Are You Stressed Out?

There are three major issues we all face; anger, addiction, and anxiety. We all struggle with irritation and anger. We all deal with worry and anxiety. And we all find places other than God to find comfort when life is hard. When talking about addiction, Gerald Mays, in his book Addiction and Grace, says, “To be alive is to be addicted, and to be alive and addicted is to stand in need of grace.”

I think the same can be said about stress, worry and anxiety. To be alive is to be anxious and to be alive and anxious is to stand in need of grace!

Synonyms for Anxiety

Take a moment and think of all the words that we use to describe the experience of anxiety. Here are a few:

  • Fretting
  • Discontentment
  • Obsessing
  • Stressing out
  • Feeling angst
  • Worrying
  • Fear
  • Loss of control
  • Over-concern
  • Panic
  • Restlessness
  • Insecurity

That’s just a start!

The Experience of Anxiety

What about the experience of anxiety? What words come to mind when you think about when you are worried?

  • Heavy burden on your chest or back
  • Anger
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Racing thoughts
  • Fixated
  • Feeling out of control
  • Self-focused
  • Tunnel vision
  • Sickness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Uncontrollable breathing
  • Withdrawn
  • Sleeplessness
  • Dry mouth
  • Melt-down
  • Trapped
  • Excessive emotions
  • Agitated
  • Isolated

Here is how two experts describe the experience of anxiety:

Mental and physical bodily functions find in anxiety a meeting place that is unparalleled in other aspects of human life.

– John Nehemiah

Anxiety is often exhibited through disturbances in cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, and/or musculoskeletal systems...anxiety derives from the Indo-Germanic root, ANGH, which means narrowing, constricting, and tightening feelings, usually in the chest or throat. In such cases, people might not be consciously aware of the anxiousness, although it is being expressed through stomach aches, heart palpitations, difficulties in breathing, and the like.

– Allan Horwitz, Anxiety, A Short History

If you are honest, you can identify with these descriptions.

I remember when I was a pastor, my neck would seize up about every six months. The stress of pastoral ministry was exhibiting its presence in muscle spasms. I have also experienced lower back pain and elevated blood pressure during a stressful season, as well as many other physiological signs that are a part of the experience of worry. Because of anxiety’s physiological impact, it can even threaten to shorten our lives!

Can Scripture Comfort the Anxious?

I would like to focus on two short verses as a way of introducing how Scripture begins to speak to the anxious.

Matthew 6:34

Sometimes reading this entire (6:25-34) passage can actually increase your anxiety! It doesn’t seem like Jesus is being very tender in his tone. On several occasions in this short section he commands us not to worry. Let’s focus on just one thing in the last sentence of verse 34.

Each day has enough trouble of its own.

In his brief and simple words, Jesus offers comfort. What is Jesus acknowledging in verse 34? Each day has enough trouble of its own. He is acknowledging that it makes sense to worry. We live in a very troubled world. The longer you live, the more you understand that there are no guarantees. Life is fragile. We all struggle with worry. It is not just a struggle for a small select group. Some may worry more than others, but all of us experience it.

Hebrews 2:17

For this reason, he had to be made like his brothers in every way. In order that he might become a merciful high priest…

Living without worry
By Timothy Lane

Jesus was made like us in EVERY way. Though he was without sin, he identified with our suffering and much more. Because he became a human being, he understands our struggle. He has experienced more sorrow and stress than anyone, and he promises to be empathetic towards us in our stress and anxiety.

Right Now

Take a moment right now and look over your life; your childhood, teenage years, young adulthood, marriage, family and later adulthood. Take a moment to reflect on these various seasons of your life as you meditate on these two verses. Let these verses inform how you talk to Jesus as you draw near to him and as he comforts you with his grace, power and presence.

Copyright © 2016 Timothy S. Lane

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 Making Us Sick?

