The Answer to Anxiety (Part 4)

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? (Matthew 6:25-30 ESV). We come back to the first reading in this series today. My response to the person who has to deal with feelings of anxiety every day is to say: That’s more or less normal. The issue is how you deal with them. And you deal with anxieties by battling unbelief. And you battle unbelief by meditating on God’s word and asking for the help of his Spirit. The windshield wipers are the promises of God that clear away the mud of unbelief. And the windshield washer fluid is the help of the Holy Spirit. Without the softening work of the Holy Spirit the wipers of the Word just scrape over the blinding clumps of unbelief. Both are necessary: the Spirit and the word. We read the promises of God and we pray for the help of his Spirit. Here in our original reading we have the illustration of anxiety over food and clothing. Even in our country with its extensive welfare system, anxiety over finances and housing can be very intense. But Jesus says that this is owing to unbelief: “O you of little faith.” And so this paragraph has at least half a dozen promises in it to battle that unbelief. Believe the promises of Jesus, and anxiety will evaporate in the warmth of God’s care. At the end of verse 32 he says, “Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.” That is a spectacular promise. In everything you do at home and at work, put God’s purposes first, and he will provide all you need to live for his glory. And so we follow today the pattern of Jesus and Paul. We battle the unbelief of anxiety with the promises of God. So I urge you in your warfare, take up the book of God, ask the Holy Spirit for help, lay the promises up in your heart, and battle on. And remember the promise of Proverbs 21:31, “The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the Lord.” BELIEVE...

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The Answer to Anxiety (Part 3)

Be gracious to me, O God, for man tramples on me; all day long an attacker oppresses me; my enemies trample on me all day long, for many attack me proudly. When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me? (Psalm 56:1-4 ESV). Sometimes I wonder if it wouldn’t be better to just do longer devotionals rather than divide the study into the brief format of one page. However, here we are. As the fabled Master Jedi Yoda might have said, “Worry you should not; learn you shall.” Yesterday we saw one response to the truth that our fear is rooted in unfaithfulness. Today we see there is another possible response to the truth that our anxiety is rooted in our unbelief in God’s promises. It goes like this: I have to deal with feelings of anxiety almost every day; and so I feel like my belief in God must be totally inadequate. So I wonder if I can have any assurance of being saved at all. We must understand that being faithless is vastly different than having our faith attacked. Suppose you are in a car race and your enemy who doesn’t want you to finish the race throws mud on your windshield. The fact that you temporarily lose sight of your goal and start to swerve does not mean that you are going to quit the race. And it certainly doesn’t mean that you are on the wrong racetrack. Otherwise the enemy wouldn’t bother you at all. What it means is that you should turn on your windshield wipers and use your windshield washer. When anxiety strikes and blurs our vision of God’s glory and the greatness of the future that he plans for us, this does not mean that we are faithless, or that we will not make it to heaven. It means our faith is being attacked. At first blow our belief in God’s promises may sputter and swerve. But whether we stay on track and make it to the finish line depends on whether we set in motion a process of resistance, whether we fight back against anxiety. Will we turn on the windshield wipers and will we use our windshield washer or quit in resignation to the enormity of our circumstance? Our reading today says, “When I am afraid, I put my trust in thee.” Notice it does not say, “I never struggle with fear.” The sequence is sure: Fear strikes and the battle begins. So the Bible does not assume that true believers will have no anxieties. Instead the Bible tells us how to fight when they strike. The apostle says, “Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you” (1 Peter 3:5). It does not say, you will never feel any anxieties to cast onto God. Some of us just need to turn the windshield wipers...

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The Answer to Anxiety (Part 2)

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” (Hebrews 3:12-15 ESV). Yesterday we saw that the root of our fear is unfaithfulness. Now I can think of two kinds of responses to this truth. Let me tell you what they are and then give a biblical response before we go on to the battle against the unbelief of anxiety. One response would go like this: This is not good news! In fact, it is very discouraging to learn that what I thought was a mere struggle with an anxious disposition is in fact a far deeper struggle with whether I believe God or not. Now my response to this is to agree but then to disagree. Suppose you had been having pain in your stomach and had been struggling with medicines and diets of all kinds to no avail. And then suppose that your doctor tells you after a routine visit that you have cancer in your small intestine. Would that be good news? You say, emphatically not! And I agree. But let me ask the question another way: Are you glad that the doctor discovered the cancer while it is still treatable, and that indeed it can be very successfully treated? You say, Yes, I am very glad that the doctor found the real problem. Again I agree. So the news that you have cancer is not good news because having cancer is good. It is good news because knowing what is really wrong is good news, especially when it can be treated successfully. That’s what it’s like to learn that the real problem behind anxiety is unbelief in the promises of God. It’s not good news because the cancer of unbelief is good. It’s good because knowing what is really wrong is good, especially because unbelief can be treated so successfully by our great physician. So I want to stress that finding out the connection between our anxiety and our unbelief is in fact very good news, because it is the only way to begin the battle with the real cause of our sin and get the victory that God can give us by the therapy of his word and his Spirit. Just one of the ways to apply the “therapy” of your faith is through consistent prayer and bible reading. This deepens your understanding of the relationship you have with God. He is your Father; nothing is too great for him to handle and his commitment to your good is...

