Tuesday, July 24, 2012

There's a Monster in the Mirror: Anxiety

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(Previous posts in this series found here and here.)

It's amazing what an expected, justified, and normal part of our lives anxiety has become. Whether presidential elections, bills to pay, social gatherings, taxes, sickness, work, traffic, politics, our weight or hair or skin, friendships, family, church.... even vacations can easily become stressful and cause our hearts to give way to worry!

It seems to me that fear and self-focus are the foundations of anxiety: we either stop trusting God, or we are simply too concerned about ourselves.

And yet God has commanded His people throughout history... Do not fear. Don't worry. Don't be anxious. Fret not. Be strong and not afraid. In fact, this is one of the most commanded ideas in all of Scripture! And yet it's far too easy to brush off these instructions as mere suggestions. Perhaps we recognize God doesn't want us to worry, but do we realize how much our lack of faith in God dishonors Him, even despises His promises to provide for us? Do we treat anxiety as something we have little control or responsibility over?

Obedience--even to these commands--is not beyond our control. It is always possible to do the will of God. We may have some huge obstacles to overcome--namely, denying ourselves and taking up our cross-- but to this we were called.

I'm sure there's a whole world of valid medical issues that I don't understand. I'll leave those things in God's hands, as I'm sure He knows all about brain chemistry, genetics, and abnormal levels of neurotransmitters. After all, He's the one that created us. :) Yet even those plagued by evil spirits and legitimate psychological disorders were still expected to obey God (King Saul, for example). So I don't mean to minimize actual biological problems; I just want to emphasize our spiritual responsibilities!

When I'm honest with myself, I see that my moments of anxiety stem from self-consciousness when I should be conscious of God instead, or fearing men when I should instead be fearing God. It's convenient to have a socially-acceptable label to mask spiritual problems. But let's take an honest look at our hearts during times of worry and anxiety, and let's determine to trust in our Savior for His all-sufficient grace and peace that passes understanding. Let's focus on willing and working for God's good pleasure, and not our own. Let's remember these words from Exodus:

As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!” Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

I challenge us to quiet our souls before God, letting go of our own defenses and desires, and see the deliverance He will bring. We may need to pick ourselves up by the scruff of our neck, refuse to listen to our fears, and turn in absolute trust to the One whose kingdom cannot be shaken. In the words of the writer of Hebrews, we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

There's a Monster in the Mirror: Jealousy

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(If you missed the introduction to the series, find it here.)

Want to know one of the fastest ways to start feeling jealous, without ever stepping foot in a mall or attending a bridal shower? It's fairly simple: just log in to Facebook. While certainly Facebook can be used as a tool for encouragement and building relationships, it can easily turn into a wide world web of jealousy and envy. Why does she look so happy with her boyfriend? How come she always seems to have it all together? That family is going on ANOTHER vacation? How did they get such a big house? Why does she have so many friends and people who like her status?

Sometimes it doesn't even matter if we'd actually enjoy what we're coveting. If someone has it harder than we do, perhaps we secretly envy their lifestyle and endurance and wish we could look like a martyr, too. Or if someone has it easier than we do, we wish we lived their life of (seeming) luxury and ease.

When we're single, we're jealous of people in dating relationships. When we're dating, we're jealous of married people. When we're married, we're jealous of people with kids or without kids--whichever grass looks greener at the moment! When we're parents (I can only imagine), we're jealous of other people's kids and lifestyles and all the free time of single people... which brings us full circle, back to the single person, doesn't it?

If we could just see how silly we are sometimes--like one worm wishing he could be a different worm! How often we forget that the King of Kings left His glorious throne in Heaven to enter into our world in the form of a helpless baby, who would grow up to be the servant of many, ministering to the miserable and washing the feet of sinners.

You know who the Bible talks about as being a particularly envious people? The Pharisees and teachers of the law. And where did their jealousy take them? To Calvary. To nailing Jesus to a cross.

We may minimize or ignore or just rationalize our jealousy as a normal part of human life, but we essentially have two choices: we can crucify our own desires, seeking not our own good but the good of others, and living a life focused on Christ and not ourselves... or we can crucify Christ all over again by living in sin, according to the flesh.

Have thine affections been nailed to the cross?