Emotions and Growth in Grace

Unstuck incons3.jpg

Step 3, Part 2: Understanding and Managing Emotions

What is the role of emotions in the Christian life? What are you to make of your emotional world? Is the Christian life a life of emotions or should we avoid them? Before we answer these very important questions, we must start with a more basic question; "What are Emotions?"

In his groundbreaking book, Emotional Intelligence: Why it Can Matter More than IQ (1995), Daniel Goleman defines emotions this way:

All emotions are, in essence, impulses to act, the instant plans for handling life that evolution has instilled in us. The very root of the word emotion is motere, the Latin verb “to move,” plus the prefix “e-” to connote “move away,” suggesting that a tendency to act is implicit in every emotion (p.6)

A word about what I refer to under the rubric emotion, a term whose precise meaning psychologists and philosophers have quibbled over for more than a century. In its most literal sense, The Oxford English Dictionary defines emotion as “any agitation or disturbance of mind, feeling, passion: any vehement or excited mental state.” I take emotion to refer to a feeling and its distinctive thoughts, psychological and biological states, and range of propensities to act. There are hundreds of emotions, along with their blends, variations, mutations, and nuances. Indeed, there are many more subtleties of emotion than we have words for (p.289).

In other words, emotions are what propel us into action. They are a vital part of what it means to be human. Without emotion, we would cease to act. While Goleman says that the nuances of emotions are endless, there are a variety of "families" of emotions that we are able to identify. Here are 10:

1. Anger: fury, outrage, resentment, wrath, exasperation, indignation, vexation, acrimony, animosity, annoyance, irritability, hostility, and, perhaps at the extreme, pathological hatred and violence.

2. Sadness: grief, sorrow, cheerlessness, gloom, melancholy, self-pity, loneliness, dejection, despair, and, when pathological, severe depression.

3. Fear: anxiety, apprehension, nervousness, concern, consternation, misgiving, wariness, qualm, edginess, dread, fright, terror (phobia and panic).

4. Enjoyment: happiness, joy, relief, contentment, bliss, delight, amusement, pride, sensual pleasure, thrill, rapture, gratification, satisfaction, euphoria, whimsy, ecstasy (mania).

5. Love: acceptance, friendliness, trust, kindness, affinity, devotion, adoration, infatuation, agape.

6. Surprise: shock, astonishment, amazement, wonder.

7. Disgust: contempt, disdain, scorn, abhorrence, aversion, distaste, revulsion.

8. Shame: guilt, embarrassment, chagrin, remorse, humiliation, regret, mortification, and contrition.

9. Inadequacy: helpless, inferior, powerless, incompetent, useless, inept, mediocre.

10. Confusion: distracted, rattled, baffled, bewildered, mystified, flustered, perplexed, jarred, puzzled, jolted.

According to research, you have to be able to identify and name emotions when you experience them. As you do this, you are more able to manage your emotions and empathize with others.

Emotions and Your Brain

Three level brain.gif

Emotions are formed in the limbic region of the brain. This is the mid-region. Decision-making happens in the neocortex. The goal is to regulate one’s emotions so that the limbic region can work in tandem with the neocortex. When this happens, one is exercising what is often referred to as “wise mind.”

The challenge for anyone is the fact that you are feeling before you are thinking. Because of that, we are very susceptible to an “emotional high-jacking.” If you don’t know what that is, just take a moment to remember the last time you did or said something and later asked, “Why did I do that?” The goal, therefore, is to slow down and become more mindful of your emotions so that you can manage them well.

Scripture is a book that is very much at home with emotions. The Psalms are the most obvious place to look for them. You will see most if not all of the 10 listed above. All of them can be expressed in helpful and wise ways or unhelpful and unwise ways. They can be expressed in such a way that builds others up or tears someone down. The challenge is managing them wisely. Notice how the Psalmist expresses a negative emotion like sadness and loneliness in Psalm 88:18,

You have taken from me friend and neighbor—-darkness is my closest friend.

