The “Gift” of Worry

I am really good at worrying. It’s also pretty common for me that when my stress level increases, so does my worry and anxiety. I’ve been feeling the weight of that this morning.

I pushed myself a little too hard this week, and I woke up feeling the physical effects of my “keep-going mentality.” So, I stayed home from church to rest and spend time with the Lord while lying in bed. And surprise, surprise, my mind wouldn’t rest. My to-do list raced through my head. When I attempted to read the Bible, my mind reminded me of the laundry to get done, the emails I need to send, the travel plans to solidify. I stopped reading because I couldn’t concentrate, and I again picked up my phone to add more items to my “To-Do” note.

And then came the kicker, when God asked, Are you resting?

No, I replied reluctantly. I need help.

Let’s just say that it wasn’t the easiest of battles. But finally, I put my phone and iPad aside, made tea in my edelweiss Switzerland mug, and climbed back in bed to start over. I searched for sermons to listen to, and found one by John Piper on fear and anxiety. That seems fitting; I bet I need to hear this.

It wasn’t a typical sermon on Matthew 6, about storing your treasures up in heaven and not being anxious about tomorrow. (That passage is really great, and I highly suggest you check it out.) But instead, Piper focused his message on Isaiah 41, and particularly Isaiah 41:10.

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

But in order to understand verse 10, we need to understand who God is.

In the verses leading up to Isaiah 41:10, Isaiah speaks about characteristics of God — God as Judge of the nations, God as the Ruler over all rulers, God as the Creator and the First, and God as gracious. This is so crucial in understanding that our God is not like the idols spoken about in the passage. God is not one who was created by human hands. He’s not one who is lifeless or weak. He is real and personal. He is righteous and just. He is love and grace. He is the holy and perfect judge over the nations, He is more powerful than all worldly powers combined. He is the alpha and omega.

And even more than that, God says in verse 9, “I took you from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners I called you. I said, ‘You are My servant’; I have chosen you and have not rejected you.”

God promises that verse 9 is true of those who have accepted the gift of life through Jesus’ atoning sacrifice. If we are in Christ, we need not fear. We need not be anxious because God says, “I am your God. I am with you. I will strengthen you. I will help you. I will uphold you.”

This is amazing news! Not only did Jesus willingly sacrifice Himself so that we can have a restored relationship with God, but God promises that all who receive Him and believe in Him are His. He promises that He is our God, that He is with us, that He will strengthen and help us, and that He will uphold us.

If this is true, why am I so worried or anxious? Why am I so afraid? Ultimately, our fear and anxiety come from unbelief, idolatry, or an incorrect view of God. We worry and stress because we want control and we forget about who God is. Or when we attempt to find security in temporary things, we are basically saying that these things will save us.

Everything in this world is temporary, except for a relationship with God. So, when I’m tempted to worry or fear or be anxious, which is a lot, I need to remind myself of the truth of Isaiah 41:10: that I am His, I am secure in Him, and that He is always with me.

What tempts you to be fearful or anxious? How can you allow the perfect peace of God calm your spirit?

 

For some other passages on worry, check out Matthew 6:19-34, Luke 12, Luke 10:38-42, Philippians 4, II Corinthians 4, Matthew 11:28-30, and 1 Peter 5:6-7.

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The Fight for Joy: A Turning Point

On December 31 every year, I love looking back over the last year and reflecting on what God had done and major events that occurred. But this year was different. As midnight approached, I stood and watched a crowd of 2,000 college students at Cru’s annual Christmas Conference in Indianapolis worship in the New Year (pictured below). I realized at this point that I hadn’t done my normal reflection. And, to be honest, I didn’t want to.

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I didn’t want to think about all the changes that happened, the pain of major transitions and trials, walking through circumstances and situations that I never asked to walk through, the lack of joy I experienced throughout the year, or even just that a lot of what happened didn’t go the way I expected or wanted it to go. Throughout the past year, and probably longer than that, I’ve found myself on a roller coaster, most of the time being on the losing side of the fight for joy.

In a nutshell, in the last year, I finished a thesis, graduated (pictured below), went to Europe, visited countless doctors in order to seek healing for years of exhaustion and a barely functioning body, raised support to spend a year in fulltime ministry, watched most of my closest friends move from Athens and start new lives elsewhere, celebrated the marriages of three of my best friends, started an internship with Cru, and walked through a lot of confusion, disappointment, failure, and hurt from the past and the present.

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(For the sake of this blog, I forced myself to look back on the past year. I’m thankful God pushed me out of my stubbornness to do it, because I know it’s good for me. And through looking back, I’ve also been able to see how He’s worked.)

But I’m so thankful that the Lord, in His kindness and grace, didn’t leave me in that state. A turning point really came in October when my friend/roommate/coworker/boss/etc. asked me how my fight for joy was going. And then opened the floodgates of my tear ducts. The truth was I wasn’t fighting for joy. I was stuck in a wilderness of hopelessness, thinking that things would never change. That I would never change. I couldn’t see what God could possibly be doing with my heart or how any of what He was doing could be good for me.

As the tears streamed, my friend reminded me of simple truths. Truths that I knew but wasn’t believing. Along with Scripture, these words still ring in my head:

“The Lord shows His kindness and grace by refining your heart.”

“In His kindness, He doesn’t leave you as you are. The Lord cares too much to leave you unchanged.”

“We don’t get to choose how we glorify God, but we can choose whether we walk through it faithfully.”

“We need to praise and thank God in all circumstances.”

“My life is not my own.”

“God works all things for the good of those who love Him.”

“Sanctification is a privilege, not a punishment.”

“God wants to take you from slavery to sin and your own heart to the freedom that He’s already given you in Christ.”

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Seeing joy in Christ has been the theme of the last few months for me. I’ve noticed the theme in conferences I’ve attended, Scripture and articles I’ve read, songs I’ve listened to, and in the lives of the girls I disciple on campus. And God is putting these words constantly into practice.

Since October, the fight has become harder, but these truths and the promises of God are sinking deeper. It’s amazing how God uses circumstances and situations to show me my brokenness and need for a Savior. But God doesn’t stop there, He shows us that He has already overcome our brokenness and sin, and that we have freedom and victory only through His blood and the Gospel.

So, what’s my New Years resolution? To fight for the joy that God has already provided for me. To pray constantly that the Lord would open my eyes to see His kindness and grace in all circumstances, not just the ones that go the way I want them to go. To walk through my circumstances with thanksgiving and trust that God will not leave me unchanged. That I would see and experience the Gospel. That my heart and actions would glorify my Savior.

And I desire the same for you. In my next series of posts, I invite you to walk with me through my continuing fight for joy and the simple truths God has taught me in the last few months. I guarantee that the fight is not easy, but God wants us to experience the joy and the freedom that is in Him.

For today, I leave you with the words of Psalm 51:7-12.

“Cleanse me with hyssop,and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.

10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit,to sustain me.”