How Can We Avoid Sliding from Stress into Fear?

prayerContinued from here.

All of us have experienced both stress and fear in our lives. Jesus joined us in experiencing stress but not fear. What can we learn from Jesus’ example to avoid sliding down the slippery slope from stress into fear?

When faced with the most stressful situation of his life, the first thing Jesus did was withdraw to a quiet place and encourage his closest friends to pray:

Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, ‘Pray that you will not fall into temptation’” (Luke 22:39-40).

Interestingly, he did not ask them to pray for him but to “keep watch” while he prayed. They failed to do so, and he chastised them, not for letting him down but because they were vulnerable to falling into temptation. When we are stressed, we need to think about others and not just ourselves.

The second thing Jesus did was make the determination to obey God, no matter the cost:

He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.’ An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him” (Luke 22:41-43).

Note that his willingness to obey God, no matter the cost, led to supernatural strengthening.

The third thing Jesus did after experiencing supernatural strengthening was to engage in even more earnest prayer:

And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground (Luke 22:44).

Jesus did not take a Xanax, get drunk, or engage in other ways to escape the temptation to fear. Instead, he faced his fear head-on through prayer. The greater the stress (temptation to fear), the more earnestly he prayed … so much so that his body experienced a physical reaction. This wasn’t a simple five-minute prayer in his head. He threw everything he had – heart, mind, and soul – into his earnest prayer. He set his heart, mind, and soul on following God no matter the cost, and as his determination collided with his temptation to fear, his body expressed the collision through sweating blood. If we want to walk in victory over our fear, we must throw everything we have into the fight as we ask God to help us push through the stress into obedience.

What was the end result? When the people came to arrest Jesus, he was not fearful. Instead, he was so filled with God’s power that when he first spoke to his captors, they “drew back and fell to the ground!”

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace praying next to large emoticon hands in prayer. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

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Stress as the Gateway to Fear

screamContinued from here.

As I previously mentioned, I used to have a severe anxiety disorder. It was so severe that I experienced panic attacks every 8-12 weeks in which my body would shake uncontrollably for 5-15 minutes as I hyperventilated. After the panic attack ended, my body would relax, and I would sleep very well because my body had released the pent-up anxiety. But the next day, my stress would build again until my body could not endure it any longer, and the process would repeat itself 2-3 months later.

I have no question that God doesn’t want His children living that way. According to Alex Kendrick and Stephen Kendrick in their movie, Facing the Giants , the Bible tells us 365 times not to fear, which is one “do not fear” verse for every day of the year! God clearly knows our tendency to fear and encourages us repeatedly not to do so.

Jesus was without sin and did not fear. He provided a powerful example of following God to the cross, where he clearly did not want to go. And yet he was certainly not without stress, as was evidenced by his body sweating blood as he anguished over obeying God. So the line for where we cross over from experiencing normal human emotions of stress to sin must fall somewhere between feeling stressed about the future, which Jesus himself experienced, and experiencing fear, which Jesus did not experience. As someone who experiences a lot of stress (enough to give my massage therapist quite the workout!), I find it encouraging to know that I’m not engaging in sin when I experience stress.

I wonder if perhaps stress is actually the temptation to fear. We know that Jesus was tempted but did not sin, so perhaps stress is the gateway to fear that we must resist. And the more tempted we are to fear, the greater the toll on our bodies, from Jesus’ sweating blood to my ongoing knots in my shoulders. Rather than being a negative thing, might stress actually be part of the process of walking in victory over fear?

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace looking stressed beside a “Scream” emoticon. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Are Stress and Worry Sins?

I am working my way through Chris Tiegreen’s excellent book, Creative Prayer: Speaking the Language of God’s Heart. I was fascinated by this observation about God and have been meditating on it for a while now:

Clearly, the Bible portrays God as extremely emotional. I find it encouraging that two emotions are never assigned to him: those that fall under the category of fear (anxiety, worry, stress) and those that fall under the category of despair (discouragement, apathy, depression, hopelessness). We should give these feelings no place in our hearts. They are not in line with God’s emotions.”

I do not disagree with Tiegreen’s assessment about emotions expressed by God in the Bible, and I fully agree that we need to “starve” any emotion that falls under the categories of fear and despair by not “feeding” them with our thoughts. That being said, the Bible portrays Jesus as experiencing emotions related to stress: a person does not sweat blood without feeling a stress-related emotion. The Bible says that Jesus was in anguish, which Merriam-Webster defines as “extreme pain, distress, or anxiety.” And yet Jesus did not sin:

To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.
‘He committed no sin,
and no deceit was found in his mouth’” (1 Pet. 2:21-22).

As someone with a history of severe anxiety who has people in her life who continue to wrestle with anxiety, I’m very interested in learning from Jesus’ example. Is feeling stress a sin? What about worry? At what point do we cross over from experiencing normal human emotions, as Jesus did, to sin as we move down the continuum from stress to anxiety and despair? What can we learn from Jesus about how to process normal human emotions of stress so that we don’t cross over into debilitating anxiety and despair? These are the questions that I will be pondering this week.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cover of Creative Prayer: Speaking the Language of God’s Heart. Courtesy Amazon.]

 

But I Know I’m Right!!

told_you_soContinued from here.

You’ve researched the topic in the Bible and are convinced that you are right, but other people aren’t doing it that way. What do you do? Live it out! That’s what I do.

In every area of my life in which I “do justly” (live in obedience to God’s commands in the Bible), I experience peace, freedom, and fruitfulness. People who are not living in alignment with God in those areas do not. Over time, they will see my example and ask me about it. Then, they will have the option to obey that command (such as forgive someone who wronged them or submit to authority) or not. If they do, they will also experience peace, freedom, and fruitfulness. If they don’t, then they won’t.

