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Posts tagged ‘Anxiety’

Should Christians Use Medication For Emotional Problems?

SOURCE:  Dr. Robert Kellemen

In the beginning, God designed us as body-soul beings. “The LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7). Even before the fall, we were more than inner person—we were and are embodied beings.

Our bodies are works of art fashioned by our heavenly Father who fearfully and wonderfully handcrafted us (Psalm 139:13-16). We are works of God’s hand; made, shaped, molded, clothed with skin and flesh, and knit together with bones and sinews (Job 10:3-12). We are not to despise our physicality.

After the fall, the Bible teaches that we inhabit fallen bodies in a fallen world (Romans 8:18-25). Paul calls our fallen bodies “jars of clay” (2 Corinthians 4:7). As one commentator has mused, we are cracked pots! Paul also describes our bodies as a mortal earthly tent—perishable, weak, flesh and blood (1 Corinthians 15:42-47).

Paul is not saying that the flesh is bad or evil. He is saying that our bodies are weak and natural, prone in our fallen state to disorder and dysfunction.

Some modern Christians seem to take a hyper-spiritual approach to the brain/mind issue. They act as if inner spirituality eliminates all the effects of outer bodily maladies. Some seem to imply that giving any credence to the fallen bodies influence on our emotional state is something of a Trojan Horse that sneaks secular, materialistic thought into Christian spirituality.

Not So the Puritans

The Puritans would have been shocked by such a naïve perspective on the mind-body issue. Puritan pastors and theologians like Robert Burton, William Ames, and Jonathan Edwards recognized that problems such as scrupulosity (what we might call OCD) and melancholy (what we might call depression) might, at least in part, be rooted in the fallen body. They warned that such maladies sometimes could not be cured simply by comforting words or biblical persuasion (see A History of Pastoral Care in America, pp. 60-72).

Edwards described his sense of pastoral helplessness in the face of the melancholy of his uncle, Joseph Hawley. He noted that Hawley was “in a great measure past a capacity of receiving advice, or being reasoned with” (see A History of Pastoral Care in America, p. 73). Eventually, Hawley took his own life one Sabbath morning. Shortly thereafter, Edwards advised clergy against the assumption that spiritual issues alone were at work in melancholy.

Emotions: Bridging Our Inner and Outer Worlds

Emotions truly are a bridge between our inner and outer world. Think of the word “feeling.” Feeling is a tactile word suggesting something that is tangible, physical, touchable, and palpable. “I feel the keyboard as I type. I feel the soft comfortable chair beneath me. I feel my sore back and stiff wrists as they cry out, “Give it a rest!”

We also use this physical word—feeling—to express emotions. “I feel sad. I feel happy. I feel joy. I feel anger.” It’s no surprise that we use this one word in these two ways—physical and emotional. We know what the Israelites understood—our body feels physically what our emotions feel metaphysically.

When I’m nervous, my stomach is upset. When I feel deep love, my chest tightens. When I’m anxious, my heart races. When I’m sad, my entire system slows.

We know much more about the brain than the Israelites knew. It is a physical organ of the body and all physical organs in a fallen world in unglorified bodies can malfunction. My heart, liver, and kidneys can all become diseased, sick. So can the physical organ we call the brain.

Embracing our Weakness/Embracing God’s Power

It is important to realize that every emotion involves a complex interaction between body and soul. Therefore, it is dangerous to assume that all emotional struggles can be changed by strictly “spiritual means.”

For some, spirituality includes embracing physical weakness. In fact, this is the exact message Paul communicates when he calls us “jars of clay.” Why does God allow us to experience physical weakness? “To show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (2 Corinthians 4:7). It’s the same message Paul personally experienced in his own situational suffering (2 Corinthians 1:8-9) and in his own bodily suffering (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).

We can act as if we are more spiritual than the Apostle Paul. However, in actuality, pretending that our external suffering and our physical bodies do not impact us emotionally involves an arrogant refusal to depend upon and cling to Christ alone.

Certain emotions, especially anxiety and depression, involve physiological components that sometimes may need to be treated with medication. When we ignore the importance of the body, we misunderstand what it means to trust God. It is wrong to place extra burdens on those who suffer emotionally by suggesting that all they need to do is surrender to God to make their struggles go away.

On the other hand, it would be equally wrong to suggest that medication is all someone needs. That would be like a pastor entering the cancer ward to talk with a parishioner who was just told that she has cancer. “Well, take your medicine. Do chemo. You’ll be fine. See ya’ later.” No! That pastor would support, comfort, talk with, and pray for his parishioner.

Sickness and suffering are always a battleground between Satan and Christ. So, while medicine may sometimes be indicated for certain people with certain emotional battles, spiritual friendship is always indicated. Physicians of the body (and the brain is an organ of the physical body) prescribe medication. Physicians of the soul (and the mind is an inner capacity and reality of the soul) prescribe grace.

The Dark Night of the Soul (Sproul)

 

by R.C. Sproul

The dark night of the soul.  This phenomenon describes a malady that the greatest of Christians have suffered from time to time.  It was the malady that provoked David to soak his pillow with tears.  It was the malady that earned for Jeremiah the sobriquet, “The Weeping Prophet.”  It was the malady that so afflicted Martin Luther that his melancholy threatened to destroy him.  This is no ordinary fit of depression, but it is a depression that is linked to a crisis of faith, a crisis that comes when one senses the absence of God or gives rise to a feeling of abandonment by Him.

Spiritual depression is real and can be acute.  We ask how a person of faith could experience such spiritual lows, but whatever provokes it does not take away from its reality. Our faith is not a constant action. It is mobile. It vacillates.  We move from faith to faith, and in between we may have periods of doubt when we cry, “Lord, I believe, help Thou my unbelief.”

We may also think that the dark night of the soul is something completely incompatible with the fruit of the Spirit, not only that of faith but also that of joy.  Once the Holy Spirit has flooded our hearts with a joy unspeakable, how can there be room in that chamber for such darkness?  It is important for us to make a distinction between the spiritual fruit of joy and the cultural concept of happiness.  A Christian can have joy in his heart while there is still spiritual depression in his head.  The joy that we have sustains us through these dark nights and is not quenched by spiritual depression.  The joy of the Christian is one that survives all downturns in life.

In writing to the Corinthians in his second letter, Paul commends to his readers the importance of preaching and of communicating the Gospel to people. But in the midst of that, he reminds the church that the treasure we have from God is a treasure that is contained not in vessels of gold and silver but in what the apostle calls “jars of clay.”  For this reason he says, “that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.”  Immediately after this reminder, the apostle adds, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies” (2 Cor. 4:7­-10).

This passage indicates the limits of depression that we experience.  The depression may be profound, but it is not permanent, nor is it fatal.  Notice that the apostle Paul describes our condition in a variety of ways.  He says that we are “afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down.” These are powerful images that describe the conflict that Christians must endure, but in every place that he describes this phenomenon, he describes at the same time its limits.  Afflicted, but not crushed.  Perplexed, but not in despair.  Persecuted, but not forsaken.  Struck down, but not destroyed.

So we have this pressure to bear, but the pressure, though it is severe, does not crush us.  We may be confused and perplexed, but that low point to which perplexity brings us does not result in complete and total despair. Even in persecution, as serious as it may be, we are still not forsaken, and we may be overwhelmed and struck down as Jeremiah spoke of, yet we have room for joy. We think of the prophet Habakkuk, who in his misery remained confident that despite the setbacks he endured, God would give him feet like hind’s feet, feet that would enable him to walk in high places.

Elsewhere, the apostle Paul in writing to the Philippians gives them the admonition to be “anxious for nothing,” telling them that the cure for anxiety is found on one’s knees, that it is the peace of God that calms our spirit and dissipates anxiety.  Again, we can be anxious and nervous and worried without finally submitting to ultimate despair.

This coexistence of faith and spiritual depression is paralleled in other biblical statements of emotive conditions.  We are told that it is perfectly legitimate for believers to suffer grief.  Our Lord Himself was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.  Though grief may reach to the roots of our souls, it must not result in bitterness.  Grief is a legitimate emotion, at times even a virtue, but there must be no place in the soul for bitterness.  In like manner, we see that it is a good thing to go to the house of mourning, but even in mourning, that low feeling must not give way to hatred.  The presence of faith gives no guarantee of the absence of spiritual depression; however, the dark night of the soul always gives way to the brightness of the noonday light of the presence of God.

The Anatomy of Anxiety

By Dr. Robert Kellemen

Does worry, doubt, or fear get the best of you sometimes? Do you wonder where anxiety comes from and how to defeat it in your life and the lives of those you love?

Then we need a biblical anatomy of anxiety.

God intended for us to experience a mood that is the “flip side” of anxiety. If we are to understand the “disorder” of anxiety, we must understand the “order” that sin has disordered. What normal, healthy, God-given process has become perturbed in anxiety?

Vigilance

Anxiety is vigilance out of control and out of context. God designed us with the mood of vigilance which is meant to move us to relationship and impact. With vigilance, God puts us in fast motion, urges us to act quickly in response to a life threat.

Anxiety is “stuck vigilance.” Vigilance is proper, constructive concern for the well-being of others, the world, and self. Anxiety is vigilance minus faith in the Father. Vigilance results in tend and befriend behavior. Anxiety results in flight or fight behavior.

Anxiety is vigilance that does not turn us back to trust. It leads us to a toxic scanning of our environment. God says, “Be vigilant! Be alert! Take your stand, and having done all, stand firm! Quit ye like men!”

Anxiety says, “What if? I can’t handle this! I have to run. I have to fight. I have to self-protect!” Anxiety is scanning without standing. Instead of scanning and standing, we scan, and scan, and scan… It is continual worry. Continued “what if?” thinking and feeling.

The Family Tree of Anxiety

Vigilant faith, anxiety, and anger are cousins. Their family tree? Vigor, from which we gain three related words: vigilante, vigil, and vigorous. Anxiety and anger involve vigilance without faith and without love. They are non-trust, non-relational responses to threat.

Vigilance, on the other hand, is a trust, relational response to threat. It relates to others by protecting the person being threatened. It relates to others by engaging, challenging, confronting (not attacking) the person doing the threatening. It relates to God by trusting that what He calls me to do, He equips me to fulfill. In God’s Kingdom we are either worriers or warriors!

 

The Anatomy of Anxiety, Part 2: Sentry Duty

A Picture Is Worth 1,000 Words

Picture the difference between anger, anxiety, and vigilant faith like this:

*Anger: The Fight Response to Threat—Attack: Vigilante Justice.

Taking matters into my own hands.

*Anxiety: The Flight Response to Threat—Retreat: Vigil without Action.

Taking my safety into my own hands. “If I worry enough, at least I feel as if I have some control.”

*Vigilance: The Faith Response to Threat—Befriend and Tend (Engage and Protect): Vigorous Response.

Taking the safety of myself and others and surrendering it to God’s hands while I take a stand for God’s plan. It is befriending and tending to others even when I am threatened.

Called to Sentry Duty

The root “vig” relates to sentry. God built into our brains a sentry. A sentinel. Adam went off sentry duty when he allowed his wife to be attacked by Satan without intervening. He failed to use his vigor—his energy, force, power given to him from God to “keep the garden” and to “cleave to his wife.”

Where does fear fit into this equation? We know that fear is a God-given emotion. We are called to fear God. Why did God create us with a capacity to fear, and how does fear run amok?

Fear is our response to uncertainty about our resources in the face of danger. We are assaulted by a force that overwhelms us. Then we are compelled to face that we are helpless and that ultimately our safety is out of our control. Faith faces this reality by trusting in the unseen reality of a God who cares and controls. Fear compels me to face my neediness.

Anxiety is fear without faith. It is vigilance run amok. We scan the horizon constantly, fearfully, but without ever taking action or responsibility. And without clinging to God.

Biblical Models

Jesus models constructive vigilance in the garden. He faced His dread of death (Matthew 26:39). And He placed faith in His Father’s good heart and strong hands (Matthew 26:39).

Jesus’ disciples modeled destructive fear and anxiety. Peter at one point chose the fight response of vigilante justice—cutting off an ear! At another point Peter chose the flight response of vigil without action—denying the Lord three times. All of the disciples displayed the inability to hold a vigil. “Could you not keep vigil with me one hour?”

Faith or Fear?

Healthy vigilance and a godly response to fear prompt us to relationship: trusting God with faith. And it prompts us to impact: protecting others through vigilance with vigor.

Abnormal, unhealthy, sinful anxiety prompts us to retreat from relationship: we turn to inward scanning without relational trust in God. And it prompts us to retreat from impact: we experience vigilance without vigor as we self-protect instead of lovingly and strongly protecting others.

Fear of God roots us in the essence of existence not in the externals of our situation. Where does fear drive us? To protect ourselves through the flight response of anxiety or the fight response of anger? Or to God, our Protector who empowers us to tend and befriend (“Guard the garden!”)?

The Anatomy of Anxiety, Part 3: From Fear to Faith by Love

A Theology of Anxiety

To develop relevant, effective “methods” of helping one another to deal with anxiety, we first need a biblical, accurate “theology” of life. In a “theology of anxiety,” we address: a.) the core question we all ask, b.) the core issues we all face, c.) the core longing we all pursue, and d.) the core fear we all face.

The Core Question We All Ask

The deepest questions in the human soul are God-questions. We all ask the core question, “How can I experience peace with God?” Such peace, biblically speaking, involves shalom—harmony, wholeness, oneness, communion, and fullness. Therefore, the ultimate focus in spiritual friendship is to assist each other in our quest for peace with God.

Put practically, when I am ministering to a friend struggling with anxiety, I am asking myself, “Where is my spiritual friend doubting God’s accepting grace in Christ? Where is he or she doubting God’s affectionate sovereignty?”

The Core Issues We All Face

The core issues we all face in life are relational issues because God created us in His own Trinitarian, communitarian, relational image. Therefore, relational issues become our predominant diagnostic indicator. The fundamental lens through which I interpret life is the lens of relationship.

So, when I am ministering to an anxious friend, I am asking myself, “What relational separation issues might be lying hidden beneath my spiritual friend’s specific fears?”

The Core Longing We All Pursue

Created to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves, our core longing in life is for relational connection, communion, and peace—not simply the absence of hostility, but the presence of unity and equality in diversity. Since the deepest longing in life is relationship, the greatest power we have as spiritual friends is our relationship with one another.

Practically speaking, in ministering to a friend battling anxiety, I am asking myself, “How can I offer my spiritual friend tastes of Christ’s mature love and grace?”

The Core Fear We All Face

The core fear in life is shameful separation. Adam and Eve said it well and experienced it first. “I was afraid, because I was naked, so I hid.” Anxiety is the hiding disease. We fear exposure.

In ministering to a friend fighting against such relational fear, I am asking myself, “What core nakedness is my spiritual friend terrified will be exposed?”

 

The Anatomy of Anxiety, Part 4: God’s Peace for Our Anxiety
Perfect Love Casts Out All Fear

In 1 John 4:18, God tells us that “perfect love casts out all fear”—phobos, phobia, terror, panic, separation anxiety. Such fear involves paralyzing apprehension that causes me to flee what I fear or become paralyzed when facing my fear because I doubt my relational security and acceptance. What overpowers such fear of rejection, separation, and condemnation?

God’s answer is faith in perfect love—perfect agape, sacrificial, giving, grace-oriented love. Anxieties and phobias signify a failure to apprehend and apply God’s powerful promise of gracious acceptance.

