“Anxious for nothing…,” Seriously?!

Over the years, I’ve heard many people say either from the pulpit or in conversation that worrying is a sin. The word ‘sin’ in and of itself, simply means missing the mark; as in an archer missing the bullseye with the arrow shot from his bow. Theologically, it can be rendered as intentional behavior that is outside the will of God (that’s my definition, anyway). Worrying, or anxiety, the word used in Philippians 4:6, is defined as “anxious care” (Wuest), or “disquieting perplexing care … and distracting thought in the wants and difficulties of life” (Henry), or to have “anxious or distracting care” (Bullinger).

Any of these definitions work for me, especially the distracting part. In fact, for professional worriers, distracting could also be obsessing.  Descartes is credited with saying, “I think, therefore I am.” Somewhere in the long line of my lineage, some wannabe philosopher changed this a bit to say, “I think, therefore I worry.” Worrying is one of the primary threads sewn throughout the tapestry of my heritage. I’ve successfully taken distracting care into obsessing care; so much so that I’ve nearly suffered from panic attacks involving hyperventilating with a strong sense of paralysis. Maybe you can relate.

Worrying has taken a toll on my health and on my relationships. And now I’m being told that it’s a sin to boot. Now I’m worried about that.

But how do I stop? Well, let’s read Philippians 4:6-7 and then I’ll explain what I’m discovering works for me.

Be anxious for nothing, 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 through Christ Jesus.

As McGee points out, this passage starts with anxiety and ends with peace. But notice what’s in the middle—prayer. It’s interesting to note that the mood of the passage is present, active, imperative; this means that it is akin to a command and that it is an ever-present command. It’s not just a command to stop worrying, but it is also an ever-present antidote to the worrying. In other words, anxiety is always crouching and waiting to pounce on us; whether at work, or home or school or with the doctor, anxiety is an ever-present reality in this life of ours. But so is the antidote, prayer.

 

Hands

Yeah, they’re my hands, but you get the point!

When we feel anxious, Scripture encourages us to specifically pray about our anxiety and ask for God’s help with it (this is basically the essence of the word ‘supplication’). And we do so with thanksgiving; we’re thankful that God not only willingly listens to our prayer, He actually invites us to pray about it; He welcomes it into His presence. Think of it as an always open invitation from God to lift our cares, concerns, and worries up to Him.  I often think of placing the anxiety, whatever form it’s in, into His hands; then I pray that God will empower me to leave it there; to leave this anxiety in His hands and thereby lift it off of my shoulders and out of my guts and into His always open hands.

 

But just how is this operationalized; how is this put into action in everyday situations? It’s taken me years to figure this out, and I am not 100% anxiety-free by any stretch of the imagination; but here’s what I’ve been learning lately.

As we just explored, this passage of Scripture is active, present, imperative. Yeah, yeah, techy-speak, but what it means is that I can recite this section of Scripture as a prayer as often as I need to. And that’s what I’ve been doing lately. When the anxiousness begins threatening me again, I lift the anxious thinking and the specific situation with a specific request to God. Rarely does the situation change, but my internal well-being changes. Slowly, and somewhat strangely, I start sensing God’s peace. I can’t really explain it, and perhaps that’s part of why God’s peace “surpasses understanding;” but the sense of peace is very real and has staying power. My thoughts become freer, I’m able to focus on the present more clearly and my heart slows its palpitations. This calmer state then enables the guarding of my heart and mind through Christ Jesus. This means that when I’m not distracted or filled with anxious thoughts, I am more capable through the indwelling Holy Spirit to keep more anxiety out of my thinking. The stronghold of worry in my life is slowly being uprooted as I spend more time in God’s peace through the ongoing prayer of supplication with thanksgiving.

But now back to the sin part. I don’t think my propensity toward worry or anxiety is sinful; what I think is sinful is refusing to acknowledge it as contrary to God’s will for my life and the subsequent refusal to partake of God’s antidote for it, prayer. But as I become more adept at recognizing the anxiety and quicker to lift it up to God in prayer, the less likely my propensity will turn to sin, and the happier and healthier my life will become.

Can We Bless God?

Septuagint

The first word in Psalm 103 is “bless.” The Hebrew word is barak and in the Septuagint, the Old Testament in the Greek language, it is eulogeo.  Some Bible versions render these words as “praise,” but there are other Hebrew and Greek words for praise (hallelu, hallei, and yadah in the Hebrew; and epainos in the Greek). While the definitions are similar in nature, I think they are distinct enough to call out the differences; especially when the first line in Psalm 103 is:

Bless the Lord, O my soul.

