Anxiously Anchored?

Anxiously Anchored?

-Pastor Steve Schantz

Rock of Ages, cleft for me, Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood, From Thy wounded side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure, Save from wrath and make me pure.

Rock of Ages, Augustus Toplady

We quickly recognize the first verse of this classic hymn from the mid 1700’s.  The words were penned by the Rev. Augustus M. Toplady, Anglican preacher and poet.  The story goes that Toplady wrote the hymn after being caught in a fierce storm and took shelter in a gap in the rock while traveling in England along the gorge in Burrington Combe.  His use of I and me rather than we and our expressed a deep appreciation for his personal salvation. 

Christian book stores and on-line e-books are robust with volumes of sound, biblical advice for surviving rough times.  But one of my personal favorite authors on the subject is Max Lucado.  We enjoyed the privilege of meeting Pastor Lucado in 2007 at his Oak Hills Church in San Antonia, Texas just before he stepped down as Sr. Pastor to continue a voluminous writing and speaking career.  In just a few sentences of conversation his gracious, humble, and hospitable personality effervesced from behind a sincere smile.  At the close of the worship service he invited pastors in the audience that morning to come up and join him in praying for those who requested prayer.  Max Lucado has a knack for being able to share God’s love and truth in colorful, engaging, and yet simple language.

In Anxious for Nothing – Finding Calm in a Chaotic World, published in 2017, Lucado discusses the difference between fear and anxiety.  He writes, where Fear sees a threat, Anxiety imagines one.”  How would you describe the anxiety you have known in your own words?

A lot of people are feeling caught between a rock and a hard place during this period of isolation.  Perhaps Anxiously Anchored describes your life as a Christ follower right now.  Anxiety is ‘What’s for Dinner’ at many American homes tonight.  That painful tug on your heart and mind that gathers its life force from focusing on the What If’s’ of life.

To be sure, there are certainly real fears associated with the current Covid 19 Pandemic, and we as a church have taken action to curb those fears under the advice of our civic leaders and health officials.  But there is also a rampant anxiety over the imagined outcomes as well.  Most definitions point out that to be anxious is to be troubled by uncertainties.  Like many of the English words we use every day, anxiety has a Latin origin –

anxius - meaning “concerned, uneasy, troubled in mind.”

It’s also defined as “causing anxiety” from the word angereor anguere, which is “to choke, squeeze, torment, or cause distress.  Etymologists note the close resemblance of the origin of the word anxious and its connection to the root angr, an early version of our modern word “anger,” which is from the Old Norse meaning “distress, grief, sorrow, affliction.”  We find in history that the early use of the word anger was associated with distress and suffering, but now comes down to us in daily use as “hostile attitude” or “ill will.”  The very progression of the word from experiencing an affliction to developing a hostile attitude in an affliction shouldn’t be lost on us.  Anger and Anxiety are often two peas in a pod. We need not look far to see that our world is full of uncertainty.  Today more than ever, people are suffering from extreme levels of anxiety.

The symptoms of heightened anxiety show up in many different ways for different people, For some, anxiety creates a mental fog.  Others experience panic attacks, and exhaustion.  Anxiety has been linked to adrenal fatigue, negative/addictive behaviors, depression, digestive issues, and inflammatory diseases.  According to the National Institute of Mental Health, in any given year more than 50 million Americans will feel the effects of a panic attack, phobias, or other anxiety disorders.  Anxiety is squeezing the life out of millions of people in our society who feel like they are choking, suffocating in a world of uncomfortable uncertainty.   Health officials have already begun to look beyond the current COVID virus to the many medical conditions that are running beneath the radar as we practice social isolation.  Of course many people are seeing their physician virtually for medical attention on-line, but others are just holing up until this virus thing is over.  Meanwhile their undiagnosed cancers, unspotted tumors, unchecked blood pressures, or heart conditions pose an equal threat to their health.   And then there are those unscheduled check-ups and postponed surgeries for procedures not quite deemed essential over the past 6 weeks.  Not everyone who needs medical attention is tracking their health this spring.   Just naming this reality can create more anxiety, (which is not my intention), or it can direct us to God’s peace & presence.

Let’s travel with Max Lucado and the Apostle Paul over to Philippians chapter 4, verses 4-8 as we learn to C.A.L.M. down.  Max Lucado makes use this four letter acronym to describe a biblically solid course of action for dealing with anxiety in the spiritual realm of our humanity.  Paul presents us with a four ingredient recipe for dealing with anxiety consisting of three action items and one unfathomable truth to rest in.  First, he begins by directing us to the God who is not anxious in His very being.

Celebrate God’s Goodness

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.
Philippians 4:4 

Really Paul?  Always?  The words of the Apostle don’t really make sense unless we know and believe how Good our triune God really is!  That He really is the alpha and omega, the beginning and ending of all that is or ever will be.  That Father, Son, and Holy Spirit really do fully participate in life eternal as one God, all powerful, all knowing, all consuming, and all loving.  And he has given us the assurance that when we belong to him, he will never leave us or forsake us.   If we are struggling with all that can go wrong with our life in this fallen world, he reminds us that worrying over these “IF’s” only exacerbates our vulnerability.    