Spiritual: Faith in God—Accept God’s Acceptance

We need to help one another to reject Satan’s condemnation narrative—his lie that we are unforgiven because God is unforgiving. We need to move with each other from alienation to communion through reconciliation.

We need to make real in our lives the truth that there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus. We need to make real in our lives the truth that nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. As Martin Luther often said, “sanctification is the art of getting used to our justification.”

I would add, “peace and freedom from anxiety is the art of getting used to our reconciliation.”

Social—Faith in One Another—Trusting My Brothers and Sisters

Since mature love casts out fear, I need mature relationships with my brothers and sisters to conquer anxiety. I need to move from separation to community.

The temptation in anxiety is to do the opposite of what we need—to avoid people due to fear of rejection. Instead, we need to experience our partnership in the Gospel. We need to forgive and accept one another as Christ has forgiven and accepted us.

Self-Aware: Faith in Our Acceptance in Christ

Since mature love casts out fear, I need a mature biblical attitude about who I am in and to Christ. I need to see the new me. This is not about “self-esteem,” or “self-image,” but about “Christ-esteem” and an accurate biblical image of who I am in Christ.

This moves us from the paralyzing terror of nakedness that leads to the fear of exposure and rejection to the bold freedom and confidence that comes when we know we are unashamed and without blame in Christ Jesus. I must face my existential doubts (my doubts about my acceptance in Christ) in order to face, understand, and overcome my specific anxieties, fears, and phobias.

The Anatomy of Anxiety, Part 5: Why Am I Afraid?

What Is the Biblical Portrait of Phobia, Fear, and Anxiety?

John tells us that “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love (1 John 4:18).

The word John uses for “fear” is “phobos.” It is used 138 times in the New Testament. Interestingly, the number one New Testament command is, “Fear not!”

In a positive sense, phobos can mean reverence, awe, respect, and honor.

In a negative usage, it means terror, apprehension, alarm, and arousal to flee. In Matthew 28:4, we have a word picture of phobos/phobia. When the Angel of the Lord appears, the guards fear and fall like dead men. Thus here it is used of paralysis of action.

In Luke 21:26, phobos relates to uncertain expectations, terror, apprehension that fears the “What next!?”

In Romans 8:15, phobos has the idea of slavish terror as Paul reminds us that we have been given a spirit of sonship, confidence, and relational acceptance, not a spirit of slavish terror about relational rejection.

Fear of Ultimate Rejection

John is quite specific in his portrait as he says fear has to do with punishment. Punishment means rejection, separation, condemnation—to be left as a loveless orphan, to be abandoned as a helpless child.

To understand John fully, we must go back one verse. In 1 John 4:17, John says that “love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment.”

Confidence is openness, frankness, boldness, assurance, concealing nothing, no hiding, no shame, no fear. It is the courage to come boldly before the throne of grace—because of grace! It is the courage to express myself freely and openly in relationship because I know there is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.

So What Is Phobia, Fear, and Anxiety?

So, how does the Bible picture and define anxiety, fear, and phobia? We might summarize it like this:

“Phobia is paralyzing apprehension causing me to flee what I fear or to become paralyzed when facing my fear because I doubt my relational acceptance and security, because I doubt God’s grace. My ultimate fear is fear of rejection by God. That fear is the cause of all other fears in life.”

What do I fear?

“I fear God, but not in the sense of reverence and awe. I fear God’s rejection because I refuse to place faith in God’s gracious acceptance of me in Christ.”

Why am I afraid?

“If the God of the universe rejects me, then I’m on my own. And If I’m on my own, life is too much for me.”

Making It Real

Let’s make it real-life practical. Phobia/phobos/fear/anxiety makes me feel like:

*“Life is unsafe. It’s too hard for me.”

*”If I cry out for help, no one will respond. If I reach up to God, He won’t care because He has rejected me. He is ashamed of me and I am ashamed in His presence.”

*”I won’t be protected. There’s no one who cares and no one who is in control. No one is flying this plane!”

*”I am orphaned and left alone because no one cares about me. Therefore, I have to make life work on my own.”

*”But I’m small, childlike, inadequate. I can’t overcome the 800-pound gorilla of life. While I must face life alone, life is too much for me to face.”

So How Do We Diagnose Fear?

Phobias, fear, worries, and anxiety signify my failure to grasp and apply God’s powerful promise of gracious acceptance and protection. Fear and anxiety are caused by my refusal to accept my acceptance in Christ. If I believe Satan’s lying, condemning narrative, then I am left with no option other than trusting in myself. And I am far too small to handle life on my own.

Fear becomes a vicious cycle. Fearing God’s rejection, I reject God’s help, and I end up feeling helpless to face life.

The Rest of the Story: There Has to Be a Better Way

There has to be a better way, don’t you think? I sure hope so!

John gives us that better way when he tells us that “perfect love casts our all fear” (1 John 4:18).

The Anatomy of Anxiety, Part 6: Ten Snap Shots of Anxiety

 

  1. Emotions are e-motions. God designed them to set us in motion. They are part of the God-designed motivational structure of the soul. E-motions motivate action.2. God gave us the e-motion of vigilance to urge us to act quickly and courageously in response to a life need. When vigilance works, we have “mood order.”

    3. Vigilance is a faith response to threat. In our faith response, we love God by trusting Him, and we love others by protecting them.4. However, living in a fallen world, inhabiting unredeemed bodies, and tempted by an unloving enemy—Satan (the world, the flesh, and the devil), our vigilance can turn to hyper-vigilance, or stuck vigilance when we experience threat without faith.

    5. In stuck vigilance, instead of a faith response to threat, we have a fear response to threat that leads either to flight (anxiety, panic) or fight (anger, aggression). When e-motions misfire like this, we have “mood disorder.”

    6. So when fear strikes, we should be asking, “Where does fear drive me? Does it drive me to self-protection by flight or fight? Or does fear drive me to God, my Protector?”

    7. Faith that works does not shun vigilance. Rather, it controls vigilance. It refuses to allow the emotions to control the mind.

    8. God calls us to manage our moods and to master our emotions. We are not to ignore them, stuff them, or harm others with them. David is a biblical portrait of mature mood management. In Psalm 42, he is emotionally aware. “Why are you disquieted within me, O, my soul?” David then demonstrates soothing his soul in God. “Hope thou in God.” As Martin Lloyd-Jones says, David talked to himself rather than simply listening to himself!

    9. When anxiety stalks, faith wrestles. Faith talks to the self. “I know God will never leave me nor forsake me. I can do all things through Christ. I am more than a conqueror. Nothing will ever separate me from the love of God in Christ.”

    10. When faith wrestles anxiety, we refuse the fight or flight response. Instead, we choose the tend and befriend response. Trusting God’s protection, we refuse to protect our self. Instead, we courageously protect others for God’s glory.

The Anatomy of Anxiety, Part 7:

A Dozen Biblical Portraits of Anxiety

The Bible Is Relevant

Some people talk about “making the Bible relevant.”

We don’t make the Bible relevant. The Bible is the most relevant book ever written.

In fact, we have to work hard to make the Bible irrelevant. We have to work hard to make the Bible boring.

Other people talk about the sufficiency of the Scriptures. I believe 100% that the Bible is sufficient. However, far too many people fail to link the sufficiency of Scripture with the relevancy of Scripture.

We should never talk about the sufficiency of Scripture without also emphasizing the relevancy of Scripture.

The Relevancy of the Bible and Anxiety

What does all of this have to do with an anatomy of anxiety?

Some people think that the only biblical reference to anxiety is Philippians 4:6. They also tend to act like the only biblical counseling that we need to do for a person struggling with anxiety is to quote, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

That’s an amazing verse, but the Bible is not simply a “concordance” on anxiety where we tell people, “take two verses and call me in the morning.”

The Reality of the Bible: The Agony of Anxiety

The Bible presents an amazing array of an anatomy of anxiety. I want to share just a small sampler of those to whet your appetite. These verses and passages realistically depict the agony of anxiety.

The Bible is real and raw. It tells about real people with real problems. It presents real answers from a real God.

One of the myriad beauties of the Bible is it teaches us that we are not alone. Others have suffered like we do now. And others have found victory. This sense of “universality”—that others are in the same boat, encourages us when life beats us down.

A Dozen Biblical Samplers of the Experience of Anxiety

If you are struggling with fear, panic, worry, or anxiety, consider the following samplers as just a few passages you can turn to that depict struggles with fear and anxiety in other godly men and women of the Bible.

*Psalm 27: When fear assaults, David seeks God’s face.

*Psalm 34: Read of David’s fear and broken-heartedness and God’s care and cure.
*Psalm 46: Learn of God’s strength and ever-present help in our trouble and anxieties.

*Psalm 55: David’s thoughts trouble him—ever been there? He is distraught—been there, done that! His heart is in anguish within him; terrors of death assail him. Fear and trembling beset him; horrors overwhelm him. He casts all his cares on Jehovah; He cries out to Jehovah in distress. He pleads for God’s sustaining care.

*Psalm 91: This psalm has been called the 911 Psalm. When you experience terror and foreboding and feel like life is an unavoidable snare and trap, call God’s 911 hotline and find God to be your refuge and shield.

*Psalm 109: David candidly speaks of his wounded heart (109:22). He is poor and needy, shaken and fading away (109:23). Attacked by others, he clings to God.

*Psalm 116: The psalmist is overcome by trouble, afflicted, and dismayed, overly concerned, imprisoned by anguish. Where will rest be found?

*Matthew 6:25-33: Jesus’ teaching on worry and trusting Father’s good heart.

*Matthew 10:26-31: Jesus’ teaching on fear and trusting Father’s affectionate sovereignty.

*John 14:1-31: Jesus’ loving message to His disciples and to us—when our hearts are troubled, when we feel orphaned and all alone, where do we find peace? Do not let your hearts be troubled.

*Philippians 4:1-20: A classic passage on anxiety—but note that it is a passage in the context of a book. It is not simply a verse to quote like waving a magic wand.

*1 Peter 5:5-11: Another classic New Testament passage in a wider context that includes not only casting our care on God who cares, but also discusses vigilance (5:8)—sound familiar?

 

Anxiety: How to stop catastrophizing – an expert’s guide

SOURCE:  Linda Blair/Clinical Psychologist

A clinical psychologist suggests a three-pronged plan for tackling anxiety and approaching each day logically and positively

Let us start by considering why some people catastrophize – that is, on hearing uncertain news, they imagine the worst possible outcome. After all, it is not uncommon and those who catastrophize seem to do it a lot.

Catastrophizers tend to be fairly anxious people. Whether this characteristic is principally genetic or more the result of learning is unknown. High levels of anxiety are extremely unpleasant, so we look for ways to discharge those unpleasant feelings as quickly as possible. If a catastrophizer is told something inconclusive – for example, if they go to a GP and are asked to have tests – they look for a way to feel in control again immediately. They learn to choose the worst possible outcome because it allows for the greatest sense of relief when they are reassured.

Considering all possibilities is not a bad strategy if you examine them logically. However, unable to bear their distress, catastrophisers rush to external sources to calm themselves down: checking whether anyone else has “come through” the same problem; matching symptoms online to obtain a diagnosis and treatment options; asking a professional to tell them that they will survive. Once they are reassured, they feel better – in psychological jargon, they have “rewarded” this seeking behaviour. The next time they feel uncertain or threatened, they will ratchet up their anxiety with a catastrophic thought, then look outwards for reassurance even faster than before. In this way, catastrophising soon becomes a well-entrenched habit. The greatest problem with seeking others to alleviate anxiety is that it offers only temporary relief. There is always another source to check or another opinion to be had; as a result, catastrophisers feel anxious again increasingly quickly. The only way to break this cycle is to tame anxiety. After this, you can still seek advice. So, if you are a catastrophiser and you would rather not be, how do you go about making changes?

Accept yourself. Anxiety is energy: if you are an anxious person, celebrate! However, why waste that energy feeling uncomfortable and preparing yourself for circumstances that will almost certainly never occur? Look for enjoyable ways to challenge yourself and use your energy more positively: taking regular aerobic exercise; learning something new; taking up a creative passion.

Take control. Establish a regular “worry time”. Start by setting aside half an hour every day. Write down all your concerns in specific terms. For example: “I felt nauseated this morning. Do I have stomach cancer?” Assign a score on a scale of 0 to 100% to estimate how distressed this possibility makes you feel. Next, list all the possible explanations for your concern, then rank each one according to how likely it is to be correct. Make use of external sources if necessary, but stick with reputable websites and professionals. Finally, score your worry for the level of distress it is causing you now. Gradually, you will be able to reduce the amount and frequency of worry time.

Use the “best friend test”. Ask yourself what you would advise your best friend to do about each concern, and take that action.

Learn to self-soothe. Whenever you are overwhelmed by anxiety and feel you must seek reassurance, give yourself permission to do so – but not straight away. Establish an interval before you are allowed to act. Even two minutes is enough at first, because you are still exerting self-control. Breathing slowly in through your nose and out through your mouth, or taking some gentle exercise, will help. Gradually, you will find you can wait longer. When you get to the point where you can wait more than 20 minutes, most people find they no longer need to be reassured by others.

This three-pronged approach – using your “worry energy” to carry out new and enjoyable challenges, approaching your tendency to catastrophize logically and systematically, and learning to wait through discomfort – takes time. But if you invest the necessary time, you will start looking forward to each day knowing you can deal with uncertainty in a more positive, balanced way.

Your Family Voyage: Discarding Resentment

SOURCE:  Adapted from Your Family Voyage by P. Roger Hillerstrom

Some of the heaviest weight to unload is that of resentment.

The object of animosity may be a parent, sibling, authority figure, or some other significant person from your past.  You attempt to “get them back” by withholding love or approval, withdrawing, being uncooperative, ruminating on your anger, or severing the relationship altogether.  You may have denied or buried your anger so long that you aren’t even aware of your bitterness, but the emotion is expressed in a variety of ways:

Unmerited explosions of anger.

Avoidance of certain individuals.

A strong desire for vengeance or retaliation.

A pessimistic or critical outlook on life.

Sarcasm, cynicism, or critical attitudes toward individuals or situations.

Over-reactions or under-reactions out of proportion to the current situation.

In harboring resentment you suffer more than anyone else – anxiety, tension, regret, and isolation as well as physical effects such as headaches, high blood pressure, and digestive problems.  The offending individual may not even be aware of or affected by your indignation.

The resolution of resentment is forgiveness.

When we choose to forgive another person, we receive the primary benefit – the freedom to choose our responses and commitments to others, to ourselves and to God.

Our model of forgiveness is God.

Each one of us has broken God’s laws and erected barriers in our relationship with him.  The offenses are ours, not Gods.  God’s forgiveness is not based on his denial of our sin; he is very aware of our offenses against him.  God’s forgiveness is not the result of his ability to pretend that we never committed any wrong.  The forgiveness our heavenly Father offers is based on his willingness to bear the cost of our sin.  Christ’s death on the cross was the payment for our sin.  Because of that payment, God is free to respond to us as a gracious loving Father rather than as a righteous judge.

When we decide to forgive someone who has offended us, we must choose to bear the cost of the wrong committed against us.  Once we forgive, we no longer require a payment for the offenses we experienced.  We cancel the debt by accepting the offense.  In essence, we pay the debt owed us.  We no longer punish the offending person through anger, silence, avoidance or criticism.  This process frees us from the burden of resentment and allows us to let go of troublesome patterns from the past.

