Ride of Blessing and Contributions

I rode my bike yesterday for the first time in three weeks. I’m not recovered enough to go for a hardcore, gonzo, killin’ it ride; but I was on two wheels, feeling the breeze caressing my face and seeing the sights of a sunny Saturday. Large volumes of people were milling through the parks. There was a walk-a-thon promoting a cure for Alzheimer’s, some sort of dog rally and a bunch of others like me going for a pleasant ride, run or stroll.

What a blessing. I don’t typically take being on my bike for granted, but it did get me thinking about how many other things, or even people, I do take for granted. It’s funny, and sort of sad, how a loss of something is the spark toward thankfulness and a deeper awareness of other people’s needs. Some people of course, allow hardship to make them bitter; but still, we all have a choice to either let the hardship better our character or to shrink it.

So, while on my bike and being attentive to my surroundings, my mind also seems to almost float, like it’s been freed from a cage of inactivity. In this freeing feeling a dawning of understanding broke through over the horizon of my soul. The dawning was a realization that I need to be more intentional about cultivating thankfulness. This sort of intentionality will improve my character while helping me be more of a blessing to others. It will also provide power in staving off any root bitterness from taking hold in the soil of my soul (see Hebrews 12:12-17).

1 Thessalonians 5 says:

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (vv. 16-17).

It’s easy to be thankful while on my bike riding over a brand new sparkling bridge spanning a

Bike bridge

My bike with the Willamette River in the background.

gurgling creek. But have I have been thankful in the depth of mental or physical pain, or in work frustration or family tension? As I ride with the sun warming my face and with my quads cheering on the beauty of each pedal stroke, I become more mindful of my lack of thankfulness when I’m not experiencing such a blessing. It’s just one more reminder that I’m a work in progress; thankfully, God is patient with me!

 

 Contribution

As most of us, I am deeply aware of the ravages happening in the wake of two raging hurricanes slamming into our brothers and sisters. Please pray for these people and for these tragedies to somehow turn hearts to God and not away from Him. Also, if possible, please consider contributing to one of the many good fund-raising efforts or even volunteering to help if possible for you to do so.

God, please help them!  

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Less Honorable Vessels?

It was about 7:30 in the morning that I started fading away. The anesthesiologist said he wanted me to breath pure oxygen through the mask then after about a minute he’d put some “stuff” into my IV and I’d be fast asleep. The nurse placed the mask on my face with such force I could hardly exhale. This freaked me out a bit because I’d just slid over onto the skinny operating table while hospital staff grabbed both of my arms, stretching them out perpendicular to my body, not unlike being in a crucifix position. Even as consciousness was fading, panic started welling up in my soul.

“Help me, Jesus” was all I could say to myself as my hearing slowly closed off and blackness consumed me.

Next memory was groggily looking at the clock in the recovery room. It was about 9:40 AM. “Praise God;” I thought. “It’s over. When can I go home?”

After a short time in the recovery room I was wheeled back into the secondary recovery room where family could come and be with me. Except, of course, I was alone, because as explained last week, Janey was in the ER with a broken foot. In any case, the nurse there, a very kind younger woman, said I should be able to go home by noon; provided, of course, that I could drink water without hurling and that I could…wait for it…pee.

Well, there you go, the gauntlet was thrown down and I was bound and determined to prove that I was fully capable of conquering these requirements post haste. Where’s the water? Where’s the toilet?

The drinking went fine; I was thirsty and the water not only stayed down, but it was hugely refreshing. Now it was time to shuffle off to the bathroom across the hall. The nurse helped me crimp the back of my hospital gown so I didn’t moon anyone and, with a little dizziness and some embarrassment, I made it to the next testing ground—the toilet.

 

Munson falls

Munson Falls, south of Tillamook off of Hwy. 101

“All right,” I thought; “it’s just you and me now.” And guess what? Nothing! Not a drop, nota! The little canister I was to “void” into was as bone dry when the nurse handed it to me. This little exercise went on for hours. I would have water running, I’d be thinking about waterfalls, and about the last time I really had to go. But nothing worked.