Any quick search in Google or Amazon will confirm what we all already know; worry is harmful to our bodies. Here are a few physical symptoms associated with worry:

  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Muscle aches
  • Muscle tension
  • Nausea
  • Rapid breathing
  • Sweating
  • Trembling and twitching

You can almost get exhausted and anxious reading that list. All of these can be experienced to varying degrees depending on how severe your worry is. Most of you can probably identify many of these as you reflect on an anxiety-producing experience in your life.

Unfortunately, this is not the only way we are impacted by worry. If not addressed, it can have a bigger impact on your overall health. People who worry consistently are more prone to the following physical consequences:

  • Suppression of the immune system
  • Digestive disorders
  • Short-term memory loss
  • Premature coronary artery disease
  • Heart attack

In light of this, it is not surprising when we discover the original meanings of the words we use today to talk about worry and anxiety. The English word “worry” comes from the Old English word meaning “strangle.” The word “anxiety” is of Indo-Germanic origin referring to suffering from narrowing, tightening feelings in the chest or throat.

Statistics reveal that nearly 20% of people living in the United States will experience life debilitating anxiety annually. That is nearly 65 million people! In 2008, American physicians wrote more than 50 million prescriptions for anti-anxiety medications and more than 150 million prescriptions for antidepressants, many of which were used for anxiety-related conditions. It is no over-statement to say that we have a problem of epidemic proportions.

What Would Your Doctor Say?

Physicians and counselors will tell you that diet, exercise, rest and some kind of meditation is a proven help when you are struggling with anxiety. Sometimes medication, when taken wisely, can be helpful. You can use your body to fight what is actually trying to undermine it. No one can deny that. But is there another part of dealing with worry that we need? While these things are important, we also need to know how to connect to God when our worries come. We need God’s grace even if we are going to pursue exercise and diet in a way that is most helpful.

Let’s consider the most fundamental aspect that must under-gird everything else we do when taking care of our bodies.

What Would Jesus Say?

Jesus lived at a time in human history that was very unpredictable and less safe than ours. It was a world in which worry was epidemic, too. In every instance where he encouraged people not to worry, he did so with compassion because he knew first-hand what it felt like to be a human being. In Luke 12:32, he spoke these encouraging words to anxious people, Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Those simple words sum up all that Jesus said over and over again. He commands them not to worry, but his command is one of encouragement, not shame. Let’s consider these simple but profound phrases:

Do Not be Afraid

Jesus knows that worry is a serious problem. He knows it is bad for you physically, as well as spiritually, and he gets right to the point because he loves you. His commands are always for your good. Whenever you are struggling with worry, it is connected to your relationship with God. The word “worry” that Jesus uses means “a divided mind.” Within the broader context of his teaching, Jesus says that worry happens when you try to love God and something in creation at the same time. As soon as you do this, you have begun to put your hope and security in something other than God. Anything else besides God is unstable (money, a relationship, a job, education, your own moral record, obedient children, your health). Do you see why Jesus is so straightforward? He cares for you. He knows that you can’t serve two masters (Matthew 6:24).

Little Flock

At the same time that Jesus speaks strong but encouraging words, he does so with a tone that is tender in its toughness, and compassionate in its candor. Don’t let this little phrase that Jesus utters evade you. Don’t miss those two powerful words: little flock. While Jesus challenges you to not worry or fear, he speaks to you as one who belongs to him, whom he is shepherding and for whom he laid down his life. You are unimaginably dear to him and loved by him. You are one of his sheep. Be reassured—he cares for you and loves you even as you struggle with worry, even as you forget him and his care, and give in to your tendency to worry. You may be prone to wander, but you will always be part of his flock.

For Your Father Has Been Pleased to Give You the Kingdom

If the promise of Jesus’ tender care is not enough, he adds something more! Your Father is not only going to care for you now, he is in the process and will ultimately give you His kingdom. Your future is certain and you can begin to experience it even now because His kingdom has broken into your life by the presence of the Holy Spirit. He is a deposit guaranteeing that you will get it all one day. So, right now, in the ups and downs of life, the stresses and strains of the uncertain future, let the certainty of your eternal future be what you cling to.