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The Answer to Anxiety (Part 1)

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? (Matthew 6:25-30 ESV). John Piper has said, “Unbelief is the root of evil and the essence of evil.” Indeed, our reading today is clear at this point. All our sinful behavior grows out of this faithless attitude that somehow God does not care for his children. It is rooted in attitude that God does not directly act in the lives of his children. This is the reason for our anxiety. There is a slight disclaimer I must raise at this point in our study over the next few days: I am not talking about personality disorders. There is a very real physical reason for anxiety disorders that cannot be denied. I would also say that even these can be eased with an appropriate understanding of faith in the provenance of God at work in our lives. Think about it for a moment. How many different sinful actions and attitudes come from anxiety? Anxiety about finances can give rise to coveting and greed and hoarding and stealing. Anxiety about succeeding at some task can make you irritable and abrupt and surly. Anxiety about relationships can make you withdrawn and indifferent and uncaring about other people. Anxiety about how someone will respond to you can make you cover over the truth and lie about things. So if anxiety could be conquered, a lot of sins could also be overcome. So, let’s look at our reading more closely. Four times in this text Jesus says that we should not be anxious (v. 25, v. 27, v. 31, and v. 34). The verse that makes the root of anxiety explicit is: “But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothes you, O men of little faith?” (v. 30).  In other words, Jesus says that the root of anxiety is lack of faith in our heavenly Father. As unbelief gets the upper hand in our hearts, one of the results is anxiety. So when Hebrews says, “Take heed lest there be in you an evil heart of unbelief,” it includes this meaning: “Take heed lest there be in you an anxious heart of unbelief.” Anxiety is one of the evil conditions of the heart that comes from unbelief. Much anxiety, Jesus says, comes from little faith. This is the kind of connection we are going to see again and again in the weeks to come. The root of a sinful condition of the heart is unbelief in the living God. The answer to our fear of the future is a faith in the One who secures...

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Celebrate

I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord. (Psalm 40:1-3 ESV). Yesterday I talked a bit about celebration. Did you know there is a song of celebration in your heart? This song celebrates what you consider worthy of celebration. That thing is that in which your soul delights; it is that which your soul is satisfied. So many people celebrate things that aren’t worthy of celebration. Sadly, billions praise those things that starve their souls and drive them to the brink of eternal death. Some are still singing as they fall off the cliff into outer darkness. That would be us, too, if God had not given us another song to sing. This is a “new” song put in our heart by God’s grace. It is one that celebrates him, not our worth or the quality of our praise. The song has been “put” there by God. It has not been “earned” by the feeble works of our life. The psalmist doesn’t say, “I learned a new song! I earned a new song! A song of praise by, and for, my efforts, my wisdom, my riches, my greatness!” This “new” song is a celebration in the mouth of the psalmist, but he is not arrogantly praising himself. This new song celebrates God. It rejoices in God. It sings about God. This song celebrates God for who he is and for what he has done. This is the “new song.” The heart that has been changed by the gospel sings the praise of the Savior. For only in Jesus, we have been redeemed. We have been saved from our sins that have separated us from our God. We have been raised from our spiritual death to walk in the newness of eternal life. We have received and have been sealed by the Holy Spirit, the guarantee of our redemption. We have been called out of darkness and into his marvelous light to proclaim his praises. When we gather for corporate worship, it is to share in this gift of “new heart-song” praise to our God together, both as individuals and as those who can truly call this God “ours.” The heart of the psalmist should also be “our” heart as he proclaims, “Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord.” As we celebrate the salvation of God through Jesus Christ and in the power of his Holy Spirit, our song will show others the soul satisfaction we have experienced. This should be our desire as we come together to praise God publicly and joyfully. Even through sorrowful waiting and painful trusting, our song of praise, though at times with a lamenting melody, will yet praise him, for our circumstances are not our song. He is our song! And he is worthy of celebration! Come on let’s have a...

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