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Devotional for Anxiety

Living in Anxious Times

Pastor Jim Heckman


Over the past several weeks, we have been living in anxious times, fighting an unseen enemy. The coronavirus has taken its toll around the world, as well as in our own country and state. “Stay-at-home” orders and the mandatory closing of non-essential businesses has brought life to a virtual standstill. Events such as these, help us to see just how vulnerable we are against the unpredictable. These events can cause anxiety in our minds and hearts, as we don’t know what the future may bring.

I’ve noticed that anxiety takes us away from the present and lands us in the future and entraps us there. We begin to worry and fret about a hypothetical future that we have no control over. One of the main truths in life is that we cannot change the past or the future, we can only live the best we can to the glory of God in the present moment. Jesus told us that in Matthew 6, “Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”


When dealing with your own anxiety in these days of uncertainty, I can’t think of a better Scripture passage than Philippians 4:6-9: (NSRV)

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence ad if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.


In this passage, I see a three-step process to overcoming anxiety…


 First, the Apostle Paul tells us to pray. This is always a good starting point! In supplication, we ask God for what we need, laying our requests before Him in an attitude of thankfulness. God already knows what we need, but asks us to bring those anxious thoughts before Him. What this says to me is that being in the presence of God through prayer, brings us much comfort in and of itself. Just as a small child lays her head on her mother’s lap in times of fear and anxiety, receiving comfort from just being with her mother, so prayer can bring us into the “lap” of our heavenly Father and bring us great comfort. We can also take comfort that God answers our prayers, if we will only pray! The promise in coming to God in prayer is that we will be blessed with the peace of God.


Secondly, Paul tells us to change our self-talk. When we are anxious, we tend to think about all the negative things we imagine that could happen to us. This is the hypothetical world of the future that we create for ourselves when we are anxious. It’s been my experience that most of the things we worry about never happen! We project into the future and forget about the only moment Jesus told us to live in, which is the present, as it is the only moment in time we can do anything about!


As Paul admonishes us, change your self-talk when you are anxious. Think about the good things in life, your blessings, all that God has provided for you, how He has never let you down, how He provides for you, etc. What we choose to think about will determine how we feel and in turn, what we do. Negative thinking only exhibits a lack of belief that God is in control of our circumstances. Use your cognitive and emotional energy to focus on God’s many blessings in your life, rather than wasting it on worry!


And finally, Paul says to “keep doing” the things they have heard and seen him do. This third step in overcoming anxiety is to act upon the good things you have thought about in step 2. For example, if you have thought about how blessed you are to have such wonderful family and friends, take the next step and reach out and minister to them today! Though we presently have to stay at home, you could perhaps send them a note of encouragement or call them on the phone. Maybe you could deliver groceries or run errands for older folks, or take a walk with the spouse you love. These are all ways to act upon the blessings you have received. What also happens is that when we put our good thoughts into positive action, it takes our thoughts away from our own worries and focuses them on loving and ministering to others…a great cure for anxiety!


Since we are spending quite a bit of time indoors, I would recommend that you pick up a copy of the book, A Small Book for the Anxious Heart, by Dr. Ed Welch. Ed was one of my professors back in seminary in the late 80’s and was one of my early mentors in biblical counseling. I know you will benefit from his wisdom and encouragement. The book can be ordered on Amazon for $14.95. It’s a short, but powerful book! Nothing like curling up with a good book!


Blessings!


Pastor Jim

Devotional for Stress

For these stressful times…….

Pastor Jim Heckman


We certainly find ourselves living in stressful times! Stress is something that everyone deals with on some level. A certain amount of stress can be good for us, in that it motivates us to get things done! This is referred to as “eustress” or good stress. Without it, we would never feel the urgency to complete the work before us and the mission God has given us in the world.


The other kind of stress, “distress” comes from the difficult situations we have to deal with in life. There are certain stressors that we face over the course of a lifetime: family or marriage problems, problems at work or with unemployment, issues in raising our children, how to manage our retirement, financial matters, etc. These things can eat away at our minds and souls if we let them.


