That’s Gratitude for You

 

If you read last week’s blog you will recall my story about my frustration with birds pooping on the swing I use for meditating and resting from yard work. I am happy to report the spike board I put above the swing is working! I have not cut the tree from which I was “spotted” but neither have I suffered a repeat of being personally assaulted by the ungrateful creature that pooped on me. By the way, the spot on my blue pants will not come out. Every time I wear them I will be reminded of the indignity that was visited upon me. 

There is something deeper I am about to get at, an idea that you and I may do well to consider. But first, let me pass along some things about birds that my friend, Alexa, has shared with me. Birds can be annoying and messy but did you realize they serve some good purposes? They help control those pesky mosquitoes and other insects that annoy us, pollinate plants and vegetables, spread seeds (not always so helpful). Caring for birds is also a big business in our economy; an annual  2 billion dollar industry focused on bird seed, feeders, etc. There are approximately 15 billion birds in the United States and almost 11,000 different species of these reptiles.

Now to the idea I want you to think about with me. Sometimes I think about the deeper meaning or spiritual application of common things and how they may apply to my relationship with God or others. I love birds. We have a beautiful backyard with lots of trees where they can nest, and we have three birdhouses we provide without rent or upkeep. We have a creek and a birdbath where they can drink and bathe. We also have three feeders we keep supplied with feed. We have even bought expensive safflower seeds to discourage squirrels from eating their food. I have invented a contraption to stop squirrels from climbing the feeder pole. Be patient, I’m getting to the idea.

With all I’ve done for these creatures, why would one of them even consider making me the target of their poop? Why didn’t he come down and say, “I’m so sorry I did that. Forgive me. I’ll be more careful next time. And, by the way, thank you for taking such good care of me and my young family.” Are you getting an idea of where this is going?

Well, birds don’t do that kind of thing because they are not mentally and spiritually equipped to do that. God didn’t make them in His image. Now, you may not like to think about it this way, but do you think God may sometimes think we take His care for granted. Does our attitude of entitlement and presumption have a parallel to being pooped on by a bird? No, there is no parallel because birds have no soul and just do what they do naturally. When we act ungratefully or disobey God we are doing worse than pooping on Him. We are trashing the love and sacrifice of our Savior.

There’s a story in Luke 17:11-19 that reminds us of our propensity to act like a dumb bird. This is the story of the ten lepers. William Barclay says, “No story in the gospels so poignantly shows men’s ingratitude.” In this story, there are ten people who are suffering from the physical and social issues of this terrible skin disease. When Jesus comes to town, they implore Him to heal them. Jesus has compassion on them and speaks the word and they are miraculously healed and clean. They must have cried, laughed, and jumped for joy as they headed off to get back to their families. They go on their way without a single word of thanks to Jesus for what He had done for them. Somewhere along the way, one of them comes to his senses and decides to express his gratitude for the act of mercy that has changed his life. He returns and thanks the Lord. The story ends with Jesus’ question, “Were there not ten cleansed? But the nine-where are they?”

I have had some health issues and other challenges through the years that have caused me to understand the importance of a grateful attitude toward God and many people who have invested in my life. Every morning, when I realize I have been given another day, I thank God. Try this every morning and get your day off to the right kind of start. “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; for His lovingkindness is everlasting.” Psalm 107:1.

P.S.: Today, say a sincere thank you for some act of kindness someone has done for you.  

Risk vs. Reward

 

About twenty years ago Cecelia and I were blessed with Anna Katherine (A.K.), the first of our four grandchildren. Wanting to do something for her and others who might follow, I built a sturdy structure for a swing close to the creek that runs through our property. That swing has witnessed lots of laughs and screams as A.K and the three grandsons have enjoyed it through the years. I think I enjoyed watching them swing as much as they enjoyed using it.

A couple of years ago I realized that the old structure wasn’t seeing much use and decided to bring some enjoyment and laughter back to it. This, I thought, would be a perfect place for an adult swing; a place to relax, to be quiet, and enjoy the babbling of the creek and the beauty of our back yard. It is all of that and more! But there is a risk I take every time I go there to rest or meditate. Bird poop! Let me explain.    