 

The surgeon insisted I could not go home until I sufficiently proved that my bladder was working. Evidently, bladders go into deep sleep when under anesthesia and they take longer than a teen-ager in a growth spurt to wake up. Yep, I was being held hostage by, of all things, my bladder. Not my cardiovascular system or my nervous system; but my bladder.  

I don’t think about my bladder much. In fact, I typically take it for granted that it’ll always work fine. But now all the sudden my whole world was zeroed in on my bladder waking up so I could finally go home.   

As mentioned last week, this got me thinking about 1 Corinthians 12:23-24:

And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty; but our presentable parts have no need. But God composed the body, having greater honor to the part which lacks it. (NKJV)

Yes, I realize the Apostle Paul is speaking metaphorically about us, the church, being the Body of Christ. He’s teaching that we ought not to laud too highly those gifts that are seen while minimizing or even criticizing those gifts that work unseen or behind the scenes. The teacher in the pulpit is no more important to the Body of Christ than the janitor or parking attendant. All parts of a healthy body work in harmony together to properly worship God and to serve humanity. When something in the Body is out of whack, things don’t run as smoothly.

Same with the physical body. I could not leave to the comfort of my own home while my bladder was out of whack, so I had plenty of time to think. Where do I take others for granted? Or where do I minimize certain functions or roles that are different than my functions or roles? Sadly, I discovered that, yes, I did do my fair share of minimizing. I won’t reveal where but I will state that God used my bladder battle to wake me up to a larger weakness in my own character. I am confident that with this greater awareness steeped in the work of the indwelling Holy Spirit this weakness will be corrected in time.

Oh, and, thankfully, my bladder did eventually start working and my father-in-law was able to take me home at about 3:30 PM. But did I mention that the bowels also go to sleep?  

There Once was a Nice Couple from the Burbs

Bride and Groom lived in the suburbs. She was a happy medical biller and he a content bureaucrat. Then one day while in the shower, Groom noticed a lump where there shouldn’t be a lump.
“Hmm,” thought Groom, “wonder what that is.” He pushed in on it. It was squishy. “Eww,” he said. “Well, maybe it will go away,” he thought happily.
As time went on, not only did the lump not go away, it got bigger and started to hurt. “I’ll ask Siri what this is,” he said to himself. The ever-subservient Siri complied with a host of possibilities. Some were disturbing; Groom ignored those. Instead, he thought that a hernia was the likely culprit; an inguinal hernia to be exact. In fact, the lumpiness looked like it could be two hernias, “Oh, yippee,” he thought. “Better go see my doctor.”
After dropping his drawers and being poked and prodded by the doctor, she looked him in the eye.
“Yep, it’s a hernia. Looks like two in fact. You’ll need surgery.”
Groom gasped! “Surgery,” he exclaimed. “Don’t these things heal themselves?”
Looking at him pitifully, she delicately said “no. You have a hole in your abdominal wall and your intestines are sticking out.”
“Eww,” thought Groom. “Is that the squishy bit?”
“Yep. It needs to be stuffed back in and the hole needs to be closed. Your body can’t do that. But a surgeon can. I’ll get you a referral.”
“Oh, yippee.”
After a few more visits with the surgeon, some painful tests, more drawer dropping and poking and prodding; the fateful day was set. A double inguinal hernia repair was on its way. It would be done by laparoscopy through three small incisions in the abdomen.
Meanwhile, Bride was having to pick up some of the household chores Groom could not do because of pain and possible further injury. The evening before Groom’s surgery, Bride was dutifully rolling the packed-full garbage bin to the curb. She was contemplating the logistics of the next morning when she tripped; rolling over the outside of her left foot she fell down. Just at that time, a neighbor was walking by, but she politely looked the other way and acted like nothing happened. Bride then had to hobble to the curb then half hobble, half lurch back into the house.
“Oh no,” exclaimed Groom, sitting up with a yelp. “What happened?”
Bride explained the whole thing to him, he felt terrible; it was all his fault. He then sprang into action getting ice and ibuprofen.
“Probably just popped a ligament,” he said unreassuringly.
Well, in the fullness of time, both Bride and Groom drove to the hospital in the wee earlyHospital check in morning hours so Groom could check in with the surgery folks and get his groins repaired. After dropping Groom off, Bride, with tears of pain in her eyes, drove the short distance to the hospital’s Emergency Room. And wouldn’t you know it, that as Groom was being prepped for surgery, Bride was being diagnosed with a broken foot. Now both Bride and Groom could be laid up together at the same time; hopefully Youngest Son would be able to step up and do more household chores than usual.
Broken foot.pngThankfully, Bride’s family came to aid of Bride and Groom. Shuttling their injured cargo home, picking up prescriptions and doing some heavy lifting, quite literally, around the house for Bride and Groom they then rode off into the sunset.
Now Bride and Groom are quite a pair. One on crutches hardly able to walk, and the other with three holes in his abdomen looking a bit like the Michelin Man. He can walk, albeit painfully, but he can’t lift or twist. But together, persevering in love, and with a lot of help from Youngest Son, they are making it through; at least they’ve made it through three days, they only 45 more to go.

