is real.
“A patient man has great understanding, but a quick-tempered man displays folly.” (Proverbs 14:29)

• Don’t think they are doing this for attention.
Do realize they are embarrassed and want to change.
“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” (Romans 7:15)

• Don’t be critical or use demeaning statements.
Do be gentle and supportive, and build up their self-confidence.
“Encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

• Don’t assume you know what is best.
Do ask how you can help.
“We urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone.” (1 Thessalonians 5:14)

• Don’t make them face a threatening situation without planning.
Do give them instruction in positive self-talk and relaxation exercises.
“Hold on to instruction, do not let it go; guard it well, for it is your life.” (Proverbs 4:13)

• Don’t make them face the situation alone.
Do be there and assure them of your support.
“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!” (Ecclesiastes 4:9–10)

• Don’t begin with difficult situations.
Do help them to begin facing their fear in small increments.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” (James 1:2–3)

• Don’t constantly ask, “How are you feeling?”
Do help them see the value of having other interests.
“Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:4)

• Don’t show disappointment and displeasure if they fail.
Do encourage them and compliment their efforts to conquer their fear.
“Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act.” (Proverbs 3:27)

• Don’t say, “Don’t be absurd; there’s nothing for you to fear!”
Do say, “No matter how you feel, tell yourself the truth, ‘I will take one step at a time.’”
“The wise in heart are called discerning, and pleasant words promote instruction.” (Proverbs 16:21)

• Don’t say, “Don’t be a coward; you have to do this!”
Do say, “I know this is difficult for you, but it’s not dangerous. You have the courage to do this.”
“A wise man’s heart guides his mouth, and his lips promote instruction.” (Proverbs 16:23)

• Don’t say, “Quit living in the past; this is not that bad.”
Do say, “Remember to stay in the present and remind yourself, ‘That was then, and this is now.’”
“Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” (Proverbs 16:24)

—————————————————————————-
Hunt, J. (2013). Fear (june hunt hope for the heart). Torrance, CA: Aspire Press.

When Life Doesn’t Turn out Like It’s ‘Supposed to’

SOURCE:  relevantmagazine.com/Ashley Eure

How to not worry about meeting other people’s expectations.

I’m a single female in my late twenties. So I’m in that stage of life where I literally cannot open Facebook without seeing another couple engaged or pregnant. I’ll be honest, there are days where it irks me so much I have to get off social media.

It’s because of “the list.”

That’s right, society has a list.

It’s a checklist of: “you are this far along in life, therefore you should have achieved these things.” For the post-grad the list is: an immediate steady job that can be transitioned into a long-term career, if possible in a cool hipster city. For young marrieds it’s a baby and a cute home. It seems that for a single woman my age it’s a husband, a steady boyfriend… or at least some exciting dating life worth bragging about. If you don’t have these things, you are woefully behind in life and worthy of pity or shame.

It can be paralyzing. And demoralizing. The more you look at “the list” the more boxes seem to be unchecked in your own life. Everyone’s great life news is suddenly eclipsed by the feeling of being left behind and left out.

I know I’m not alone in this. When I graduated college and grad school it seemed as if the majority of people I knew went through some sort of disillusioned frustration that termed the “quarter-life crisis.”

We all felt that if we jumped through all the college hoops and played our cards right, we were entitled to check the life boxes of “stable job” and “clear career decision” off our life lists immediately upon graduation. The reality was that it rarely works like that, and as a result many felt like society (or even God) had sold us a bill of goods.

The truth is, “the list” is a lie.

Society claims that these achievements—relationship status, careers, income, location—are the benchmarks of success and meaning and self-worth. That’s simply not true. Our worth is in who Jesus says we are—and He says we were worth dying for.

There was a time in my life where I felt like God stripped away all the things I tend to place my identity in besides Him. It was like He unchecked every box, and then looked at me and said, “If I tell you now—with none of these achievements to your name—that I love you and that you are worthwhile and important, will you believe me?” That question was difficult to answer. I had to fill my head with the truth of what the Bible says in order to undo the damage all the world’s lies had done to my self-worth.