If we are going to unload baggage from our past, it will be necessary to relinquish any bitterness we may harbor.  Forgiveness is necessary.  Without letting go of our desire for vengeance, we trap ourselves into the patterns of the past.

Does forgiveness mean I’ll forget the offense?  No.  Forgiveness isn’t a matter of blocking memories or denying the past.  You will probably always carry a memory of the offense, but your emotional response to that memory can change as you forgive.

How long does forgiveness take?  This varies a great deal.  Forgiveness is a process and seldom occurs instantly.  The process of forgiveness begins with a conscious decision.  Once you have decided to forgive, God can begin to work in you to heal your wounds and change your perspective.

How will I know when I’ve forgiven this person?  While the memory will remain, the experience of that memory will become a recalling of history rather than a current experience of anxiety, anger, or hurt.

How do I start forgiving?  Forgiveness begins with a decision.  Once you’ve decided to forgive, prayerfully ask God to soften your heart and broaden your understanding of this experience from your past.  As you sincerely look to him, he will be faithful to shape you into his image in this area.  Once you have confronted those painful memories, they lose their power.  When they “feel” real, you react emotionally.

Your painful memories may cause incredible and unpleasant discomfort the first few times you mentally walk through them.  But once you’ve confronted them, they lose their immediacy.  Conversely, as long as you expend effort trying to avoid a memory it will retain its vivid reality and negative power, even if in your dreams or in the far corner of the haunting attic you try to pretend doesn’t exist.

How to Ease the Intensity of a Panic Attack by Practicing Mindfulness

SOURCE:  Dr. Henry Cloud

Challenge Panic attacks can hit you at the most random, inconvenient times without notice or apparent triggers. They can create intense moments that leave you fearful while waiting for the feeling of impending doom to subside.

Solution By observing mindfulness, we can decrease the intensity of a panic attack by allowing anxiety to run is course without shaming ourselves or suppressing our feelings.

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The feeling struck while I was driving down the interstate to an appointment. My muscles tightened and encapsulated me. My breath became short and my head started spinning. The cadence of my heartbeat increased while my hands clinched the leather on my steering wheel.

“This is it,” I told myself. “I’m really dying this time.”

This time, right? This wasn’t just the result of some fabricated paranoia. These symptoms were real.

I could feel my throat start to close, and I was convinced I was going to suffocate and pass out. The feeling intensified as I realized I could seriously injure myself or another person if it happened while I was driving, so I pulled over at the nearest exit.

The mystery of a panic attack can create enough anxiety to actually trigger one. The phenomenon has been studied for decades and has been loosely explained through theories of evolution, genetics and the fight-flight-freeze response. Preventing them from occurring, however, has been a trial-and-error process and one person’s remedy doesn’t always work for another.

Though we’re not operating in the rational parts of our brain during a panic attack, exercising mindfulness could make a difference in its intensity. Give these exercises a try.

1. Embrace what’s happening.

The physical symptoms you’re experiencing are the result of your body trying to protect itself. (This, of course, is assuming you’ve been cleared of any pre-existing conditions from your doctor.) When the fight-flight-freeze response is active in your brain during a panic attack, it sends messages to different parts of the body to respond to the perceived danger you’re processing.

2. Focus on your breathing pattern.

There are different variations of doing this, but here’s what works for me. Inhale for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 4-6 seconds, and then exhale for 4 seconds. Do this as many times as you need to. The idea here is to focus on your breath and to return a normal oxygen flow to parts of your brain and body.

3. Eat a mint or chew some gum.

The stronger the scent, the better. The taste overloads your senses and takes away the intensity of what you’re experiencing.

4. Stop shaming yourself.

You may find yourself embarrassed in how you’re responding to external stimuli while your body and mind endure the downward spiral of panic. Allow yourself to honor how you’re feeling, recognize what’s happening and to get through the experience. Attempts to suppress these things could make the anxiety worse.

5. Don’t ask “Why?”

Asking yourself, “Why?” is not a question that comes from the rational part of your mind. It comes from the proverbial heart or your gut. The answer to “Why” takes you down the rabbit hole of “What-ifs” that won’t give you the answers to relief.

Mindfulness means we give ourselves permission to accept our thoughts, feelings and experiences without judgment and shame. It opens our attention to what’s happening in the present. When we embrace the physical symptoms of a panic attack, it sends a message to the amygdala, almost as if it were to say, “Hey, I know what this is. I’ve experienced it before and everything will eventually be ok.” Give yourself permission to let anxiety run its course and acknowledge how you feel when it happens. Practicing mindfulness at the onset of a panic attack allows you to make the necessary connections that ease the anxiety efficiently.

An Affair Does Not Have to Mean the End

SOURCE:  Carrie Cole M.Ed., LPC/The Gottman Institute

Ralph and Susan had been married for 13 years with two adorable children. Their suburban life was packed with work, school, and the kids’ extra-curricular activities. Neither made their marriage a priority, but overall they felt their relationship was good.

Susan withheld her suspicion when she noticed that Ralph was on his phone more than usual. At times she couldn’t help but ask “What’s going on?” only to receive “Nothing. Just checking the news,” or “There’s a lot of drama at the office that I need to take care of.” She trusted him.

When Susan discovered that Ralph had been texting another woman, she was devastated. Her world came crashing down. In her mind, Ralph was not the kind of person to ever have an affair.

Ralph lied about it at first. He felt like he needed to protect Susan from the ugly truth. But as more evidence came out, he couldn’t lie anymore. He was having an affair.

He didn’t know how he had got involved so deeply with someone else. It just happened. He and a co-worker had become close friends over time. It felt good to have someone to talk to who listened and made him feel special. He hadn’t had that in a long time with Susan.

During the affair he had to convince himself that Susan didn’t care. He felt she wasn’t interested in him sexually anymore. They were more like roommates than soulmates.

As a Certified Gottman Therapist, I have heard many versions of this story in my couples therapy practice over the last 15 years. An affair, whether emotional or sexual, is devastating. Both partners suffer tremendous pain. But an affair does not have to mean the end.

The PTSD of an Affair

The betrayed partner experiences a tidal wave of emotion. The pain, hurt, anger, humiliation, and despair are overwhelming. After the traumatic moment the affair is realized, they become fearful, anxious, and hypervigilant, wondering where or when the next blow is going to come – not unlike symptoms of PTSD felt by military veterans.

Their mind races with thoughts of What don’t they know? What’s the whole story? Scenes of their partner with someone else appear in their mind when awake and when asleep, making life a living nightmare.

The Guilt of Betrayal

The betrayer also experiences a great deal of emotion. The hopeless feeling of witnessing your partner in pain and knowing you can do nothing to alleviate their suffering is a horrible experience. The feelings of guilt, shame, and humiliation are almost unbearable.

So, what causes an affair? Why do partners choose to cheat? The answers are complicated and may take months to unravel.

Recovering From an Affair

Is it possible to recover from an affair? The answer for most couples is yes.

Many couples I’ve worked with have actually created a stronger, more emotionally connected, and richer relationship from the ashes of an affair. However, it’s not quick or easy. As with any serious injury, it takes time to heal. And it usually takes therapy.

It’s tempting to think that it will automatically get better with time. The problem with “sweeping it under the rug” is that the anxiety, fear, anger, and guilt felt early on by the betrayed person often give way to resentment – a slow seething anger that leads to total contempt for the betrayer. Dr. John Gottman’s research has shown that contempt is deadly in relationships and very difficult to recover from.

Couples therapy can help partners explore and understand what happened. The betrayed partner needs to have their questions answered, such as:

  • When did you meet?
  • Where did you meet?
  • How long did the affair last?

The betrayed partner attempts to understand how it happened and how they can prevent it from happening again. They also seek consistency in the stories from one telling to the next. Do I know everything? Are you lying to me now? These questions are best asked and answered in the emotionally safe environment of a therapist’s office.

It is best not to ask questions about the specifics of the sexual nature of the affair. Those questions usually do more bad than good in that they conjure up images that might haunt the betrayed partner’s thoughts.

When the betrayed partner feels that they have all the answers they need, the couple can begin to work on rebuilding trust. Couples like Susan and Ralph have turned away from each other in many small ways over time, which compounds into the feelings that ultimately led Ralph astray. They neglected the relationship.

Once couples process what happened, they need to begin to tune back into each other. Susan and Ralph found that they avoided each other to avoid conflict. Tuning back in requires dialoguing about problems – both ongoing perpetual problems and past issues that might have caused some injury to the relationship.

Recognize That Conflict is Inevitable

Conflict is a natural part of your happily ever after. Every relationship has conflict due to different values, beliefs, and philosophies of life. When these differences are discussed safely, and when honored and respected, the couple will experience greater intimacy. At times this can feel uncomfortable and take some push and pull. Communication skills provided by a therapist can help the navigation of these discussions go more smoothly.

Once the couple has tuned back into each other, it will be helpful to create some meaningful rituals to stay connected. Couples can be creative about ways to do that which are special and unique to them. One couple I worked with decided to have morning coffee together for 30 minutes. They would discuss the events of the day, check in with each other emotionally, and take the time to really listen to each other’s hearts.

Another couple developed a ritual of a bubble bath after the kids were in bed. They said they did their best talking in their big round Jacuzzi tub.

Sexual and emotional betrayals are a hefty blow to a relationship, but an affair does not have to be the end. Couples who have the emotional fortitude to reach out and seek the help they need can create a much more meaningful and intimate relationship in the aftermath of infidelity.

 

Waiting: Out of the Shadows

SOURCE:  Charles Swindoll

Some of you who read these words today could use a little extra hope, especially if you find yourself in a waiting mode.

You were once engaged in the action, doing top-priority work on the front lines. No longer. All that has changed. Now, for some reason, you’re on the shelf. It’s tough to stay encouraged perched on a shelf. Your mind starts playing tricks on you.

Though you are well-educated, experienced, and fairly gifted in your particular field, you are now waiting. You’re wondering, and maybe you’re getting worried, that this waiting period might be permanent. Admittedly, your response may not be all that great. You can’t see any light at the end of the tunnel. It just doesn’t seem fair. After all, you’ve trained hard, you’ve jumped through hoops, and you’ve even made the necessary sacrifices. Discouragement crouches at the door, ready to pounce on any thought or hope, so you sit wondering why God has chosen to pass you by.

I want to offer you some encouragement, but I need to start with a realistic comment: it may be a long time before God moves you into a place of significant impact. He may choose not to reveal His plan for weeks, maybe months.

Are you ready for this?

It could be years.

I have found that one of God’s favorite methods of preparing us for something great is to send us into the shadows to wait.

But that doesn’t mean you’re doomed to terminal darkness. Take heart from the words of British author James Stalker who wrote, “Waiting is a common instrument of providential discipline for those to whom exceptional work has been appointed.”

Pause and let that sink in. Read the statement again, slower this time.

Waiting is one of God’s preferred methods of preparing special people for significant projects. The Bible makes that principle plain from cover to cover.

As Psalm 27:14 says, “Wait for the LORD; be strong and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the LORD.”

God often prepares us for something great by sending us into the shadows to wait.

6 Little-Known Signs of Depression in Older Adults

SOURCE:  Kristen Sturt

Depression affects over two million people 65-plus; learn how to identify the signs, and how to get help.

Your husband might be depressed, and you might not know it. Or, maybe it’s your sister or your mother.

Maybe it’s even you.

Even though upwards of two million Americans age 65-plus experience depression, the majority of seniors—68 percent, according to a National Mental Health Association survey—know little about it. One big reason is that signs are easy to overlook, since they’re frequently confused with other ailments and changes that come naturally with aging.

“Often in older adults, when they’re depressed, you don’t see high levels of crying and sadness you might see in a younger adult,” says Dr. Sarah Yarry, Ph.D., a Licensed Clinical Psychologist specializing in gerontology. “You see it more often as withdrawal. It’s apathy, hopelessness, loss of appetite and interest.” Older adults regularly demonstrate physical symptoms, as well—particularly aches and pains—and when they’re not addressed along with the underlying neurological issues, depression is more likely to linger, and more likely to come back.

Depression comes with serious personal costs, too: It’s correlated with a higher risk of dying early from certain illnesses and is a major factor in suicides. That’s why it’s imperative to recognize the signs—even the lesser-known ones—before it’s too late. Here, then, are some common, but little-known indications of depression in older adults.

1. Joint and back pain

As we age, some pain is to be expected, and it doesn’t have to come with depression. That said, the connection between pain and depression can’t be ignored—especially if the pain is chronic, meaning it lasts more than a few months. Back aches and joint pain are commonly reported signs. One 2015 study in the journal Arthritis even found that about 12 percent of those with hip or knee osteoarthritis were depressed, versus about 6.6 percent of the general population. What’s more, “each additional symptomatic joint was associated with a 19 percent increase in the odds of self-reported depression.” Research shows that pain and depression is a chicken-egg scenario, too; the discomfort contributes to the depression, which can then intensify the agony. Physically painful illnesses, from stroke to multiple sclerosis, can exacerbate depression, too.

2. Cognitive impairment

While our mental abilities are expected to decline somewhat with age, depression can do a number on memory, focus, attentiveness, and even speech and movement. In fact, one small 2004 study found that more than half of participants suffering from late-life depression had significant problems with processing information and executive function (decision making, reason, etc.).

This mental cloudiness is frequently confused with dementia. As opposed to a degenerative condition like Alzheimer’s, however, “The confusion comes from lack of energy and apathy,” says Dr. Yarry. “It takes so much effort with them because they’re depressed.” This makes diagnosis crucial, since treating depression can improve sharpness.

3. Chest pain

Heart disease and depression often go hand in hand; depressed people show more signs of coronary illness, and people suffering from coronary illness are more likely to be depressed. Two recent studies support this:

  • A 2010 study in Heart Views found that chest pain patients demonstrated “more than triple” the rate of depression of the general population.
  • A 2015 study found that newly depressed angina patients “reported more angina and physical limitations” than those who were not depressed.

Depression apparently makes surviving coronary disease more difficult, too; depressed heart failure patients, for example, are four times as likely to die early. Part of this may be chemical, part if it is because depressed people may be less motivated to take good care of themselves. Either way, chest pain like angina can be an indicator of depression.

4. Irritability

In addition to melancholy, older adults suffering from depression may express grouchiness, increased anger, or even open hostility, all of which can be magnified by the use of alcohol (also tied to depression). Part of the reason for this is cultural. “It’s more appropriate to express depression as irritability rather than sadness, because that’s what’s acceptable in that generation,” says Dr. Yarry. “It’s the accepted way of expressing emotion.” Other feelings that might indicate depression: Increased fear, anxiety, guilt, and loss of hope.

5. Headaches

Though it’s not widely known, there’s a strong, long-established tie between senior depression and headaches. For example, in 1999, the journal Pain published a survey of 1,421 Chinese seniors that found those with frequent, severe, or migraine headaches were likelier to be depressed. Migraines are especially correlative; a 2008 study of migraine patients aged 50-plus discovered that nearly half showed “mild-to-moderate depressive symptoms.”  Like joint and chest pain, depression may exacerbate headaches, while headaches can contribute to depression.