You Figured it Out

If you’ve read this far, you’ve probably figured out this about Janey and I. Needless to say, we’ve had a rough week, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to get any easier. However, I can’t even imagine being in this sort of condition and being in the path of hurricane Harvey. Even as I lament with a little tongue-in-cheek about our situation, I pray for the victims in Texas; God be with them.
We are definitely tempted to ask God why this happening to us? But as MercyMe states in the song The Hurt and the Healer, “healing doesn’t come from asking why.” Instead, we are asking what are we to learn from this. We are both beginning to discern the lessons we’re to learn. I won’t reveal her lessons, but mine are in the areas of resting, slowness, and taking a lesson from 1 Corinthians 12:23 about learning to “bestow greater honor” to the things I’m tempted to regard as “less honorable.”
I’ll be exploring these in a little more detail as I stay home from work for a few days on medical leave. I’ll tease it by stating that it’s funny how we can learn lessons from major body systems that shut down and wake up slowly after having a couple of hours of general anesthesia and pain meds. No, I’m not talking about the cardiovascular or neurological systems; I’m talking about systems that we may be tempted to think are “less honorable.” Stay tuned, I’m hoping it’ll be a fun discussion!

 

Still Dreaming

 

Inn sunset 2017

Inn at Spanish Head sunset (Oregon Coast).

Spending a week on the Oregon Coast is a great time to unpack my dreams and aspirations. I take them out, letting them soak in the sun’s rays while they reflect back to me periodic glints, like the winking of God’s eye. Holding each one gently, I brush away the dust of passing years and daily survival.

 

I then examine each one closely, looking for cracks and fading. Some are so old and faded that they are fragile and brittle; ready to break apart in my hands. These are the ones that have been with me since childhood or early adulthood; still unrealized, but also still beating with a little life, as fleeting as it may be.

Some dreams are newer and some are more practical. For instance, I still dream of writing the great American novel, but realistically I write more about theology, daily living and urban adventure riding; not great fodder for penning The Grapes of Wrath or East of Eden. Other dreams are almost defeatist being more fraught with worry than dreaming.

This last category I desire to leave behind me, but they always somehow find their way back into my suitcase of dreams. The others, however, I still hold onto. If they’re God-inspired than actual realization may come in my lifetime. Ones that aren’t God-inspired are probably more ego-driven; these I hope turn brittle and become dust in the wind.

Still a Dreamer…

But the point is I’m still a dreamer. Dreams keep me looking toward and striving after the horizon. They help to inspire me to try new things, like seeking a Doctorate degree even in my fifties. They help me step into the unknown, to truly take those steps of faith, not knowing where they’ll lead.

Sure I’d “like to dance across the mountains on the moon,” but more realistically and closer to my heart I want to teach sound theology to willing students and congregants. I want to commute more places on my bike. I want to juice more. And I want my spine to stop hurting.