For several weeks I was frustrated that almost every time I wanted to use  the swing I had to be clean off the bird poop. Being the “problem solver” I am I attempted several things to discourage the bird’s lack of consideration, including covering the swing with plastic. The plastic worked but who wants to look at a swing always covered with a poop-smeared sheet of plastic. This called for drastic measures. I decided to construct a spike-board over the swing to stop the birds from landing on the overhead beam; sometimes you have to get serious and take action to mitigate the risk. I’m sure the AAPCA would frown on what I’ve done. This 6 ft. board has 130 nails daring any bird to land there to do their business. ”  

The spike board worked! For several days I visited the swing to reassure myself I had taken the risk out of using the swing. It was clear that the birds were avoiding the spikes! However, a day or so ago I went to enjoy the solitude in the swing to discover a familiar deposit on the swing; bird poop. Wondering how this had happened, I cleaned the area and sat down to relax and meditate. I did not know what was about to hit me. Yep. You guessed it; right on the left thigh of my pale blue pants. It was a long-distance shot from a tree behind my swing.

Well, what am I going to do now? I’m not going to cut the tree and I’m not going to stop using the swing. I’ve weighed the benefit vs. the risk and I think what happened may happen again, maybe one chance in a hundred. I enjoy that swing and a little bird poop is not going to stop me from using it.

Life is risky, isn’t it? Almost everything that is worthwhile involves taking a chance. Marriage, children, friendship, loving someone, driving, flying, investing, sitting in a swing, and many other things come to mind. But what is life worth if you allow yourself to be controlled by the fear of what might happen. We can’t control what is outside our control but we can do what we can to mitigate the risk. Still, there will be “bird poop” or other kinds of stuff we will encounter.

My little story can serve to illustrate some great truths for myself and others who will listen:

  1. Life isn’t supposed to be easy. We can learn what’s really important through the troubles and frustrations God allows to come our way. I don’t learn much when life is easy. We have to weigh the benefit vs. the reward.
  2. With God’s help, we can deal with the challenges of marriage, child-rearing, jobs, investing, friendships, and health issues by absorbing His word and putting it into practice. Don’t give up on what’s really important to you. I like what Psalm 1:1-2 says about those of us who rely on God’s Word to guide us: How blessed is the man who “Delights in the law of the Lord and meditates on His law day and night.”
  3. Life is a faith adventure. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not rely on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will lead you on the right path.” Proverbs 3:5-6.
  4.  Remember the big-picture plan God has for us. God is working in everything to make us more like Jesus. Romans 8:28. We need to adjust our life purpose to align with     His plan.

Dealing With Disappointment

For the past several days I have been dealing with a major disappointment related to the book I’ve been working on for almost three years. About a year ago I made contact with an agent I had a good feeling about and we hit it off really well. He liked my idea and was very helpful and encouraging in the early days of the work. We were excited and shared hope and an expectation about getting the book published.

Everything was going well, and then life happened. This man became very ill and underwent surgery. We talked a couple of months ago and were hopeful we could get the book finished and on the market this fall. A few days ago, he contacted me to tell me his recovery is taking much longer than expected and that he is unable to continue working with me on the book.

Upon receiving his message, I responded that I understood and thanked him for the encouragement he had given me. I also expressed my disappointment for both of us. I believe we would have produced a really good book together.

It has taken me several days to process what this turn of events will mean to my work of almost three years. Honestly, I don’t know what it will mean. One thing I’ve learned in my rather long life is to not minimize the way people deal with their disappointments. For me, this is a pretty big deal and I need to think, feel, and pray my way through it. This is what I am advising myself to do.

Sometimes inspiration and insight come from unexpected sources. I’ve been asking God to help and direct me in what to do next and I think I got some direction from a baseball game I was watching recently. The disappointing thing in the game happened in the 5th inning of the game between the Atlanta Braves and the Miami Marlins. Superstar Atlanta player, Ronald Acuna, Jr. attempted to catch a fly ball hit to right field; landed awkwardly on his right leg, and was carted off the field and on to the hospital. The medical examination later revealed a tear in the right ACL and Acuna is out for the season. The game was halted for several minutes while the tearful, 23-year-old star was being carted from the field. Teammates gathered around and wished him well but had to resume play after this devastating event. There was a pause in the game but it wasn’t over.