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Matthew 6:34 (NIV)

If we’ve created our own mess, (which we so often do), he directs us to ask him for wisdom to navigate the unknown rather than worry about it.

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.
James 1:5 (NIV)

I really appreciate this verse.  Read it again… God doesn’t make fun of us when we suffer the consequences of not knowing how to handle something.  He encourages us to humbly ask, and He will provide!  He already has a handle on all the What If’s of your life and mine.  Trust Him, rejoice in this faithful God who has a good and eternal purpose for you in mind!  This leads us to Paul addressing an asking action.

Ask For God’s Help

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
Philippians 4:6

Notice the level of hyperbole in these complementary actions Paul recommends.  Don’t be anxious about ANYTHING!  But in EVERYTHING by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests (plural) be made known to God.    Our human nature tends to minimize both these activities.  We keep our own little storehouse of select SOME-of-the-things to be anxious about, while we also only pray and supplicate about SOME-things that we really need.  I draw our attention to the way that Paul gives us three action items, not because we can save ourselves from anxiety, but because God knows how we’re wired.  We need courses of action when we feel threatened.  We need to make decisions under fire or we experience system shutdown.  Our fight or flight hardwiring at the base of each of our brains knows it NEEDS to do something.  The Apostle Peter directs our action against anxiety in this way, Cast all your anxieties upon him For He cares for you!”  (1 Peter 5:7)  But it’s at this point in the text that we are led to face that which we cannot do, and to rest in what God alone can do and does.

Leave Your Concerns with God

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:7

What does that peace which surpasses your ability to self-achieve mean to you?  Surely God would not have us floating along in mindless bliss while danger to our health or welfare is afoot?  He’s given us the early warning system of adrenal glands for good reason.  We hear the expression ‘trust the process’ often in business and in law when there are established paradigms for effectiveness and successful results.  But this mantra can (and often does) have conflicting results when the process is not in accord with God’s purpose and will.  When it comes to our personal walk of faith and relationship with God, our path sometimes looks like an Anxiety highway, punctuated by potholes and switchbacks.  Trusting God without checking our brains at the door involves learning to consider what could go wrong without worrying about whether it will!  This kind of peace leaves us nonplussed in God’s presence… To TRUST and do nothing of ourselves.  This is the NON human agent of our war with anxiety at work.  This is where our activity ceases and where we stand in awe of God’s activity in Christ. As verses 2 and 3 of Rock of Ages remind us, we are so very thankful that Christ is on guard FOR US!

Not the labor of my hands Can fulfill Thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know, Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone; Thou must save, and Thou alone.

Nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress; Helpless, look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly; Wash me, Savior, or I die.

Rock of Ages, Augustus Toplady

We come now to Paul’s most plentiful action list.  It’s a list punctuated by the best, the brightest and the most beautiful.

Meditate On Good Things

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable,
if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
Philippians 4:8

These are truly loftier thoughts than we would undertake of ourselves.  They are portraits of excellence in life that can only be considered by us as the creature because the mind and character of God the creator has already established them in his universe for His glory and our enjoyment in His presence.   We see again Paul’s use of superlatives… WHATEVER is a first cousin to EVERYTHING, and ANYTHING the linguistic twin of ALL things.  God wants us to have a firm vision of heaven and earth combined – “on earth as it is in heaven”, catalogued in as many chapters of the book of life as we can possibly conceive of.  This a list to spend some time with!

What are you most anxious about your life right now?  Let’s pray about it together.

Lord you created us with the miracle of thought and intellect.  And you also gifted humanity with a Kaleidoscope of emotional expressions to accompany our thoughts, our desires, our hopes and our disappointments.  As miraculous as it is to be human, we need more than just our best thoughts and best feelings on any given day.  We need the Spirit of the Living God to guide our thoughts, to illumine our minds, and to settle our hearts.  This precious gift of self-awareness becomes our enemy when we use it to be self-reliant.  We fail, and then we fear, and we add to those fears a list of more possible bad outcomes and what IF’s, rather than bringing our failure to you for healing and wholeness.   Draw us in, move us from being Anxiously Anchored to becoming more Assuredly Anchored in Christ by your Amazing Grace.  Help us to know that it’s OK to be between a Rock and a hard place if you are that Rock!  May those who are discouraged and depressed, whose thoughts cycle downward, hear your voice of hope and of promise.  Help is consider again your goodness, your holiness, and the power and presence you make available to us for redirecting our minds and hearts.   To think on those things that are true, and honorable, and just, and pure, lovely and commendable… To see your excellence and praiseworthiness…the very good things that you are accomplishing in the world and in us because of who you are.      In Christ’s name we pray – AMEN