So as the clock of time ticks on, I’m slowly being faced with deciding which dreams are worth hanging onto and which are not. Yes, I stopped dreaming of being a rock star in my twenties when I realized my talent didn’t even rise to sitting-around-the-campfire level much less selling out stadiums; but I still dream of being able to play guitar well enough to sing worship songs without embarrassing myself or my family. I have other dreams to, of course, some much loftier and some much simpler.

But what kills dreaming is fear. So, as I slog through life I pray for help vanquishing the fear. The fear of failure which paralyzes me from even trying; fear of looking foolish when I do try; and fear of pursuing the wrong thing. Wisdom is good, but fear is not.

Dream on

I guess for me dreaming is okay provided I don’t get lost in them and stop living in the present. But how many dreamers are there in this life? I know few; at least few have ever shared their dreams with me.

But to all of us dreamers out there I say: pray on; and, of course, dream on!

 

Revelation Meets the Great Commission, Part 1

I had the opportunity to preach yesterday (the link is here if you’re curious). Such opportunities are always exciting for me but come with a dose of nerves as well! But no such opportunity would exist except by the grace of God and the freedoms we enjoy in this country which inspires a hearty ‘thank you’ to Veteran’s that have served, are serving and will serve our country.

Revelation 21:1-7 speaks to a wonderful future for those saved in Christ.

‘And God will wipe away every tear; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, no crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away. … Behold I make all things new!”

—Verses 3-5

This section of Revelation contains strong aspects of celebration and of destiny. And even though the Book of Revelation belongs to the genres of the prophetic and the apocalyptic, I believe there’s also a sub-text, or an undercurrent, to this section of Scripture. That sub-text is the sense of invitation. This a great party, who are we going to invite to come to it? And how do we invite them?

Recall that Jesus said, “freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8b). What we have freely received is the gift of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ (see Romans 10:9-10). We can’t earn it, or buy it, or barter for it; it is freely given to us through faith because of the accomplished works of Jesus Christ on the cross.

Your'r invitedThis invitational aspect brings two questions to mind. Today, Part 1 will look at the first question, and Part 2 in my next post will look at the second question.

Question 1: “what is the first area in our lives to advance the Kingdom in?” The answer is in the question: the first area is in our lives, in the interior of our souls, the very depths of our being. Another way to phrase this question is asking if the Holy Spirit can move freely in our lives. If not, where are the barriers blocking the Holy Spirit’s movement, how and where are we quenching the Holy Spirit? And why are we quenching His movement?

Question 1, then, is asking us to honestly examine ourselves. But to what standard are we examining ourselves against? The answer is in Galatians.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering [patience], kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.

—Galatians 5:22-23

Granted, we are all works in progress, so it is highly unlikely that we will see all the fruit of the Spirit working in our lives all the time. But we can explore to discover if certain fruit is missing altogether or “ripens” only rarely in our lives. The Holy Spirit will even guide us in this exploration.

Cultivation

A helpful key in this exploration of building the Kingdom in our lives is intentionally cultivating our relationship with God. Any meaningful relationship, whether with a spouse, or a child, or a friend, takes investment, it takes cultivation. Our relationship with God is no different.

One idea to assist in this cultivation is prayer. But maybe more prayer isn’t the answer as opposed to a new approach to prayer. For instance, if we are “laundry-list” pray-ers, that is we foist a list of requests up to God then move on with our day, we can instead shift our approach to a posture of more being with God in silence. Lists are fine, but there’s more to prayer than just that. We need to learn to listen and to be still before God.

Another idea is Scripture reading. Most of us think we need to read more Scripture daily; and maybe some folks do need this. But I think that sometimes a reading regimen places undo stress into our lives or orients us more toward checking off a to-do box on our daily tasks rather than actually absorbing what we are reading. Another approach for consideration is reading less Scripture daily and thinking about It more. Take small sections but think more deeply about them; meditate over them; perhaps even journal about them.

There are several other ideas as well; these two are merely to get our thinking started.

The Point…

The bottom line, though, is the Holy Spirit is attractive and enables us to be invitational people. But without the evidence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we are working in our own power and are not in sync with what God is wanting in our lives or the lives of the people around us.

Question 2: what is the second area in our lives to advance the Kingdom in? We’ll explore this question in the next post.   