Immediately after that Psalm ends, Psalm 89:1 begins with a positive emotion of joy,

I will sing of the Lord’s great love forever; with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known through all generations.

What a profound shift from negative to positive and both are expressed in wise, helpful and godly ways. The Christian life is not a life of rational stoicism nor is it one where we are simply led by our emotions. God has made us with a brain that does both. And we see this in our very human Savior, Jesus. He was acquainted with deep anguish and grief throughout his short life. He was also one to celebrate and enjoy a party as is seen at the wedding in Cana (John 2).

How are you doing with identifying emotions in your life? Perhaps you could be more mindful of them as you go throughout your day. As you do, take moments to record your emotions and identify them as carefully as possible. This is a very important aspect of growing in wisdom and grace.

For more on the role of emotions in the Christian life, purchase the 5 session video workshop as an online course by following this link: ONLINE COURSES

Comment

Tim Lane

Dr. Timothy S. Lane is the President of the Institute for Pastoral Care and has a counseling practice in Fayetteville, GA. He is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), having been ordained in 1991 and a member of Metro-Atlanta Presbytery. Tim has authored Living Without Worry: How to Replace Anxiety with Peace, and co-authored How People Change and Relationships: A Mess Worth Making. He has written several mini-books including PTSD, Forgiving Others, Sex Before Marriage, Family Feuds, Conflict, and Freedom From Guilt.

He has experience in both campus ministry (University of Georgia, 1984-1987) and pastoral ministry where he served as a pastor in Clemson, SC from 1991 until 2001. Beginning in 2001 until 2013, he served as a counselor and faculty at a counseling organization  in Philadelphia, PA. Beginning in 2007, he served as its Executive Director until 2013.

In 2014, Tim and his family re-located to his home state, Georgia, where he formed the non profit ministry the Institute for Pastoral Care. His primary desire and commitment is to help pastors and leaders create or improve their ability to care for the people who attend their churches. For more information about this aspect of Tim's work, please visit the section of this site for the Institute for Pastoral Care. He continues to write, speak and travel both nationally and internationally. Tim is adjunct professor of practical theology at several seminaries where he teaches about pastoral care in the local church.

That Wonderful/Horrible Word

“Change”…...Go ahead, say that word out loud. What is the first thought and emotion that you experience when you see and say the word “change”?

  • Gratitude?

  • Fear?

  • Excitement?

  • Guilt?

  • Sadness?

  • Inadequacy?

  • Happiness?

  • Anger?

In most of my counseling experience, the “change” word conjures up feelings of guilt. The person has failed and they need to change. For others, it conjures up feelings of shame. They are flawed. There is something wrong with “me”.

Unfortunately, that very common experience of guilt and shame is hard to shake. It can be rather debilitating for some.

In my book, Unstuck: A Nine Step Journey to Change that Lasts, Step 1 (Get Grounded: In Christ) is critical to avoid steering into either the guilt or shame ditch. If you don’t feel safe admitting you need to change, you won’t come out of hiding and face areas in your life that need work. Instead, you will deny the problem, blame others, or minimize it.

unstuck diagrams9.jpg

Step 2: Scavenger Hunt

What is also true, though, is when someone takes a look at their lives with a view towards change, it has likely been provoked by some failure. I need/ought to be more patient with my children because I have been irritable lately. I need/ought to be more careful about my screen time because I gave in to the temptation to buy something I didn’t need or I veered off into that pornographic website. Change can focus all of your attention on your failures.

That is why you have to go on a scavenger hunt in your life for evidence of God’s gracious work. It’s there, but you have become nearsighted to only see the bad. Let me give you an example of an experience I had counseling a couple.

What They Saw

  • We are constantly fighting about nothing

  • We are not being a good example to our children

  • We are not working as a team

  • We are repeating our parents’ mistakes

  • We are moving further apart and we fear separation and divorce

  • There is no way God loves us in light of all of these things

What I Saw

  • They were seeking help by coming to me

  • They were genuine Christians who cared about letting their professed faith make a difference in their lives

  • They both sincerely cared for each other

  • When they told me how they met, it was with deep joy

  • They were involved in their church and connected with a small group where they met regularly

  • They had been married for almost 20 years

  • Their children were professing Christians who loved their parents

  • I was able to remind them of God’s consistent love for those who belong to Him through Jesus

Those two lists could not be more different. I had the opportunity to help them see where God was presently at work in their marriage because they could not. I went on a scavenger hunt for evidence of God’s work in their lives. That shift in gaze made all the difference in the world.