Here are just a few of the other things the Bible says we are:

• A dearly loved child of God (Col. 3:12)
• A co-heir with Christ (Romans 8:17)
• A conqueror (Romans 8:37)
• God’s workmanship, created for good works (Eph. 2:10)
• Chosen (Eph. 1:4)
• Fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14)

The list goes on and on. If you are also feeling plagued by “the list” you are not alone. I know how holidays and time-markers like the start of a new year can amplify the unchecked boxes.

Let’s fill ourselves with the truth of who God says we are, what He says are the important check marks in life (hint: they don’t include a white picket fence and 2.5 kids). Let’s do our best for Him moment by moment and leave our worth for him to determine.

And when we start to look to the list, let’s fill each other up with truth again.

LET GOD CHANGE YOUR MIND

SOURCE:  Amy Simpson/InTouch Ministries

When it comes to worry, yes it’s all in your head and there’s something you can do about it.

There was a time I was nearly powerless against my own emotions.

Growing up in a household made confusing by my mother’s schizophrenia, I learned to mask my feelings well—the only way I knew how to handle them. When bad things happened or I got negative feedback, I’d quickly plummet into discouragement, depression, and sometimes self-pity. It was amazing how quickly I could drop from fine to really, really not fine.

Things have changed. I’ve changed.

A Christian counselor helped me understand the power of my “cognitive distortions”—negative and false messages I was habitually sending myself. I used to say, You’re a loser. You always screw up. You’re  worthless. Sometimes I didn’t even put these messages into words; I just directed hatred toward myself. I didn’t realize I was mistreating my own  soul. And because I sent myself these messages  so often, my spirit believed they were true.

Now my spirit believes something different.

I started sending myself messages grounded in biblical truth. I also started reading the Bible more, taking risks in Christian fellowship, and reaching out to develop supportive friendships. I can see those old messages are false, and when they do come to mind, I recognize them and tell myself what is true: I have purpose. I’m a beloved child of God. My God is much more capable than I am, and He loves me.

Fear and anxiety are normal, healthy, and productive capabilities given by God—but they’re not meant to be permanent states of being.

This change in self-talk affected more than my mind. It made a difference in my entire life. I’m less prone to depression, I’m more peaceful, and I have more love to offer others. I’ve noticed another change: I don’t worry as much as I used to. When I start to worry, I remind myself that God has transformed me into a new person by changing my mind.

Romans 12:2 is a commonly quoted verse, but we often focus only on not being shaped by the world but utterly transformed. We haven’t given enough attention to this transformation happening through a renewal of our minds. It’s not merely a soul or heart change. As the New Living Translation says, it’s a matter of letting God “transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.”

Science is only now catching up to Scripture, which teaches us what is possible through Jesus Christ.

Our Changeable Brains

My story is one of many that demonstrate the effectiveness of cognitive-behavioral therapy. According to the National Association of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapists, this form of counseling “is based on the idea that our feelings and behaviors are caused by our thoughts, not external things like people, situations, and events. The benefit of this fact is that we can change the way we think to feel/act better even if the situation does not change.” Rather than live at the mercy of outside forces, we have a choice. And the most effective way to modify our habitual behaviors and emotional patterns is to let God change the way we think.

Strong, if emerging, physical science also supports this.  Research has transformed our understanding of the brain’s capacity for change through neuroplasticity. It turns out that our brains are moldable long past childhood; they can and do change throughout our lives.

“Brain plasticity is a physical process,” says Dr. Michael Merzenich, noted neuroscientist and expert in brain plasticity. “Gray matter can actually shrink or thicken, neural connections can be forged and refined or (conversely) weakened and severed. Changes in the physical brain manifest as changes in our abilities. Often, people think of childhood and young adulthood as a time of brain growth … but what recent research has shown is that under the right circumstances, the older brain can grow, too.”

Thanks to neuroplasticity, changing our thoughts (as well as our behaviors and experiences) causes us to form new synaptic connections, strengthen existing ones, and weaken others. These new and altered connections result in changes in our behavior. In his book Soft-Wired, Dr. Merzenich writes, “As a skill is developed (such as whistling, or doing a pirouette, or identifying bird calls), the specific neural routes that account for successfully performing this new skill become stronger, faster, more reliable, and much more specific to—specialized for—the task  at hand.”

This is as true for habitual worry as for anything else.

