The following is an adaptation of the sermon ‘Overcoming Anxiety’ preached by Pastor Mike White on Sunday, 7/26/2015, at CityLight Church. To listen to the full podcast please click here: http://bit.ly/1Ise0JX
This message is the first in a 3-week series: The Bible Cure for Stress & Anxiety. This week, we look at the reality that many of us deal with anxiety, and explore how to deal with it. Next week, we’ll discuss responding to bad news: what do you do with a less-than-desirable outcome, and how do you move forward? Finally, we’ll talk about dealing with crisis: making every turning point an opportunity for growth and development.
Anxiety Is Real
Anxiety is a real struggle for many people in the United States. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults.  The struggle with anxiety can have long-lasting effects, not only mentally and emotionally, but even physically. Did you know people with anxiety are three to five times more likely to end up in the doctor’s office than those who don’t struggle with anxiety? Unfortunately, physical symptoms often develop if we fail to deal with our anxiety.
Anxiety is not just something young people face because they lack life experience. Anxiety remains prevalent as we age; it’s not something that disappears or even dissipates over time as we physically mature. Dealing with a anxiety is a real, constant struggle for many people all over the world. So how does the Bible invite us to deal with it?
Too often in church, we take a one-and-done approach to problems in our life. We pray once for a miraculous breakthrough, and then expect all our problems to disappear. Now don’t hear me wrong. God is absolutely amazing. When Scripture says He made the waters of the Red Sea stand on end, I believe Him. He can do whatever He wants. But when it comes to anxiety, we need a more thorough approach. We need practical tools we can use whenever anxiety surfaces. Are you ready for them?
Before we start, I want to acknowledge that a certain level of anxiety is healthy. The bell curve of anxiety indicates that moderate levels of anxiety result in peak performance. So, if we have no anxiety at all, it’s actually a bad thing. We can truly become “too relaxed,” and our performance can be negatively impacted. However, too much anxiety is just as bad. So today’s message is for those of us who deal with a level of anxiety that is unhealthy.
Fighting Anxious Thoughts
The most common way anxiety materializes is in our thought life. If you suffer from anxiety, you may be plagued by what are known as anticipatory thoughts. Typically they take the form of questions, and start with, “what if”:
- What if I lose my job?
- What if I can’t pay my rent?
- What if the date I’m about to go on doesn’t go well, she doesn’t want a second date, and I never go out with another person for the rest of my life?
Our thoughts tend to spin rapidly out of control. The comforting reality is that almost none of our anticipatory thoughts actually become reality. However, that knowledge often isn’t enough to shut them down when they surface. So, how do we deal with them?
We have to kill anxious thoughts with confident speech. Too often, we try and fight thoughts with thoughts. It’s not going to work. The best way to fight anxious thoughts is to confidently proclaim – out loud – Scripture verses that declare a truth contrary to what our anxious thoughts would have us believe. We fight thoughts with words. Whenever Satan tries to plant thoughts that sow seeds of doubt instead of faith, responding audibly with Scripture is our secret weapon!
We see Jesus do this as the Holy Spirit leads Him into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil:
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry. Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’” Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: ‘He shall give His angels charge over you,’ and, ‘In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus said to him, “It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’” Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, “All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.’” Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him. – Matt 4:1-11
When it comes to anxiety, the spiritual reality is often that Satan is whispering lies into our ear. God gave us His word to stand on, in full confidence, knowing that every promise He makes will come to pass. It is Satan’s job to do his best to unseat the confidence God gives us. If he does, the anxious spiral of anticipatory and self-defeating thoughts continues. But when we know how to break the cycle, we can continue forward with the full confidence God wants us to have.
We see several things in the passage above. First, even Satan knows Scripture! That has several implications. If Satan, our enemy, knows Scripture, how much more imperative is it that we’re armed with God’s word, so Satan can’t unseat us from a position of confidence with misinterpretation of Scripture? Satan came to Jesus several times and misapplied Scripture verses to try and entice Him to fall into sin. He does the same to us, doesn’t he? Knowing Scripture is one thing; applying it with love and accuracy is completely different!
Second, Satan always does his best to immediately call our identity into question. In verse 3, Satan starts his dialogue with Jesus by saying, “If you are the son of God…” Jesus knew He Is the Son of God! But Satan immediately tried to undermine the reality of who He Is. He will do the same with you, and with me. We must be prepared.
Third, when Satan came to Jesus spewing lies, Jesus responded 1) out loud, and 2) only with Scripture. Jesus didn’t try and fight Satan’s lies with thoughts. He didn’t try and win at Satan’s own game. He didn’t try and just ignore the enemy, hoping he would leave. He responded, out loud, with Scripture. If even the Son of God knew He had to stick to Scripture alone when responding to the enemy’s taunts, how much more do we!
When we repeat God’s word out loud, something very powerful takes place. All of heaven makes ready to provide the resources we need to stand on God’s promises over our lives. At the same time, all of hell is given proper notice that we know our identity in Jesus Christ! Scripture promises that, “…at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth” (Phil 2:10). When we pray, out loud & in the name of Jesus, hell has to bow to God’s will!
If a thought gives you confidence in your identity in Christ, it is from God. If it calls into question who you are, and what you are capable of, it is not from Him. God is good; Satan is bad. It really is that simple.