The apostle Paul captures this same positive sentiment in Philippians 1:6 when he says, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Seeing his ongoing work in your life and in others is critical to the change process.

Has this step been missing in your life? How can you be more mindful of his work in your life this week? Perhaps you can find opportunities to encourage someone by helping them see evidences of God’s Spirit in their lives.

Comment

Tim Lane

Dr. Timothy S. Lane is the President of the Institute for Pastoral Care and has a counseling practice in Fayetteville, GA. He is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), having been ordained in 1991 and a member of Metro-Atlanta Presbytery. Tim has authored Living Without Worry: How to Replace Anxiety with Peace, and co-authored How People Change and Relationships: A Mess Worth Making. He has written several mini-books including PTSD, Forgiving Others, Sex Before Marriage, Family Feuds, Conflict, and Freedom From Guilt.

He has experience in both campus ministry (University of Georgia, 1984-1987) and pastoral ministry where he served as a pastor in Clemson, SC from 1991 until 2001. Beginning in 2001 until 2013, he served as a counselor and faculty at a counseling organization  in Philadelphia, PA. Beginning in 2007, he served as its Executive Director until 2013.

In 2014, Tim and his family re-located to his home state, Georgia, where he formed the non profit ministry the Institute for Pastoral Care. His primary desire and commitment is to help pastors and leaders create or improve their ability to care for the people who attend their churches. For more information about this aspect of Tim's work, please visit the section of this site for the Institute for Pastoral Care. He continues to write, speak and travel both nationally and internationally. Tim is adjunct professor of practical theology at several seminaries where he teaches about pastoral care in the local church.

How to Grow in Grace: Step Two

Grace finds goodness in everything
Grace finds beauty in everything
Grace makes beauty out of ugly things
“Grace” – U2

In our previous post, we said that step one in the process of growth in grace is fixing our eyes on Jesus. If we are going to even begin the process of self-examination, it must begin by looking outward. If you consider other methods of change, they typically begin by looking at yourself.  Not so with the Christian story. A Christian vision of change begins with a gaze outward and away from oneself. Consider these words from the writer of Hebrews 12:1-4:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. 4 In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.

If step one begins with gazing outward, what is step two?

Step Two: Look for Evidence of the Spirit’s Work in Your Life

If being overwhelmed with guilt and shame and failing to see Christ is a natural tendency when facing struggles, another tendency looms prominently on the horizon. That tendency is a failure to see clear evidence of the Spirit’s work in your life. We are more prone to focus on faults and failures, not Spirit-wrought perseverance and good fruit.

In all of my years of personal growth and working with others, if someone is not blame shifting and avoiding guilt, they are wallowing in all the bad things they have thought, said or done. This is never more apparent than when a couple comes to me for counseling. As they tell the story of their marriage, the narrative is often filled with the negative things in their marriage. They focus on what John Gottman calls “the four horsemen of the apocalypse,” which are criticism, defensiveness, contempt and stonewalling. Certainly those things are evident, but what is also evident is their desire to grow and improve their marriage. This is not what they see, but it is precisely what I see. The very fact that they have sought help is a mark of the Spirit ablaze in their lives!

Once again, look how Scripture changes your gaze. In Philippians 1:3-6 Paul says,

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

He says this in 2 Corinthians 5:17;

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!

While Paul is able to acknowledge the reality of remaining sin, he does not let that eclipse the powerfully optimistic way that the Spirit is on the move in your life now that you belong to Christ. There will be plenty of time to address the ongoing battle, but for now, we want to establish the fact that we are in the fight! While it may not be easy, the fact that you are fighting is evidence that you are spiritually alive; alive to the Spirit and dead to the things that once held you in abject slavery and powerlessness.