The Marlin player who hit the ball Acuna tried to catch scored an inside-the-park home run, leaving the Marlins trailing now 5-3. Max Fried, the Atlanta pitcher who gave up the hit, was still on the mound and hadn’t pitched to a batter in several minutes. Fried had struggled often during the game and now must somehow put aside the disappointment he and his teammates had witnessed and get his head back in the game. But, he continued to struggle, and with only one out the bases were loaded. What I saw next was borderline heroic. With steely concentration and skill, Fried struck out the next two batters to preserve the Braves’ lead and to become the winning pitcher of the game.

When asked later about Acuna’s injury, Fried expressed his concern for his teammate and said “It’s obviously very unfortunate, but you have to stay with the task at hand and finish the game.”

I’m sure you have dealt with lots of disappointing things in your life. Maybe the disappointment came by way of a failed relationship, a lost job, or an accident. Perhaps you have been hurt by an uncaring act or meanness of another person. Or, like me, you are disappointed by something totally out of your control and there is no one to blame. Whatever the case, I want to share a few things that are helping me “get my head back into the game.” If you don’t need this now, there will likely be a time when you will.

  1. God is more concerned about my character than He is my comfort. God cares when life hurts me but He sees the big picture while I’m looking at the smaller stuff. God isn’t obligated to fulfill my dreams. My disappointment results when reality doesn’t line up with my expectations. God is not surprised by any of this; He’s got bigger plans for me.  
  2. I have His promise that he will work something good out of the disappointing situation. “He works in everything for good to those who love Him…” That’s a great and encouraging truth found in Romans 8:28. And, that “everything” includes disappointments! So, God isn’t finished with me or this particular situation. He is working and I have something to do as well.
  3. What do I need to do when I’m disappointed? It’s okay to be disappointed but we don’t need to get stuck there. Trouble and trials are a part of life but they are not to define us. We are not victims; we are “more than conquerors through Christ who loves us.” We grieve our loss but get back in the game. This grieving may take a while but through faith in the Lord, we keep moving ahead. For me, faith is to continue to work on this project. Every time I proof another page or check another footnote, I am expressing my faith in God and His purpose for this book. “Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need for endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what was promised.”
  4. I confess my disappointment to God and ask for wisdom to process this disappointment in a way that will make me a better person. My identity is not determined by what happens to me and my plans. Someone has said that 10% of life is about what happens to you; the other 90% is about what you do about that 10%. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not rely on your own understanding. Acknowledge Him in everything you do and He will direct your path.” Proverbs 3:5-6.

Toxic Thinking

Have you ever known someone whose thinking has been poisoned by the words and actions of others? I’ve known several folks like this. Many of them developed toxic thought patterns about themselves because of verbal abuse by a wounded parent. There is an old saying in Scripture that goes something like this, “The parents have eaten sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” Toxic or poisoned thinking is often a generational issue; the grandparent is angry from an unhealed wound, afflicts their child with their bitterness and on and on it can go generation after generation.

 Hopefully, someone down the line will learn to think more healthily and break the destructive pattern. “I want my daughter to grow up thinking much better of herself than I did.” This woman, a successful businessperson, and going through a divorce, had come to see the negative impact her mother’s words had had on her. She was determined to heal and stop the cycle of toxicity. You would probably be surprised at the number of people I counseled who had dealt with such toxicity at home.

 I grew up watching how this kind of poisonous thinking affected one generation after another. A boy I grew up around, let’s call him Josh, received the brunt of some of his mother’s angry outbursts. Instead of gently correcting him, she would hit him with a broom or with her fist. But, what probably hurt him more deeply were the toxic words he came to think or believe about himself, “You can’t do anything right.” I was around this situation several times and knew Josh was just a “normal” kid, certainly not deserving this awful treatment. I felt sorry for him but it was difficult to relate to his situation since I never experienced this kind of abuse at home. Josh and his family moved to another town just before he became a teenager and I would only see him occasionally or when our schools would compete in basketball.

It would be years before I began to see how that message, “You can’t do anything right,” seems to have affected Josh. Somewhere along the way, he must have believed and adopted his mother’s view of himself. If you hear your parent’s message often enough and long enough you tend to believe it is true. Believing a negative message can have devastating results.

Josh began falling behind in school and eventually gave up and dropped out of high school. He left the state to find work and eventually despaired of his life but failed in his attempt to end his misery. Two marriages ended in failure. Thankfully, Josh came to embrace God’s love for him and some deep healing took place. Tragically, for most of his life he had allowed the toxic, evil thinking of someone he loved to dominate his thinking. That way of thinking had almost destroyed him but, thank God, he found acceptance, forgiveness, and grace in Jesus.     