The daily disciplines of prayer and Scripture reading are essential if we’re to be in a position to recognize what thoughts are from God, and what thoughts are not. Paul encouraged the church at Rome to focus on God in this way:
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. – Rom 12:2
As we read God’s word, our minds are renewed. The input we take in directs our thought life. When we firmly ground ourselves in the things of heaven, God is the captain of our thought life. But without continual refreshing and renewal, the enemy has the foothold he needs.
Scripture never promises we will be immune to anxious thoughts. However, when we know how to fight thoughts with Scripture, we have a practical tool that can help when things seem beyond our control.
The source of your rest determines the source of your thoughts. If a good career and job title give you rest, then your thought life will suffer whenever your career is unstable. If respect from the people around you gives you rest, then anxious thoughts will surface in full force whenever you don’t feel like you’re in control. But when God gives you rest, your thought life will be healthy as long as you realize He is in full control.
Jesus wants to give us rest. He wants to give us peace in our thought life. Jesus invites us to an intimate exchange with Him:
Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” – Matt 11:28-30
When we give the burdens of our thought life over to Jesus, He gives us rest in return. The Greek word for rest in verse 28 (above) is anapauo (Strong’s #373). To “rest” means to keep calm and quiet, while maintaining a patient expectation of what God is about to do.
Resting in the Lord isn’t wasted time. Resting isn’t passive; it’s active. Resting is time of patient expectation and anticipation of everything God is willing & able to do in your circumstance; and it is this time of patient expectation that builds faith!
When Jesus promises to take our yoke, and give us His, what is He saying? A yoke was a harness employed by farmers that allowed two oxen to share a burden. Both animals would be hooked up to the harness, and they would share the burden of pulling the plow. But Jesus doesn’t just offer to share our yoke. He promises to take it from us completely!
When we give our burdens to Jesus, and allow Him to give us His rest, it means we no longer have to do any of the heavy lifting! As New Testament Christians, we are filled with God’s Holy Spirit. We can have full confidence that He is the one who strengthens us, and equips us to do everything God is calling us to do!
All our strength should come from God:
I will love You, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; My God, my strength, in whom I will trust; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I will call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised; So shall I be saved from my enemies. – Ps 18:1-3
We don’t have to try to do the things He calls us to do. We simply have to step out in obedience and do them, knowing that His Holy Spirit works through us as we go.
Giving Jesus Full Control
A release from anxiety is only possible when we give Jesus full control of our thought life. Whenever the disciples came to Jesus with anxiety, He chided them for a lack of faith, and invited them to take on the calm confidence He displayed. He assured them He possessed all the resources they could ever need. He reminded them He Is God.
We see this illustrated beautifully in Mark’s Gospel account as the disciples crossed through stormy waters with Jesus:
On the same day, when evening had come, He said to them, “Let us cross over to the other side.” Now when they had left the multitude, they took Him along in the boat as He was. And other little boats were also with Him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling. But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow. And they awoke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” Mark 4:35-38
The disciples weren’t expecting choppy waters. Everything was going great! Their ministry was flourishing, and people were giving their lives to Jesus every single day. But then it happened: all of a sudden, they found themselves in a situation where they lost control.
The wind and waves were raging, and it looked like God didn’t care! The disciples ran to Jesus, full of anxiety and uncertainty. “Do you not care that we are perishing?” (v 38) We find ourselves in this position all the time. Just when things are looking good, something out of our control happens and life takes an unexpected turn. We cry out to God, wondering if He’s lost His touch. Doesn’t He care that I’m in the fight of my life? Does He even care about me anymore at all?!
The disciples were missing the point. They thought they needed to wake Jesus up – to alert Him to what was going on around them – as if He wasn’t well aware. Jesus simply reminded them of the reality that nobody is dying when Jesus is on board.
When Jesus is Lord of your life, He is in control. Whatever happens, He’s got it covered. As the disciples panicked, Jesus was calm and relaxed. He didn’t need to worry about the wind and the waves, because He had complete authority over the things which scared the disciples the most:
Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” And the wind ceased and there was a great calm. But He said to them, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?” And they feared exceedingly, and said to one another, “Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!” Mark 4:38-41
Jesus rebuked the disciples’ circumstances. Then, He rebuked His disciples. He reminded them that, when He is around, they had nothing to fear. The disciples saw Jesus flex His muscle. The wind and the waves stopped. They immediately lost their fear of the world, and started fearing God instead.
Most of us embrace the half-truth that we should live without fear. But the truth is, all of us fear something. God is not trying to get us to live fearlessly; He is asking us to fear Him, instead of anything else. What you fear is what you worship. You have a choice: will you fear what makes you afraid, or will you fear God?
A healthy fear of God is one of reverence and awe. It develops as we recognize the same strength Jesus displayed in the boat with His disciples. God is capable of anything. He owns all the power in the universe. That should make us respect Him. An unhealthy fear of God comes from a lack of confidence in our position as sons and daughters of God through Jesus Christ. But a healthy, Biblical fear of God comes from full confidence that God is capable of all things.
When we fear God, we will never have to fear anything else: ever again! A fear of God shouldn’t paralyze us; it should empower us to go out and act with boldness, knowing that He is on our side!
Jesus Christ wants your burdens. He is ready & willing to take full control of whatever you’re going through, here and now. Say yes. Allow Him to release you from all anxiety as you pass your burdens off to Him.
Giving Jesus our burdens means we stop trying to solve our own problems, knowing that He is only one capable of solving them anyway. Giving Him our anxiety also means that we stop trying to earn God’s love, because Jesus has already earned it for us.
– by Pastor Mike White
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