Consider two more examples from the ministry of Jesus and Paul.

In one of the most well known verses of Scripture, Jesus says this;

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

Most people can recite verse 16, but not verse 17. Verse 17 gives you an indication of Jesus’ mission. He came to save us from condemnation, not focus on the things that condemn us.

In I Corinthians 1:2-9, the Apostle Paul writes this to a congregation that is torn apart by division, incest, pride, lacking love, along with a host of other problems:

2 To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours: 3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 4 I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. 5 For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge— 6 God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. 7 Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. 8 He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

He does go on to address the deep problems in the church, but notice where he begins! This is a typical pattern in Paul’s letters to the churches.

Application

Within this context, look for evidence of the Spirit's work in your life, and let that move you in the direction of gratitude. Be utterly ruthless about this. Take note of everything that gives evidence of God's presence in your life! Everything! If you are married and you are still desiring a good marriage and seeking good counsel, that is a mark of the Spirit. If you have struggled with the same old temptation and are still in the fight, that is a mark of the Spirit. If you have been struggling with depression for years but you still stay connected to the body of Christ and you occasionally think about reading your Bible or praying, that is evidence of the Spirit. These are confirmations that you belong to God and his Spirit is working in you. Never despise the simple signs of his presence in your life. I use the word “never” not to shame you but to encourage you!

Be practical. Get out a piece of paper and start pondering every evidence of God’s work in your life. Don’t stop until you can list 25 things.

Why are these first two steps so important? Because they get you looking in a better direction. It is easy to let your circumstances and your failures weigh you down, turn you inward and feel defeated. These first two steps move in a very different direction and provide a solid foundation for you to take the next steps.

Copyright © 2017 Timothy S. Lane

How to Grow in Grace

Over the coming weeks, I will continue to add "steps" that are practical ways of thinking about the process of growth in grace. If you want to be alerted each time the next post goes live, you can sign up to receive e-news here:

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required
Email Format
3 Comments

Tim Lane

Dr. Timothy S. Lane is the President of the Institute for Pastoral Care and has a counseling practice in Fayetteville, GA. He is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), having been ordained in 1991 and a member of Metro-Atlanta Presbytery. Tim has authored Living Without Worry: How to Replace Anxiety with Peace, and co-authored How People Change and Relationships: A Mess Worth Making. He has written several mini-books including PTSD, Forgiving Others, Sex Before Marriage, Family Feuds, Conflict, and Freedom From Guilt.

He has experience in both campus ministry (University of Georgia, 1984-1987) and pastoral ministry where he served as a pastor in Clemson, SC from 1991 until 2001. Beginning in 2001 until 2013, he served as a counselor and faculty at a counseling organization  in Philadelphia, PA. Beginning in 2007, he served as its Executive Director until 2013.

In 2014, Tim and his family re-located to his home state, Georgia, where he formed the non profit ministry the Institute for Pastoral Care. His primary desire and commitment is to help pastors and leaders create or improve their ability to care for the people who attend their churches. For more information about this aspect of Tim's work, please visit the section of this site for the Institute for Pastoral Care. He continues to write, speak and travel both nationally and internationally. Tim is adjunct professor of practical theology at several seminaries where he teaches about pastoral care in the local church.

How to Grow in Grace: Step One

As I walk’d through the wilderness of this world, I lighted on a certain place where was a Den, and I laid me down in that place to sleep; and as I slept, I dreamed a Dream. –John Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress

This is how John Bunyan begins his classic allegory, Pilgrim’s Progress. He illustrates what it looks like to become and grow as a Christian. The allegory is carried along the path of a journey. In that journey, there are many twists and turns. Many setbacks but ultimate progress. It is fundamentally a journey of grace, yet not without confusion.

In the book, How People Change, I say, “Nothing is more obvious than the need for change. Nothing is less obvious than what needs to change and how that change happens (p. 17).” Can you identify with that sentiment? Sometimes change can feel so elusive.