When you look in the mirror do you see someone who can identify with Josh? Somewhere deep within you do you believe you are worthless or unloved? If you do, you have believed a lie straight out of hell. God loves you and wants the best for you. If you see someone in the mirror that identifies with Josh’s mother, please get help for the healing and help you need to correct your toxic thinking.

Toxic thoughts produce negative feelings about yourself and others. Your feelings are what they are but they are not based on truth. Healing will come when you acknowledge your feelings, forgive those who have hurt you and, change your thinking to agree with God’s estimate of your worth.  God loves you so much that He gave His only Son to die for you.

Perhaps my words cause you to consider the impact your words and actions, good or bad, can have on someone you love. Bless them with your loving words and encouragement. May God give you the power to bless those you love.

Adventures in Faith

For the next several weeks I plan to address an issue that is important to each of us. Faith is vital to us in our practical, everyday life as well as things we often refer to as “spiritual.” I believe all things related to our lives have a spiritual meaning or component but for the sake of clarity I will address the faith topics or questions individually. Today’s blog is about  the kind of faith we use daily, what I like to think of as practical faith.

Trust or faith is operative in practically everything you and I do. Without it we would be frozen in a state of overwhelming fear and inactivity. Think about how literally true this is. Your very life depends upon your ability to trust the safety of the food you eat and the water you drink. If you do not trust they are safe and refuse to eat or drink you will eventually die of hunger or thirst.

Think further about how ordinary living requires a certain amount of faith. Are you sitting down as you read this? You must trust the chair or whatever you are sitting on to hold you up. Did you sleep in a bed last night? Few things in our life are trusted like our bed. When you lie down do you tense your muscles in an attempt to support yourself while you sleep? Of course not, instead you lie down with an abandon, giving your tired body to the comfort of your bed. Resting is one of our greatest exercises of practical faith.

Where would we be without the constancy and reliability of the things we trust in life? As I take a break from typing I rest my elbows on my desk. I just take for granted the desk will support me. I am very comfortable doing this because somehow I learned my desk is dependable and will easily tolerate the weight I put on it. What if this were not true of all the things we rely on without question?

Faith is vital to everyday living, isn’t it? Well, it’s also important in our health and the way we see life. So, in future weekly blogs I will be dealing with some of these critical questions: What is faith? What is “saving” faith? How is faith developed? How do we come to faith in God? What is the difference between belief and faith? How does faith affect the way we live?

These are just a few things for you to “chew on’ ’til next time. Thanks for reading. I always appreciate hearing from you. Questions or suggestions are always welcome. Cos

Transition

 

Transition

Our nation is in a time of transition.  One president has left office and another administration has assumed leadership of our country. A different political party is in control and responsible for the leadership and direction of our nation for at least the next two years. Whether you are saddened or happy about the prospect of new leadership, the fact is that change is coming.

Living well requires us to handle transition or change well. This is true in all areas of our life. Think about some of the transitions you have already survived. You and I have transitioned from being a baby to being an adult. I’m sure some of our parents wondered if we would make it through those turbulent teenage years, but with their love and patience and God’s grace we did!

I, like you, have had difficulty with some of my transitional times.  I was an emotional wreck when my first child left home but I adjusted to the reality that God’s plan is for parents to give our kids roots and wings and to celebrate their independence, often through our tears.  And, I continue to face the challenges life throws at me.

Someone has observed, “The only thing that doesn’t change in life is the fact that things change.” Well, that may be true to a large degree but not entirely accurate. But what can we do to ensure that we come through these transition times with our sanity and soul intact?

Whatever the challenges you face, I believe we can live faithfully by doing the following:

First, I must face the reality of whatever challenge I’m dealing with. Denial is not the solution. To deny that my body is going through physical change or that life will be the same when I move from the house I’ve loved for years is a sure formula for getting stuck in an unproductive and stagnant place.

Second, I need to size up the reality of my situation, decide a course of attitude and action and move ahead. When change knocks at my door, I will answer it and act responsibly in the things I can do.

Finally, I will rely on the fact that my God does not change. He is the Unchangeable, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He is the God and Father of my Lord, Jesus Christ. I will live in the promise of Psalm 46:1-2: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, and though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea…”

May God find you faithful in the challenges your transition s bring your way.  

