Are You Anxious?
I’d like you to think of something that makes You really scared. You’ve just seen something that you can’t unsee or heard a scary noise. You’ve just been in a car accident, you’re going though a less than desirable neighbourhood and you’ve heard gun shots. you heard your best friend has cancer, your child is sick with a fever and just started seizing. you’ve heard two stories of suicide in the past week in our city. It can be anything, but I’d like you to imagine it right now. Play it out in your mind, just like a movie or a play on stage but lets all think of something that scares us.
As you are thinking about this situation I’d like you to pay attention to what is happening in your body. I’m going to guess that your breathing has become more shallow and quicker, perhaps your stomach has dropped, do you feel tingling in your arms or legs? is your heart thumping? Did your palms get sweaty? Now what about in your mind? are your thoughts racing? Are you noticing that you’re talking a bit more to yourself? what’s happening with you?
This exercise was anxiety inducing, it makes us worry and gives us stress. Didn’t our scripture passage just tell us NOT to worry? Does that mean we are sinning because we just had moments of anxiety? all those things we just noticed in our body: the quick shallow breathing, the sweaty palms, the racing thoughts? This is a physiological response to fear, it’s automatic. You can’t control it. You’ve likely heard of the flight, fight, freeze response in the body, our bodies go though this numerous times a day. We were created with it, its meant to keep us safe.
But sometimes the wires get crossed in our brains, and it misfires. Sometimes that leaves us with lingering feelings of anxiety and depression. Sometimes it means we struggle all the time with our emotions, giving us highs and lows and seasons of struggles and seasons of great mental health. It may even bring us to the place that we don’t want to live on this earth anymore and we want to be free of the pain. But in reality our feelings are automatic, they are difficult to control and the tidal wave of emotion that washes over us feels like a tsunami, and often leaves devastation in its path.
And then comes the guilt, and the feelings of shame that we’re not a good enough Christian because we worried when our friend was sick, because we were terrified when we were in the car accident and because we totally broke down when we heard the gunshot as we walked through the neighbourhood. When you add in the shame you feel because you’re not living up to this unattainable “perfect” christian standard, and you’re struggling to get control of your anxiety and the stigma that you’re somehow broken or less than desirable because you have depression. The feelings and automatic thoughts turn you away from your faith sometimes when in reality, the arms of Jesus are the safest place for you to be.
The first time I heard this passage preached, I left feeling ashamed of who I was because I struggle with anxiety and depression. I felt like I’d never measure up. How could I be a Christian when I worried about everything, when I had days where I struggled to just get out of bed or where I lashed out at some undeserving person of the rage that washed over me like a tsunami. How was I a Christian when I had to take medicine to help me control the depression or have a hysterectomy to control a hormonal imbalance that made me feel suicidal two weeks of the month, for years! Do my feelings mean I’m not living a Christian life? Does God love me even though I struggle with mental illness?
In the passage we heard today, its easy to feel a bit unsure of how to reconcile this together with our emotions, with our experiences. Listening to what Paul is saying, it sounds so great, like he’s got his life together and nothing bad at all is happening in his life. We can discount what he’s saying because he doesn’t know our pain. right?
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again, Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 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 minds in Christ Jesus.”
Paul is in jail while he writes this letter. We heard read that there are conflicts in the church to he is writing to. He’s often written that he is anxious for the churches he writes his letters to. He has longings and desires. He has emotions. In 2 Corinthians 12 we learn that Paul himself is struggling with something, he calls it his thorn in the flesh, something that makes him feel weak. He pleads with the Lord repeatedly to take it away.
But the Lord says “my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”.
I love that today’s reading of the Psalms is a psalm of lament. David is called a man after Gods own heart. God himself testifies “I have found David, Jesse’s son, a man who shares my desires. Whatever my will is, he will do.” Well, let’s look at David. This is a man who stripped down and danced before the Arc of the Covenant, embarrassing those around him. This kind of dancing was typically done by women but he danced anyway.
David is the boy who tended sheep, the boy who got very upset that nobody was facing the Philistine Goliath. So he, a shepherd, says to Saul, Don’t worry! I’ll fight Goliath! What?! He’s just a boy. But David says to Saul, I kill lions and bears! I can do this!” Saul dresses him in his armour to protect him, but David says “i can’t walk in this, and goes out with his slingshot and finds smooth stones. Armed only with the knowledge that the Lord will save Israel. and he slays the giant.