Where does stress come from? While certainly there are many difficult circumstances that come our way in life, stress is not caused by outside or environmental factors. Have you ever noticed that the same difficult circumstance can happen to two different people and they respond in very different ways? One responds with worry and anxiety, whereas another reacts to the situation with a calm spirit. Why is this so?


The key is that stress comes from the inside of us, not from the outside. What causes stress is how we interpret a particular situation. In other words, “What am I telling myself about the situation”? One example I often use in counseling is the example of two guys who work at the same factory with the same unpleasant boss. If they are even a minute or two late for work, he will dock their pay for an entire hour. One morning, by coincidence, both of these guys have alarm clocks that malfunction and they are both late getting up for work. They both get ready, jump in the car and hope they will be there on time, thus avoiding getting docked pay.

But then on the way to work, another coincidence. They both get a flat tire. So far, their circumstances are the same. Both work at the same place, have the same cranky boss, have alarm clocks that didn’t go off and now, both have flat tires. At this point though, the story begins to change.


The first guy, gets out of the car and looks at the flat tire. He begins to get stressed out, kicks the car, begins to say things he shouldn’t and becomes anxious over the prospect of now being late for work. He then worries about the docking of his pay and if his boss will yell and scream at him. He is now definitely in a stressed- out state of mind!


The other fellow gets out of his car, looks at the flat tire, and says, “Well, not much I can do about getting a flat tire; it can happen to anyone. No reason to get upset. I know I will get docked some pay, but again, not much I can do about it at this point”. He then changes the tire and drives on to work, probably much sooner than the first guy who is still yelling at his car!


The point here is that the situation did not cause the stress. The stress is caused by how we interpret the situation. How we choose to think about things will determine how we feel. How we feel, will then determine how we act in any particular situation.


So the next time you are feeling stressed, ask yourself what you are telling yourself about the situation. We usually experience negative stress when we try to be in control of the situation, feeling we have to somehow change the situation to our benefit. But control is an illusion! We sometimes think we are in control of this life, but we delude ourselves if we think that way. That’s why we get stressed when bad things happen that are beyond our control. We think we are in control and then put ourselves in the position of trying to playing God and rearrange our circumstances to how we think they ought to be!


But if we believe that God is in control of every aspect or our lives, our response to the out of control, stressful events of life can very different. Instead of a stress response, we can tell ourselves that God uses all things in our lives for His glory. When difficult times come, we can know that God is in control and is using this circumstance to His glory and to bring us into a closer walk with Him.


I love the story of Job in Scripture. If you remember, after Job loses everything, and after his three goofy friends give him all the wrong answers as to why he is suffering, Job then goes to God with his complaints. He asks God why all this has been happening to him, since he is the “good guy”. In other words, “Why do bad things happen to good people”? (to quote Rabbi Kushner).


After Job goes on with his complaints for a quite some time, God begins to speak. He asks Job if he was present when He created the universe, earth, land, sea, animals, etc.? Job finally gets the point and becomes silent. What God was in essence saying to Job, was, “Job, you are asking the wrong question! It is not “why”, the question is “who”. In other words, do you have enough faith in the “Who” that the “whys” don’t matter? Job, do you believe that I am who I say I am and that I am using all of the circumstances of your life to draw me to yourself? You don’t have to understand, you just have to believe I am in control and I know what I am doing”.

So, my question to you is….when you are feeling stressed, who are you relying on? Are you trying to control the situation or are you trusting in the God who spoke the universe into existence? If God can do all that, He can certainly see us through whatever life throws at us. Even a pandemic!


If you would like to learn more about this, I would encourage you to purchase two resource  booklets; they can both be purchased on Amazon for $3.99 apiece. The first is called, Stress: Peace Amid Pressure  and the other is titled, Overcoming Anxiety: Relief for Worried People. Both of these booklets were written by David Powlison, who passed away last year after a long bout with cancer. Dave was one of my most beloved professors at seminary who had a profound effect on my ministry and teaching.


Blessings!


Pastor Jim

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