How to Live in an Anxious World

We live in an anxious world. This rings true on a global scale as well as in our individual lives. Across the world, there are uprisings of religious fanatics whose aim is to bring suffering, persecution, and death to those who do not believe as they do. They are driven by hate and will use any means to accomplish their end. This ominous cloud is gathering in many countries and creating anxiety concerning our way of life and our future.

Our nation is in political turmoil, rocked by scandal and polarization. It seems we have put much responsibility into the hands of leaders who have little moral or spiritual grounding and whose actions seem to be guided by base and immoral values.  

If this is not enough to make you anxious, there is the personal stuff of marriage, raising kids, health issues, aging parents, making ends meet financially, and fitting more and more things into an already overcrowded schedule.

Obviously, we are limited in how we can control the actions of others but we can do much to deal with the anxiety which can result from those outside forces. The following are suggestions you may want to consider to be able to have a sense of peace in the midst of the turmoil which surrounds you.

The good and the bad of anxiety. All of us experience anxiety in one way or another. It is part of the human condition from birth to the grave. The baby often cries anxiously as a way of getting the caregiver to deal with his hunger or physical discomfort. The anxious parent tosses in his bed awaiting the return of his teenager from their date. Moms and dads watch a news program concerning a military action and their minds struggle to put away the pressing thought that their loved one might have been wounded or killed in the battle. Day after day they live with the anxiety that the one they have seen grow up before them may return maimed or may not return at all. Been there, done that.

It may surprise you that I suggest there is something good about anxiety. I believe anxiety can both serve us and do great harm to us. While we cannot and should not hope to be rid of all anxiety we can take steps to use the good part of it and arm ourselves so as not to be controlled by it.

What is the good part of anxiety? Anxiety is good when it alerts us to some danger or impending harm to us or someone or something we care about. It is good when it cautions us to be careful, to use discretion about a decision. For example, the wise parent becomes anxious when his child does something which can easily lead to physical harm or death. Anxiety alerts the parent to act, to rescue the child from his foolish decision or from someone who could harm him. Anxiety can push us to take action to remedy a problematic situation. It can alert a student to prepare well for an exam, a soldier to be vigilant at his task, or a worker to give his best to his job. In these ways and many others, anxiety, when properly used, can spur us to avoid carelessness or laziness which may lead to failure or even death. Seen this way, anxiety can have a good, beneficial effect. It serves as a warning signal, an alarm to awaken us to potential harm. You might even say it is a sign of wisdom to respond well to the good side of anxiety.

So, when does anxiety cross the line from good to bad? When does this gift become harmful? It is one thing to respond to an anxiety-producing situation in order to resolve the issue but quite another to have anxiety control much of your thoughts and actions. As with anger or other issues, the question comes down to control. Anxiety has crossed the line between helpful and harmful when it is out of control.

What does bad anxiety do to you and others? If you have experienced times when anxiety has controlled you or if you have lived with someone controlled by it you will readily recognize the following symptoms of bad anxiety.

  1. It tends to distort or exaggerate the reality of the situation. People controlled by anxiety often overreact to life events. The smallest incident can trigger a major emotional reaction. People not controlled by anxiety would probably see the incident as a minor annoyance or inconvenience and move on.

The person controlled by anxiety doesn’t seem to have the capacity to put the incident into perspective. Already very nervous about something, they tend to connect the small event to the pile of things they are worried about and overreact to it. They may do what I call “going from A to Z.” They are faced with a relatively small problem or challenge but make it much bigger and more threatening than it really is. For example, a person may dread their annual physical with their physician. There seems to be no sign of a physical issue but they become almost frozen by fear because of the possibility the doctor may find some problem. They fear what might be and distort or exaggerate the situation without any rational basis for their concern.

Folks who experience this level of anxiety are miserable. Such people live in fear of what could happen and tend to instill fear in the lives of those who live with them. They go beyond sensible precautions that are healthy and reasonable and are often consumed by worry which results in overprotection and limitation of normal activity. They are controlled by anxiety.

  1. Bad anxiety depletes one’s emotional and physical energy. Anxiety takes its toll emotionally and physically. Being vigilant all the time is emotionally taxing and wears you down and flattens you out emotionally. When that happens you notice your physical energy is also sapped. That’s because emotions are energy in our physical body and when they are expended we feel tired and depleted. When you are worried about something it works on you physically. You likely will not sleep well and, thus, a cycle may begin in which your physical and emotional energies are not renewed.