6. Gastrointestinal issues

As we age, we internalize our psychological issues in more ways than one, and depression may have some pretty serious effects on our guts. Nausea, constipation, and digestive problems are common, as are appetite and weight changes. Depressed older adults may drop pounds and slow their eating overall, though some may go the other direction and gain weight, too.

If you suspect someone you know is suffering from depression—or you, yourself are experiencing symptoms—see a medical professional as soon as possible. “Bring them to a family doctor and get an evaluation,” says Dr. Yarry, who also suggests seeing a mental health expert whose focus is in treating older people. “Talk to a geriatric psychologist that specializes in depression issues.”

For more information about depression and older adults, consult one of these resources—and remember that there’s always help.

 

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.

Emotions: Who’s In Charge Of Yours?

SOURCE:  New Life Ministries

Knowing God leads to self-control. Self-control leads to patient endurance, and patient endurance leads to godliness. – 2 Peter 1:6

Who is in charge of your emotions?

Is it you, or have you formed the unfortunate habit of letting other people—or troubling situations—determine the quality of your thoughts and the direction of your day? If you’re wise—and if you’d like to build a better life for yourself and your loved ones—you’ll learn to control your emotions before your emotions control you.

Human emotions are highly variable, decidedly unpredictable, and often unreliable. Our emotions are like the weather, only far more fickle. So we must learn to live by faith, not by the ups and downs of our own emotional roller coasters.

Remember: Your life shouldn’t be ruled by your emotions—your life should be ruled by God. So if you think you’ve lost control over your emotions, don’t make big decisions, don’t strike out against anybody, and don’t speak out in anger. Count to ten (or more) and take a “time out” from your situation until you calm down.

– Steve Arterburn

Sometime during this day, you will probably be gripped by a strong negative feeling. Distrust it. Reign it in. Test it. And turn it over to God. Your emotions will inevitably change; God will not. So trust Him completely as you watch those negative feelings slowly evaporate into thin air—which, of course, they will. Our feelings do not affect God’s facts.Amy Carmichael

Don’t bother much about your feelings. When they are humble, loving, brave, give thanks for them; when they are conceited, selfish, cowardly, ask to have them altered. In neither case are they you, but only a thing that happens to you. What matters is your intentions and your behavior. – C. S. Lewis

The spiritual life is a life beyond moods. It is a life in which we choose joy and do not allow ourselves to become victims of passing feelings of happiness or depression. – Henri Nouwen

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.

The LORD, The LORD — OR — The Problem, The Problem?

SOURCE:  Max Lucado/Family Life

Your Best Thoughts Are God-Thoughts

When troubles come our way, we can be stressed and upset, or we can trust God.

You’ll never have a problem-free life. Ever.

You’ll never drift off to sleep on the wings of this thought: My, today came and went with no problems in the world. This headline will never appear in the paper: “We have only good news to report.”

You might be elected as president of Russia. You might discover a way to e-mail pizza and become a billionaire. You might be called out of the stands to pinch-hit when your team is down to its final out of the World Series, hit a home run, and have your face appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

Pigs might fly.

A kangaroo might swim.

Men might surrender the remote control.

Women might quit buying purses.

It’s not likely. But it’s possible.

But a problem-free, no hassle, blue-sky existence of smooth sailing?

Don’t hold your breath.

Problems happen. They happen to rich people, sexy people, educated people, and sophisticated people. They happen to retired people, single people, spiritual people, and secular people.

All people have problems.

But not all people see problems the same way. Some people are overcome by problems. Others overcome problems. Some people are left bitter. Others are left better. Some people face their challenges with fear. Others with faith.

Caleb did.

In the wilderness
His story from the Old Testament stands out because his faith did. Forty five years earlier when Moses sent the 12 spies into Canaan, Caleb was among them. He and Joshua believed the land could be taken. But since the other 10 spies disagreed, the children of Israel ended up in the wilderness.

God, however, took note of Caleb’s courage. The man’s convictions were so striking that God paid him a compliment that would make a saint blush. “My servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly” (Numbers 14:24 NIV).  How would you like to have those words on your resume? What type of spirit catches the eye of God? What qualifies as a “different spirit?

Answers begin to emerge during the distribution of the lands west of the Jordan.

Then the children of Judah came to Joshua in Gilgal (Joshua 14:6). Every Hebrew tribe was represented. All the priests, soldiers, and people gathered near the tabernacle. Eleazar, the priest, had two urns, one containing the tribal names, the other with lists of land parcels. Yet before the people received their inheritance, a promise needed to be fulfilled.

I’m seeing a sturdy man with sinewy muscle. Caleb, gray headed and great hearted, steps forward. He has a spring in his step, a sparkle in his eye, and a promise to collect. “Joshua, remember what Moses told you and me at Kadesh Barnea?

Kadesh Barnea. The name stirred a 45-five-year-old memory in Joshua. It was from this camp that Moses heard two distinct reports.

All 12 men agreed on the value of the land. It flowed with milk and honey. All 12 agreed on the description of the people and the cities. Large and fortified. But only Joshua and Caleb believed the land could be overtaken.

Read carefully the words that Caleb spoke to Joshua at the end of the military campaign (Joshua 14:6-12). See if you can spot what was different about Caleb’s spirit.

Caleb … said to [Joshua]: “You know the word which the LORD said to Moses the man of God concerning you and me in Kadesh Barnea. I was forty years old when Moses the servant of the LORD sent me from Kadesh Barnea to spy out the land, and I brought back word to him as it was in my heart. Nevertheless my brethren who went up with me made the heart of the people melt, but I wholly followed the LORD my God. So Moses swore on that day, saying, ‘Surely the land where your foot has trodden shall be your inheritance and your children’s forever, because you have wholly followed the LORD my God.’ And now, behold the LORD has kept me alive, as He said, these forty-five years, ever since the LORD spoke this word to Moses while Israel wandered in the wilderness; and now, here I am this day, eighty-five years old. As yet I am as strong this day as on the day that Moses sent me; just as my strength was then, so now is my strength for war, both for going out and for coming in. Now therefore, give me this mountain of which the LORD spoke in that day; for you heard in that day how the Anakim were there, and that the cities were great and fortified. It may be that the LORD will be with me; and I shall be able to drive them out as the LORD said.

What name appears and reappears in Caleb’s words? The Lord. The Lord. The Lord. The Lord. The Lord. The Lord. The Lord. The Lord. The Lord. Nine references to the Lord! Who was on Caleb’s mind? Who was in Caleb’s heart? What caused him to have a different spirit? He centered his mind on the Lord.

What about you? What emphasis would a transcript of your thoughts reveal? The Lord? Or the problem, the problem, the problem, the problem? The economy, the economy? The jerk, the jerk?

Promised Land people do not deny the presence of problems. Canaan is fraught with giants and Jerichos. It does no good to pretend it is not. Servants like Caleb aren’t naïve, but they immerse their minds in God-thoughts.

Good water and battery acid
Imagine two cooking bowls. One contains fresh, clean water. The second contains battery acid. Take an apple and cut it in half. Place one half of the apple in the bowl of clean water. Place the other half in the bowl of battery acid. Leave each in its respective bowl for five minutes, and then pull out the two halves. Which one will you want to eat?

Your mind is the apple. God is good water. Problems are battery acid. If you marinate your mind in your problems, they will eventually corrode and corrupt your thoughts. But thoughts of God will preserve and refresh your attitudes. Caleb was different because he soaked his mind in God.

The psalmist showed us how to do this. He asked, “Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? (Psalm 42:5). He was sad and discouraged. The struggles of life threatened to pull him under and take another victim. But at just the right time, the writer made this decision: “Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him … I will remember You from the land of the Jordan, and from the heights of Hermon, from the Hill Mizar (verses 5-6).

There is a resolve in those words. “I shall yet … I will remember You. The writer made a deliberate decision to treat his downcast soul with thoughts of God. Everywhere I go, I will remember you—from Jordan to Hermon to Mizar.

In your case the verse would read, “From the ICU to the cemetery, to the unemployment line, to the courtroom, I will remember you.

There is nothing easy about this. Troubles pounce on us like rain in a thunderstorm. Finding God amid the billows will demand every bit of discipline you can muster. But the result is worth the strain. Besides, do you really want to meditate on your misery? Will reciting your problems turn you into a better person? No. But changing your mind-set will.

Stop allowing yourselves to be agitated and disturbed (John 14:27, AMP).  Instead, immerse your mind in God-thoughts.

When troubles come our way, we can be stressed and upset, or we can trust God. Caleb could have cursed God. He didn’t deserve the wilderness. He had to put his dreams on hold for four decades. Still he didn’t complain or grow sour. When the time came for him to inherit his property, he stepped forward with a God-drenched mind to receive it.

Set your minds and keep them set on what is above (the higher things) (Col.  3:2 AMP). When giants are in the land, when doubts swarm your mind, turn your thoughts to God. Your best thoughts are God-thoughts.

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Taken from Glory Days by Max Lucado, copyright © 2015 by Max Lucado.

 

How To Deal With Anxiety

SOURCE:  Mark Merrill

In Florida, thunderstorms come and go, often very quickly. These storms roll in rapidly with crashing thunder and heavy downpours.  After 30 minutes or so, the rain stops and they pass through.  But what about the storms that don’t ever seem to leave?

Anxiety is one of those storms that may linger.

It isn’t a quick-moving storm in the lives of those who struggle, but rather a long-term deluge of fear. While adrenaline can push us to lead productive lives, it can all too easily turn into a prolonged and unnatural state of worry known as anxiety.  Recently, I’ve spoken with a few friends and coworkers who have shared with me about their struggles with anxiety.  I was surprised to hear that these friends I know and interact with daily had hid the pain so well.  But the truth is, they aren’t alone – anxiety affects 40 million adults in the U.S., which is 18% of the national population.

As I continued to research the matter, I learned that anxiety is considered to be highly treatable.  However, it’s estimated that only about one-third of those who are suffering actually seek treatment.  This is sometimes due to the negative stigma associated with anxiety in our society, which creates feelings of shame within those who are suffering and leads them to hide their hurt.

Thankfully, there is hope for you if you’re struggling with anxiety, or if you think you know someone who is.  Here are five other things you can do to manage and treat your anxiety.

1. Keep Talking. Talk to your friends, family, or a doctor about your struggles with anxiety.  Their support and prayers will be a huge source of encouragement.

2. Practice Relaxation Techniques.  Learn about some commonly recommended techniques to help you remain calm. Your doctor may have some suggestions.  Then at moments when your mind becomes clouded with anxious thoughts, use these relaxation techniques—some of which include muscle relaxation and relaxed breathing.

3. Rest and Exercise. Try your best to get a good night’s sleep.  That way you’ll be rested and ready to better handle life’s ups and downs.  Daily exercise is also highly recommended.  Go for a brisk walk or a jog to help clear your mind.

4. Be Involved. Try not to isolate yourself at home.  Sign up to volunteer in your community or find a sports team or club you can join.  This will give you a much-needed break from the everyday stress you deal with.

5. Medication. In some cases, medication will be used in the treatment of anxiety.  Of course, that isn’t for me to decide.  A doctor, often in conjunction with a therapist or counselor, will be the one who makes that decision.

If you think you are struggling with anxiety, please remember that you are not alone in this battle and that there is hope.

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 Medical information within this site is not intended for use in the diagnosis or treatment of any health condition. Please consult a licensed health care professional for the treatment or diagnosis of any medical condition.

Anxiety: UNDER PRESSURE

SOURCE: Cameron Lawrence/InTouch Ministries

We might be people of faith, but that doesn’t mean we’re immune to anxiety.

It’s a weekday morning, and the coffee shop fills quickly, a line snaking around tables from the counter to the door. The machines answer back to their handlers—hissing steam, grinding beans—in a kind of waking song. I watch patrons sip from the day’s first cup, souls once again easing into their bodies.

And yet, I am drinking decaf—an unpardonable sin, I realize—just as I have for a decade. Not as a demonstration of dietary conviction or some obscure religious observance, but because of how years ago caffeine became a destructive force in my life. No, let me try again: I gave up caffeine because it revealed a destructive force already latent within me—a propensity toward anxiety of the sort that overtakes the mind.

It started in the weeks leading up to my wedding and then intensified after the honeymoon. Beneath my usual calm demeanor, irrational thoughts were inexplicably taking over my interior life. It was as if I had been walking through the familiar landscape of my existence, when suddenly I discovered a solitary door in the middle of an open field. I walked through, and at first nothing seemed different. But then I sensed them—specters creeping among the tall grasses, rustling the high branches. The world of my mind had become populated with shadows of my hidden fears. I looked for an exit, but the door had disappeared.

I prayed. I read the Bible. I went to church and talked with my pastors. Still, the anxiety persisted, affecting my work, relationships, and faith in God.

After several months of this, my wife had an idea. “Why not try giving up caffeine?” I’d been drinking a lot of coffee, and it hadn’t occurred to me that the daily intake might be exacerbating my condition. As a solution, it seemed too simple, too small to matter. But what did I have to lose?

I cut out caffeine, and within a week something was different. My mind was becoming clearer. After two weeks, thought patterns that had possessed me were weakening. In a few months, I felt more myself than I had in a long, long time. Since then, I can’t say I’ve ever been quite the same, having by grace passed through terror and found what I didn’t know lived in me. In truth, it lives in me still, even if not in the same ways. I feel anxiety flare up from time to time, trying to intrude. Trying to push me out of my own life. And what I’ve learned is that I’m not alone.

Just the other day, I was having dinner with a friend, when he confessed that he’d been suffering from panic attacks. Work had been tough—tougher than ever—but the anxiety he was experiencing transcended typical job stress. This easy-going, happy guy had found himself crippled by fear that had come with a suddenness and severity that left him sobbing in the morning’s wee hours. Medication has been helping, but the fear is still there, lurking. And a few months ago, I was on a retreat with some fellow writers, only to discover that due to all manner of hardships, several of the group were taking pills of their own.

No, this isn’t about coffee. This isn’t about caffeine or whether I think you should consume it. This is about the simultaneous strength and fragility of the human mind, and how powerful it is in shaping our lives for better or worse. This is about the problem of anxiety we each face in our own way. This is a conversation about faith.

Yet I hesitate to write that last line, because far too many Christians have abused their brothers and sisters struggling with anxiety. “Just have more faith,” people say, not comprehending the complexity of fear. Faith is more than the mental assent to a tidy system of beliefs. It requires more than a list of affirmations we repeat to ourselves, as if mantras can overcome our deepest existential crises. These fears, these anxieties, often lurk beneath the veneers of our theological systems and churchly behavior. We can’t always identify them, but they’re shaping our lives, guiding our reactions and decisions, whether we realize it or not.

Faith is an encounter—sometimes with a presence, and sometimes with an absence. Underneath all our apprehensions is one fundamental fear: that there is no God, or that if there is one, He isn’t good—despite our biblical training or the inspiring testimonies we’ve heard. Despite our own mysterious experiences, even if intermittent, of Love Himself. Deep down, we are often still afraid. So what to do?

Praying, reading Scripture, confessing sin, attending services, speaking with professionals—and yes, even taking medication—can all be redemptive. And we should submit ourselves to wise counsel, whether pastoral or medical. But in the end, the ultimate solution must be an encounter with God Himself, an ongoing communion we struggle toward—not through works that any man should boast, but through a humble, repentant heart.

This is how we open our hearts and minds to Him: We call out from within our desperation, and say, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me,” and wait for Him, who in due time will come shining in—liberating our plains and forests, rivers and oceans, of every haunting ghost.