Worry Is a Problem

Many of us need this kind of change. In a 2010 survey by the American Psychological Association, 40 percent of respondents said that in the previous month, stress had caused them to overeat or eat unhealthy foods. Nearly one-third said they had skipped a meal because of stress, and more than 25 percent said they had been unable to sleep. Another survey found that more than 60 percent of American workers worry they will lose their jobs, with 32 percent saying they worry about this “a lot.” Parents commonly worry about their kids, and big worries start when children are small. Worry is not only common in our society; it’s also woven into our cultural fabric—an expectation of responsible people, a fashionable accessory whose absence seems suspicious.

We often confuse worry with two other states of mind: fear and anxiety. The three tend to be used interchangeably, but they’re different. Fear and anxiety are normal, healthy, and productive capabilities given by God—but they’re not meant to be permanent states of being.

Our culture provides plenty of opportunities to worry. But followers of Christ are called to live and think differently from the worried world around us.

Fear is a response to an immediate (real or perceived) threat. Anxiety usually appears in anticipation of what will or might happen.

Unlike normal anxiety, worry is not an involuntary physical response but a pattern we choose.

Coming from within ourselves, it’s a decision we make to stay in that place of anxiety, which was designed to protect us from immediate danger, not to see us through everyday life. For some, staying in a state of anxiety isn’t a choice but, rather, a disorder that happens when the body’s healthy, helpful biological process works overtime. An anxiety disorder is, essentially, too much of a good thing, afflicting 29 percent of us at some point in our life. It’s very different from voluntary engagement in worry and requires treatment with medication, counseling, or both.

For anyone tempted to worry (and who isn’t?), our culture provides plenty of opportunities. But followers of Christ are called to live and think differently from the worried world around us. Voluntary worry directly contradicts the way God commands His people to live. If we’re not careful, it can lead to sinful behavior. Hence Jesus’ words: “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matt. 6:34). This same message holds through the Bible, affirming a countercultural lifestyle of faith and trust from Genesis to Revelation.

Worry can injure our bodies and minds. It can cause shortness  of breath; heart palpitations; pain and damage in the back, neck, and shoulders; muscle tension; nausea; headaches; and other physical problems. In his book The God-Shaped Brain, Christian psychiatrist Timothy R. Jennings describes how the effects of ongoing worry look in our brains. As we spend more of our lives in a state of anxiety, fear, and worry, our neurons don’t function as well as they should, and we don’t produce as many healthy new ones.

The damage isn’t limited to our bodies. It injures our relationships with other people. And like all sinful patterns, worry forms a barrier in our relationship with God. It keeps us focused on ourselves, our agendas, and our own problems. It keeps us peering into the future, which is God’s domain, and clinging to people and possessions that belong to Him. That’s why addressing worry must include spiritual transformation. Voluntary worry ultimately cannot be overcome by sheer willpower—its solution is rooted entirely in who God is.

Solution: Faith

In their book How God Changes Your Brain, Andrew Newberg and Mark Robert Waldman used neuroscience to establish this startling concept: Belief in God—and religious activity itself—physically changes our brains. “Faith tempers our anxiety and fears, and it may even temper one’s belief in an angry God,” they write. “The beauty of Job’s story is that it reminds the suffering believer that God  is ultimately compassionate. And from the perspective of medicine and neuroscience, compassion can heal the body as well as the soul.”

Changing worry means changing what we believe about God and ourselves.

The discovery of neuroplasticity is a startling affirmation of Christian belief in allowing God to transform us through the renewing of our minds. It affirms the power of cognitive change as well. “Watch over your heart with all diligence,” Proverbs tells us, “for from it flow the springs of life” (Prov. 4:23). Jesus Himself spoke of the true source of our behavior: “Do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is eliminated? But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man” (Matt. 15:17-20).

Likewise, Paul told the Roman church, “For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace” (Rom. 8:5-6).

No therapeutic technique can transform us as the Holy Spirit can.

Acknowledging that neurological changes happen with a change in belief doesn’t diminish the mystery or power of God’s work in us. But we do have a choice—we can welcome this transformational work or resist it. God graciously gives us the freedom to believe.

Changing worry means changing what we believe about God and ourselves. If we don’t believe God is any bigger or better than us, we have reason to fret. But if we believe He’s all-powerful, trustworthy, righteous, and good, it makes sense not to waste our lives in worry, but instead to believe and embrace what we know to be true about God and who we are as His children.

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