The question this raises is how do we bless the Lord?

The essence of the word ‘bless’ is a bit complex. The meaning, according to various references, is centralized in the interior of our soul. Praise, however, is more centralized in the external expression in a worship service or some other outward demonstration of faith.

So what’s the big deal?

I think the big deal is, as Bullock states, “The person who praises must endow the vocabulary of praise with content. We can praise God without using the special language of praise, but we cannot long maintain the genuineness of that language without relating His being and works”[1].  To bless God, then, is a recognition of specific works of God with an intentional expression of thankfulness for those specific works.

For instance, Psalm 103 gives some very specific works that we can intentionally express gratitude for. He forgives our iniquities and heals our diseases (v. 3). He redeems our lives from destruction (v. 4, and my personal favorite). He crowns us with loving kindness and tender mercies and satisfies us with good things (vv. 4-5). He’s merciful and slow to anger (v. 8); and on and on it goes in just this psalm alone.

I think the lesson in Psalm 103, and others like it, is that blessing God’s heart is our expressing thankful acknowledgement for specific things God has done for us. Such specific things can be reciting what we read in Scripture, or, more personally, deliverances God has done specific to our own lives. For example, I was facing a significant challenge at work but with the click of an email from someone else, the challenge dissipated away, leaving me stunned and inexpressibly grateful for His deliverance. He brought deliverance in a way that was completely unexpected. Another example is if one of my sons says he loves me, that warms my heart; but if he states something specific, like the way I help him with his homework or the times we spend together in the wilderness or on our bikes, I’m deeply blessed. Why? Because he shared a specific thing that brings blessing to his soul which then in turn brings blessing to mine. Why would our heavenly Father be any different?

Praise on the other hand, while a good thing, is often motivated by some external stimuli such as music or maybe a touching play or movie. Such stimuli may spark momentary thankfulness in a more general sense, but it often fades away as the stimuli fades away. Blessing God, though, is internally motivated and, because it’s in the depth of our souls, is not reliant on external stimuli and can be recalled at any moment throughout our day.

So while the differences may seem minor, I still think they are distinctive enough to understand. Besides, if the distinctions were unimportant to God, why would He go to such great care to use such distinctive words in Scripture?

[1] C. Hassell Bullock, An Introduction to the Old Testament Poetic Books: Revised and Expanded, Moody Publishers, 1988; Kindle location 2850.

Original Sin’s Origin

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Sin. The word evokes a myriad of responses in people. You’re probably feeling some emotions right now. Maybe you’re thinking of your sins or thinking that you don’t have sin or are afraid I’m going to get “all-preachy.” Well, I’m not going to wax preachy, even though I have ample experience with sin, because I want to briefly explore the origin of the so-called “original sin.”

 

Origin…where?

Through most of my life, I have heard the phrase original sin as referring to the fall of humanity documented in Genesis 3:1-7. Often times children’s books use this phrase as do some theology books I’ve read. I may be splitting hairs, but Genesis 3 depicts humanity’s first sin, but, to my recent surprise, it is not depicting the original sin.

Maybe you already knew this, but the original sin occurred in Heaven. As Anthony Hoekema states, “sin did not originate in the world of human beings but in the world of spirits” (Created in God’s Image, 1994, p. 122). This understanding never really occurred to me until sometime earlier this year. But it makes sense; how could Satan tempt Adam to sin if he was not already acquainted with it? It’s hard to spring a trap when unfamiliar with it; but once there’s familiarity, setting and springing the trap becomes easier.

 

Citations, please…

So where does the Bible document this original sin? The Book of Isaiah documents the fall of Lucifer in 14:12-21. The name Lucifer means “day star” but he became Satan which means “accuser, adversary”, after his rebellion against God. One interesting aspect in this section of Scripture is Lucifer quoted as saying, “I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the throne of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation” (v. 13, emphasis mine). While there are other meaty aspects in this section, the emphasis I call out here is on the nature of self-worship, self-aggrandizement; in a word: pride.

Revelation 12:7-12 speaks to Satan, the post-sin name for Lucifer, being thrown out of Heaven by Michael and his angels. Verse 9 says, “the great dragon was cast out, the serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world.” This same Satan, the deceiver of the world, is the one that shows up in Genesis 3 deceiving humanity into disobeying God. And he’s still deceiving humanity today.