With God, There is NO _____________

SOURCE:  Tolle Lege/J.C. Ryle

The pillow of God’s omnipotence” by J.C. Ryle

“Let us mark, in the third place, the mighty principle which the angel Gabriel lays down to silence all objections about the incarnation. ‘With God nothing shall be impossible.’

A hearty reception of this great principle is of immense importance to our own inward peace. Questions and doubts will often arise in men’s minds about many subjects in religion. They are the natural result of our fallen estate of soul.

Our faith at the best is very feeble. Our knowledge at its highest is clouded with much infirmity.

And among many antidotes to a doubting, anxious, questioning state of mind, few will be found more useful than that before us now,—a thorough conviction of the almighty power of God.

With Him who called the world into being and formed it out of nothing, everything is possible.

Nothing is too hard for the Lord.

  • There is no sin too black and bad to be pardoned. The blood of Christ cleanseth from all sin.
  • There is no heart too hard and wicked to be changed. The heart of stone can be made a heart of flesh.
  • There is no work too hard for a believer to do. We may do all things through Christ strengthening us.
  • There is no trial too hard to be borne. The grace of God is sufficient for us.
  • There is no promise too great to be fulfilled. Christ’s words never pass away, and what He has promised He is able to perform.
  • There is no difficulty too great for a believer to overcome. When God is for us who shall be against us? The mountain shall become a plain.

Let principles like these be continually before our minds. The angel’s receipt is an invaluable remedy.

Faith never rests so calmly and peacefully as when it lays its head on the pillow of God’s omnipotence.”

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–J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Luke (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1879), 1: 27-28. Ryle is commenting on Luke 1:34-38.

Is Trauma Terminal?

SOURCE:  Chuck Swindoll

Matthew 11:28–30

The definition reflects devastation:

Trauma: An injury (as a wound) to living tissue caused by an extrinsic agent . . . a disordered psychic or behavioral state resulting from mental or emotional stress.

Like potatoes in a pressure cooker, we twenty-first century creatures understand the meaning of stress.

A week doesn’t pass without a few skirmishes with those “extrinsic agents” that beat upon our fragile frames. They may be as mild as making lunches for our kids before 7:30 in the morning (mild?) or as severe as a collision with another car . . . or another person.

Makes no difference.

The result is “trauma”—a two-bit word for nervous. You know, the bottom-line reason Valium remains a top seller. Our emotional wounds are often deep. They don’t hemorrhage like a stabbing victim’s, but they are just as real and just as painful . . . sometimes more.

Years ago, a stress test carried on by Dr. Thomas Holmes and his colleagues concluded that an accumulation of two hundred or more “life change units” in any year may mean more disruption—more trauma—than an individual can stand. On their scale, death of a spouse equals one hundred units, divorce represents seventy-three units . . . and Christmas equals twelve units! That helps explain the idea behind “something snapping” inside certain people when the final straw falls on them. Our capacity for trauma has its limits.

Joseph Bayly could certainly understand. He and his wife lost three of their children—one at eighteen days (after surgery); another at five years (leukemia); a third at eighteen years (sledding accident plus hemophilia). In my wildest imagination, I cannot fathom the depth of their loss. In the backwash of such deep trauma, the Bayly couple stood sometimes strong, sometimes weak, as they watched God place a period before the end of the sentence on three of their children’s lives. And their anguish was not relieved when well-meaning people offered shallow, simple answers amidst their grief.

Eyes that read these words might very well be near tears. You are trying to cope without hope. You are stretched dangerously close to the “200-unit” limit . . . and there’s no relief on the horizon. You’re bleeding and you’ve run out of bandages. You have moved from mild tension to advanced trauma.

Be careful! You are in the danger zone, emotionally. You’re a sitting duck, and the adversary is taking aim with both barrels loaded, hoping to open fire while you are vulnerable. Bam! “Run!” Boom! “Think suicide.”

Listen carefully! Jesus Christ opens the gate, gently looks at you and says:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
(Matthew 11:28–30 MSG)

Nothing complicated. No big fanfare, no trip to Mecca, no hypnotic trance, no fee, no special password. Just come. Meaning? Unload. Unhook the pack and drop it in His lap . . . now. Allow Him to take your stress as you take His rest. Does He know what trauma is all about? Remember, He’s the One whose sweat became like drops of blood in the agony of Gethsemane. If anybody understands trauma, He does. Completely.

His provision is profound, attainable, and right. He’s a master at turning devastation into restoration.

Look again at His invitation in Matthew 11:28–30, and accept it with all your heart.

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Excerpted from Come Before Winter and Share My Hope, Copyright © 1985, 1988, 1994 by Charles R. Swindoll, Inc.

How To Stop Worrying So Much

SOURCE:  Relevant Magazine/TYLER EDWARDS

The art of casting all your cares on God.

Do you know what one the most commonly ignored commands in all of Scripture is?   “Don’t worry.”

Do you know what the most common command in Scripture is?   “Do not be afraid.”

The Bible tells us not to worry or be afraid, but you take one look at our culture, and you see how closely we hold onto those commandments.

It’s understandable, actually. Not worrying is easier said than done. We are all anxious about something: Relationships, finances, health, the future. We get stressed with work, with responsibilities, with decisions.

We might use different words for it, but it all boils down to one thing: fear.

We have lots of fears. We are afraid to make the wrong decision. We fear what we don’t know. We fear what we can’t change. When we run out of reasonable things to worry about, we start fabricating unreasonable ones. It’s like our minds are little worry factories manned by little worker elves that never sleep. We mass-produce anxiety 24/7.

Worrying Without Reason

So over and over, God tells us not to be afraid. He commands us not to worry. Jesus doesn’t say, “Don’t worry without good reason or don’t worry unless it makes you feel better.” He just says don’t.

To help us obey the command, God tells us how to stop worrying. In Luke, He says “Trust in me. For if I take care crass of birds, how much more will I take care you my children?” In 1 Peter He says to cast our worry onto Him. To give it over to Him.

For many of us, giving our anxiety over to God feels like an almost insurmountable task. Our issues with worry and anxiety are beyond our own ability to handle. We need to address these issues with friends, and perhaps seek professional counseling. There is nothing wrong with admitting you need others to help you with your worry. That is not battle you were ever meant to fight on your own, and the sooner you seek help, the sooner you can be free of it.

When you live a life free from worry, you’re living in the full truth of who God is. You’re living under the assumption that He is in control, He cares and He can do something about your circumstances.

The Response to Worry

In the church we talk about faith a lot.

Faith and doubt, it’s always those two together. But doubt isn’t the opposite of faith. Not really. The opposite of faith is fear. That’s why God commands us not to do it.

We don’t need to be afraid because God loves us. He promised to take care of us. He never promises there will be no pain but He does promise to come back and to take that pain away.

How do we overcome worry? We need to equip ourselves with a proper understanding of God.

1. Equip yourself with the knowledge of who God is.

Is God good? Is God all-powerful? Does God love you? Will God take care of you? If you believe the answer to these are yes then our reasons to worry drop significantly It’s a trust issue.

2. Surrender.

We fear because we want to know, we want to be in control. God knows. God is in control. When we place our faith in Him. We can overcome our fears because we know He is good and He will take care of us. Lay your fears at His feet and leave them there. How do you bring your fears to God? Pray. When you were little and scared of monsters what did you do? You called out for daddy. It’s effective. When you are worried or concerned, pray.

3. Consider your witness.

Our relationship with God fundamentally changes our perception. Our worries about food, clothes, appearances and money become superfluous. We as Christians can meet the worries of the world with the confidence that God reigns over it all.

 4. Think about Jesus.

Consider what He endured for you. He was not guilty of sin but He paid the price for all sin. He suffered. He died on a cross. He carried the burden of our transgressions. If Jesus endured all that for you, do you really believe He would forsake you?

5. Know who you are.

You belong to God. You are His. When you have confidence and security in your identity as a child of God you will find that worry has hard time getting its hooks into you. Worry breeds in insecurity. Find your security in Jesus.

So give up on living of a life of “what if’s?” You can spend your whole life wondering about maybes and possibilities. All it will do is cripple you from dealing with things you can actually control.

Seek out friends and professionals who can help you deal with your inner turmoil. With their help, you are fighting a winnable battle.

Worry doesn’t prevent the sorrows of tomorrow. It destroys the joys of today.

Look at the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10. Mary sits at Jesus’s feet. Martha worries about many things. Jesus tells us not to worry because He wants us to be free from worry. He wants us to live life to the full. Worry and fear steal that away. We worry because we are focused on other things. We overcome our worry by focusing on Jesus. When we focus on Him the worries and troubles of this life fade into the background.

 

You Can Triumph Over Fear

SOURCE:  Karl Benzio/Lighthouse Network/Stepping Stones

Fear is a powerful emotion, one that’s often difficult to control.

It can freeze us in our tracks making it hard to protect ourselves. It attacks our ability to trust and compromises our ability to relax in relationships. It takes over our thought and decision-making processes, interfering with our ability to focus and learn. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Unfortunately, fear also impacts us in ways that are subliminal and, therefore, hard to identify.

We often repress intense fears. We push them deep and cover them up with other emotions like anger, depression, and anxiety. We overcompensate with pride, arrogance, humor, or a laid-back attitude.

If we grow up with unrecognized fear as a major organizer of our emotional life, we can have difficulty developing trusting relationships. Even when we overcome that and connect successfully with people, we still have trouble being natural or genuine with them. Sometimes we let them in partially, but build a hard-to-see inner wall, which is difficult for them to get through.

Satan wants us to be afraid of people. He doesn’t want us to be vulnerable in relationships. Instead, he wants us to cover up and react in ways that pull us away from relationships for what looks like self-preservation.

As we “practice” these dysfunctional responses over and over in the first 12-15 years of life, we get very good at them. Then when it’s time to start to really open up to God in deep and meaningful ways, those repressed, intense fears put us on guard so we actually resist giving ourselves to God.

You see, we don’t want to be hurt again, so we find other ways to cover up. We distance ourselves from dependence on God by being aloof to Him, being angry for what He hasn’t given us or our loved ones, feeling bitter about His “unfairness”, blaming Him for all the mistakes we made, and many other behaviors as well. It’s just where Satan wants us! In fact, it’s part of Satan’s battle strategy. We get sucked right into it, hook, line, and sinker.

Are you plagued with fear?

Today’s scripture makes it clear that God is telling us we can triumph over fear. He has given us a spirit of power, love, and self-discipline. He also tells us in 1 John 4:18 that perfect love drives away fear. God’s love is perfect, and He loves you.

As you grasp hold of that truth, you will be able to trust Him more. When you begin to understand how much He loves you, the power of the things you fear will wilt in comparison to the omnipotence of God. It’s like fear melting away when a loving parent comes into your darkened room during a thunderstorm to hold you and give you security.

Today, talk to God about everything. Believe that He loves you … and thank Him for His love. Recognize that His strength is stronger than any fear. Only then will you be able to walk in peace, not fear.

Remember that this is not a one-time event. We need to give all our cares and fears to Him daily, and commit to trusting in His love. Whether you conquer life or you fear it is your decision, so choose well.

Dear Father God, thank You for loving me. Thank You for giving me a spirit of power, love, and self-discipline. And please direct me to be a better steward of these gifts. Help me to trust You more and to accept Your perfect love. I know that only then can I overcome fear. I pray this and all prayers in the name of the One sent to forgive my sins and remove my fear, Jesus Christ; AMEN!

The Truth
For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.   2 Timothy 1:7

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  Philippians 4:6

Does FEAR Control Your Life?

SOURCE:  Living Free/Janet Lerner

“And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world. Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.” 1 John 4:17-18 NLT

Daily the media reports violence and abuse, especially in the home … child neglect, sexual violence, rape, abandonment, and on and on. Victims of abuse continue suffering pain long after the actual abuse has ended. Memories haunt them. They still feel the shame, fear, anger and grief brought about by painful events of the past.

Are you or someone you love a surviving victim of abuse? If so, you may be allowing fear to rule in your life. The fear you experienced when you were being abused has become a fear of everyday life. Fear of committing to a relationship. Fear of rejection. Fear of failure. Fear of intimacy.

These feelings of fear often cause victims to put up barriers to God and to relationships with other people. Fear is an extremely powerful emotion that we don’t know how to control. It attacks our ability to trust. It compromises our ability to relax in relationships. Fear of becoming vulnerable, of being betrayed by others, or even by God.

One of the first steps to overcoming fear and tearing down the barriers it has built between you and others is to ask God’s forgiveness for your failure to trust him. This will open the door for you to begin building a relationship with him. To know him better by spending time talking to him and reading about him in the Bible. Only then can you begin to know how much he loves you. Only then can you grow to understand his character. With that understanding you will know that you can trust him, and he will help you build closer relationships with those around you.

Children reared by an abusive or neglectful father often have an incorrect view of God, picturing him like their earthly father. The good news is that our Heavenly Father is perfect and fair. Perfect love drives out fear. God’s love is perfect. And he wants to set you free.

Father, forgive me for not trusting you as I should. I believe that you love me. I believe that Jesus died for me. I want to be your child. Help me to trust you and your perfect love … and then to be able to overcome the fear that has ruled my life. In Jesus’ name …


These thoughts were drawn from …

Restoring Families: Overcoming Abusive Relationships through Christ by Janet M. Lerner, D.S.W.

When Fear Grips Us

SOURCE:  Charles Stanley/In Touch Ministries

Isaiah 41:10

All throughout the Scriptures, the Lord encourages us not to be afraid or anxious. As His children, we have no basis for fear. Of course, there are reasons for us to be extremely cautious about what we do and where we go, but God’s people are not to live in a state of anxiety.

If you think about it, you can identify at least six anxieties that are basic to all mankind. They are the fear of criticism, illness, old age, death, poverty, and losing a loved one. Although these are universal worries, they are in reality symptoms of something deep inside that feeds our fears.

Some of the root causes are:

A basic sense of inadequacy. Because of distorted thinking, we frequently feel incompetent to tackle certain challenges or tasks that should be possible for us to accomplish.

The tendency to set unrealistic standards for ourselves. We can go through life trying to measure up to lofty expectations that are self-imposed rather than goals set by God.

An innate sense of unworthiness. It’s amazing how many people will not succeed in life because they just don’t feel they deserve it.

In the midst of our fears and anxieties, we need to remember God’s promise in today’s passage. He reassures us, “Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” It is important that we look up at Him and not around at our circumstances.

A Prayer Upon Receiving Troubling News

SOURCE:  Scotty Smith

Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. (John 14:1)

In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)

Dear Lord Jesus….

Last evening’s troubling stories shape today’s morning prayer. I went to bed last night, wearied with woes of friends. I arise today hungry with hope in you, our great and gracious Savior.

Thank you for being honest with us about life this side of the new heaven and new earth. You’re not an on-demand panacea, promising the elimination hardships and heartaches. You’re not a miracle-computer, passively waiting to be programmed, as we exercise the right formula.

You’re so much more; so much better. You’re a very present help, pledging your presence in every circumstance and trial—committed to working in all things, for our good and your glory. Troubling news doesn’t have to cripple our hearts. Indeed, may it carry our hearts to you today, for you are ever so trustworthy, Lord Jesus.