For example, Dan has struggled with the same temptation for years. He has tried countless times to change but to no avail. He doesn’t even know where to begin. Nancy struggles with debilitating anxiety and depression. She, too, has tried so many different things to change but nothing seems to help. At first glance, you might think that Dan and Nancy are unique, but they are not. They are normal people trying their best to navigate life and its challenges.

So how do you experience change? How do you grow in grace? How do you begin to experience renewal in an area of your life? In this series of posts, I would like to propose eight basic steps for growth in grace. This is not a simplistic technique, but an attempt to be as practical as possible. Let’s start with the first step.

Step One Along the Path: Look to Christ

Whenever you start to see areas of struggle in your life, it can immediately produce guilt and shame. The natural instinct is to deny, hide or cover up the struggle. We see this instinctive movement with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Upon their initial disobedience, they hid from God, covered themselves and shifted the blame in an effort to avoid facing their guilt and shame.

Given this natural instinct to hide, cover and blame-shift, it is so important to begin the change process in a place of confidence and safety. I believe this is the pattern of Scripture. Whenever the biblical writers are addressing disobedience or calling believers to further obedience, they almost always start with emphasizing God’s covenant love and faithfulness to his people. When there are exceptions, the writers warn their readers first and then remind them of God’s steadfast compassion. This is the structure of the 10 commandments. Before God gives the people of Israel his commands, he begins with these words:

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery (Exodus 20:2, Deuteronomy 5:6).

This pattern is repeated all throughout Scripture. The commands of God are grounded in the grace of God. Paul does the same thing in Philippians 2:1-4:

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Notice the pattern. Before he calls them to obedience in verse 2, he grounds them in their relationship with God in Christ. It is then that he says “then.” The same pattern can be see in Colossians 3:12:

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

Before Paul tells them what they are to do, he tells them who they are: chosen, holy and dearly loved! The final passage that is worth noting is Titus 2:11-14:

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to all ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope--the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

In this passage, Paul points to Jesus’ first and second coming to strengthen our hope and resolve to such a degree that we are eager to do what is right. The Gospel restrains ("say no to ungodliness") and deeply motivates us ("eager to do what is good") to grow in faith and obedience.

Application

With this Biblical backdrop in mind, locate a few passages that enable you to relate to God with confidence that you belong to him and you are secure in his gracious and loving embrace. Don’t stop there. Start talking to God and thanking him for how he has loved you with an everlasting love. Is there a particular passage that you find comfort in other than the ones I have chosen? Is there a favorite song or hymn that reminds you of his grace? A poem? A phrase? A work of art? A friend who tells you the Great News whenever you see them?

So often we listen to the voice of our conscience that whispers words of guilt, shame and condemnation. These thoughts hum in the background of our minds like white noise preventing us from hearing the clear sound of God’s voice. You must fight to replace the false narrator with the true Narrator who speaks the truth about who you are and to whom you truly belong. This is the true and living Creator and Redeemer who has revealed himself in Christ.

Copyright © 2017 Timothy S. Lane

Over the coming weeks, I will continue to add "steps" that are practical ways of thinking about the process of growth in grace. If you want to be alerted each time the next post goes live, you can sign up to receive e-news here:

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required
Email Format
Comment

Tim Lane

Dr. Timothy S. Lane is the President of the Institute for Pastoral Care and has a counseling practice in Fayetteville, GA. He is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), having been ordained in 1991 and a member of Metro-Atlanta Presbytery. Tim has authored Living Without Worry: How to Replace Anxiety with Peace, and co-authored How People Change and Relationships: A Mess Worth Making. He has written several mini-books including PTSD, Forgiving Others, Sex Before Marriage, Family Feuds, Conflict, and Freedom From Guilt.

He has experience in both campus ministry (University of Georgia, 1984-1987) and pastoral ministry where he served as a pastor in Clemson, SC from 1991 until 2001. Beginning in 2001 until 2013, he served as a counselor and faculty at a counseling organization  in Philadelphia, PA. Beginning in 2007, he served as its Executive Director until 2013.