 

So what…

Having a deeper understanding of the actual origin of sin will help us be more aware of it in our own lives. Whenever we are drawn to elevating ourselves and our desires above God, we are sinning. As I ponder this and look at the wide work of sin in my own life, much of it swirls around that pesky little-g god of “self.”

Even in Genesis 3 we see this because Satan fooled humanity into thinking that it could become like God. How much does this still hold true in our current era? How strong is the temptation of ‘self’ in our own lives?

As we ask these questions with a fuller understanding of the origin of these temptations, we will be better equipped to lean more deeply into God by way of the indwelling Holy Spirit strengthening us to withstand these temptations (see Ephesians 6:10-18). But not recognizing them runs the risk of driving our lives deeper into their deceptive mire and empty promises.

 

Next week…

Next week we’ll look at the image of God in humanity and what part of it was tarnished when humanity fell in the Garden of Eden. In the meantime, feel free to leave me a comment; just please keep them civil and constructive.  Oh, by the way, Genesis 3 says nothing about an apple!

 

Prayer Bench & MRI Update

Bench

Just a quick note today. The picture depicts an extraordinary spot to sit and pray, ponder and contemplate. It is a spring that pops out of the ground in the interior part of Black Butte Ranch near the Paulina Pool complex. The brook really does babble over moss covered rocks and winds its way down a slope lined with tall pines, firs and aspens. I can’t help but praise God in such a glorious setting.

The wind whispering through the trees reminds me of Jesus talking with Nicodemus in John chapter three about the Holy Spirit. ‘Nic’ was pondering the idea of being born from above when Jesus stated, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (verse 8). I’m sure that left Nic scratching his head.

The brook and its soothing noise reminds me of being washed by the water of the Word (see Ephesians 5:26).  As I drink in the truth of Scripture I am being cleansed; sometimes the cleansing is through encouragement and sometimes through conviction.

Brook

I can go on, but I’ll wait to install other components of my “bench time” later.

To close, I want to say thank you for so much positive response on my MRI post last week. I was not expecting so much love and support. Reading through posts on my Facebook and blog site brought tears to my eyes—thank you all for your prayers and thoughts.

The MRI results do show considerable spinal degeneration but none needing another surgical intervention, thank God. My surgeon has said I need right elbow surgery to fix nerve impingement; but an elbow, while important, is not the spine!

Thank you again my friends and family, may God bless you with more of himself in your lives.

Odd Feeling

hawkLately I’ve been feeling odd; it’s a longing in my soul I can’t identify. I’m not sad, nor am I depressed; I’m just…longing. Longing for what I don’t know. It isn’t really a sentimental emotion nor am I anxious about anything, at least not anything that’s at the surface of my thinking.

A Pastor Friend

A pastor friend of mine said he feels that way sometimes. He said maybe there is some latent sadness lurking under the surface of my consciousness. Maybe I’m struggling with completely accepting a mom that is slowly slipping deeper into dementia; the mother of my childhood no longer exists, but the shell of what used to be withers before my eyes and there’s nothing I can do about it.

Maybe it’s a longing for solitude. I find myself looking out the window more than I used to, thinking about wilderness trails, mountain views, and rustling wind through tall firs. On one of my lunchtime walks the other day I stopped in front of a big church building watching a young hawk soaring effortlessly above it. It was beautiful even as traffic buzzed around me and exhaust fumes filled my nostrils this hawk was still surviving, still reminding me that God’s creation is much more than concrete, asphalt and noise.

Holy Spirit Flow

Maybe I’m longing to be freer in the flow of the Holy Spirit. Maybe God’s tugging at me to realize I am blocking his flow in my life somehow, somewhere; but where?

“The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

—Jesus, John 3:8

Do I have the fresh air of the Holy Spirit flowing out of me? I hope so, but I don’t know; maybe this is what I’m longing for, maybe this is what the world is longing for.

More to Do, Little to Be

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“Now it came to pass in those days that He went out to the mountains to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God.”

—Luke 6:12

“To be in His presence is gift enough.” This is a phrase I heard last week at the Hope Pregnancy Clinic banquet. It is a compelling quote, especially when feeling distant from God. Personally, my life is so full of stuff needing to be done that life itself has become a series of to-do lists. I’m slowly and sadly morphing into the recent cliché of living as a human-doing rather than a human being. Perhaps an overused phrase, but it has a lot of truth to it.

