learning to depend on God when anxious

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 4:6-7

I certainly have had other problems, but I think my longest, persistent problem has been anxiety. Sometimes in the past, smothered in it for days at a time. Better in recent years, but still not that good.

More recently, I’ve begun to experience what I think is something of a breakthrough for me. The passage above has been my main go to thoughts in trying to deal with this, and still is. The difference I think somehow might lie in the depth in which I’m pursuing this. But it’s probably more simple than that.

I tend to be a person of words, connecting with words, thinking through things with words, processing life largely that way, not enough with God’s beauty and in other ways. And I likely did that with this passage, thinking as long as I do such and such, then God will respond, but maybe more like on a conceptual level, than personally.

Maybe not that much difference, but now I realize it all depends on God, quite personal. It is kind of a mystical approach, but quite real for us Christians. I realize that when I’m concerned about something, whether as a possibility or a reality I’m having to deal with, that I can’t get rid of the anxious feelings which arise and often the numbness that follows. I can only bring my concerns to God, just as the passage tells us above. And wait for him.

Invariably, God comes through. That takes away panic, gives me perspective, and brings needed peace of heart and mind. Only from God in answer to prayer right in the midst of the struggle. In and through Jesus.

being like Jesus in our struggles

If there’s one thing for certain in life, it’s that we’ll have struggles of one kind or another. I was watching a clip on war torn, disease ravaged Yemen today, and I also think of North Korea where to profess Christ would bring a death sentence. Comparing those two places, not to mention a good number of other places in the world (Haiti and Venezuela come to mind on our side of the world, but a number of other faltering states as well), and I begin to see that much of what I think I have to be concerned about pales in comparison. And yet problems here can seem like life and death matters at times, even while we live in relative comfort and safety. We need to be in prayer for the people who lack basic care, and whose lives are in danger.

How are we like Jesus in our own struggles? I think we have to pay attention to the things that Jesus did, as well as what he taught in the gospel accounts: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. And see how that is expanded on in the rest of the New Testament. Our goal should be that we are more and more becoming like him, whatever difficulties we face. And hopefully to see such difficulties help us grow in ways we couldn’t imagine otherwise, as we learn to walk in Jesus’s way, no matter what. In and through Jesus.

thinking through, along with praying through (“on further consideration”)

…the prudent give thought to their steps.

Proverbs 14:15

It is easy to think this or that, even for a long time, and take it for granted. It is hard to dig into whether or not such thinking is close to reality, or even logical, for that matter. And I’m not pointing fingers. I can fall, and have fallen into this fallacy myself.

Rather, we need to learn to think things through, prayerfully. Of course we need to do our part, but this process is best done with others. Proverbs tells us elsewhere that there is safety in a multitude of counselors. What one person doesn’t see, there might be two or three others who do, or at least someone else. Insight from our various perspectives is helpful. And we all need to dig and ask questions.

Thinking matters through, as well as praying through until an answer comes. We need both. As we seek to do well in God’s eyes in and through Jesus.

trying to understand different perspectives

Among the greatest needs in the United States on a social, as well as spiritual level is the importance of listening to others, to differing points of view. Politics, and issues which are put into that category is especially volatile, and the real war from all appearance seems to be waged on that front. Some moral issues which have other factors are part of that, along with the need for all sides to have their say. But it seems we’re nearing a tipping point, where there will be no compromise.

There is surely much to say about all of that, but that’s not my concern in this post. My point is simple: the need to learn to listen well to different perpsectives, with no agenda to correct or impose one’s own point of view. And in that process to better understand not only where they’re coming from, but what merits there possibly are, what truth actually lies there. So that we’re open to their perspective actually impacting our own.

In our culture today, such an attitude would seem rare at best. Part of that comes from what appears to be a largely nonnegotiable stance right from the top, meaning from the president, even though his administration appears to be more flexible. There needs to be a mature group which learns to listen well for the sake of the United States, yet which, even in the midst of differences: liberal or progressive, conservative, and whatever else, will hold feet to the fire with reference to the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights, the Amendments of the Constitution.

While that is important, there is something more important still, a matter which can be addressed only by the church and believers: the gospel, the good news in Jesus, and all the good of that out of God’s love for the world. We believers who live here in the United States and likely citizens of this nation do well to be concerned for the preservation of what is good in the ideals of this nation. But our most basic calling is to live lives completely devoted to Jesus and the gospel. In doing so, one of the first fundamental things we need to do is listen, listen, and listen some more, and say nothing (yet), at least be slow to speak, and simply love. And when we speak, talk about Jesus.

The goal is to win others to Jesus, and help them grow in their faith. Out of that hopefully will come real benefits for the United States, or any other nation in which the church is, but the outcome is in terms of God’s kingdom. As hard a statement as this is, I think it needs to be said: What God is doing with the nations, including the United States is rather beside the point. This is probably especially hard for us, since we’re a democracy, and either legitimately or not, we often have much invested in this nation. But our lives are to be lost for the sake of Jesus and the gospel (Mark 8). Christ is building his church, not nation states. And actually ruling the nations in some way through the church (Ephesians 1).