Lessons from a Fourth Grader

Just last week I was one of several parent chaperones on an over-night field trip to the Oregon 4th_grd_3Coast for third and fourth graders. I was also invited to share the devotional after dinner and before s’mores. I chose to teach Psalm 139:13-16. Verse 16 reads:

Your eyes saw my substance; being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them.

According to my research, the phrase “my substance” refers to an embryo; and “in Your book” connotes the idea that the life in the embryo is established, or purposed, by God. Therefore, I shared with the children that each life is intentionally purposed by God. And since each one of them was purposed by God while still unborn, they, each one of them, is significantly important to God.

How important? Important enough that when God came in the flesh in Jesus Christ, He sacrificed for them. But not only that, He then rose from the grave and ascended on high. And it doesn’t even stop there; ten days later He sent the Holy Spirit that all who place their faith in Jesus will receive salvation, being indwelt by the Holy Spirit and thereby guaranteeing them to be with Jesus for evermore, amen!

So, the main theme I wanted them to understand is that they are purposed by God and therefore vastly important to Him. No matter what anyone ever says about them or to them, they are a daughter or son of the Most High God and loved dearly by Him.

After teaching this I asked them how they felt about being so important to God. Many hands went up with many different and wonderful answers. But one little girl’s answer arrested my attention so much that I just stood looking at her.

“How do you feel about being so important to God,” I asked.

“Speechless.”  

I was left speechless; so was everyone else. What an apt description from someone so young.

I get so busy trying to understand what I can of God and then preparing to explain it so others can share in that understanding, that I often forget just how awesome God really is. What wonder God presents to us. What wonder His creation presents to us. And what wonder our very bodies present to us.

Speechless.

Perhaps speechlessness is the essence of worship. We are in such awe of God we can’t even find words.  Speechless, or silence, may be one of the main postures to assume as we desperately desire to hear from God. Could it be that our hearts are more open to God and His work in our lives if we are in a speechless state; when we are quiet and in a posture of reverent awe? Such a posture quiets our minds, preparing our souls for God to do His deepest work in the darkest parts of our souls.

Yes, fourth graders have a lot to teach us if we just listen to what they have to say. I’m speechless!

More Thoughts: The Bodily Resurrection

Fleming Rutledge states that, “The preaching of the cross is an announcement of a living reality that continues to transform human existence and human destiny more than two thousand years after it originally occurred”[1]. I completely agree because the cross leads to the resurrection.

Sadly, however, it seems that large segments of Christianity do not.

Recently, I heard a startling statistic that over 40% of professing Christians in a prominent European country did not believe the resurrection of Jesus Christ actually happened. How can this be? Are churches actually teaching this to their congregants? If so, I find this highly disturbing and theologically irresponsible.

If the resurrection did not happen, then why did Jesus ask Mary of Magdalene not to cling to Him; after all, you can’t cling to a thought or a spirit, but you can cling to a physical body (cf. John 20:17). Or what about the record of Jesus inviting Thomas the twin to touch the nail prints in His hands and to put his hand into the gash in His side so that seeing and touching he could believe (cf. John 20:27). And finally, what about His expression of “Peace to you” followed by His patient response to the disciples’ fear of Him by saying:

“Why are you troubled? And why do doubts arise in your hearts? Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have” (Luke 24:36-39, emphasis mine).

The resurrection did happen and it was a physical resurrection. Jesus was bodily raised from the dead; He even testified to it Himself.

Another thought for consideration is the Holy Spirit’s inspiration in the Apostle Paul regarding salvation found in Romans 10:9:

“That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”

The word ‘Him’ is the Greek word αύτόϛ (autos) and it means: him.  We would use this word something like this: “Go ask him.” Most likely, when we say that, we’re pointing to: him. We’re not pointing to an ideal or a thought or a spirit; we’re pointing to a human being, a human being in their totality, their total being. Thus, when Jesus was raised from the dead, it was the totality of Jesus; not an essence of Jesus or some ethereal vapor of Jesus, it was the total Jesus, body and all. So, Paul’s statement takes on salvific significance because he is indicating a faith in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. He’s not saying believe in an idea about resurrection; he is testifying to the totality of Jesus being resurrected. That is, he is testifying to the physical reality of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.

