Listening to the radio on my commute this morning, the on-air personalities discussed a survey on current causes of anxiety. They concluded that our inability to control what is going on around us was THE source of human anxiety. As I look at my own life and visit with pastors and church leaders, I sense a lot of anxiety as we are living in turbulent and unprecedented times. Things are “not normal” and from day-to-day we must make decisions based on new circumstances and new information—things seem to be spinning out of control.
If their assumption about the source of anxiety is true, and I think it hits the heart of human anxiety, then the key question is, “What do we actually control in our world?” For most of us, if we were really honest, it is a very short list. As human beings, we struggle to even control our own passions, let alone have the power to control what’s happening in someone else’s life or the events occurring around us.
So the critical question really is, “How can I find the power to move my own heart from anxiety to peace?” As professing Christians, our first question is what does the Bible tells us about anxiety? Most of us are familiar with the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:25-34). In it Jesus tells us to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” In other words, we are empowered when God is THE priority in our daily life. The question then becomes, “What does our calendar and check book tell us about how high God is on our priority list?” The lower He is on our priority list the HIGHER our anxiety in life will be.
Paul’s words in Philippians 4:6-7 are often quoted in times of stress. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Many Christians can quote these verses, but how often do the words alone bring peace? Paul is suggesting that we are empowered when prayer is a regularly practiced spiritual discipline in our life. The Bible teaches us that rote memorized prayers and meaningless recitation of Bible verses is not what God is seeking in our prayer life. “The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit.” (Psalm 34:18)
In the upper room the night before Jesus went to the cross, He told His disciples “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) Jesus mentions two variables for finding peace. One is that we admit tribulations are a normal part of life. The other is that God is the source of peace, because He has overcome the chaos of the world. Before making this statement to His disciples, Jesus had repeated multiple times two specific themes: as we are going, God will empower us with the Holy Spirit (John 14:15-18 & 2-28, 15:26-27; 16:5-15) and God answers our prayers (John 14:13, 15:7 & 16, 16:23). So, we are empowered by the Holy Spirit that dwells within us and we are empowered by the knowledge that God hears and answers our prayers. Anxiety resides within us when we are listening to the spirit of our fleshly nature, and are denying the power of prayer.
Now comes the moment of honesty and confession. Even knowing all this to be true, there are still moments, and some times days and weeks, when anxiety resides in our hearts. In those “moments,” we need to humble ourselves like the father of the epileptic son did when he cried out “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24) We also need to lean on one another and seek the encouragement and/or exhortation of a brother or sister in Christ who can help us through those difficult moments. James tells us to confess our trespasses to one another, and to pray for one another, because the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous friend will avail much (5:16). We are empowered by the prayers of our friends when we confess our faults and failures.
We can’t control much in life, but we can choose to do the things that can truly empower us.
Retiring in April 2022, Mark R. Elliott served as a Director of Missions (Associational Mission Strategist) in Western Iowa and Eastern Nebraska for almost three decades. He is a strong advocate for obedience and Biblically based disciple making. As such, he knows that making healthy disciples requires Christian leaders to be constantly pursuing spiritual maturity—be lifelong learners. Because of the time constraints of ministry, most pastors focus their reading list on resources that assist them in teaching and preaching the Word of God. As such, books focusing on church health, leadership development, and church growth tend to find their way to the bottom of the stack. With that reality in mind, Mark has written discussion summaries on several books that have helped him to personally grow in Christ and that tend to find themselves on the bottom of most pastor’s stack. Many pastors have found them helpful as they are able to more quickly process great insights from other pastors and authors.
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