Jesus did not grow his disciples’ maturity through having them read the Torah and “do right.” Instead, he led by example, and that’s what we are called to do as well. When we kick people out of our churches who see things differently, they don’t get the opportunity to walk alongside us and see what freedom, peace, and fruitfulness looks like in that area of life. If you are truly “right” and are obedient to that truth, then your life will bear fruit that everyone around you can see. If you remain in bondage despite “doing what’s right,” then it’s time to consider what that lack of fruitfulness might indicate.

Always remember that Jesus did not come to “make bad people good.” Instead, he came to “make dead people alive.” If we kick the “dead people” out of our churches and refuse to fellowship with them, how will they awaken to the fact that they are dead? Bringing life to those who are dead is so much more important than “being right.” Jesus did not emphasize “being right.” He emphasized being unified. It’s time that we, as a Church, start aligning our priorities with his.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace looking smug and saying, “Told you so.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Beauty of Being Unified

group_hugContinued from here.

I know a lot of people have issues with the Catholic Church, but one thing it does very well is remain unified. Despite the Protestants splitting off and weathering various scandals over the years, the Catholic Church remains one unified Church all over the world. I’m not claiming that it’s perfect (and I’m not a Catholic myself), but the Protestant church could learn from the Catholic Church’s example of unity. The same holds true for the unity among the Eastern Orthodox Church as well.

Regardless of how we choose to baptize … or which day of the week we hold worship services … or our beliefs regarding the Lord’s Supper, we are One Body. God doesn’t have a separate Heaven for Baptist, Methodists, Presbyterians, Catholics, etc. We do the cause of Christ much harm when we refuse to get along as we communicate to the world that it’s our way or the highway.

Imagine what how the world might see the Church differently if we were unified. I get a taste of this as I lead an interdenominational & interracial prison ministry. Because it’s interdenominational, we leave the differences at the door. All that matters is that we are Christians working together to share Christ’s love with inmates. I don’t care what day of the week you worship or whether you were “sprinkled” or “immersed” when you were baptized. Do you have a relationship with God through Jesus? That’s all you need to participate in this ministry. How might the Church transform worldwide if we kept things that simple?

Why did Jesus emphasize unity? Because only God can take people who are very different from one another and teach them how to work together in harmony. Think about the disciples, such as Simon the Zealot having to work alongside Matthew the tax collector! Jesus’ disciples were very different from one another, and yet they carried his message and changed the world IN UNITY! If we, as a Church, would stop worrying so much about “being right” and shifted our focus to being unified, we would have the same results!

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace having a group hug. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

How Can I Follow God without “Being Right?”

live_your_best_lifeContinued from here.

As I said in my last blog entry, Micah 6:8 is my guiding passage for how to react when I see things differently from a Christian brother or sister. I am to ACT justly and to LOVE mercy. So, let’s say I know you are not tithing and I believe that tithing is a biblical requirement. I’m not going to judge you for not tithing. Instead, I’m going to love you as you neglect to tithe (and suffer the consequences of neglecting to tithe) while I live by example and tithe. You’ll see the blessings I reap, and when you ask me about those blessings, I’ll be in a position to share how God has been faithful to Malachi 3:8-10 in opening up the floodgates to bless my obedience in tithing. Your status as a Christian is not based upon your obedience in tithing. If we had to be 100% obedient to every commandment to earn our way into Heaven, then Heaven would look like a ghost town!

Jesus said that if I love him, then I will keep his commands. He did not say that if I love him, I will legislate everyone else’s faith and kick them out of my Church family if they don’t follow what I tell them to do. Instead, Jesus called us to unity, stating that it’s in our unity that the world will know that God sent Jesus to us and that He loves us. Shame on all of us for prioritizing “being right” over unity and splitting our Church family over issues, which is killing our witness to the world! The world isn’t seeing that what’s left after a “divorce” is “right” – they see that us hypocrites who are no more capable of walking in unity than they are … or, worse – that the world does a better job of staying unified than the Church!

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace smiling with her hands up in the air, saying, “Live your best life!” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Dangers of “Being Right”

fightContinued from here.

As I have shared before, I graduated with my Master of Arts in Christian Ministry in last summer. One of the classes I was required to take was on Church History, which I knew virtually nothing about. As a child, I bounced around from one denomination to another and only spent a few years each at a couple of non-denominational churches, so Church History was not a topic that was covered. I learned the Bible well but not what happened after that text was written.

I was saddened by much of what I learned because I saw a repeated pattern of disagreement among Church people, votes, and ex-communication. Being “right” was deemed as more important than being unified, particularly by the Protestants. Now, I will say that the Catholic (Western) and Orthodox (Eastern) churches do seem to value unity over “rightness” other than when they split away from each other. It’s pretty impressive that both of them have managed to stay intact over 2,000 other than their split from each other.

However, we Protestants don’t seem to be able to get enough of “being right.” Don’t agree on how to baptize? Let’s form another denomination. Don’t agree on which day of the week to hold worship services? Time for another denomination. Is the Lord’s Supper symbolic or literally Jesus’ blood and body? Let’s split over that as well. And now the latest issue to split over is same sex marriage. Who care that Jesus called his Church to “complete unity?” Being “right” is deemed as far more important than being unified by so many in the Church.

Now, I’m not saying that there is no “right” or “wrong” in the Bible. What I am saying is that God calls each of us to ACT justly and to LOVE mercy. This means that I am to behave in accordance with what God has commanded me to do while, at the same time, I am to extend grace and mercy to you. So, if I see things differently than you do, I don’t need to “divorce” myself from you. Instead, I need to love you and live justly, letting God minister through me to you. More on this topic in my next blog entry.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace holding up her fists, ready for a fight. Courtesy Bitmoji.]