Jesus spent hours just being with His Father, I’m sure He had requests but given the amount of time spent with His Father it is likely that much of the time was just basking in the presence of the Lord. Jesus was longing to hear the voice of His Father rather than His own voice. Conversely, much my time with the Father is nothing more than a ten minute “prayer session” of requests and laments. I don’t give enough time to listen to anything other than my own voice. There is no presence of God because I monopolize the time with my own presence.

Apprenticeship with Jesus

Zack Eswine states in Sensing Jesus that life for a Christ-follower is an apprenticeship with Jesus and “apprenticeship needs meditation and time” (p. 26).  Part of this time is spent in prayerful meditation on the character of God or on a portion of Scripture, such as the one mentioned above. It takes time in any conversation to move into the deeper waters of relational richness and soul-moving transformation. It reminds me of strolling with Jesus down a leaf-strewn path, kicking and crunching through the fallen foliage just talking…talking about the deep things like longing for Heaven, or enduring through chronic pain or fearing the future. It is asking Jesus to speak into the darker areas of my heart; the areas of selfish ambition, or the desire to be in control or my covetousness. It is intentionally opening the doors and windows of my soul to the refreshing and cleansing breeze of the Holy Spirit wafting through unhindered, removing the stench of sin and clutter. This opens up spaces for healing and transformation, and for two-way conversation.

Be More Than Do

Instead, Jesus is kept at arm’s length with carefully crafted to-do lists and requests. We have accomplishments next to little check-marked boxes of things we have done; but Jesus is interested in transforming our being, not our doing.  We are called to be lights, not do lights (Matt. 5:14-16 and Phil. 2:15).

What if our mindset was to be healing rather than do healing? And being bathed in the presence of Jesus is in itself healing; yes, the aches remain and things needs to be done for employers, school, and ministry—but that time of being with Jesus can help us become a healing presence for others. But when we focus on doing, our soul shrinks to the size of our check boxes; Jesus wants to transcend us above such a small soul to become more like Him. To become more of a healing light, drawing others to Jesus’ healing presence.

We are to be more than we are to do.

Challenge and Proverbs 4:23

Proverbs 4:23: “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.” This proverb demands the reader to examine what is truly in their own heart. If my heart is harboring anger or bitterness that will eventually spill out; likewise, if my heart is full of good things that will spill out as well. Therefore, what is the condition of my heart (cf. Mt. 12:34b-37)? What’s more, how does the condition of my heart change relative to my circumstance or with whom I am keeping company? These are important questions for gauging the depth and authenticity of my walk with Jesus. I need to truly examine why my heart is bitter when I discover that it is. Could there be jealousy or an unresolved issue? If so, what do I need to do to repair the problem? This will take wisdom from God that has already been explained in previous sessions.

What I have seen is when a person does not check the condition of their heart, especially toward their spouse or child, their relationship deteriorates often to disintegration via harsh words and actions. I believe if people spend time in quiet reflective prayer upon discovery of an unhealthy heart, then many hurtful words and actions could be avoided. This is also true for the workplace and even among friends.

As we ponder this verse, we need to consider the questions in the first paragraph. We need ask ourselves what is the true condition of our own hearts? Does our heart change when we’re with different people? Why? Also, do we take time to examine our hearts? If yes, how? And, finally, how should we answer someone that asks us how they should examine their own heart?

Getting Back to Joy

hose

I am fascinated by the idea of joy. Actually, truth be known, I’m more chagrined by the lack of it. Joy, by definition, means “the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying; keen pleasure; elation” (Dictionary.com). Jesus says that “these things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11).

What things did He speak to them and subsequently to us about? He spoke that He was the way to the Father and about the promise of the indwelling Holy Spirit. He spoke about His peace being given to us and about abiding in the Father. Then after He speaks of us having joy He then calls us friends.

First John speaks to joy as well: “And these things we write to you that your joy may be full” (1 Jo. 1:4). This encouragement comes after he has reminded us that we have eternal life because of our faith in Jesus Christ. But notice that in both verses God desires our joy to be full; not half full, not a whiff of being full, but fully full!