All of that more difficult stuff aside: We need to simply listen well, and be known as those who listen and love, even as we as witnesses hold firmly to God’s word in Jesus and in the gospel. Together in and through Jesus.

seeing in a Jesus way

There are all kinds of ways to look at things, which we might label accordingly, but which at times may defy any known category at all. Basic in this is the supposed objective take, as if someone can see even anything in a way in which only God can see it. In reality such an objectivity is subject to all the limitations of the viewer.

And so we do well to temper whatever thoughts we have on so many things with the utmost humility. A humility which doesn’t give up in trying to work through something so as to better understand it. But is open to further input for a better understanding which at times, probably many times, and nearly inevitably over time will result in a revision of what we previously thought.

What we in Jesus need to work on and keep working on is the effort to begin to see things more and more with Jesus and what one might call gospel-centered eyes. Instead of American, or Democratic, or Republican, or Libertarian, or Progressive, or whatever. Not that we can escape seeing things from our cultural perspective. That’s a given, we will, with all the limitations and biases which go with it. In fact Paul even tried to be “all things to all people, so that by all possible means, [he] might save some” through the gospel (1 Corinthians 9).

Seeing in a Jesus way means seeing people with the goal of Jesus which brings people to Jesus to ultimately begin to become like Jesus together with other Jesus followers. It is gospel-centered, no less. Our passion shouldn’t be to get the world, even our world to think the way we do, which in itself is anything but foolproof. Our passion instead should be to help ourselves and others see the beauty of the good news of God, which is in Jesus. And to begin to experience the transformation that beauty brings, through the gospel itself, and the obedience of faith which is to accompany it.

The gospel alone is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes, a salvation which is ultimately transformational in every respect, beginning with how we view others and the world. As we begin in and through Jesus to see with the eyes of Jesus, a view which includes ourselves and excludes no one. The one view we can count on to not only make more sense of the world, but to ultimately bring the world to its senses according to God’s good will in Jesus.

what is on our radar?

We are undoubtedly people of our time and place with perspectives which are limited to the lives we live as well as to the world as we perceive it from the media. That is fraught with all kinds of dangers in skewing reality. Not that any one person is going to understand it well in all its complexity.

As people of the Book, we who are Christians, followers of Jesus need to keep reading scripture for all its worth, a challenge in itself. Inevitably we will read it from our perspective, which means we will have blinders on, so that parts of what is there will not register, or at least not register well. Important aspects of God’s written word may be all but lost to us. One such example is God’s concern for the poor, which is seen over and over again in scripture. Here’s a look through a translation at how often scripture refers to the poor.

What scripture majors on is what we should emphasize without leaving the other issues behind. What we especially need to avoid is making scripture support what may end up being a worldly agenda. It’s easy to take something out of its context, put it in our own, so that we see scripture saying something it isn’t saying at all.

What we’re aware of and concerned about ought to both come from scripture and be informed by scripture. It may very well be a subject scripture does not at all address, such as climate change. But out of love for God and for our neighbor we may conclude that it’s a matter that as a follower of Christ and a fellow human being we ought to be concerned about.

In all of this as always the gospel must be foremost and what follows from it. As we keep reading scripture prayerfully ourselves and with each other. So that we can see more clearly the path God has for us in Jesus.

it’s about the gospel

There are all kinds of matters in this life which actually do matter. From the big to the small, which often in the case of the small is as big as life to those it affects. Everything has its place.

At the same time something can be quite out of place in our minds and therefore, concerns. From the political situation to what happened to us yesterday. Not that any issue is to small for our Father who even knows the number of the hairs on our head so that he is intimately in touch and I think even touched himself, remarkably, with all the details of our lives.

While we need to remember that, so that we can learn more and more to cast our cares on the one who cares for us, it will help us in our understanding and expectation, yes in our faith to learn to see the big picture, what it’s about for us in this life.

While there’s so many things we have to see to, hence the blessedness of some who don’t have to see to so many of these kinds of concerns (I think myself of the responsibilities which go into “owning” a house), we’re to live as those who live for the gospel, who give up our lives for Jesus and for the gospel (Mark 8:34-9:1). And see everything somehow in relation to that. So that we try to somehow relate everything to that gospel. Because if anything becomes an end in itself, doesn’t it then become idolatrous? From whatever political allegiance someone might have to whatever good ideal and goal one may wish to see implemented.

There may be wisdom and good in such things, but for us in Jesus we see not only for the life to come, but for the present life, that the gospel of God’s grace and kingdom come in Jesus is what we don’t want to lose sight of ever. So that our view of everything is tempered and perhaps even changed by that gospel.