In 2014, Tim and his family re-located to his home state, Georgia, where he formed the non profit ministry the Institute for Pastoral Care. His primary desire and commitment is to help pastors and leaders create or improve their ability to care for the people who attend their churches. For more information about this aspect of Tim's work, please visit the section of this site for the Institute for Pastoral Care. He continues to write, speak and travel both nationally and internationally. Tim is adjunct professor of practical theology at several seminaries where he teaches about pastoral care in the local church.

Is Worry A Sin?

“Is worry a sin?” This is one of the most asked questions I hear whenever I am speaking or teaching on the subject of worry and anxiety. I would like to begin my answer to that question by sharing a simple example from my own experience.

My Own Experience with Anxiety

When I completed my most recent book on worry in 2015, I was invited by the publisher to do a book tour in the UK. As I prepared for the trip, I found myself getting more anxious. In fact, the day that I was to fly from Atlanta to London, my lower back muscles contracted as I was bending over to put on my socks! I immediately knew what was happening – my low-grade anxiety about the trip was creating physiological symptoms. I was experiencing muscular tension, and one little move caused my lower back to seize up. How ironic that my preparation to travel to speak about my new book on anxiety was creating an occasion to become anxious!

Thankfully, my wife was able to get me to a doctor that day. When we arrived, the doctor said that he could help provide immediate relief but it meant giving me several shots into my lower back muscles to stop the spasms. I became even more anxious because I hate the thought and the sight of needles, even when they are going to be used on someone else! As he began his procedure he spoke very calming words. “Tim, this will not hurt much. You will only feel an initial prick of the needle. When I am finished, you will be able to move about freely.” While he was speaking these words, my wife had her hand on my shoulder and was comforting me as she knew I was in great pain and had a flight to catch in just a few hours. Her words and actions of comfort, along with the doctor’s, helped me tremendously as he gave me the shot. I did not know it at the time, but he actually gave me about 5-6 shots in about 15 seconds!

I know that this illustration may seem rather trivial, but it does illustrate my point and helps to answer the question, “Is worry a sin?” I want to address this question by highlighting 4 things:

1. The Tone of the Command

First, when Jesus, Peter and Paul admonish us to “not worry,” it is important to capture the tone of the command. None of these writers are seeking to shame or guilt us in the midst of our worry. Each speaks in ways that are comforting and encouraging. They all know very well the brokenness of this world and our personal frailty as broken human beings. Their command to not worry is captured in a context of encouragement. Listen to just two examples. First, Jesus says this in Luke 12:32:

Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the Kingdom.

The added words, “little flock,” connote tenderness, not guilt or shame. When Paul gives instruction about caring for fearful people, he says this in I Thessalonians 5:14:

Encourage the fearful.

Paul is following in the very incarnate footsteps of Jesus as he counsels us on how to help fearful, anxious people. He calls us to encourage them. Once again, there is no hint of shame or guilt in either Jesus’ or Paul’s words.

2. The Reason for the Command

Second, we can’t ignore the fact that Jesus, Peter and Paul do command us not to be afraid or anxious. There is something at stake in our tendency to worry. For Jesus, he knows that our tendency to worry strikes at the very heart of what we worship, treasure and adore. When we are worrying, it is due to the fact that we are seeking to find stability, strength and encouragement in someone or something other than him. This is no simple matter, and it grieves him that we would seek to find refuge in anything besides himself. It grieves him because he knows that he alone can truly meet us in the midst of our struggles.

His command is addressing a serious pivot away from him, but it is done in a way that calls us back to himself. The fact that he commands us is an indication that our tendency to stray is deeply problematic and destructive. That is why Jesus calls us to “seek first, his kingdom” when he calls us to move away from worry (Matthew 6:33). When we worry, we are becoming distracted in our loyalty to him alone and that can only lead to instability and fear on our part. He is never content for you to share your affection with someone or something else besides him. And he loves you too much to let you! His command is one of deep compassion for you, his child.

3. Suffering

Third, If you remember my own illustration, above, you can see that worry is often a combination of sin and suffering.

