Things That Are Killing Us–Anxiety

Posted: September 13, 2010 in Uncategorized

Anxiety is common.  In fact, it is one of the most common problems I encounter as a pastor.  If you suffer from anxiety, please know that you are not alone and you are not crazy.  
I have found that a number of things can trigger anxiety like deep regret about the past.  Counselors like David Powlison argue that anxiety is often based in fear of a possible future, pride in what will happen to us or what people will think of us as well as a lack of trust in God. 
Many secular self-help gurus advise those struggling with anxiety to disengage from reality and only focus on the positive.  Yet, this is a form of denial. 
Fortunately for us, anxiety is nothing new and the Bible does speak to it.
Look at Psalm 27:

27:1 The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?

2 When evildoers assail me
to eat up my flesh,
my adversaries and foes,
it is they who stumble and fall.

3 Though an army encamp against me,
my heart shall not fear;
though war arise against me,
yet I will be confident.

4 One thing have I asked of the Lord,
that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
and to inquire in his temple.

5 For he will hide me in his shelter
in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent;
he will lift me high upon a rock.

6 And now my head shall be lifted up
above my enemies all around me,
and I will offer in his tent
sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make melody to the Lord.

7 Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud;
be gracious to me and answer me!
8 You have said, “Seek my face.”
My heart says to you,
“Your face, Lord, do I seek.” 
9 Hide not your face from me.
Turn not your servant away in anger,
O you who have been my help.
Cast me not off; forsake me not,
O God of my salvation!
10 For my father and my mother have forsaken me,
but the Lord will take me in.

11 Teach me your way, O Lord,
and lead me on a level path
because of my enemies.
12 Give me not up to the will of my adversaries;
for false witnesses have risen against me,
and they breathe out violence.

13 I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living!
14 Wait for the Lord;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the Lord!

Notice that David was not saying that there was an army encamped against him only that they MAY at some point.  He was focusing on the worst case scenario and yet he was not anxious.  Why?
Tim Keller points out that David sought to “gaze” upon God’s beauty (v.4) and ask that God “teach” him His ways. (v.11).
“Gaze upon the beauty of God” means he wanted to seek His face or his presence.  BUT isn’t God present everywhere?
When I lived in Hollywood, a friend of mine secured access to the set of Back To The Future 2 and 3.  I spent time on a soundstage watching the DeLorean fly via crane.  I was in the same vicinity as Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd but I didn’t meet them and certainly didn’t develop a relationship with either of them.

There is a difference between being in the same area as someone and having a relationship with them.  David wanted to truly know God in the way that Moses did.
In fact, THE most important thing to David was to be in a close relationship with God.

 Tim Keller stated, “David knew that fears are directly proportional to the vulnerability of the things that are most important to him.”  So, if God is the most important thing then fear subsides because God will never leave you.
We become anxious because God is NOT the most important thing.  To paraphrase Augustine, “if you follow the smoke of anxiety you will find fires threatening a false god.”
A little anxiety is inevitable, who wouldn’t become anxious when a loved one is in pain, but debilitating anxiety is a product of idolatry. 
What David, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit knew, was that if you love God and learn His ways that you can live a life without real anxiety.
And you need both (love and teaching) because if you just have love then you get license and if you get the second then you get legalism.
How did David come to love God and learn His ways? Through “dwelling” in the Temple.  What did he see there?  He saw animals slaughtered.  Why did this affect him? Because it was a vivid reminder of the holiness of God, the sinfulness of man and the grace of our Lord in providing a means of atonement. 
How do we come to love God and learn his ways? Through the cross, which is another vivid witness to God’s holiness, our sinfulness and His mercy.  For on the cross, our sin is placed upon Jesus thereby satisfying the justice of God while Jesus’ righteousness is granted to us thus displaying His great mercy. 
It is only the slow, hard process of growth in holiness that will remove fear and replace them with love, trust and humility and it all begins with beginning to know God through the cross and then experiencing His true, Holy presence by trusting Him and this takes a leap of faith.
David took many leaps of faith because of his love of God and his desire to have a closer relationship with him.  Have you?
I know too many Christians who hear the Gospel but then spend their life surrounding themselves with a comfortable routine that leads them into the idolatry that they can trust themselves to take care of everything.  They go to church on Sunday but secretly doubt that God is real because they have never made the necessary trust fall to find the Holy presence of God there.  You have to trust to really know God. 
David Powlison argues that anxiety is a small taste of hell because it is an existence without the presence of God.  Too many Christians live such an existence.  Normally, you have to take a leap beyond your comfort to find Him there.
Returning to Tim Keller, I heard him tell the story of Alan Gardner.  In the 19th century, Gardner felt called to missions.  He took the leap but his ship was  lost.  Gardner was found lying on a beach having starved to death.  Yet, the last entry in his journal was, “I am overwhelmed by the goodness of God.”
Gardner lost all companionship and every comfort of life, even food but he trusted God and found His holy presence there and that was enough. 
Do you want to live a life free of anxiety? Come to gaze on the beauty of God through the cross and then take a leap of faith. 

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