For the last 2 weeks we have been talking about the consequences of our out of control lives and what we can do to begin to turn things around. We have heard that the consequences of our over extended – hurry up lives is that we don’t see clearly, we don’t listen carefully, we don’t think deeply, we don’t savor life fully and we don’t serve God effectively. But there are other consequences we experience that can be more debilitating and difficult to deal with. The unsustainable pace of our lives can create stress, worry, fear and anxiety that can be difficult to overcome. Now my guess is that just like I didn’t need to convince you that we are too busy and move too quickly, I don’t need to convince you that stress, worry, anxiety and fear are things that we all struggle with because if your lives are anything like mine, you experience this.
Let me just be honest and say that as long as I have been a pastor I have struggled with stress and anxiety. While most people’s greatest fear is the fear of public speaking, that isn’t a problem for me, but I do get anxious at times leading the church. This is a serious responsibility and a huge challenge and while at times it is the greatest joy and honor of my life, at other times it creates a huge amount of stress.
The growth we have experienced in the last few years here at Faith Church has created some stress and then helping others deal with the stress and problems of their own lives and families can create its own worries. Now don’t misunderstand, I love being a pastor and I love being the pastor here at Faith Church and it has been an incredible joy and an extremely fulfilling experience for me, but it also comes with its own measure of stress, worry, fear and anxiety. I tell you this to just let you know that I am in the same boat as everyone else. While I know that the Bible says be anxious for nothing and do not worry and while I know that well over 300 times it says, do not fear, the reason it says all of this is because we do. We all are anxious about how we are going to get everything done that needs to get done and we all fear what will happen if we don’t get it done.
As we look at the Bible’s answer to stress, worry, fear and anxiety – which by the way is very simple – I want to be clear about a few things from the beginning. The first is that some fear is actually a good thing. We want our children to be afraid of hot stoves so they don’t reach out and touch them. We want our children to be afraid of strangers and dangerous situations. Fear is a natural feeling that helps keep us safe. For example, I know I have shared that one of my fears is of certain kinds of heights. I don’t mind going up to the top of buildings, but I freaked out trying to climb this fire tower that was only a few stories high. Now my fear wasn’t all bad. It kept me safe, it kept me from trying to do something foolish like hanging off the sides of the railings or climbing up the outside of the structure. So fear isn’t necessarily bad. Some fear is legitimate – it’s when our fears are unfounded, over the top or never ending that we need to take some action and get some help
The same is true for stress. Not all stress is bad; in fact, we all need some stress in life if we are going to grow. Think about our muscles, they need to be stressed and stretched if they are going to get stronger. So some stress is good we all need a certain amount of stress in our lives to help us grow, but too much stress and constant stress over long periods of time can be destructive. To give a really clear demonstration of this I have asked Linsay for some help. Stringed instruments like the viola need some stress if they are going to make any music. If there is no stress on the strings, there is no sound. If there is too much stress on the strings they can break or sound out of tune. Too much stress on all the strings can actually snap the neck.
The same is true of the hairs on the bow. Without any stress, it will make a sound, but it wouldn’t be a good sound and you wouldn’t be able to control it. But too much stress can break the bow or break the hairs. The same is true of the person playing the viola. If there is too much stress in the hands, arm and body it won’t sound good and if there is no stress, that won’t work either. But when the right amount of stress is balanced over time – you get beautiful music!
So again, just like some fear is good, some stress is good, but too much stress, worry, fear and anxiety over too long a period of time can be debilitating. Now let me also say that too much stress and fear may need more than what we are going to talk about this morning. While the Bible gives us a very clear antidote for these problems, it is just the foundation on which we need to build. Some problems we face in life need a doctor’s care. Just as too much stress on our muscles might need the care of a physician, constant stress, worry, fear and anxiety over long periods of time might actually call for a counselor. Stress over long periods of time can actually deplete chemicals in our brain that help us stay focused and able to function so many times even certain medications like anti-depressants are needed to help set things right and there is nothing wrong with that. In fact, if you are in a place of debilitating fear or stress, I would encourage you to not only take God’s message from the Bible to heart and begin to use it as a foundation, but please get more help if you need it.
The Bible gives us a clear antidote to stress, worry, fear and anxiety because the people we read about in the Bible dealt with it all. We heard last week about Moses living an out of control life trying to do everything on his own. All of the people came to Moses to have him alone resolve their problems and as we read the book of Exodus and hear about the kind of stress Moses was under as he led the people of Israel through the wilderness. It was a hard job and things didn’t always go smoothly. The people of God could be difficult at times and Moses even got frustrated with God at times. So he knows something about what we go through today.
So did King David. While David was chosen by God to be the king of Israel, it seems that much of David’s life was spent running in fear from people who wanted to kill him. Jonah had stress and anxiety as he wrestled with what God was asking him to do. Ruth had stress as she was placed in a position to help God’s people but it would require her to take some big risks which always create anxiety and Nehemiah faced the fear of physical attacks as he worked to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.
During the Christmas season we heard about the fear Mary and Joseph must have faced when they found out they were going to be the earthly parents of God himself. Peter and the disciples faced incredible fear and stress and they were actually walking with Jesus in this world and Paul faced fear and anxiety as he worked to spread the news of Jesus across the Roman Empire. If you think about it, the Bible is really just a collection of stories of people who were going through stressful and anxious times. Everyone we read about in the Bible faced fear, so it is a book about fear, but it is also a book which gives us the antidote to stress, worry, fear and anxiety and we heard that antidote this morning from Psalm 56.
