Choosing Not to Engage in Fear or Despair

on_the_fenceContinued from here.

In my last blog entry, I said that fear and despair are choices. This can be difficult to believe because the magnetic pull feels unavoidable. However, Jesus experienced the same pull but did not sin. Jesus is our example for how to choose not to give in to fear and despair.

In my last couple of blog entries, I talked about three guardrails that Jesus erected to protect himself from going over the edge of the cliff, which are thinking about the needs of others, setting your mind to obey God, and earnestly praying. These are three specific tasks that fall under the umbrella of fear of the LORD. The fear of the LORD is what will enable you to resist the temptation to go over the cliff into fear (anxiety & worry) and despair (depression & hopelessness).

How can we “unchoose” fear and despair? The good news is that if you “unchoose” the fear, then you won’t have to worry about the despair: if you choose God’s safety net while you are still freefalling, you won’t hit the waters of despair. We “unchoose” fear by choosing trust. Each time you are tempted to worry, replace the worry with thankgiving and prayer:

God, I’m tempted to worry about how I am going to pay this bill, but you said in your word not to worry about this because you will take care of my needs. I am choosing to seek you first and trust that you will provide for my needs. Thank you for the many ways you have provided for me in the past. You were faithful before, and you will be faithful again. I trust you.”

You cannot worry and trust at the same time. If you will flood your mind with Scripture that reassures you that God will take care of the fear-inducing situation, you will put up a guardrail that will prevent you from going over the cliff.

Climbing out of the “hell well” is harder because with fear, you replace an unhealthy action (worry) with a healthy one (meditation on Scripture) whereas once you sink into despair, the temptation is inactivity. Set your mind to take action, even though you don’t feel like doing anything, and begin the process of climbing out. As you flood your mind with applicable Scripture, God will empower you to climb out, and He will restore you to a place of safety, security, and trust.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace shrugging her shoulders and saying, “I’m on the fence.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Setting up Guardrails to Protect Us from Fear and Despair

cliffs_of_moherContinued from here.

As I meditated on the concept of at what point “normal” stress (temptation to fear) gives way to fear and despair (sin), God gave me an interesting metaphor. When I was in Ireland, I visited the Cliffs of Moher, pictured here. In the metaphor God gave me, I saw the continuum of stress to fear and despair as sliding off the Cliffs of Moher.

As we experience stress, we find ourselves drawn closer to the edge of the cliff. That’s not sin – that’s temptation, and Jesus himself experienced this. Sin, which Jesus did not experience, comes into play when we allow ourselves to be pulled over the edge of the cliff. This happens when we allow our stress to slide into fear, such as when we engage in worry or anxiety. (Yes, worry and anxiety are choices.) Fear is the freefall over the side of the cliff. When we repent of our fear and choose to trust God, we fall into His safety net, and He restores us to a place of safety.

If we don’t repent of our fear, we eventually plunge into the waters of despair, which includes depression and hopelessness. (I call this going down the “hell well.”) Once we reach a place of despair, it can become even more challenging to repent. God can certainly pull us out of this place, but it’s harder to repent from a “hell well” because being in despair causes us to become very self-absorbed. Remember how Jesus thought about others as his first step in fighting the temptation to fear.

All of us, even Jesus, are vulnerable to experiencing stress when we face fear-inducing circumstances. As a magnet draws a metal object, the temptation to fear pulls us closer and closer to the edge of the cliff. It’s not sin to be caught in the pull of the magnet – after all, Jesus found himself in the same pull that we do. However, unlike us, Jesus never went over the side of the cliff. That’s because he set up guardrails by considering the needs of others, setting his mind to obey God no matter the cost, and earnestly praying. We can set up the same guardrails and avoid going over the cliff, no matter how fear-inducing our circumstances may be.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Photograph of the Cliffs of Moher. Courtesy Cliffs of Moher.]

 

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.]

 

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.]

 

Walking into the Hall of Faith

swordContinued from here.

I don’t know about you, but I want to walk into the Hall of Faith. When God releases the updated list of people who “by faith” did X, I want my name on the list. I want to hear an angel say, “By faith, Grace …” But that’s not going to happen if I don’t do what those people did. What did those people have in common? They were terrified but did what God told them to do, anyhow.

By faith, Abraham offered his beloved son as a sacrifice. By faith, Moses’ parents defied the king’s edict and hid their baby for three months. By faith, the Israelites passed through the Red Sea. By faith, the Israelites defeated Jericho by marching around it. By faith, David killed Goliath, and by faith, Daniel spent the night in a lion’s den. Is what I am facing any scarier than what they did? My head says no, but as I look my giant in the eye, it looms just as large from my limited perspective as a den filled with hungry lions.

Isn’t it the human condition to want to have strong faith but not have to go through seasons that require it? I want the Jordan River to part before I step into it, not after I do. And yet, it takes no faith to cross the sturdy bridge or dive into peaceful waters. How can I develop faith without being asked to do things that are terrifying without God’s intervention?

And so, I choose to dive in, and not because I’m fearless … My knees are shaking so hard that I can barely walk up to the ledge. I choose to believe God. I trust that He would not tell me to dive into the rushing waters below me unless He was going to ensure that I would be OK. I also trust that He has a purpose and plan for requiring this of me. And so, I walk up to the ledge, say a quick prayer, and dive.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace unsheathing a sword. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Running toward the Giants in your Life

runningContinued from here.

On her television show Enjoying Everyday Life, Joyce Meyer pointed out that in the story of David and Goliath, David first spoke his victory and then ran quickly toward him. He didn’t do what I do – He didn’t size up the giant, look him up and down, take a few deep breaths, and try to muster up the courage to do what God told him to do. He didn’t give himself time! How much easier might slaying the giants in my life be if I followed David’s example?

While God has taught me assertiveness over the years, assertiveness does not come naturally to me. It is a learned skill that has served me well over the years. However, when I face a giant – particularly like the one God has instructed me to take down – AGAIN – all of that training flies out the window. I take a few deep breaths to build up my courage, and that’s just enough time for the enemy to whisper in my ear all the ways that I don’t measure up. The giant is much bigger … stronger … a more accomplished warrior… Who am I to believe I can take that giant down? And then I lose sight of the fact that this battle is not mine but the Lord’s, and I hesitate.

I need to follow David’s example and speak my victory. I need to remind myself that God is in control and that He would not tell me to go to battle without ensuring my victory. And then I need to step forth in faith, as David did, building courage with each step as I run into battle. And I need to do this quickly or I’ll lose my nerve.

I wonder if David continued to feel fear when he went into battle after taking down Goliath. I wonder if that one victory was enough for him never to doubt or question the outcome in all of his successive battles. Did his knees continue to shake as mine do when I’m called into battle again? Does this spiritual journey ever get easier?

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace running. Courtesy Bitmoji.]