So as we approach resurrection Sunday, let’s do so with complete confidence that when we trade traditional expressions of “He is risen,” followed by “He is risen indeed;” we are talking about the totality of Jesus—He is completely raised from the dead in complete victory over death, the satanic realm and even over false teachers of flimsy theology.

The resurrection is also the intersection of history; without the resurrection, there is no salvation; but with the resurrection, lives are not only saved from eternal death, but are being transformed into the likeness of Christ even now (Romans 6:5, Ephesians 4:22-24 and Colossians 2:9).

[1] The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2015, Kindle location 213. I highly recommend this book. It is very readable yet highly profound.

Thoughts on Holy Week

“It is finished,” said the broken, bruised and battered man; struggling to lift his bloodied body holyweekfor quick gasps of air. Then He died. The horrible result of Roman crucifixion had claimed another victim. But this was no ordinary victim; this was “Immanuel, God with us” (Matthew 1:23). This, of course, was (and still is) Jesus, “the author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2).

He had entered Jerusalem with celebration, the laying down of palm branches and the shouts of “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” (John 12:13). Not even a week later, the same people were crying out, “Away with Him! Crucify Him” (John 19:15).  

Fickle lot, we humans.

Hopefully you know the story, but even if you don’t, after three days and nights in the tomb, Jesus, much to the astonishment of not just humanity but the satanic realm as well, rose from the dead. Yes, I believe whole-heartedly in the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s not some sick, psychological fantasy to appease grieving souls; the body was not stolen; nor is it some figure of speech. Jesus was tortured, crucified, buried three days and three nights, and, yes, rose from the dead. This same Jesus, God in the flesh, that entered humanity as an unborn baby in the womb of a young virgin allowed Himself to be mercilessly treated, even to point of death on a cross (Philippians 2:8).

But why?

Simply stated, because of the sin of humanity and the abject rebellion of humanity against God. Only a perfect atoning sacrifice would suffice. Nothing is more perfect than God. Therefore, God entered humanity in an astonishing way and exited His earthly life in an equally astonishing way: by being executed by the humanity He came to save.

Easter Sunday, perhaps more accurately referred to as Resurrection Sunday, is the acknowledgement of this miraculous resurrection event. The world of darkness celebrated the death of Jesus because it felt that this salvation business expressed by Jesus in the famous John 3:16 (and other places as well, of course) was now laid to rest. As the old adage goes, “Dead men tell no tales.” Salvation and hope was now a tale silenced in the dank and dark coldness of a sealed tomb; a sealed tomb under guard by Roman soldiers no less.

But brutal beatings resulting in death, sealed tombs, dank darkness and several feet of solid bedrock could not keep Jesus in the grave. At the right time, He broke loose from the shackles of death. At this very moment, Jesus showed His power over even death. Weather, physical laws and demonic strongholds could not withstand Jesus (Mark chapters 4-6), and now even death was firmly trampled under His feet. He had conquered the grave, proving that even all of hell couldn’t stop Him. He is, was, and will forever be King of kings and Lord of lords, the Captain of our salvation (Revelation 17:14 & Hebrews 2:10.

Eternity Awaits!

And we can partake of His eternal victory by simply expressing faith in Jesus by confessing with our mouth the Lord Jesus and believing in our hearts that God raised Him from the dead, then we will be saved (Romans 10:9)! This isn’t just good news, it is great news with eternal results. If you haven’t confessed Jesus yet, I invite you to do so and become a part of His kingdom both now and forever more. If you have confessed Jesus, how will you approach this time known as Holy Week? I ask, because I’m asking myself the same thing: what will I do to draw even closer to Jesus? What will I do to better understand the significance of His sacrifice on my behalf, a broken and sinful man?

I’m not sure yet, but I have some ideas. But what I do know now, is that when I think deeply about Jesus Christ’s sacrifice for me, I tear up and become speechless. Maybe you do to.

“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.