learning to trust in God in real life

I lie down and sleep;
    I wake again, because the LORD sustains me.

Psalm 3

Some of us are more prone to anxiety and worry than others. I am, and my wife is not. She is just the opposite, which is nice, but also poses its challenges. There is good in being aware of dangers, and real problems, which might not be readily apparent, and trying to fix or deal with them, as best one can. But in my case, I find that a lot of my fears can be a direct challenge to faith. In other words, do I work at trusting in the Lord, or do I remain paralyzed in fear?

The psalmist was facing real dangers. They were bad things which indeed could happen. But it seems that the psalmist also came to rest in God, and God’s will, and within that, God’s protection, so that he could rest easily at night, confident that his life was in God’s hands.

For myself, I find that some good sleep can make a world of difference. I wake up refreshed, and feeling much better, what fears I had having dissipated. While the counsel we once received, to never act on our fears, or while we’re afraid, is sound advice we do well to keep, there may be some things we can do toward alleviating the problem, leaving the outcome to God.

But above all, we must trust in God, learn to trust in him. So that our hearts can be more and more at rest in him, and his promises to us. In and through Jesus.

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getting uncluttered in life

The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful.

Matthew 13

When you get older you start to think about getting rid of all the things in your house or garage that you haven’t used for years and years. Paring down, before others end up having to do that for you, or after you’re gone. I think something similar applies for all of us as followers of Jesus. We need to be unencumbered, free from what can weigh us down, and essentially knock us out, or at least greatly impair and hinder our walk in Jesus.

For me more than anything else, this involves the spiritual discipline if you want to call it that, of being in the word regularly. I feel it if for a prolonged time I’m not in the word, in scripture. And being in the word is nothing scintillating or entertaining, as a rule. Actually it goes much deeper than that, right to the heart, to the very core of one’s being, and out of that forming one’s character and what one does, over time.

There are any number of things, indeed no shortage of them, which can very much distract and burden us, yes, unnecessarily. It’s not like we don’t have plenty of responsibilities in place and challenges that come our way that we can simply ignore and forget about. It’s more like how we address those issues, what we do when we’re doing so. Are we endeavoring to walk with Jesus, to be in scripture in whatever situation we’re in? Are we active in the fellowship of the church, in a Jesus community? This is all an essential part of us being those who hear the word, understand it, and find God at work in our lives for ourselves and others in and through Jesus.

a new (for me) thought on dealing with anxiety (worry)

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4

As much as anything, and probably more, I’ve struggled with a low grade (sometimes high) anxiety most all of my life. If it’s the right kind minus obsessive compulsive tendencies, so as to take care of details on a job, that’s one thing. But when it amounts to thinking and acting as if life and its outcome depends on me rather than God, then that’s quite another, the latter not good at all.

I’ve had kind of inklings of this thought before, but not as plain as day like this: What if instead of first becoming anxious (or worrying; see NRSV in above link), I would immediately, as soon as something, or some thought occurs which will threaten my peace and result in anxiety, what if I would immediately bring that before God just as the passage quoted above says? After all, it doesn’t tell us not to be anxious after we have become anxious, and strictly speaking, it’s not about dealing with anxiety at all, although that’s the way I’ve used this passage in my life. It’s really about avoiding anxiety and worry in the first place.

Realistically, I say, it is hard to avoid anxiety in this life. It seems nearly like an automatic part of life for me. Of course there surely is a healthy anxiety which is different than the anxiety referred to here. That kind can comport with a faith in God, total dependency on him, and interdependency on others. But the anxiety we’re to avoid amounts to a lack of faith in God, somehow not believing God’s word, and thinking and acting as if all depends on us.

Of course we need to do exactly as this passage in Philippians 4 says. But the above link will make it clear that it’s in the context of rejoicing in the Lord always. And reading the entire book of Philippians will put it in the context of a life that is Christ, and is bent on moving toward the goal of conformity to him, and God’s calling in him. And beyond that, though the book of Philippians is definitely the place to start, we actually need the entire Bible to help us in providing needed context for not being anxious, or worrying by keeping the instructions here.

It is radical and abrupt, and surely not something we will simply step into unerringly, since we’re so used to being anxious and worrying in a way which at least weakens faith. We need to take it little by little, and learn a new way, so that over time, we can learn a new habit, and more and more avoid anxiety, yes completely in some measure in this life.