For our friends stunned with breath-taking health news, we declare our trust in you, Jesus. How we long for the day when words like cancer, dementia and heart disease will no longer appear in our vocabulary. Until that Day, we unabashedly and earnestly pray for healing, and we trust you for all-surpassing peace and more-than-sufficient grace.

For friends saddened with heart-ripping issues with their children, we declare our trust in you, Jesus. Few reports carry more power to dishearten us than those related to our children.

Whether they’ve been vandalized by others’ darkness, or victimized by their own foolish choices, it hurts real bad and real deep. We appeal to your covenant faithfulness and your powerful reach: capture the hearts of our children, Jesus, and help us love them well in the chaos and the crisis.

For friends waking up to pink slips, financial burdens and no apparent options, we declare our trust in you, Lord Jesus. Things impossible with man are possible with you. We pray, not only for your provision, but also for our generosity with one another. May the law of love be fulfilled as we bear one another’s burdens—spiritually and emotionally, physically and fiscally.

Lord Jesus, we can “trust in you as we trust in God,” for you are God—the Son of God and God the Son. We can “take heart” because you took our sin, and have already overcome the world for us.

In the world we will have tribulation and broken stories, but in you we are given all the grace, peace, and hope we need.

So very Amen we pray in your kind and overcoming Name.

5 Things Christians Should Know About Depression and Anxiety

SOURCE:  Article at Relevant Magazine

Depression and anxiety tend to be some of those touchy subjects that are tough to tackle from a Christian perspective.

It’s not complicated just because the illnesses themselves are so complex, manifesting themselves in myriad ways, but also because perspectives about mental disorders vary greatly throughout the Church.

This isn’t to paint the Church with broad strokes. Incorrect beliefs about mental illness are pervasive throughout our culture. However, some of the “church-y” misconceptions about clinical depression and anxiety spring from a genuine desire to understand them scripturally. It’s necessary to generalize a bit to understand these attitudes: there are things well-meaning Christians tend to get wrong.

Of course, there is way more information about anxiety and depression than what can be summed up in one article, so it’s certainly worth doing more research on the subject. But if we as the Church are going to start talking about these issues, here are a few things we should know:

1. Depression isn’t what the Church sometimes makes it out to be.

It’s not a character defect, a spiritual disorder or an emotional dysfunction. And chief of all, it’s not a choice. Asking someone to “try” not being depressed is tantamount to asking someone who’s been shot to try and stop bleeding. Such an attitude can dangerously appear in the Church as, “if only you had enough faith.”

[Depression] is not a character defect, a spiritual disorder or an emotional dysfunction. And chief of all, it’s not a choice.

Cue the record scratch for any Christian regarding matters of healing. Having faith in God’s ability to heal is hugely important, and personal faith can help ease depression. But to deny medical or psychiatric treatment to someone suffering from mental illness is really no different than denying them to someone with a physical illness. The difference between the two is that the former is invisible.

Speaking of the invisible, some faith traditions are quick to suggest demonic attack as the cause for depression. While I’m convinced that there’s definitely a spiritual element—the enemy will exploit any weakness—medical science holds that major depressive disorder is real and the causes are manifold.

2. Mental illness is not a sin.

Yes, sins in the past like physical abuse, substance abuse and neglect may contribute to depression, and these sins often continue as coping mechanisms to those suffering from mental illnesses. Yet this doesn’t make the sufferer of depression and anxiety a sinner simply for experiencing the crushing effects of their condition.

What happens when mental illness is treated as an unconfessed, unaddressed sin is alienation. Viewing depression as a sin in and of itself prevents individuals from seeking treatment. It also ignores the fact that many Christians may respond to depression in unhealthy ways if the root cause is ignored or misunderstood.

3. The Bible doesn’t provide “easy answers.”

The Word is full of wisdom and encouragement for those suffering from depression and anxiety disorders, but it doesn’t come in one-verse doses. “Be anxious for nothing” and “do not worry about your life” can easily be taken out of context, which is problematic. First (and importantly), doing so fails to appropriately handle Scripture, carelessly misconstruing the larger intent of the passages.

Another really scary thing this does is it can convince a person in the worst throes of their illness that they’re not obeying God. Add that to what feels like the inability just to be – every shaky breath hurts and getting out of bed is impossible – and you’ve thrown gasoline onto the fire.

A true examination of depression and anxiety in the Bible shows the existential dread that accompanies the illnesses instead of an easy out, one-and-done antidote. God’s hand isn’t always apparent. As Dan Blazer pointed out in Christianity Today, “most of us have no idea what David meant when he further lamented, ‘I am forgotten by them as though I were dead.’ Severe depression is often beyond description.”

Rather than prescribing a bit of a verse divorced from its context, a better strategy is to look at those instances of mental suffering along with the Church body and to offer comfort in the fact that even the saints struggled.

4. Anxiety and depression don’t look how we often think.

When I’ve opened up to Christian friends about my own depression and anxiety disorders, they’re often surprised. “You seem so happy all the time!” Depressed people become really good at hiding their symptoms, even from doctors, because of the stigma attached to the illness. Churches often don’t address mental illness, which gives the worship team guitarist or the elder even more incentive to keep it hidden away. Furthermore, the symptoms of depression often tend to contradict each other, which makes it really difficult for a person suffering from depression to recognize it for what it is—let alone for the Church to recognize it.

“Learning to recognize the signs” then is often a failing strategy. If churches begin responding to mental disorders as a community willing to offer encouragement and support, people suffering from those illnesses may just be able to accept the help. It may just be people you never expected.

5. Strong churches don’t “fix” depression.

Given all of the above, it’s easy to understand how the stigma related to depression, even in the Church, will prevent people from seeking Christian guidance and support. The most Christ-loving and helpful community might not have the appropriate framework for dealing with such clinical disorders, and many churches don’t have licensed psychologists on the staff. Pastoral staff can be ill-equipped to deal with depression and err toward a spiritual solution rather than psychological or medical treatment.

Even churches that seek to provide a safe haven for those suffering in their midst might not have a judgment-free place to discuss their struggles. Programs like Celebrate Recovery can provide an invaluable forum for people to interact with others who experience “hurts, habits, and hangups,” and can help deal with some of the self-medication many people with depression and anxiety use to numb themselves. Without a carefully planned strategy to deal with mental illness, though, “all are welcome” might not be enough. Healing comes from a prayerful, loving community that seeks to truly understand major depressive disorder and related conditions, and one that develops a positive response.

Most churches probably have the very best intentions when dealing with issues of mental illness. Like the rest of society, however, the Church may misinterpret these clinical conditions and respond to them in ways that exacerbate them—and as a result, demoralize those suffering. Christ, the Great Physician, came to heal the sick. As His body, it’s time the Church leads society in helping to do the same.

Fighting and Conquering Anxiety and Worry

SOURCE:  John Piper

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. (Philippians 4:6)

When I am anxious about my ministry being useless and empty, I fight unbelief with the promise of Isaiah 55:11. “So shall My word be which goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.”

When I am anxious about being too weak to do my work, I battle unbelief with the promise of Christ, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

When I am anxious about decisions I have to make about the future, I battle unbelief with the promise, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you” (Psalm 32:8).

When I am anxious about facing opponents, I battle unbelief with the promise, “If God is for us, who is against us!” (Romans 8:31).

When I am anxious about the welfare of those I love, I battle unbelief with the promise that if I, being evil, know how to give good things to my children, how much more will the “Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!” (Matthew 7:11).

And I fight to maintain my spiritual equilibrium with the reminder that everyone who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for Christ’s sake “shall receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life” (Mark 10:29–30).

When I am anxious about being sick, I battle unbelief with the promise, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous but the Lord delivers him out of them all” (Psalm 34:19).

And I take the promise with trembling: “Tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5:3–5).

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~ John Piper, Future Grace, Multnomah Books (Colorado Springs, CO), pages 60–61

12 Verses to Battle Your Biggest Problems

SOURCE:   Sandra Clifton, D. Min.

Regardless of what you are going through, God is fully aware of it.

Not only that, He is also with you. He cares deeply about you right now, and His Word offers you hope for victory in every situation, trial and challenge you face.

If you want to see God’s powerful promises manifested in your life, you must seek the guidance of His Spirit through prayer.

His Word, His Spirit and His will are always aligned. Take hold of His promises and learn to walk with Him by faith for life-changing results.

Find victory over your problems in the following Scriptures:

  •  READ: Ps. 119:89; 2 Cor. 1:20; Heb. 10:23; James 4:7; 1 Pet. 5:7; 2 Pet. 1:3-4.

HEART ISSUE: Take time to dwell on God’s assurances for victorious outcomes in every area of your life. Choose to believe they are intended for you.

PRAYER FOCUS: Father, in the name of Jesus, I thank You for Your powerful promises. You always hear and answer me. Regardless of how things have gone in the past, or how they look today, I can overcome any obstacle because You are completely victorious in me. Amen.

  •  READ: Ps. 66:18; Jer. 1:12; Jer. 33:3; 2 Cor. 5:7; 2 Tim. 3:16; Heb. 6:12.

HEART ISSUE: Tell God all about your dreams and desires. Then take time to listen to Him and receive His direction.

PRAYER FOCUS: Father, in the name of Jesus, I thank You for hearing my prayers, spoken and unspoken. Thank You for answering every time and for giving me my heart’s desires. I give You all the glory. Amen.

Do You Ever Worry?

Source:  Christina Fox/Desiring God

A Prayer for the Worried Mom’s Heart

Do you ever worry?

I think we can all admit that we do. In fact, we probably worry more than we realize. As a mother, I find myself worrying about my children, about their health, their learning, and whether I can just make it to bedtime each day.

I also find myself worried about paying bills, about my husband’s travel for work, and about that message from my doctor needing to discuss test results with me. My to-do lists keep me awake at night because I fear I’ll forget to do something important. Questions like “what if?” and “should I have?” swirl around my mind, holding me hostage and keeping me chained to my worries and fears.

Worry is a kind of “acceptable sin.” By that I mean worry is one of those sins that everyone does so we don’t often address it. Like gossip, worry is something we all know we aren’t supposed to do, but we often gloss over it and call it something else — something like stress. Especially for women, worry can be expected and in some situations to not worry would seem strange.

But deep down, we want to be freed from the chronic feeling of doom and the expectation of something bad lurking just around the corner. We know that the Bible tells us not to worry, but “what if?” thoughts seem like such a part of us that we don’t know how to stop.

What can we do?

Remember and Pray

Like oil and water, trust and worry do not mix. To expel worry from our heart, we need to grow deeper roots of trust in God. Time and again in the Psalms, when the writer’s heart was heavy, he turned to look back at all that God had done for him. As the psalmist looked back at God’s faithfulness and his sovereign care for him, he was able to trust God even in the midst of troubling circumstances.

When we look back in our own lives at God’s faithfulness to us, it gives us confidence and hope in his future faithfulness. We look back to our own story of salvation. We see that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, that this is the demonstration of God’s love for us. When worries threaten to seize our heart, we need to remember and dwell on the truth of the gospel. Remembering the cross propels us in faith for what lies ahead.

And as we remember, we need to turn to God in prayer. Hebrews says that because of Jesus, we can come to the throne of grace with confidence, to receive the help we need (Hebrews 4:16). Paul was referring to chronic worry when he wrote in Philippians 4:6, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” We are to give our worries to God in prayer, trusting him with all our burdens and cares. As a result, we will receive in return the peace we long for, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).

You might even pray something like this. . . .

A Prayer for the Worried Heart

My Papa in Heaven,

I come to you with a heart heavy and full of so many worries and cares. I want to just curl up on your lap and find some peace from the chaos in my life. My worries fill my mind night and day. My stomach is in knots and I can hardly breathe. I feel like I am drained dry; the joy has been sucked right out of me.

But you said to come to you with all my burdens. You said that you will carry them. You tell us you are a rock, a shield, a fortress. I need a rock right now. I need a fortress to run into right now. I need you.

There are so many decisions to make. What if I make the wrong one? So many bad things loom on the horizon, what if I’m not prepared? Help me to focus my heart on you and not on the giants around me. I know that all these worries are keeping me from trusting you. Like Peter, instead of looking toward your face, I am looking around at the waves encircling me.

Forgive me for doubting and not living a life of trust. I believe, but please help my unbelief! I know that when I worry, I am believing a lie that says that I can control what happens in my life. Forgive me for trying to control something I never really had control of. Help me to trust in your word and not the lies.

You sent your Son to carry my greatest burden at the cross. I know that you can handle all that troubles me today. There is nothing too great for you, the earth is your footstool and the wind and rain come and go at your command. Free me of this worry today. Help me to trust the same grace that saved me at the cross to save me from all that weighs me down.

I know that you have a perfect plan for my life. Help me to walk by faith and not by sight. I want to trust in your plan and your love for me. I want to face the unknown future confident that you have it under control. Grant me the grace I need.

Thank you for Jesus and that because of him I can come to you in confidence. You accept me as I am, worries and all. I give them all to you now, in Jesus’s name, Amen.

WAITING IN DARKNESS: WE ARE NOT LOST AND NOT ALONE

SOURCE:  John Piper/When The Darkness Will Not Lift

With or without medication there are other things that can be done in the midst of prolonged darkness. And I would love to encourage you in some of these. It will be of great advantage to the struggling Christian to remember that seasons of darkness are normal in the Christian life. I don’t mean that we should not try to live above them. I mean that if we do not succeed, we are not lost, and we are not alone, as the fragment of our faith cleaves to Christ.

Consider the experience of David in Psalm 40:1-3:

I waited patiently for the LORD;
he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the pit of destruction,
out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
and put their trust in the LORD.

The king of Israel is in “the pit of destruction” and “the miry bog”—descriptions of his spiritual condition. The song of praise is coming, he says, but it is not now on his lips. It is as if David had fallen into a deep, dark well and plunged into life-threatening mud. There was one other time when David wrote about this kind of experience. He combined the images of mud and flood: “Save me, O God! For the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me” (Ps. 69:1-2).

In this pit of mud and destruction there is a sense of helplessness and desperation. Suddenly air, just air, is worth a million dollars. Helplessness, desperation, apparent hopelessness, the breaking point for the overworked businessman, the outer limits of exasperation for the mother of three constantly crying children, the impossible expectations of too many classes in school, the grinding stress of a lingering illness, the imminent attack of a powerful enemy. It is good that we don’t know what the experience was. It makes it easier to see ourselves in the pit with the king. Anything that causes a sense of helplessness and desperation and threatens to ruin life or take it away—that is the king’s pit.

HOW LONG, O LORD, HOW LONG!

Then comes the king’s cry: “I waited patiently for the LORD; he inclined to me and heard my cry.” One of the reasons God loved David so much was that he cried so much. “I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping” (Ps. 6:6). “You have kept count of my toss­ings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?” (Ps. 56:8). Indeed they are! “Blessed are those who mourn” (Matt. 5:4). It is a beautiful thing when a broken man genuinely cries out to God.

Then after the cry you wait. “I waited patiently for the LORD.” This is crucial to know: saints who cry to the Lord for deliverance from pits of darkness must learn to wait patiently for the Lord. There is no statement about how long David waited. I have known saints who walked through eight years of debilitating depression and came out into glorious light. Only God knows how long we must wait. The prophet Micah experienced prolonged and painful waiting. “I sit in darkness . . . until [the Lord] pleads my cause and . . . will bring me out to the light” (Mic. 7:8-9). We can draw no deadlines for God. He hastens or he delays as he sees fit. And his timing is all-loving toward his children. Oh, that we might learn to be patient in the hour of darkness. I don’t mean that we make peace with darkness. We fight for joy. But we fight as those who are saved by grace and held by Christ. We say with Paul Gerhardt that our night will soon—in God’s good timing—turn to day:

Give to the winds thy fears,
Hope and be undismayed.
God hears thy sighs and counts thy tears,
God shall lift up thy head.

