Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Anxious For Nothing: Facing an Upside Down World with a Right Side Up Attitude


I'm going to break it up a little bit today. I love to write, I love to read, and I love to escape into the big, vivid world of my imagination. We live in a crazy, crazy world, and sometimes, the only way to face it is by disconnecting from it occasionally. When chaos and insanity seem to overtake us from all sides, where do we turn? What do we do? 

To be perfectly honest, I am an anxious person - and I think most of us are. We worry about everything, from how we're going to pay our bills, to how we're going to raise our children correctly. Anxiety and fear is a part of the human equation, like it or not, and most people know what it's like to feel crushed under the weight of life's heavy load. When COVID hit last year, it really dawned on me how quickly life and society can turn into a circus. Of course, as a survivalist author and post-apocalyptic spinner of stories, I have always postulated many thoughts on the subject of societal chaos, but it was sad to see it happen nevertheless. 

Oh, sure, we're not living in a desolate wasteland (yet!?), and there are no roving gangs of cannibals nipping at our heels at the moment (again, not yet), but I think we can all agree that there has been way too much tension and insanity within 2020 and already in 2021. I wrote an article last year about finding peace in the chaos of the world, and this article today builds a little bit on the themes of that piece.

First, what is fear? And why do we have it? 

Fear must be a really big deal, otherwise it wouldn't be mentioned so much in the Bible. God knows that fear is the underlying weakness of mortal man (outside of sin, of course), and therefore there are many, many instances in the Bible that deal with the subject. According to SoulShepherding.Com, there are 365 fear verses in the Bible - or "fear nots." That's one for every day of the year. Literally. God knows how badly we need courage. Here are just a few examples: 

“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.” ~ Isaiah 41:10

 “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

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” ~ 2 Timothy 1:7

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” ~ Joshua 1:9

“The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?” ~ Psalm 27:1

Clearly, fear is a feeling that even the strongest men and women have had to deal with, and as we all know, one cannot take courage without first overcoming fear. Fear is a hurdle that all of us have to cross at some point - whether it's fear of certain situations, fear of humiliation, fear of the unknown, or fear of dying. Everyone is afraid of something, and some people tend to be more anxious than others. That's perfectly normal, but we shouldn't be dwelling in a permanent place of terror at all hours of every day. We were not created to be trembling house mice. We were created in the image of God, to glorify Him - and we can't do that if we're hiding from the world, can we? 

Taking Courage - Taking Heart

A few weeks ago I was listening to a sermon and the pastor brought up an interesting point. He was talking about how courage is something that has to be taken or seized. How true that is! I'm currently reading and re-reading through the 4 Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), and it is astonishing to me how many times Jesus tells his disciples to stop being afraid. Case in point: “He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.  He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”  (Mark 4:39-40)

The thing that I love about reading the words of Jesus Himself is that he tells it like it is. He doesn't worry about if someone is going to be offended about what He says, or if it's going to fit the political or religious narrative of the day: he just speaks the Truth, and in doing so, he leaves everyone whom he speaks with in a state of awe. When Jesus told the storm to be still, he turns to his disciples and asks them why they're afraid. He asks them why they don't have any faith. And that, I think, is probably the root of our fear: our lack of faith. Fear is not borne of faith. God does not give us the spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind (2Tim 1:7). If we are truly dwelling in faith in Christ, then we can take courage, choose courage, and believe and know that we will be given the strength to get through whatever trials or fears come our way. In C.S. Lewis' beautiful allegorical stories from The Chronicles of Narnia, Aslan the Lion, who represents Christ, says it this way: "Take heart, dear one." I think that's the most beautiful thing! We are dear to Christ. He is our heavenly father, we are His children. When I think about my own child, and how I want to comfort her when she's afraid - but I want her to also overcome her fear and be strong - I begin to get just a tiny glimpse into what our roles are as followers of Christ, blessed little children in the Kingdom of heaven. 

Up is Down and Down is Up

Back in the day, the good ol' apostles traveled around the ancient world preaching the Gospel message, which was brand new and totally shocking to everyone who heard it (but in the best way, of course!). Many of the Jews rejected the message of Christ's resurrection, so much so that the Gentiles (in the Bible world, that basically just means anybody who isn't Jewish, or one of God's chosen people) seemed to receive it more openly than the people of Israel. A strange paradox indeed. In Romans, Paul writes about the licentious conditions of society and the utter sinful immorality that Rome and the world had descended into. No surprise, given humans' sin nature. He writes this in Romans 1: 28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God's righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

Right has become wrong, and wrong has become right. Certainly we could spend hours and hours discussing parallels between decaying Roman culture and the questionable societal messages being pushed in the United States today, but that's an entirely different subject for an entirely different day. That being said, there is a heavy, heavy pressure for everyone in society to conform to certain expected beliefs or thresholds of toleration - and to buck that system is to invite fear. But fear of what? Disapproval? Societal persecution? In some cases, even imprisonment or death? Absolutely. Fear of these things is natural, but for the Christian, expected. Jesus warned us about this repeatedly: If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. (John 15:19-21)

What Jesus is saying here is basically, "The world will hate you because it hates me." There's no logical reason behind it. No reasonable argument. It's just pure, blind hatred, because sin loves the dark, and followers of Christ love the light, and those two forces have been in natural, constant conflict since the day Lucifer in his wicked scheming turned man to sin. It's a fact of life. But Jesus also says this in John 16:33: "I have told you these things so that you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." 