A new thought to me, one I look forward to working on in whatever days the Lord has left for me in this life.

a commitment not to worry

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4

A good number (thankfully) of years back I called in to a radio program in which a wise pastor and writer was taking phone calls and answering questions. I was sick of whatever it was I was struggling with, likely worry, and I asked whether one could simply make the commitment not to sin, and be able to follow through on that. I probably and hopefully knew better from my own reading of scripture and theology, though had been influenced in the past by a holiness group which aspired to “a second work of grace” which was supposed to “eradicate the sin nature.” I certainly considered anxiety or worry a sin, not trusting in God, having a wife who made that clear, that to worry meant that I wasn’t trusting the heavenly Father. And it was coming to a head for me, so that I wanted to get rid of an exacerbating problem, once and for all. Enough was enough.

I like to see the commands in scripture as loving directives of the Father, who doesn’t come down hard on us when we fail, and we inevitably do at times. And I know that some of us have more of a propensity toward worry than others, some suffering with anxiety attacks who might benefit much from medication and counseling. I get that. And it might be true to some extent that I fit in that category, although worry is not something I wrestle with every day, and I don’t think I’ve ever had an anxiety attack. Just the same, I am beset with worry and anxiety probably more than any other weakness. Amy Simpson, by the way wrote a most helpful book on the subject, which I would do well to reread: Anxious: Choosing Faith in a World of Worry.

We most certainly need to read the entire book of Philippians (quote above), and keep reading the entire Bible to get everything in context, so that we see the bigger picture. It’s certainly not about us and our agendas, but about God’s good will in Jesus, and the gospel, and from that living the life of love in God. But I have found a bit of a freedom in viewing, in the hard places, God’s commands as something of God’s enablings by grace and through Jesus, to help us do better. I certainly like the idea of simply deciding not to worry.

As Amy Simpson adeptly points out in her book, the emotion of anxiety is not something we can deal with; if we’re anxious, we’re anxious. Worry is our own preoccupation with one thing or another, maybe even a number of things, usually one at a time, in which we are afraid of this or that, what might happen. It actually does expose the reality that we’re failing to trust the heavenly Father, as Jesus reminds us in the Sermon on the Mount.

And so, by grace, and endeavoring to do what we’re told to do in Philippians 4:6-7 (see above), I want to once again commit myself to trusting in God’s provision and care for our needs, and that whatever happens, the Lord will be present with us, and never forsake us. And for me it seems like a good focus point is the refusal not to worry, or be anxious in the sense of worrying. Instead I will once again be endeavoring to trust in God. While not abandoning my own responsibility for this or that, which can make this tricky, since the problem isn’t necessarily out of the picutre (it can be in and out, for sure). I will be seeking through meditation on the word and prayer, to find God’s peace, and live well with it. Something I’m sure I’ll have to do again and again. While hoping I’m growing more in a maturity which makes worry less and less a problem, as I learn to trust.

 

being cheerful in the midst of adversity

To have trouble and struggle seems to be part and parcel, practically the norm of this present life. There is the day-to-day common problems which easily are seen as a nuisance, and time an escape from such. But then there are those special problems which may be legitimate or not, but can be grating, and even burdensome. We’re not meant to carry all of it ourselves, in fact more often than not, it seems that we’re to get rid of it. We are to carry our own burdens, as in responsibilities. But others are to help us with our overburdens (Galatians 6), and we’re actually to cast all of our burdens, big and small on the Lord.

Regardless of the nature of the problem, it can lend to us a humility which helps us not look down on others, getting rid of that natural bent of broken humanity. And there are times when the problem is blaring out to us so loud, that we can’t escape it, a sure sign that while it needs to be dealt with, we also ought to view it with some suspicion. I have noticed that the pressure to act immediately often proves to be either frivolous, as in not mattering, or simply a deception which we will come to regret.

To the main point of this post: I want to learn to be cheerful in the midst of the most uncheering of circumstances. Let’s say it’s a bad health report such as cancer (or even worse for me, Alzheimer’s). Or something which really hits our buttons and ordinarily leaves us in a tizzy, whatever that might be.

Let me suggest to myself, as true from scripture and appropriate to real life (and something Ann Voskamp might have just jogged me on to from her first book, One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are), we should work on cultivating the practice of being cheerful when our own impulse would be just the exact opposite, taking us into any number of other alternatives in which people regularly live, such as gloom and perhaps panic, etc.

This is not a denial to take seriously the problem at hand, but instead to apply faith right where we live, right in the midst of it, and see the outcome from that. Philippians 4:6-7 and for that matter the entire chapter (better yet, the entire, short book) is helpful here. We’re not to merely pretend our problem doesn’t matter, because in one way or another, it most certainly does. Instead, we’re to bring it before the Lord in prayer, our cheerfulness so to speak expressed to God in thanksgiving in the midst of what would naturally cause us anxiety, or worry, or perhaps more precisely for many of us in our weakness, in the midst of such anxiety. My way of arriving toward that place has been to remain in the word, come what may, slowly working through it in a meditative manner throughout the day. Of course if that’s to do any good, then we need to seek to apply what is written. It wouldn’t hurt for me to include some of the Philippians 4 passage here:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

The most important point in this for me is that to be cheerful when down is a radical act of faith. It makes no sense in terms of the real world, and where we live. And none of us wants to be phony, or at least we shouldn’t want to be. Problems are still problems, regardless. The crisis point for us should invoke in us the decision to practice a cheerfulness as an expression of faith in God, who has it all covered in one way or another. So that even when on the inside I’m cringing and anything but cheerful, on the outside I learn to practice what by and by can become true for me even in the midst of difficulty and suffering, as God honors a faith in him and his word, in and through Jesus.

