By Brad Hicks
It’s no secret that the majority of people are weighed down by some form of stress, anxiety, or fear, and this is no less true for many of God’s people, we who are in the church. I have encouraging news … but it comes in two packages.
Encouragement Package #1 is the type of news by which after it’s said, you feel really good about yourself and God. Encouragement Package #1 is completely unconditional.
Encouragement Package #2 is news that when you hear it you realize that the good feelings may or may not come, depending on how you respond to the plan to get there. This type of encouragement comes with divine terms and conditions.
The stress, anxiety, and fear that we experience are rooted in many different things. They’re sometimes caused by external forces that are out of our control and can only be confronted by focused and consistent prayer, family and friend support, and perhaps help from persons in places of civil and legal authority. Stress, anxiety, and fear can also be brought on by internal causes — by mental, emotional, or chemical imbalances within ourselves. Of course, prayer and support are needed here as well, and often professional help from psychological or medical resources.
Today, I will not be addressing stress, anxiety, and fear that are rooted in external forces that are out of our control or that are caused by mental, emotional, or chemical imbalances. This morning, I want to talk about stress, anxiety, and fear that are very much within our sphere of control and that are generally brought on by our own choices, biases, stubbornness, attitudes, perspectives, and blindness.
Here’s your Encouragement Package #1. If we are men or women of God who truly desire to please the Lord and if we’re sincerely and humbly asking for help and guidance from Him, then we have no need to worry. God is always on our side, moving us forward, helping us day by day to alleviate our stress, anxiety, and fear, and he promises to see us through each struggle.
And here’s your Encouragement Package #2. For the stress, anxiety, and fear to begin to subside, and for peace, joy, healing, and deliverance to come, we must stick to God’s plan. Our Heavenly Father does not permit shortcuts or loopholes in His plan to sanctify and set apart his children for His service. He knows the unique method and timeframe required for each of our hearts to be healed and our minds transformed.
God knows how and when to root out and surgically remove the areas of our hearts that we’ve given over to stress, anxiety, or fear because of the choices we make, the habits we persist in, the attitudes we won’t let go of, and the idols we continue to worship. With some places in our hearts, the surgery might be quick and relatively painless. With other stubborn places in our hearts, the healing process may take many years. And with still others, because of their continued refusal to obey the Spirit’s leading and instruction, sadly and tragically they may never experience deliverance and healing of a particular struggle or problem this side of the grave.
Here are a few questions I have to ask myself when I’m feeling continued stress, anxiety, or fear.
If it’s about my finances – Does the lack or abundance of money sway my mood and attitude or affect how I show up with my family and friends?
If it’s about my relationships with important people in my life – Have I forgiven and reconciled? Do I isolate or do I engage and initiate?
If it’s about my job or the amount of time I spend at work – Am I giving myself rest and paying attention to taking care of my body? Is my family suffering because I’m not paying attention to their needs?
If it’s about the way I feel about myself – Do I hate the way God made me look, the level of intelligence or talent I have, or the personality God gave me?
If it’s about other peoples’ opinions of me – Have I given someone else’s thoughts or words about me the power to wreck me or make my day?
The Holy Spirit is daily pointing out to us these kinds of areas in our lives and holding them up to the truth and reality of the Word of God, and He is always providing ways that we can improve our situation, escape routes by which we can circumvent temptation, and roadblocks or closed doors that we can either barrel through or heed their warning. The Spirit also provides well-lit paths that lead us to Christ’s help and wide-open doors through which we can enter into His blessing. As we earnestly pray, either alone or especially with other believers, we will more clearly see these divine pathways and doors.
It’s pretty simple. Follow the Spirit’s lead in our day-to-day lives, and we’ll reap the rewards of his promises of help and inner healing. Refuse Him, continue to do things our own way, and be disciplined. But here’s some more encouragement from Package #1. We’ve all disobeyed, and we all have undergone and will continue to face God’s loving discipline, if and when needed. God’s caring discipline is a part of the normal Christian life!
After being in Christ for over four decades — and not just being in Him but continually crying out to Him for mercy and help and for transformation — I’ve learned much better how, when, and why to obey and, consequently, I need far less discipline. But this is only because I have undergone His discipline throughout my life and – all praise and glory to God — it has produced in me a greater measure of wisdom, understanding, perseverance, and trust.
About discipline, the Psalmist says:
Psalm 94:12-13. Blessed is the one you discipline, Lord, the one you teach from your law; you grant them relief from days of trouble.
And from the writer of Hebrews:
Hebrews 12:7-11. Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us, and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
Through disciplining us, then, God is forming in us and teaching us:
• Wisdom and understanding
• That His ways are higher than our ways
• Fear of the Lord
• The fruit of the Spirit
• and joy and contentment
About contentment, this from Proverbs:
Proverbs 19:23. The fear of the Lord leads to life; then one rests content, untouched by trouble.
And from Paul in the New Testament:
Philippians 4:11-13, 19. For I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength. … 19 And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.
Friends, in these times, we in the church experience far too much stress, anxiety, and fear in our lives, and too little peace, joy, healing, and deliverance. Many of our problems can be either avoided or faced with confidence and trust that God will most certainly see us through to a better place. Let us not be ashamed of our struggles, and may we be thankful for our Father’s perfect discipline of us, his beloved daughters and sons. Encourage and pray for one another with this reality daily. We were not created to bear our burdens alone.