Stepping on the Hose

It is also interesting to note that the word ‘joy’ occurs over 150 times in the Bible. God desires us to have joy; so much so that joy is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). ‘Joy’ sits between ‘love’ and ‘peace.’ God wants us to have joy. And since joy is part of the indwelling Holy Spirit, it can just flow through us if we leave the Holy Spirit unquenched. However, if we are always downcast or morose, then joy is obviously not being manifested in our lives. This should lead us to ask, why? Somewhere, somehow, we are quenching the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. It is as if we are stepping on the garden hose supplying the refreshing water to the soil of our hearts; we are somehow resisting the influence of the Holy Spirit in our lives (see 1 Thessalonians 5:19). Are we harboring some secret sin, hatred, or fear? Are we overworked, overbooked or overwhelmed? Where are we stepping on the hose of God’s refreshing?

If we live joylessly, then is it any wonder we’re not winning others to Christ? Who wants to become part of a dark cloud society when Jesus Himself is light and life?  And how do we get back to joy?

Unquench

Prayer, that’s how. We need to honestly approach God in prayer and plead for him to search our anxious hearts to reveal all that is contrary to his light in our lives (see Psalms 51:7-12 and 139:23-24). If in raw sincerity of our will we approach God with this request he will honor it even if it hurts a little. But the end result is the restoration of the joy we have in our salvation that will seep out of our lives to draw others into the same joy of the same salvation (Psalm 51:12-13).

Proverbs 3 and Prayer, Scripture and Counsel

Bible stackProverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” This verses are also reiterated in Proverbs 16:3 and Psalms 37:3-4. Trusting in God is seeking his guidance via prayer, Scripture, and sound counsel from mature believers. This process (prayer, Scripture, counsel) is preferable over merely making key decisions in isolation. In other words, as Scripture says, pray about everything (cf. Ph. 4:6-7) then trust God to guide in the planning and responding to whatever is at hand. If we are still unsure then seek wise counsel from those that are biblically mature.

Prayer, Scripture, Counsel

This demonstrates humility and dependence on God and the cycle of prayer, Scripture, counsel is something we can incorporate into our lives and even teach to our children and grandchildren. However, not trusting in God is relying solely on the self which produces questionable, if not disastrous, results. Over the years I’ve seen this play out in poor relationship decisions that caused years of contentions, legal entanglements and damaged children. I’ve also seen this play out in poor purchasing decisions that resulted in years of debt; such as using credit cards to buy material things that wear out long before the bills are paid. These are two significant examples that result in great emotional and financial damage over long periods of time.

A Little Exercise

How much simpler and more fulfilling would our lives be if we reigned in our impatience, got quiet before the Lord and sought his counsel and then the counsel of other wise, mature Christ-followers? Maybe it would help to think of times when you made rash decisions without seeking counsel and then answer these three questions: How did it effective your life? What could you have done differently then? How are you doing things differently now?

Conditional Words and Proverbs 2

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The key phrase in Proverbs 2 are verses 10-12: “When wisdom enters your heart, and knowledge is pleasant to your soul, discretion will preserve you; understanding will keep you, to deliver you from the way of evil, from the man who speaks perverse things.”

Definitions and Application

Discretion and understanding mean that a person has “the ability to make responsible decisions” (from Logos Bible Software) coupled with intelligence and insight (from Strong’s Concordance). Thus, when led by the indwelling Holy Spirit we have the ability to make sound decisions while also being able to discern something to be of little to no value or even evil.

These are important traits for us regardless of what roles we have in life—employee, parent, spouse, single, etc. We often need to make decisions that can impact not just our lives but other people’s lives as well. Plus some decisions will have lasting impacts that can reverberate positively or negatively for days, weeks, or even years to come. Such decisions can become even more complex or impactful if you are the head of your family or are in ministry or in some other leadership role—or you aspire to be in one of these roles someday. With so many decision points in our lives it is blessing to be able to lean into God’s guidance and comfort through these decision making processes.

Conditional Response

However, an interesting statement about accessing this guidance from God comes in verse one by way of two little conditional words: “IF you receive my words, AND treasure my commands within you” (emphasis mine). These are conditional words that indicate we are to make an intentional decision to not just receive God’s Word, but to also treasure it. God is not going to force us to receive his Word and most certainly won’t force us to treasure it, we have to decide these things for ourselves whether we will or won’t receive and treasure the things God has freely given to us.

To treasure what we receive means, of course, that we treat the received object as an item of great value, something to be cherished and protected. We protect Scripture by hiding it in our hearts, committing it to memory and doing our best to live out its teachings.

So as we desire God’s wisdom, knowledge and discretion, may we first willingly receive and treasure what God has already given us in Scripture and in Jesus.