Through waves and clouds and storms,
He gently clears thy way;
Wait thou His time; so shall this night
Soon end in joyous day.

Far, far above thy thought,
His counsel shall appear,
When fully He the work hath wrought,
That caused thy needless fear.

Leave to His sovereign sway
To choose and to command;
So shalt thou, wondering, own that way,
How wise, how strong this hand. 1

THE GROUND OF OUR ASSURANCE WHEN WE CANNOT SEE OUR FAITH2

It is utterly crucial that in our darkness we affirm the wise, strong hand of God to hold us, even when we have no strength to hold him. This is the way Paul thought of his own strivings. He said, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own” (Phil. 3:12). The key thing to see in this verse is that all Paul’s efforts to grasp the fullness of joy in Christ are secured by Christ’s grasp of him. Never forget that your security rests on Christ’s faithfulness first.

Our faith rises and falls. It has degrees. But our secu­rity does not rise and fall. It has no degrees. We must persevere in faith. That’s true. But there are times when our faith is the size of a mustard seed and barely visible. In fact, the darkest experience for the child of God is when his faith sinks out of his own sight. Not out of God’s sight, but his. Yes, it is possible to be so overwhelmed with darkness that you do not know if you are a Christian—and yet still be one.

All the great doctors of the soul have distinguished between faith and its full assurance. The reason for this is that we are saved by the work of God causing us to be born again and bringing us to faith. “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). We are not saved by producing faith on our own and then making that the basis of our new birth. It is the other way around, which means that God is at the bottom of my faith; and when it disappears for a season from my own view, God may yet be there sustaining its root in the new birth and protecting the seed from destruction. This was crucial in Richard Baxter’s soul care.

Certainty of our faith and sincerity is not necessary to salvation, but the sincerity of faith itself is necessary. He shall be saved that giveth up himself to Christ, though he know not that he is sincere in doing it. Christ knoweth his own grace, when they that have it know not that it is sound.

An abundance are cast down by ignorance of themselves, not knowing the sincerity which God hath given them. Grace is weak in the best of us here; and little and weak grace is not very easily perceived, for it acteth weakly and unconstantly, and it is known but by its acts; and weak grace is always joined with too strong corruption; and all sin in heart and life is contrary to grace, and doth obscure it. . . . And how can any under all these hindrances, yet keep any full assurance of their own sincerity?3

Baxter’s aim here is not to destroy a Christian’s comfort. On the contrary, he wants to help us in the times of our darkness to know that we can be safe in Jesus, even when we have lost sight of our own sincerity. The witness of the Holy Spirit that we are the children of God (Rom. 8:16) may be clear or faint. But the reality is unshakable. “God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: ‘The Lord knows those who are his’” (2 Tim. 2:19). “God is faithful, by whom you were called” (1 Cor. 1:9). “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). Baxter’s words are crucial counsel if we are to survive the dark night of the soul. And that night will come for almost every Christian. And when it comes, we must wait for the Lord, cry to him, and know that our own self-indictment, rendered in the darkness, is not as sure as God’s Word spoken in the light.

WHEN A CHILD OF GOD IS PERSUADED THAT HE IS NOT

Christians in the darkness of depression may ask desperately, how can I know that I am truly a child of God? They are not usually asking to be reminded that we are saved by grace through faith. They know that. They are asking how they can know that their faith is real. God must guide us in how we answer, and knowing the person will help us know what to say.4

The first and best thing to say may be, “I love you. And I am not letting you go.” In those words a person may feel God’s keeping presence, which they may not feel in any other way. Or, second, we might say, “Stop looking at your faith, and rivet your attention on Christ. Faith is sustained by looking at Christ, crucified and risen, not by turning from Christ to analyze your faith. Let me help you look to Christ. Let’s read Luke 22 through 24 together.” Paradoxically, if we would experience the joy of faith, we must not focus much on it. We must focus on the greatness of our Savior.

Third, we might call attention to the evidences of grace in their life. We might recount our own sense of their authenticity when we were loved by them, and then remind them of their own strong affirmations of the lordship of Christ. Then say, “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3). This approach is not usually successful in the short run, because a depressed person is prone to discount all good assessments of his own condition; but it can be valuable in the long run, because it stands as an objective hope and act of love over against his own subjective darkness.

Fourth, we might remind the sufferer that his demand for a kind of absolute, mathematical certainty about his right standing with God is asking for too much. None of us lives with that kind of certainty about any relationships in life, and this need not destroy our comfort. As Baxter says, “No wife or child is certain that the husband or father will not murder them; and yet they may live comfortably, and not fear it.”5 In other words, there is a kind of certainty that we live by, and it is enough. It is, in the end, a gift of God.

One can imagine a wife obsessed with fear that her husband will kill her, or that during the night one of her children will kill another one. No amount of arguing may bring her away from the fear of this possibility. Rationally and mathematically it is possible. But millions of people live in complete peace about these things, even though there is no absolute 2 + 2 = 4 kind of certainty. The certainty is rooted in good experience and the God-given stability of nature. It is a sweet assurance—and a gift of God. So we say to our suffering friend, “Don’t demand the kind of certainty about your own relationship to God that you don’t require about the other relationships in your life.”

It follows from this that we should all fortify ourselves against the dark hours of depression by cultivating a deep distrust of the certainties of despair. Despair is relentless in the certainties of its pessimism. But we have seen again and again, from our own experience and others’, that absolute statements of hopelessness that we make in the dark are notoriously unreliable. Our dark certainties are not sureties. While we have the light, let us cultivate distrust of the certainties of despair.

NOTES:
1 Paul Gerhardt, “Give to the Winds Thy Fears” (1656), trans. John Wesley (1737), http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/g/i/givetotw.htm.
2 For a biblical and balanced treatment of assurance, see Donald S. Whitney, How Can I Be Sure I’m a Christian? What the Bible Says About Assurance of Salvation (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1994).
3 Baxter, “The Cure of Melancholy,” 266, 278.
4 For two helpful articles on depression and how to help those who struggle, see Edward T. Welch, “Counseling Those Who Are Depressed” and “Words of Hope for Those Who Struggle with Depression,” Journal of Biblical Counseling 18, no. 2 (2000): 5-31, 40-46.
5 Baxter, “The Cure of Melancholy,” 278.

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Piper, J. (2006). When the darkness will not lift: Doing what we can while we wait for god. Wheaton, IL: Crossway.

Worry brings about a lot (except a solution).

SOURCE: Taken from an article by  Living Free

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7 NLT

Worry.

Probably one of the most common traps we fall into. And one of the most useless and damaging. Worry has never solved a problem. But it has caused stress, ulcers, depression, despair, fear, anxiety, and much more.

[S]cripture tells us to replace worry with prayer. Instead of worrying, we are to tell God our needs, remember all he has done for us in the past, and thank him for his faithfulness. As we remember that faithfulness, our faith will grow to trust him now. Then we can experience peace so great that it is beyond our understanding!

And as we live in Christ Jesus and walk in obedience to him, God’s peace will guard our hearts and minds. Instead of worrying, we will be enveloped in his peace.

Are you worried about something? Finances … your job … a failing relationship … a rebellious child … health problems. The list of things we can worry about seems endless, but the answer is always the same.

Talk to God about the problem. Remember his faithfulness in the past. Spend time thinking about all he has done for you. Make a list! Then thank him … and determine to trust him in your current situation. Circumstances may have changed – but he hasn’t.

Father, I have been so worried about this situation. I see no solution… no way out. But I realize that I don’t have to see the answer. I need to trust you to work this out in your way and in your time. Thank you for your faithfulness and all you have done for me in the past. Help me to trust you now and to experience your peace that passes all understanding. In Jesus’ name …


These thoughts were drawn from …


Knowing God My Father: Applying the Names of God to My Personal Life
 by Jimmy Ray Lee, D.Min.

Thankfulness: An Overlooked Way to Fight Anxiety, Worry, and Sin

SOURCE:  Taken from  The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict by Ken Sande, Updated Edition (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2003) p. 86-87.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Phil. 4:6

Paul knew that we cannot just stop being anxious. Worried thoughts have a way of creeping back into our minds, no matter how hard we try to ignore them.

Therefore, he instructs us to replace worrying with ‘prayer and petition, with thanksgiving.’ When you are in a dispute, it is natural to dwell on your difficult circumstances or on the wrong things that the other person has done or may do to you. The best way to overcome this negative thinking is to replace it with more constructive thoughts, such as praising God for his grace through the gospel, thanking him for the many things he has already done for you in this and other situations, and praying for assistance in dealing with your current challenges (cf. Matt. 6:25-34).

When you remind yourself of God’s faithfulness in the past and ally yourself with him today, you will discover that your anxiety is being steadily replaced with confidence and trust (cf. Isa 26:3). In fact, recalling God’s faithfulness and thanking him for his deliverance in the past was one of the primary ways the Israelites overcame their fears when they faced overwhelming problems (e.g. Psalms 18, 46, 68, 77, 78, 105, 106, 107, 136; Neh. 9:5-37).

Thankfulness for what God has done for us is a very important–but often overlooked–key to overcoming sin in our lives.

Anxiety  is one common area of sin. In this case, thankfulness corrects our perspective, reminding us of God’s past faithfulness and his sure promise to care for us in the future.

The apostle Paul also prescribes thankfulness as the antidote for other sins with which we struggle. In Ephesians 4 and 5, Paul exhorts us to put off the sins of our flesh, replacing them with behaviors that reflect our new nature in Christ. He specifically mentions foolish talk, crude joking, sexual immorality, covetousness and debauchery as behaviors that the Christian is to replace with thanksgiving (Eph 5:3-4; 18-20).

So much sin is rooted in selfishness and pride; thankfulness loosens the grip that these sins have on our hearts.

Don’t Be So Jammed Up!

SOURCE:  American Association of Christian  Counselors

“He who breathes into our hearts the heavenly hope, will not deceive or fail us when we press forward to its realization.” -Anonymous

Economic unrest. Job loss. Illness. Wars. The deaths of precious lives.

Uncertainty of the future.

Panic. Fear. Anxiety. Worry.

These must have also been issues in Jesus’ day.

Five times in Matthew chapter 6 He uses the expression, “Take no thought”. (Matthew 6:25-34 KJV)

“No thought” for… our lives… for what we will eat… what we will drink.  Even about what we will wear.

The original Greek meaning behind this phrase does not mean mindless existence.  Proverbs 21:5 ESV teaches us that “The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance…”

It’s important to plan. This phrase, “take no thought” would better be interpreted as do not be anxious or worried to the point of “fretting”.

Jesus then uses a simple and yet profound example. The “birds of the air”. They do not sow seeds. They don’t reap a harvest. Neither do they “store up” for the future. And yet, “your heavenly Father feeds them.” (Matthew 6:26 ESV)

So, what is Jesus really teaching us?

In Matthew 6:32 we are reminded that our heavenly Father knows that we have a need for food and clothing. Then He brings it all together in Matthew 6:33 ESV — “But seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

Rather than seeking our “day to day” needs out of a sense of desperation, Jesus is admonishing us to seek Godly attributes first and foremost.

In the early days of the Billy Graham crusades, Ethel Waters mesmerized thousands with her amazing alto voice as she sang, “I sing because I’m happy… I sing because I’m free. For His eye is on the sparrow — and I know, He watches, me…”

Relax.

Allow faith in your heavenly Father to replace fear and fretting.

No matter what, trust in His goodness.

Let Him calm your troubled spirit. Consider the birds of the air.

It just might turn your life around.

When The Path Is Darkest

SOURCE:  Octavius Winslow

SLOUGH OF DESPOND

The causes from where mental suffering arises are many. With some of the Lord’s people the origin is hereditary, with others it is natural, and with yet more it is religious. But, from whatever it may arise, mental suffering in some form is the discipline appointed by God for many of His people. Think not that your case is singular, or that you are an especial object of your Father’s displeasure, because he has so afflicted you.

I will not pause to inquire the cause of your mental depression; it is enough for my purpose in penning these remarks to know that yours is a mind depressed, needing a gentle, yes, a Divinely healing touch.

He who created your mind, who has hitherto proved its Sustainer, knows the cloud that veils it, the tumult that agitates it, the imaginations that play around it like hideous spectres- all is known to God!

And do you think that Christ is either ignorant of, or insensible to, the spiritual exercise through which your mind may be now passing? Far from it. If there is any stage of our discipline for heaven with which the Lord Jesus more closely sympathizes than another, it is our spiritually-mental stage. Can He ever forget the mental conflict of the garden, the soul-travail of the cross; the blood-sweat of the one, the soul-sorrow of the other?

Child of God! walking in mental gloom, passing through deep waters of soul exercise- doubting, fearing, despairing, sinking- look up! There is One who knows your sorrow, and has come down to rescue you. His eye of compassion is upon you, His wing of love is around you, His arms of power are beneath you, His heart is your pavilion, His wounds your refuge, His precious promise the word upon which He invites you to hope!

Dwell upon the solemn thought that your Lord and Savior trod this identical path before you; that, if there is one cloister of His heart deeper and warmer than another, in that cloister He hides you while passing through this mental eclipse. Fear not that He will abandon you to total darkness or endless despair. Your soul will emerge from its present obscuration, all the brighter for its temporary darkness. Tempest-tossed, you will be all the more firmly rooted and grounded in God’s love. The Lord by this process is deepening the work of grace in your heart, consuming the dross with the fire, and scattering the chaff with the flail of His discipline, that had too much, and unsuspected by yourself, mingled with your Divine and heavenly nature.

Deem yourself not a child of God, because you are the subject of mental disquietude and of spiritual exercise. Were your soul still locked in the sleep of death, it would be Satan’s policy to keep you so. But the mental and spiritual exercises through which you are now passing are indices of soul vitality, of an awakening out of sleep, of the possession of that spiritual life, which is linked indissolubly with the life which is to come.

Suffering is the royal highway to glory. It is royal, for the King of Saints Himself trod it; it is royal, for the royal children all walk in it; it is royal, for it leads to the kingdom of heaven.

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Octavius Winslow stood out as a one of the foremost evangelical preachers of the 19th Century.

Warding Off Worry

SOURCE:  Discipleship Journal/Stacey Padrick

Learn to trust God when anxiety strikes.

“If you ever get caught in an avalanche, dig up!” Mom instructed me whenever I went skiing with my friends.

If I was packing my beach bag for a trip to the ocean, she would remind me, “If you get caught in a riptide, swim parallel to the shore!”

And when I went hiking, it was always, “If you see a mountain lion, wave your arms up and down so you look bigger than you are!”

Whether it was winter, spring, summer, or fall, whether my destination was the mall or the mountains, Mom—with her caring heart—worried about the worst possible thing that could happen to me.

In my family, worry was often an automatic response to whatever we faced—whether it was a new noise in the car engine or what we would serve our guests for dinner. Thus, I had always excused my own tendency to worry as hereditary. What could I do about my genes?

Nature, Nurture, or Sin?

