It was 2 am, time when I should have been experiencing the deepest sleep, that kind that makes us healthy and energetic, but instead I was staring into the dark. My mind would not settle and anxious thoughts tumbled over one another like water spilling over rocks in a creek bed. Endless concerns, feelings of being swept away by the current of events, a sense that life was out of control and I would be lost in the chaos left me facing an old enemy – anxiety. Google the word. Lots of people in our time are dealing with this.
Anxiety – is it a spiritual issue? Is it an illness? Is it ‘my fault?’ Over the years I have realized that I cannot wish it away and that I am not a sinner because I feel this way. I choose not to use medications that are available. Even though they can help, most of them change the way I know my world in a way that I find unpleasant.
One of the Scripture passages that Christians have referred me to when I talk about feeling anxious is found in Paul’s letter to the Philippians. As he teaches us about the sufficiency of Christ and the contentment found in Him, he says this – “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” (Philippians 4:13, KJV) That is a wonderful statement, isn’t it? Many Christians read a kind of American positivism into that verse so that it becomes this – “Because Jesus is my God, I can make anything happen in life that I want, if I believe it enough and remain positively confident.” That’s a great idea for us and would be a source of real inspiration if it were true. But, positivism is not what the Spirit is telling us there at all!
Read the whole of Paul’s letter. He is writing while imprisoned! He is not declaring that Jesus is going to get him out of jail. In fact, he makes no demands of God about the future. His statement about doing all things through Christ is preceded by this profound declaration of humble reliance on the Lord. “I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:20-21, NIV) No matter death or life – he has no reason to feel lesser or unworthy. Either outcome is honorable because he knows that Christ will be lifted up by if he continues to trust Him and remains faithful to Him.
When we read – “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” we are encouraged to understand that because He is Lord of life and death, because He has secured our peace with God, because He has come back from the dead, our Resurrected Lord, we can live through any storm, deal with any challenge, and face the Devil and the darkness even while we continue to do life with a quietly confident knowledge that we are safe in His arms.
“But, Jerry,” you say, “I want to be the master of my situations, making them all work out the way I desire through faith.“ I will admit that I would like that, too. But, we are not God! I have wished a thousand times for the ability to wave away a family’s dysfunction with a prayer but discipleship is about teaching them to rely on Christ and the power of the Spirit to change them, inside out, into His likeness. I have wished for the miraculous ability to heal every sickness and multiply the bread for the poor but know that because of Christ, I can pray in faith that leans heavily on Him and then walk the road He chooses in humble obedience.
Yes, Jesus calmed storms and healed diseases. And, He still does, but not because we insist that He will. His invitation is that we bring all our needs to Him and then find the strength, the courage, the contentment to live in His grace no matter what happens to us or around us.
So, my anxious thoughts may return occasionally in the middle of the night, but I can remain faithful to Him because He strengthens me. Things may not (indeed, they certainly will not) always be what I want them to be, but He is always Who He said He would be so I will remain hopeful because He strengthens me. In my limited understanding, there will be the appearance of chaos, but I will not cower in fear, because He strengthens me.
Here is a word from the Word. May the Spirit make it living truth for us this Monday morning.
“So how am I to respond? I’ve decided that I really don’t care about their motives, whether mixed, bad, or indifferent. Every time one of them opens his mouth, Christ is proclaimed, so I just cheer them on! And I’m going to keep that celebration going because I know how it’s going to turn out. Through your faithful prayers and the generous response of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, everything he wants to do in and through me will be done. …
Alive, I’m Christ’s messenger; dead, I’m his bounty. Life versus even more life! I can’t lose.
… Meanwhile, live in such a way that you are a credit to the Message of Christ. … Stand united, singular in vision, contending for people’s trust in the Message, the good news, not flinching or dodging in the slightest before the opposition. Your courage and unity will show them what they’re up against: defeat for them, victory for you—and both because of God. There’s far more to this life than trusting in Christ. There’s also suffering for him. And the suffering is as much a gift as the trusting.” (Philippians 1:18-29, The Message)
In my life, Lord, be glorified Today! Amen