A person controlled by anxiety can become vulnerable to more serious health issues such as depression, high blood pressure, and various other ailments. Professionals who deal with the medical and emotional needs of people are becoming increasingly aware of the interconnection between the emotional and physical health of their patients. We have not been created with separate, unconnected parts. What affects one aspect of our life has an impact on other parts of us.

  1. It impairs your ability to focus or concentrate. Anxiety takes away our ability to pay attention to the task at hand. It interrupts or overrides our concentration. For example, the anxious person finds it very difficult to read for extended periods of time without anxious thoughts breaking through. Anxiety creates a sense of being at loose ends, not able to settle down to the job before us. Anxiety makes ordinary tasks more challenging and can help create dangerous situations such as leaving a burner or oven on, failing to disengage the gas pump before driving away, and not paying attention while driving or operating machinery. Anxiety also makes it more difficult to listen to family members and, therefore, can undermine our relationships.

  2. Out-of-control anxiety infects you with doubt and negativity. Besides all the issues just mentioned, anxiety can turn you into a person who has a sour attitude about life in general. Anxiety robs you of your joy and happiness and can make you difficult to be around. Most people don’t find it pleasant to be around a person who is always negative or doubtful. Anxious persons can suck the hope out of the room.

Flawed ways to deal with anxiety. I believe many of the ills of our society can be traced to the inadequate or flawed ways we attempt to deal with anxiety. We want quick fixes and shudder at the thought of being emotionally uncomfortable or just riding out the anxiety until it subsides. We don’t want to experience any discomfort. However, reality and healthy living dictate there are going to be times when feeling bad or threatened is okay.

The result of trying to escape real life and its attendant anxiety can bring serious consequences. Several addictions may be traced to the attempt to escape the difficult realities of life. Among them are alcoholism, illegal and prescription drug addiction, and food addiction. You can probably add many workaholics to the list of those who are trying to assuage the demands of anxiety. Also, depression usually has an anxiety component to it and may sometimes be considered a means of escaping reality.

The antidote for anxiety. There are a number of ways to address approaches to dealing with debilitating anxiety. Here, I have chosen to briefly touch on the medical and, physical aspects of treatment and give a more detailed discussion of the spiritual side from a preventative perspective. Although I have chosen to separate these aspects for clarity I recognize that, in many instances, they are combined with good results.

Medical treatment involves the prescribing of a drug to counteract the ill effects of anxiety and re-establish a chemical balance in the brain. Medical treatment may also include treatment of physical issues that may be attendant with the anxiety. Prescription drug treatment can be helpful in restoring a sense of balance to the person but, by itself, does not cure the problem. Unless the source of the anxiety is discovered and dealt with therapeutically through counseling or some other means, the real issue is left unresolved.

Anxiety takes a toll on us physically. Exercise, such as walking, stimulates chemicals in the brain which can help control anxiety. Exercise, when done as part of one’s lifestyle, is a good way to work off nervous energy and maintain emotional balance. When combined with medical and/or spiritual help physical exercise can prove to be very beneficial in combating anxiety. There are many enjoyable activities such as gardening, swimming, or biking that can have a positive effect on your physical and emotional health. The issue is to make physical activity a part of your lifestyle, if possible, and refuse to become sedentary. This investment will pay good dividends physically and emotionally.

I personally believe a great deal of the personal pain and problems caused by anxiety could be avoided altogether if the correct spiritual prescription were followed when we first realize anxiety is becoming a problem. I say this not to condemn or judge anyone who deals with chronic anxiety but to emphasize the need to recognize and deal with anxiety before it gets to the controlling stage. We need to” nip it in the bud.” I believe that those with debilitating anxiety can benefit from the spiritual suggestions I discuss but may need some serious medical intervention as well.

What can you do to guard against anxiety becoming a controlling factor in your life? What is the spiritual antidote for anxiety? Simply stated, the antidote for controlling anxiety or worry is prayer. “That certainly seems simple enough,” you say, “but I pray every day and I am still worrying all the time. Praying is not working for me.” I know many wonderful Christian people who seem to make a practice of trying to worry their problems to death. What they find is that it doesn’t work and they are subjected to many of the problems that come to those who worry. They often feel defeated and may begin to believe that praying about things isn’t useful. At this point, they may stop praying at all.