Let’s start with suffering. As I prepared for my flight and thought about the long travel, constant speaking and the unknown people and places I would be, I began to experience suffering in my body. The muscle tension was a form of suffering for which I needed wise and compassionate care. In this instance, I actually needed something to address the physiological symptoms of my anxiety right away. Often times, symptom relief is wholly appropriate and good. On many occasions, Jesus met the physical needs of those he cared for before he addressed their deeper needs. Christian compassion leads us to listen for the suffering in another person’s life. It calls us to take heed of the suffering in our own life. When we do, we are more patient, helpful and hopeful.

4. Sin

Fourth, let’s talk about sin. After the symptoms were relieved, I had to face some honest and helpful questions. “Why was I so anxious?” “What was I placing my trust in that caused me to feel so vulnerable?” “What mattered most to me that was causing me to feel fearful and worried?” In the context of being cared for by others, I was able to ask those questions and get below the surface of my anxiety and physiological symptoms.

As I thought about it, I discovered that a good bit of my anxiety was driven by my fear of what others might think of me as I presented my material on worry. Kind of ironic, huh?! I was worried about whether I would appear successful or whether I would fail. I also wondered if I had the strength to endure the rigorous speaking schedule and if I might say something stupid along the way. I found that I was also anxious about all of the details of my travel. Would I miss a train? Would I forget my notes? Would I arrive late to an event and not be as prepared as I would like?

In other words, I was revolving my life around another kingdom, not God’s. I was more enamored with my fame and less with God’s. This may sound harsh but in reality, it is! To seek my fame over God’s is a serious thing.

In Conclusion

Worry is often a combination of sin and suffering. It is important to understand what we mean by each. When you hear the word “sin,” it probably evokes images of high-handed disobedience. But sin is much more subtle than that. Sin is often a quiet, micro-moment when we shift our loyalty from God to something even good in creation. While it may be subtle, the destruction will become more apparent and visible as time goes by. That is why it can be so helpful to see it early on rather than later.

Living without worry
By Timothy Lane

So you can see where my anxiety was a subtle shift from God’s fame to mine. It happened slowly but certainly. As I worried more, I found that my shift from God’s fame to mine moved me into an experience of physically suffering. This physical suffering then increased my anxiety! The vicious spiral had begun. In the midst of seeing these dynamics, I could begin to face my anxiety, not with guilt or shame, but rather with confidence that Jesus really was with me and for me. He was tenderly calling me back to life in his kingdom and out of my own because he loved me. His command was one of compassion and wisdom. My hope and trust increased as I saw him in that way. Hopefully, as you struggle with worry, that will be true for you as well.

Do not be afraid, little flock, for you Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom (Luke 12:32)!

Previous posts in this series:

3 Comments

Tim Lane

Dr. Timothy S. Lane is the President of the Institute for Pastoral Care and has a counseling practice in Fayetteville, GA. He is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), having been ordained in 1991 and a member of Metro-Atlanta Presbytery. Tim has authored Living Without Worry: How to Replace Anxiety with Peace, and co-authored How People Change and Relationships: A Mess Worth Making. He has written several mini-books including PTSD, Forgiving Others, Sex Before Marriage, Family Feuds, Conflict, and Freedom From Guilt.

He has experience in both campus ministry (University of Georgia, 1984-1987) and pastoral ministry where he served as a pastor in Clemson, SC from 1991 until 2001. Beginning in 2001 until 2013, he served as a counselor and faculty at a counseling organization  in Philadelphia, PA. Beginning in 2007, he served as its Executive Director until 2013.

In 2014, Tim and his family re-located to his home state, Georgia, where he formed the non profit ministry the Institute for Pastoral Care. His primary desire and commitment is to help pastors and leaders create or improve their ability to care for the people who attend their churches. For more information about this aspect of Tim's work, please visit the section of this site for the Institute for Pastoral Care. He continues to write, speak and travel both nationally and internationally. Tim is adjunct professor of practical theology at several seminaries where he teaches about pastoral care in the local church.