Though I had always accepted my anxiety as a natural part of my makeup, God’s Word challenged me to see that worry has no place in the lives of His children. “Do not be anxious about anything” (Phil. 4:6). “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27). “Do not fret” (Psalm 37:8). “Do not worry” (Matthew 6:25, 31, 34).

I began to see that God does not merely suggest we should not worry; He commands it. But are we as vigilant about not worrying as we are about other things He commands us not to do, such as stealing, getting drunk, or committing adultery? Though I wanted to justify worry as an issue of temperament, Scripture is clear that it’s an issue of obedience. Failure to obey His explicit commands is sin.

Calling worry a sin may sound harsh, but it actually brings great freedom. I no longer see my anxiety as a hereditary trait I cannot control. Rather, I see it as a sin I can choose to resist. Because sin does not have mastery over me (Romans 6:14), I can be set free from slavery to worry.

No Smoke without a Fire

Because my mind so easily gravitates toward worry, I’m not always aware when it begins to take over. A tense back and racing thoughts clearly indicate anxiety, but other signs are more subtle. A lack of joy and lightheartedness, impatience with myself and others, taking myself too seriously, forgetting to thank God for His blessings, difficulty praising Him—all of these signs point to the presence of smoldering coals of worry in my heart. Like a smoke detector warning of impending danger, they alert me to the asphyxiating smoke of worry.

Rather than trying to extinguish the individual fires of worry that encircle us, we must identify the source of the flame. Anxiety is most often sparked by unbelief or doubt in God’s character. When we worry, we’ve unthinkingly questioned His wisdom (that He knows what is best), His love and goodness (that He cares for us and wants what is best), and His sovereignty (that He is able to do what is best).

Worry reveals not only our distrustful thoughts about God but also an unrealistic view of ourselves: that we are ultimately in control; that we are responsible for other people’s happiness (our spouse, children, parents, boss, friends); that we can determine better than God what we or others need.

One morning as I fretted about an important decision in my life, I took a walk to clear my head and talk with God. Across a park lawn, I saw a beautiful golden retriever frolicking alongside his loving master. Oh, I mused, to be as carefree as that dog, to play and run freely, knowing that your master will provide for all your needs.

Even as I thought this, my words convicted me. I sensed God’s gentle voice respond to my heart. “Oh, My precious child, do you not know that I am your faithful Master? Don’t you believe that I care for you more than any earthly master could ever care for his dog? That you, too, can run free of worry? I am thegood Master. Trust in Me.”

Then I recalled a cowering stray dog a friend of mine had found. Even after she adopted it, the dog trembled each time someone reached to pet it. My friend believes the dog was probably abused by its former owner. Likewise, when I allow my heart to tremble in anxiety, what am I telling others about my Master? Most likely I’m communicating that He is uncaring and unfaithful.

Not only is God my Master, but He’s my heavenly Father as well. How much more than a good master does a loving father care for his precious children?

Matthew records Jesus saying:

Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

—Matthew 7:9–11

Just as a child’s carefree spirit is a testimony of caring parents, so a joyful, trusting attitude testifies to our loving Father.

Extinguishing Anxiety

God wants us to experience release from the grip of worry. He longs for us to rest in His wonderful care for us (Matthew 11:28–30). Here are some ways to douse the fire of worry and stoke the flame of trust.

Take stock of your thought life. Our feelings are often the fruit of the thoughts we sow. If you’re anxious, review what you’ve been thinking about. What thoughts have you been listening to? What have you believed about your circumstances and God’s ability to meet your needs?

When I was unexpectedly diagnosed with an illness, a wave of worries flooded my mind. What about all the plans I had? How could I ever support myself with these health limitations? What about my dreams for my future? My anxiety revealed my belief that this illness had somehow slipped by God’s watchful eye.

But the Father’s still, small voice addressed my fears, reminding me of His perspective: “Yes, this illness does change your plans, but not Mine. It in no way changes My will for you.” Though my health had changed, God’s sovereignty over my life had not.

Focus on the truth. After we’ve identified any distorted beliefs, we must respond to them by looking intently at the truth of Scripture. We’re engaged in a battle against a very crafty spiritual enemy who continually attempts to saturate our minds with doubts about the Father’s character. Satan knows worry distracts us from what God has for us, so he drives us to work things out our way and steals our joy in the Father. We must use the armor of God—especially the belt of truth, the shield of faith, and the sword of the Spirit (Ephes. 6:13–17)—to cut through the web of lies that can entangle our souls.

James wrote, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). Repent of surrendering to worry, submit your mind to God, and resist any spirit of anxiety. Ask God to protect you from worry, to guard your heart and mind with His peace (Phil. 4:7). In faith, claim this promise Paul gave his youthful protégé Timothy: “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline” (2 Tim. 1:7).

I have also found it helpful to “act in the opposite spirit” when anxiety threatens to overwhelm me. For example, if worry drives me to hurry, then I purposely slow down. If worry tempts me to complain, then I intentionally thank God for what He is doing.

When I was looking for an apartment in the tight San Francisco housing market, I gave in to complaining and fretting after weeks of viewing undersized, overpriced units. Recognizing my doubt, I started thanking God for the place He was preparing for me in His perfect timing. I now write from a wonderful home He handpicked for me.

Practice Scripture meditation. “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you” (Isaiah 26:3). Keeping our mind steadfastly fixed upon God is critical when we’re tempted to worry. Meditate upon the passages of Scripture that describe God’s character: His loving-kindness, power, faithfulness, goodness. Meditate also upon verses about peace and rest.

Picture yourself putting your worries in a little gift box (or a big box, in my case!), tying it with a bow, and presenting it to God at the foot of the cross, an offering of faith to Him. Let these words of Jesus settle into your soul: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).

No matter how unceasingly worries may assail you, choose to listen to His Spirit of peace and not to a spirit of anxiety. Think of worry as a ringing phone—and don’t answer it. Allowing peace to rule instead of fear is a daily, sometimes hourly, choice we must make.

Dwell on what you know. Most worries revolve around dwelling on what we don’t know: “How will I have enough money to pay for car repairs? What will I do if I’m laid off? How will I find an affordable house in such a tight market?” Instead of fixating on anxiety-producing unknowns, we can use the same energy to focus on what we do know: “God will meet all [my] needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19). “God is . . .[my] ever-present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). “The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me” (Psalm 138:8). “I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted [including all that I deem precious] to him for that day” (2 Tim. 1:12).

After the man I dated for four years ended our relationship, my mind whirled with fears of the unknown. I had to stop and remind myself what I knew about God.

Though I do not know if we will ever be reunited, though I do not know if I will ever be married, I do know that God is good. I do know that He is faithful. He knows the desires of my heart, and I know His plans are to give me a future and a hope (Jeremiah 29:11).

Cast your cares on God. David wrote, “Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall” (Psalm 55:22). Recently, when I faced a problem that tempted me to worry, an image flashed into my mind. I pictured myself sitting on one side of a perfectly balanced seesaw. As a load of worry came my way, I could receive it, allowing it to pin me to the ground. Or I could cast it on God, who sits on the other end of the seesaw. As I chose the latter, God took upon Himself the weight of my worry, and I was lifted up.

As I rest in my Father’s tender love for me, I can more readily cast my cares upon Him. If He is gracious and compassionate toward His children, if He knows when even a sparrow falls (Matthew 10:29), if His thoughts of me are as numerous as the grains of sand (Psalm 139:17–18), surely He cares for my concerns even more than I do! When I reflect upon how perfectly He loves me, His perfect love casts out my fears (1 John 4:18).

God wants us to live free of worry. He liberates us from worry as we entrust control to Him, consider His character, and choose to cast our cares upon Him (1 Peter 5:7).

“Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way” (2 Thes. 3:16).

The nature and effects of anxiety

SOURCE:  John Piper

What’s the Deal with Anxiety?

Think for a moment how many different sinful actions and attitudes come from anxiety.

Anxiety about finances can give rise to coveting and greed and hoarding and stealing.

Anxiety about succeeding at some task can make you irritable and abrupt and surly.

Anxiety about relationships can make you withdrawn and indifferent and uncaring about other people.

Anxiety about how someone will respond to you can make you cover over the truth and lie about things.

So if anxiety could be conquered, a mortal blow would be struck to many other sins.

. . . One of the most important texts has been one I underlined when I was 15 — the whole section of Matthew 6:25–34. Four times in this passage Jesus says that his disciples should not be anxious.

  • Verse 25: “For this reason I say to you, do not be anxious for your life.”
  • Verse 27: “And which of you by being anxious can add a single cubit to his life’s span?”
  • Verse 31: “Do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?'”
  • Verse 34: “Therefore do not be anxious for tomorrow.”

Anxiety is clearly the theme of this text.

It makes the root of anxiety explicit in verse 30: “But if God so arrays the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will he not much more do so for you, O men of little faith?”

In other words, Jesus says that the root of anxiety is inadequate faith in our Father’s future grace. As unbelief gets the upper hand in our hearts, one of the effects is anxiety. The root cause of anxiety is a failure to trust all that God has promised to be for us in Jesus.

Future Grace, (Multnomah, 1995), 53–54, bulleted list added.

The Secret To Dealing With Fear and Anxiety

SOURCE:  Dr. Ed Welch/CCEF

“Humble yourselves.” That’s the secret. It has been there all along, but we rarely use it.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:6-7)

Fear and anxiety sufferers like myself have tried on a number of Scripture passages over the years. We might start with Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life . . .” (Matthew 6:26). When we need something easier to memorize we move on to Philippians 4:6, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

These passages work very well as counters to low-level anxiety. But, in the face of an anxiety assault—they aren’t enough. At those times, they can sound like mantras that are devoid of power, which is actually a good thing. Anxious and fearful people can easily slip into taking Scripture as a pill. Take one passage twice a day for two weeks and your symptoms will be gone. When the pill doesn’t work we have two choices. We search for another treatment, or we confess that we are using Scripture as a self-help book for symptom relief, in which case it is time to get back to basics. If you choose to get back to biblical basics, Peter’s exhortation to humble ourselves is a great place to start.

I had an anxiety assault recently. I was facing perhaps the worst fear I could imagine, and there was nothing I could do about it. What a mercy that I was confronted with the call to be humbled before the Lord. It resulted in a simple prayer.

“Lord, you are God and King. I am your servant. I know you owe me nothing. For some reason you have given me everything in Jesus. I trust you. And please give me grace to trust you.”

A few minutes later, my prayer moved even closer to Scripture.

“Father, forgive me for always wanting things my way. By your mighty hand you have created all things. And by your mighty hand you have rescued your people. I want to live under your mighty hand. Please have mercy.”

It sounds very simple—and it is—but it changes everything. This is the secret to dealing with fears and anxiety. The words of God, and the comfort of the Spirit, become much more obvious when we are repentant and humble before him. No deals—“if you spare me from this suffering then I will . . .” Just simple trust. We trust him because he is God, not because he is going to immediately remove our anxieties or our fear-provoking situation.

This passage has been a secret because we have typically entered it at verse 7, “cast all your anxieties on him because he cares for you.” But to understand its meaning, you need to start with the preceding verse, “Humble yourselves.”

“Humble yourselves” is the only exhortation in the passage. This is what Peter wants us to hear (and obey). If we jump in at the middle—it makes no sense. We can’t cast our cares on him until we have recognized that he is God and we are his servants who have also been elevated to become his children. A paraphrase could read like this (and I highly recommend putting Scripture into your own words.)

Humble yourself before the Lord. This shouldn’t be too difficult. After all, he is God and King, Lord of all. He is the Creator. You belong to him. The creature is the possession of the Creator. Humble yourself before your King. And here is one way to express this new-found posture of humility: cast your cares on him. Did you catch that? When you come humbly before the King he reveals his unlimited love. Who would have thought? He actually wants you to cast your burden on him. You were never intended to carry those burdens alone. He is the mighty God who never leaves. You can trust him. And this casting is no mere act of your will. It comes as you know that he is God and you are not. Oh, and you can be sure that he will lift you up from your kneeling position and give you more than you ever expected.

A little wordy, in contrast to Peter’s more succinct version, but rambling and embellishment give us more time to meditate on the logic of the passage.

The secret is to
…pause before you head into your favorite passage on fear,
…consider the greatness of God,
…add some of your own confession and repentance as a way to drive the message of humility home, and then
…remember some of those sweet words of God to fearful people.

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Edward T. Welch, M.Div., Ph.D., is a counselor and faculty member at CCEF and holds a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology with a neuro-psychology specialty from the University of Utah as well as a Master of Divinity degree from Biblical Theological Seminary. If you want to read more on fear, Ed has written two books on the subject: Running Scared andWhen I Am Afraid.

Be Anxious In Nothing

SOURCE:  John MacDuff – from Deejay O’Flaherty

Christian! the great and important matter is, to act our part well and faithfully in the present, leaving the disposal of the future entirely to God.

It is ours to be careful in discharging the duties of today–it will be His to impart strength for the contingencies of tomorrow. We cannot indeed expect to pass through life without our share of trouble, but we may at all times confidently rely on the assurance, “as your days, so shall your strength be.” And, the anxious apprehension about impending evils, can only have the effect of weakening our trust in God, and unfitting us for the discharge of present duty.

Surrounding ourselves with gloomy forebodings and anticipating evils which may never cross our path, we will become faint and disheartened, and our anxieties will but increase the more. Let us “cast all our care upon Him who cares for us,” confident that, let tomorrow bring what it may, He will sustain us in every difficulty–comfort and relieve us in every emergency, and “make His grace sufficient for us.” The interests of God’s people are His constant care–and by His most sure word He has undertaken to “supply all their need.” He will not, it is true, impart grace before it is needed–but neither will He fail to communicate it when it is actually needed.

If only we would look to the past, and reflect on God’s dealings with us, we will find that such has been His procedure. Oh! how often, in the day of sorrow and distress, has He given the very comfort we stood in need of–the measure of strength by which we were enabled to bear the trial! How often, in the time of sickness, has He relieved our pain when most severe–and mitigated our sufferings, when “vain was the help of man!” How often, too, have His gracious promises come to us in the very extremity of our need–and, “in the multitude of our thoughts within us, His comforts delighted our souls!”

May we not then say, “The Lord has been mindful of us, and He will bless us still?” “He who spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all,” will not withhold that daily care we need for our comfort. He who adopted us into His family–accepted us in the Beloved–and made us partakers of the promises which are in Christ Jesus–He who has loved us with an everlasting love, will watch over us in every hour of danger, and overrule and control all for our final good. We know not what the future may bring–but we know that it is His to order everything in heaven and in earth, and that, in every emergency, we may look to Him for support. Every need He can supply–every difficulty He can remove–every fear dispel, and, trusting to His guardianship–relying on His care, we may, regarding the unknown and inscrutable events of tomorrow unhesitatingly say, “The Lord will provide.”

Yes, Christian, many troubles may surround you–many dangers may threaten you–your hearth may become dreary and desolate, and every earthly comfort be removed–still, amid all these outward ills, anchor your soul on the sure word of promise–”I am with you aways, even to the end;” and let this be your prayer–-

“O Lord, give me Your heavenly grace, that I may cast all my care upon You, knowing that You care for me; and, by whatever path You lead me, oh! save me from all doubt of Your love, and bring me closer to Yourself.”

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—John MacDuff – A SCOTTISH PREACHER (1818—1895)

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