Psalm 56 was written by David before he became King of Israel. Saul was king but David was winning all the battles and growing in popularity among the people. This got King Saul jealous so he set out to kill David. David was running for his life and actually hid among his enemies the Philistines for while pretending to be crazy. This was a time of incredible stress and fear for David and yet he shows us the answer, look at Psalm 56:3-4. The antidote to stress, worry, fear and anxiety is trust. It really is that simple, we are called to trust God.
But what exactly are we to trust? That God is real? That God loves us? That God hears our prayers and answers us when we call? What is that we trust in to overcome stress, worry, fear and anxiety? The answer to that, again, is pretty simple. We trust that God is with us.
God is with us. Again and again throughout the Bible the promise that is made to us is that God is with us. We are not to be afraid because God is with us. We don’t need to worry because God is with us. We don’t need to live with constant stress and anxiety because God is with us, which means that God’s power is with us as well. Look at Isaiah 41:10. It can’t get any clearer than that. God is with us which means that God’s power is here to help us and strengthen us and carry us through. When we are anxious and stressed we need to feel God by our side and literally holding our hand, look at Isaiah 41:13.
What is important for us to see here is that God doesn’t promise to take away the situations that cause fear and anxiety – we will always face difficult times, but he has promised to be with us through them. Look at Isaiah 43:2. We will go through times of fire and floods, we will face challenges that will cause us to be afraid and anxious, but God says he will be with us and that these fears and problems will not overwhelm us. He goes on in says in Isaiah 43:5a, do not fear for I am with you.
That’s what we are to trust; that in times of fear and anxiety, we are not alone – God is with us. Again, that is the story we see played out throughout the Bible. God was with Moses and provided for them. God was with Jonah and vomited him out on the dry ground. God was with Ruth and Mary and Joseph and Peter when they had difficult decisions to make. God was with Paul when was sitting prison and we know God was there because the prison doors opened and Paul was able to walk out. God didn’t take the fear away, God didn’t take the stress away – but God was there through it and when people trusted God, they found peace.
Peter really experienced this peace when he was in one of the most stressful situations of his life. He and the disciples were in a boat on the sea during a storm and they were terrified. When Jesus came walking to them on the water they thought he was a ghost so they were even more terrified. But once Peter realized it was Jesus on the water he asked him if he could get out of the boat and walk with Jesus on the water. Jesus said, come on. So Peter got out of the boat and started walking to Jesus. As long as Peter was looking at Jesus – he was fine. He was at peace, he had strength and he stayed above the waves, but as soon as he took his eyes off Jesus and focused on the problems of the wind and waves and the reality that he was walking on water, he began to sink. What he needed to remember was that God was with him. What brought him peace wasn’t that he was able to walk on water but that Jesus was with him.
What helps us overcome unhealthy and constant fear and stress is knowing that God is with us, which is what we have to work to keep our hearts and minds centered on. We need to constantly remind ourselves that we are not alone. During times of stress, worry, fear and anxiety we need to remember that God is with us and we do that through prayer, we do that by reading or remembering the word of God and we do that by staying connected to the Body of Jesus which is the church.
When we pray – we are reminded that God is with us. When we read God’s word and recite the promises God has made to us we are reminded that God is with us. When we come to worship, take part in a small group, serve God in any way we are reminded that God is literally surrounding us. So these three things can help us trust God and find the peace we need to settle down our lives.
I want to close with the words of hymn which is really quite interesting. It may not be very familiar to us, but it is different than many other hymns because it is a hymn sung from God to us. Most songs we sing during worship are songs of praise that we sing to God, but this one is different because it is God’s song or God’s word sung to us and we need to hear it that way.
“Fear not, I am with thee, oh, be not dismayed,
For I am thy God, and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by My gracious, omnipotent hand.
“When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow;
For I will be with thee thy trouble to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.
“When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not harm thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.
“The soul that on Jesus doth lean for repose,
I will not, I will not, desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.”
So the antidote to stress, worry, fear and anxiety, is that God is with us and will never, no never, no never forsake us. May this truth bring us peace.
Antidotes for an Out of Control Life ~ Finding Peace
1. This week read the following Scriptures which remind us to trust God.
• Monday – Psalm 23
• Tuesday – Isaiah 41:8-13
• Wednesday – Isaiah 43:1-7
• Thursday – Isaiah 54:7-10
• Friday – Matthew 6:25-34
• Saturday – Romans 8:31-39
• Sunday – Hebrews 13:5-6
2. Memorize one (or more) of these verses to recite during times of stress.
3. Ask each person in your family (or in your Sunday School class or small group) to share one or two worries and fears from your daily life. Don’t try to take the worries away, simply listen and then pray together for the faith to trust God more.
4. Pray every day:
God, when I am honest with myself there is much that I worry about and many fears that I face. Today my fear and anxiety is ______________________________________________.
Remind me that You are the maker and sustainer of all life and that Your word says to me over and over again, “Do Not Be Afraid”. Increase my faith and trust in You so that I might find lasting peace. In Jesus name I pray, AMEN.