I believe this is a truth which I’ve caught only a glimpse of and which I want to see better in relation to everything. It is the difference that being in Jesus in this present life makes. Of course it’s rooted in and even the life of the church. And it’s to make a difference in our lives, the difference that following Jesus makes. Let the reader understand. May God grant us to understand this by his Spirit in and through Jesus. Amen.

a good template

The Lord’s Prayer/ the Our Father Jesus taught, is both how we should pray, along with words we should use to pray (of course, not exclusively). The Lord’s Prayer is not only a good template for prayer, but for how we should view the world. Of course how we view the world from that prayer will be determined by how we read the rest of scripture. And what we gather from that will vary somewhat from person to person, as well as from church to church.

The Lord’s Prayer along with the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) puts us on notice that Jesus is King, that God’s kingdom is present in him, and that, while we await its consummation at Jesus’ return when heaven and earth are made one, the beginning of what is to occur then, is happening now.

The prayer by itself is a good template to get us better focused than we normally would be otherwise, but as noted earlier, we need to be in all of scripture to see just what this prayer might mean in God’s kingdom work in Jesus in the world today.

The prayer is centered in God’s glory, kingdom and will. It is God-centered. It is in terms of community: God’s people, so that somehow the people of God are in some central role in this kingdom and its work. It is for the earth in terms not only of the future, but of the present as well. In fact I think the emphasis of the prayer as a whole is clearly on the present. It is practical, down to earth, where people live. In terms of sustenance, what we need physically. And spiritually, as well. It is also in terms of the ongoing need for forgiveness of sins, in other words it is grace oriented. Along with depending on God for deliverance from evil, or the evil one, so as not to be led into temptation. Again, giving all the glory and praise to God.

As followers of Jesus we need to be well grounded in the words Jesus said, and these words Jesus taught us to pray are among those we need to keep especially close at hand. Remembering that this is a prayer to God, which means that how it’s shaped is how God’s work in Jesus in his kingdom is shaped in the world.

“This, then, is how you should pray:

the best education

Education as we know it here probably has its roots in the western stream somewhere. Learning, as in the sciences seems to have primacy of place, but place is given to the arts, as well. Education is practically considered the key to the good life for most everyone. It’s supposed that knowledge is the key to a better society. If people just know enough, everything will be better. And especially so, if they know in a way which meets life where it’s lived, both as an individual and within society. That last point is getting warmer toward the truth, I think.

One of the major problems of public and dare we say, private education (though some of that may be able to do better) is that the learning is not necessarily tailored well to the individual. We all are at different places and stages for one reason or another in our development and growth. And we all have different bents and aptitudes. Education has done well to help students within the system. The problem might be the system itself, which does not flex enough to do well by every student, I’m thinking.

Of course we talk about the education of hard knocks. Simply meaning learning the ropes “the hard way.” Breaking the rules and paying for it, facing the consequences. We’ve all been there and done that to some extent.

In none of this do we really graduate. Life goes on, and with it a continual learning, all the more in today’s fast changing world. And this is true in what I consider the best education.

The best education in the world is one of becoming and being a disciple or follower of Jesus. Jesus brings into the world a new way of being human within a new order, the kingdom of God. This new order is not only spiritual, but material and transforms all of life. Nothing at all is excluded.

To learn from Jesus is to be committed to God through him, through his death and resurrection. It is a dynamic lived within the community of the church by the Spirit of God in and through Jesus. It is a twenty-four hour, seven day a week proposition. Scripture is an important part of it, read individually and within community in the church. This kind of education does not necessarily negate other kinds. For us in Jesus it transcends everything else, but it includes all that “is true, …noble, …right, …pure, …lovely, …admirable …excellent or praiseworthy.” There is much within “common grace” we can learn and benefit from. But even those areas, –every one of them– is transformed by the kingdom of God in Jesus, active and at work in our lives, both in our outlook and activity.

Yes, everyday, today is included. What does the Lord want to teach me/us today? What is he teaching us lately? And how are our lives changing in conformity to God’s will in recent times through this? Just some of the questions we can ask as we continue to work this out together in Jesus and for the world.

missing the forest for the trees

It is quite easy to miss the woods due to being fixated on one tree. In my case a tree that is in trouble perhaps, so that looking at such may be a good, God-led thing. But also in my case, the tree may not be in mortal danger and I can end up “missing the forest for the trees.” In other words I can easily lose out and fail to see the big picture.

We are helped immensely when we consider the big picture as given to us in scripture in the story of God, from Genesis through Revelation. In scripture, just as in life, we can get so caught up over and lost in certain details. We may end up missing the main point, and therefore fail to see the particular detail we are concerned about in the way we need to.

The answer to this is not in ourselves, realizing our error and something of the truth, and then proceeding accordingly. That normally ends up being what happens, but how it happens is from and through God in Jesus by the Spirit. God’s revelation to to us, and then empowering of us to move on, and get beyond what may well have become an impasse for us.

We may end up going in a completely opposite direction from what we otherwise would have thought or done concerning the detail we were lost in. Or we may simply defer that to God in faith, trusting that he will take care of it in his own good time, that we will have light to see and the strength to do what need be when the time comes.

We in Jesus are supposed to be together in this, encouraging and praying for each other, as we go on together in Jesus for the world.