However, it is a clear teaching in scripture that we are not to be overcome by worry or anxiety. It is also without debate that we are taught to pray for what we need and trust God to supply it. In Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus contrasts the futility of worrying with trust in God to supply the basic needs of our life. Worry accomplishes nothing related to our needs but does indicate we have taken God out of the equation. Worry is an attempt to not depend on God and solve the problem on our own. Not only is worrying useless, but it also depicts a lack of trust in God and is an affront to him. Worrying is a serious spiritual issue.

Let me mention a few of the many reasons why a person can pray about something and continue to be overwhelmed by anxiety.

  1. The motive of praying may be wrong. For example, a person may pray for something in order to simply advance himself or his cause and not to honor God. James 4:3 tells us that one hindrance to answered prayer is selfishness in the way we ask. “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”

  2. Effective praying involves an important caveat that some may not be willing to obey. That is, the request must conform to the will of God. Another way to say this is; the prayer must be one that honors God and advances to his purpose. In the model prayer, Jesus gives us a broad outline of how to pray. One very notable feature of that model is the phrase, ” Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” While God wants us to live in his peace, anxiety may overwhelm us because the issue we pray about is not completely released to his will. We may not trust that whatever he decides is best or really what we want to happen.

  3. Effective praying requires unwavering trust in God. Here again, James’ words are instructive. James 1: 6-7 reads as follows: “But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.” Answers to our prayers require that we trust God to do for us what we ask within his will. Doubting nullifies our praying.

  4. Effective praying also has a quality of persistence. Do we really want what we ask God to do? How do we show we are deeply committed to what we pray for? By continuing to pray, to hang on, persist day after day. Only when we prove we are serious about our praying will God give us what we ask for.

After considering these four things about effective praying it is quite easy to see why God doesn’t answer according to our wishes or why a person may give up on the work of praying. True prayer involves work on our part. It calls for us to keep our selfishness and pride in check, to abandon the idea that we can do things on our own, to be unwavering in our trust in God, and to hang on, to persist until what we pray for becomes a reality we can celebrate.

With these ideas as a backdrop let us consider a couple of Paul’s ideas in thinking about prayer as the real antidote for anxiety. One of the things we know about Paul is that life got much harder for him after his conversion on the Damascus road. He faced many anxious times in his attempt to share the good news about Jesus.  Paul suffered some type of chronic physical ailment, was imprisoned, beaten, run out of town, shipwrecked, contended for the gospel with unbelievers in hostile situations, criticized for his preaching, at times totally dependent on the goodwill of others to supply his basic needs, and put on trial for his faith. He knew about anxiety and how to deal with it.

The first thing that seems obvious about Paul’s approach to troubling situations is that he firmly believed in God’s sovereignty in the life of the believer. Simply put, Paul believed that whatever God allows in our life he will use for good. We are never abandoned to the whim of fate or without an anchor in the storms of life. For the believer this means that there is gain, there is good to come from the pain, problems, and disappointments in life. This is a most hopeful and reassuring reality which should help us pray with thanksgiving and assurance. My favorite verse related to this idea, and perhaps Paul’s clearest statement, is Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

The specific statement about prayer as the antidote for anxiety is found in one of Paul’s “prison epistles.” It is called a prison letter or epistle because Paul was imprisoned and facing a possible death sentence for his faith. These words Paul wrote with the assurance that comes from having seen how prayer had calmed and focused him in many uneasy situations in life, and even now as he awaits what is before him. Philippians 4:6-7 reads as follows:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, 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.”

Let’s consider some of the practical applications of these words as they apply to anxiety.

First, this is a negative command. We are to stop, quit, to refrain from being controlled by anxiety. This is not a polite suggestion but a directive, a command

Second, it is an all-inclusive command. We are not to be anxious about “anything.” There are no exceptions. There is no anxiety by which we are to be controlled. Marital problems, money issues, sickness, world calamities, aging parents, unruly children, and whatever else you can name or imagine are covered by this command. This gets uncomfortable for us because it destroys the illusion that we have control over some things in our life. Paul tells us we are to be overcome by worry about absolutely nothing.

Third, is a transition indicated by the word “but.” Paul does not strip away our useless worrying about real-life issues without giving us a better solution. The word “but” signifies he is going to tell us what we need to do about the things that worry us.