There it is again - that command to TAKE heart. Why? Because He has overcome the world. Our time of victory is coming. It will happen - so don't be anxious. Christ controls our destinies and will never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). We know who is on the throne. Satan may be the prince of this world, but he's not the King, and Satan's limited reign will come to a fiery end someday. Maybe tomorrow - maybe in a thousand years from now. Meanwhile, our job as Christians (one of them), is to take courage, because Christ has overcome the world. Expect morality on Earth to be upside down. This is nothing new. It has always been this way. In the USA, we have enjoyed a measure of outright moral expectations that have guided us, but I believe that as the dark underbelly of American political elitists continues to be exposed (corruption, drugs, pedophilia and human trafficking), it's important to remember that absolute power can (and usually does) corrupt anyone who is not grounded in God's Truth. 

The Struggle Against Fear and Darkness 

I don't take this subject lightly. I struggle with fear of the unknown - we all do. It's part of being human. We want to know what's going to happen, but we can't. Only God knows. That's why there are so many verses in the Bible telling us to CHILL, KAREN, because God has got this. Okay, so maybe it doesn't say that verbatim, but you get the point. Our human perspective is so finite and so limited. We see everything from this tiny pinprick of captured time, whereas God exists in yesterday, today, and tomorrow. He is all in one, everywhere, untouched by age or time. He knows the plan already. He is not sitting on the throne going, "Hmmm, how am I going to work this out for you, Johnny? Let me think about it." It's already worked out. He's just waiting for us to step out in faith, to take the courage and the heart that He's offering to us through the Holy Spirit. 

A lot people (and a lot of preachers in the popular media realm), make the mistake of claiming that all the power lies in us - as if we can take courage, tap into the power of God, and direct that power anywhere we want in order to overcome our problems. That is a fallacious way of looking at it, as it becomes very self-serving and smacks of wanting to be a mini-god. When we take heart and seize upon the courage that God promises to give us, He will give us the strength and guidance to get through what we're faced with. We are to delight in our hardships and weaknesses and persecution without fear - but with joy - because in our weakness, we are actually at our strongest (2Cor 12:10). God often uses the weakest and the smallest things to do amazing works, because that brings Him incredible glory! We were created to glorify Him, and that should help us to take courage, too. 

A Sunny Disposition

I notice that a lot of speakers or preachers spend a lot of time talking about subjects that they have experience with. For example, if someone has struggled with addiction or loss, they will often speak on that a lot. Why? Because they have experience with it, and that gives them credibility as someone who has had to survive those situations. For me, I tend to really focus on fear and courage when I read the Bible, because I struggle with being afraid. I don't talk about fear from a position of authority, but rather as someone who is humbly searching the Bible for peace and comfort. And guess what? I have genuinely found it. That doesn't mean that I don't fight feelings of fear or anxiety every day - I do. That's part of the human struggle against our weaknesses. That's also why God gave us His word. We can refer to it, read it, and hide it away in our hearts to use in moments of struggle. 

I do not have a naturally sunny disposition. I am, by nature, a pretty negative person, as a matter of fact. I immediately panic and construe the worst case scenario in my mind. I agonize over uncomfortable situations and am absolutely terrified of public speaking (despite the fact that I seem to be pulled in to doing it so much). I find that the things that I am most afraid of are the things that I am frequently confronted with. I have been forced, in many areas of my life, to seize upon blind courage because I have had no other choice. I believe that I am continually being tested, and I will say this: just compared to a decade ago, I have come a long way, so it's nice to think how much God will help me to grow for the next few decades of my life, too. 

Being cheerful is not so much a personality trait for most of us as it is a choice. We have to choose to be joyful and fearless. Yes, it is a choice we have to make. Once we make that choice, Christ will be there to give us the strength to back it up. Nothing worth having comes easily, after all. 

A Final Encouragement 

I want to leave you with a buoyed spirit. As Christians, we are to be warriors for Christ, prayer warriors and societal warriors for morality and protectors of the weak and defenders of children and peacemakers and helpers and truth-seekers. The list of things that naturally come along with upholding Biblical standards of morality and objective truth are a mile long, and they grow every day. When you believe in the final, solidifying, unconditional Truth that is in the Bible, the difference between right and wrong is crystal clear. We are told so many times to stop being afraid - so I think it's pretty obvious that we should all strive toward letting that fear go and giving it over to God. Strengthen your relationship with Him. But how, pray tell, do you actually do that? My gripe with many sermons or churches in my lifetime has been that they tell you "Don't be afraid because Jesus said not to be!" But they leave out the practical application part. And you know what? That's the most important part! You can't put something into practice if you don't know how. 

Here's how: read the Bible. Every day. Sometimes I only read a tiny little chapter because I'm so tired, but at least I read it. Pray. Continually! Tell God about your fears and your thoughts and your failings and He will listen. Surround yourself with some people who can pray for you or with you - and you for them. Fellowship with other Christians is not only essential, but commanded (Hebrews 10:24-24, Romans 1:12, 1 Cor 10:24). For myself, I find that this is integral in my faith life, and most people would feel the same. 

Overcoming fear and anxiety starts with you. Humble yourself, ask Christ to help you take courage, and He will walk beside you. It won't be easy - I will never tell you that, because it would be a lie. It will be hard work. But the end game is worth it. There is no self-help speech, no vacation, no relationship, no prescription, no therapist, and no amount of money here on Earth that can give you total and complete freedom from fear. Only Christ can give you that peace and hope. The rest of the worldly fixes? They are band-aids, cheap sticky patches on gushing, bloody, mortal wounds. Christ will heal that wound and put you back together, easily and perfectly. And, eventually, eternally. 

Ephesians 6:10-18

 10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord's people.

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