“My grace is sufficient for your, for my power is made perfect in weakness”
David, the man who penned the psalms, full of emotions. You can feel them as you read each line, whether he was upset or happy, David lived fully alive for God. He shared God’s desires, and no matter what, he believed God was there for him.
You may be thinking, ok, that’s just a couple of people Amanda. Let’s see more evidence. Let me introduce you to my friend, the son of God, his name is Jesus. Surely Jesus wasn’t one to experience emotions. He is God! Thankfully, the gospels have given us an account of Jesus’ life.
When Jesus found out that his friend Lazarus had died, he wept. He was greatly disturbed when he came to the tomb where Lazarus had been laid. He knew he was going to raise Lazarus but he was overcome all the same. Jesus felt emotions!
I think about the time that Jesus came into the temple and overturned the tables, he was angry. Coins went flying, he chased everyone out of the temple. the disciples remembered the passage in psalm 69, “passion for your house has consumed him”.
And the last thing I want to remind you of, the night before Jesus died in the garden, he longs to pray. He brings Peter and Zebedee’s two sons and it says he began to feel sad and anxious. Jesus says “I’m very said. It’s as if I’m dying.” another translation says “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow, to the point of death.” This is a very dark moment for Jesus. He’s troubled. And his angry with the disciples for not being able to stay awake and pray with him. He is alone, and feeling the weight of our sin. He’s experiencing a lot of emotions.
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”
What it means for us
So if I’m saying that we all have emotions, and that it’s automatic and we can’t control them, what is Paul really saying to us? What does he mean when he says don’t be anxious? I believe that we need to remember that God is God. That he created us with these emotions. We cannot allow our emotions to consume us, we will experience moments of anxiety. We may struggle with depression. But that when we give all these emotions over to God, the good, the bad and the ugly, that we can find peace. And it may be momentary, it may be miraculous and long lasting. For some of us, giving it over to God will mean that we take our prescribed medication and visit therapists and seek spiritual direction. We may need to work harder at it. But God. God is able to help us. It doesn’t make us less Christian. We all struggle. Hard is hard, and we can’t compare our struggles with someone else nor can we judge others based on our experiences. Only God knows our hearts. We shouldn’t be anxious about our anxiety. We were created in the image of God.
God used a man like David, who wrote the psalm we heard today. He forgets to eat his food, he’s awake at all hours of the day and night, he cries out, he’s taunted by his enemies, he’s withering away. he’s afflicted and yet he writes “He will respond to the prayer of the destitute: he will not despise their plea”. There is hope for David, there is hope for you.
He used a man like Paul, who struggled with a thorn in his flesh. A man who was anxious and worried at times for people. A prisoner who wrote letters and shared his faith, But Paul wasn’t always a good man, he persecuted Christians. He was a radical. But Paul writes in our passage “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.I have learned the secret to being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” There is hope for Paul, and there is hope for you.
Jesus, the son of God. He wept, he was so filled with passion and compassion that he would make himself a servant, a human being like us, to bear the weight of our sin on the cross. Yet even Jesus was overcome with sadness and sorrow the night before that fateful day. Because of Jesus, there is hope for all of us.
We’ve seen today people, who have emotions. I’ve told you my story of weakness that I’m prone to anxiety and depression. That I’ve felt suicidal. We wrestled with the passage of Phillipians 4. Don’t be anxious, with thanksgiving, give it all to God,. It’s not easy. But it’s important to remember that we’re to give it over to God. We need to follow Jesus’ example the night he was betrayed in the Garden, when we are consumed with anxiety or sadness or sorrow, to long for prayer like Jesus did. It doesn’t mean that we’re sinning when we experience emotions, even those feelings of anxiety or depression, or feelings of overwhelming sorrow. We can give it over to God because God will give us the moments of peace that transcend our understanding to get us through our moments of despair. He will help us through the mire and tsunami of emotion that is washing over us. He will comfort us, he will not turn away or despise us, but will lovingly accept us because His Grace is sufficient for us, for His power is made perfect our weakness.