Fourth, we are given a positive command to compliment the negative one. In the negative command, we are told not to worry about anything. With the positive command, Paul gives us a new and effective way to handle anxiety. And, it, too, is all-inclusive. “…but in everything. ” What? What are we to do? We are to pray to our Heavenly Father.

Fifth, we are told how we are to pray concerning the things that make us anxious. This is not to be a flippant, light-hearted approach but an earnest, heartfelt, sincere asking. Praying like this is a serious and sober matter. It requires a willingness to come time and again and to prove our earnestness about what we pray. This is the idea behind “prayer and petition.” It has nothing to do with God’s reluctance to bless us. It is about proving our readiness to receive the blessing and to give God the glory for it. Paul uses the word petition, I think, as a way of telling us to be specific, to be clear in our own mind what we want God to do for us. Generalized phrases such as “God bless us” do not qualify for a petition. How, specifically, do you want God to bless you? A petition is a specific statement of our need or desire. Search deep within your heart for what you need and say that to God. Paul also adds the idea of giving God thanks with our petition. We are to pray, to petition God “with thanksgiving.” This stirs gratitude and confidence in our prayers. It also is a powerful aid in dealing with anxiety. We simply cannot be anxious and thankful at the same time. You may notice that anxious people are not very thankful people.

Sixth, peace, instead of anxiety, will be our state of mind when we pray this way. When we truly turn the situation over to God something beyond human understanding happens. God gives us a sense of peace that will stand like a sentry or guard over our mind and heart. Like a powerful guard protecting a valuable treasure, God’s peace will keep you safe from the devastating effects of anxiety.

How do you know this is true? There’s just one way to find out; try it.

Boundaries: The Answer to Many of Our Problems

A quarter of a century ago Henry Cloud and John Townsend published a book entitled Boundaries. As I have been perusing its pages lately it has dawned on me that this book holds the secret to solving many of life’s problems. You name it: sexual abuse, theft, adultery, lying, and all the big and little sins and crimes human beings commit could be resolved if people would just observe proper boundaries. Does that sound too simple?

Think about it. That’s what Jesus’ statement in Matthew 24 concerning loving God, self and others really implies. Proper respect for God, his boundaries and those he places on us, and the boundaries we need to develop within us would eliminate the behaviors which hurt us and others. 

There is just one problem with this solution. There must be a radical change of heart, a conversion of thinking and acting which changes our self-centeredness to acts of genuine love for God, our self and others. Such a change is possible if we are willing to give up our claim to be God and ask the true God to save us from our self destruction and accept his gift of salvation provided in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

God has determined how he will handle the issue of our sinfulness. We don’t get to make that decision, it is a matter of boundaries. Either we accept his love and do it his way or we don’t do it at all. And, he will not cross our boundary to force us to choose him. Now, that is real love.

Careful with Your Words

I believe the purpose of communication is to develop understanding and acceptance of the other person, even though we may strongly disagree with their position on a given subject. We don’t need to follow the example of many of our public figures who demean or smear the reputation or character of another person because they have political differences. 

Be very careful about “judging” a person because they are a “liberal” or “conservative.” Let’s try to discuss the issues and not attack the character of the one with the opposing view. Yes, character matters. Absolutely. But, people with stellar character may have a bad idea from time to time and folks with crummy character may have a good idea once in a while. The point is to maintain our good character while dealing with sensitive and emotionally-charged issues. 

If we claim to be followers of Jesus, let’s look to God as our example for how we communicate. The incarnation  represents a point in history in which Someone with perfect character attempted to communicate with people whose character was/is like”filthy rags.”

He had already done some communicating through commandments, miracles, prophets, and some of the kings but just at the right time he sent Jesus, the perfect revelation of himself. God understands us, accepts us as we are, and offers forgiveness for the sin that separates us from him and others. Perhaps some of us need to reconsider how we communicate about tough issues and try to build some bridges to those with whom we differ. This doesn’t mean we must give up what we strongly believe. It does mean we can allow others the same right to their opinions without judging them as persons.

We do not need to “turn a blind eye” to the evil that is so evident in our society. We must be wise in this day of division and heated rhetoric and be a force for good and healing rather than perpetuate the hatred and vile behaviors that will destroy us. Remember: “But let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.”  James 1:19-20.