 

 

the human condition: angst, lostness

What is perhaps the typical default position in which we humans live? And many things in this life can exacerbate that. I would say a sense of angst, as in anxiety and fear, oftentimes taking away all of a person’s inward sense of tranquility, of peace. And a lostness in which one is hanging on for dear life just to keep going, sometimes grasping after empty, harmful things to give meaning, and as pastimes.

I used to think that down the road my experience would get much better. What has happened is perhaps a bit complicated. Most of the time I live in the same experience I’ve lived in for years. It’s just that I’ve learned to manage it much better, through faith and prayer, through as much a singular focus on God’s word and the gospel as possible. Not that I’m concerned about measuring up to some kind of standard on that. Actually a little bit goes a long way, even as Jesus said, if we have a faith as small as a mustard seed. So that, yes, I do seem to experience more of the sense of God’s presence and peace.

As one gets older, it doesn’t seem like the trials either go away, or lessen, though in some respects they might, simply because in faith we learn more to rest in God, and in God’s promises found in scripture, in and through Jesus. Oftentimes we encounter even more difficult things which come with living longer and the experience that brings, along with all of the wear and tear of life in getting older.

I think a healthy, scriptural realism is key in all of this. I know of people who I think may have left the faith because they were told such and such would be the case if they had enough faith, but they found it not to be so. They might then be blamed for lack of faith, which wouldn’t help, either. Fact of the matter, life in some respects is hard in and of itself. All of the problems we encounter, sometimes in heaps will verify that. The key is how we handle those problems.

Angst and lostness can be replaced with a sense of God’s presence and peace, if we don’t let the former get us down. It may be best and most healthy to think of them as commingling. Ordinarily one will displace the other, but we can’t let our experience of angst and lostness impact our faith. Such experience is not either faith, or lack of it, but rather just the normal default postion of us humans. But an experience which ironically can help us to faith as we look to the one who is Savior and Lord, and seek to live in and according to God’s word fulfilled in him. Such an exercise, every bit as ongoing as the sense of lostness which in this life naturally accompanies our humanity.

an anxious foreboding

It is good for those who really don’t have all that much to worry about, at least materially speaking. They are well set; the Lord has provided for them well beyond their needs, so that any problems they encounter, they can get fixed. For many of the rest of us, everything is much tighter, so that luxuries are indeed luxuries. Part of the problem for us in a first world country is that we live with first world expectations, which sometimes due to setbacks in employment, or whatever may be the case, can’t be maintained. The overhead we end up having to maintain to survive is actually unnecessary in and of itself. If there was one thing among other important things I might tell a young person, or a young couple, it would be to seek simplicity in life which includes looking for the most basic, cost-effective way of living. That can free one up to give much more, and actually enjoy more as well.

That said, an anxious foreboding about what lies ahead is not foreign to any of us. Job expressed this, a man who had great wealth and was esteemed for his wisdom:

What I feared has come upon me;
    what I dreaded has happened to me.

Job 3:25

Scripture is full of honest, struggling people. And we need to grapple with all of it as we seek to go on, that is all of scripture along with all of our own experiences and thoughts. Of course the gospel is the heart of scripture, but all of it is written with details to instruct and encourage us, and to give us endurance and hope.

We need the basics: prayer and God’s word, along with the fellowship or communion of the church in the gospel. A little bit of that goes a long way, but it has to be faithfully followed over time, at least that should be our commitment. Sure, in our weakness we’ll have some breaches and falling out here and there at least as a rule for most of us, certainly to some extent true of myself.

What lies ahead may be challenging, and most certainly for everyone in some way or another will be. But that ends up being the opportunity for us to latch on to the God in and through Jesus who promises to see us through, not according to our own will, desires, or thoughts, but according to God’s will in Jesus. The end is the gospel which takes all of creation into the new creation in and through Jesus, into the eternal life of communion together with the Triune God.

The storm will subside, the clouds will break, and the sun will reappear, and once again brighten up the day, and our lives. What we need to do is hold on in faith, knowing that in the end it is God’s faithfulness in Jesus which holds on to us, and through which everything will be more than okay in the end. In and through Jesus.