With all of this in mind, allow the truth of God’s care for you to work its way into your daily life. We are to prioritize the kingdom by viewing everything through the lens of our faith. When you begin to live for God instead of the things of the world, you may find that your tendency to worry will lessen and your response to God and to the world, spiritually and physically, will change dramatically.

Copyright © 2015 Timothy S. Lane


This is an adapted excerpt from Tim’s latest book, Living Without Worry, which can be purchased through The Good Book Company or on Amazon.

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.

When Culture Feels Scary

When you reflect on the past month in the U.S. -- the recent SCOTUS rulings, racial tension and debates over immigration policy, to name a few -- do you find yourself pessimistic and fearful or optimistic and hopeful? Depending upon where you stand on particular issues, a wide variety of responses can be seen. For some, it may evoke celebration. For others, deep sadness. Some, anger, and for many, a great deal of fear. Yet, looking at our particular zeitgeist in comparison to what believers in the Old Testament and the New Testament faced has a way of providing helpful clarity as well as deep optimism. Yes, I said optimism! I am talking about deep biblical optimism, not pollyannish optimism.

In order to get some perspective, let’s consider one example from the life of the Apostle Paul. In Acts 18, we learn that he is near the end of his second missionary journey. He is leaving Athens and heading to Corinth. That, in and of itself, is worth considering. Paul’s time in Athens bore little fruit as far as we can tell. There was no successful church plant there that we are aware of. As Paul leaves Athens and arrives in Corinth, he says this,

I came to you with great fear and trembling (I Corinthians 2:3).

Prior to his time in Athens, Paul had experienced significant persecution for his work of spreading the gospel. The bottom line is this; Paul is struggling with fear as he faces opposition. He is a minority in the cities where he moves and preaches the gospel. He is outnumbered. People think he is crazy and narrow-minded. He is an outcast. His values are at odds with the culture he is moving and living in. Corinth, itself, was a challenging city. Not unlike many of our modern cities in the world.

It is within this context that Jesus speaks to Paul in Acts 18. Listen to what Jesus says and how it is very relevant for believers today.

9 One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. 10 For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.” 11 So Paul stayed in Corinth for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God.

The last phrase in verse 10 is a game changer as we ponder how we relate to our culture as Christians. Paul certainly hears words of encouragement that bring new strength and resolve to his efforts. Jesus promises to protect him and be with him in the midst of his work in Corinth. But Jesus goes another step. It is a positive statement that changes Paul’s perception of those he will encounter as he goes about his gospel work.

Jesus says that many of Paul’s present adversaries will be his future brothers and sisters in Christ. Not all of them will. Paul will experience ongoing persecution and rejection. That comes with the territory as we follow the King of a very different kingdom. Yet, as Paul relates to his current enemies with a tone and posture of grace, conviction, humility and tenacity, people will find hope and grace in the One whom Paul knows and proclaims.

How are we doing as a church in the 21st century within the context of our culture? Are we pessimistic or optimistic? Do we live in fear or in hope of the advancing kingdom of God; a kingdom of grace, mercy, forgiveness and joyful repentance?

What about your particular church? Do we see the cultural challenges of the day as opportunities for pastoral apologetics; a winsome and persuasive display of God’s kindness and call to a changed life?

What about you? Do your family members, co-workers and neighbors enjoy your company or hope you don’t show up due to your strongly held opinions and the way you express your convictions? Are you fearful and self-righteous?

Paul’s tone and demeanor shifted radically upon receiving Jesus’ counsel. It is the same counsel that you are receiving today. The King is on the move rescuing folks just like you and me. In fact, he wants to use folks just like you and me. We have an opportunity to be the church and represent our gracious King. This starts by building bridges and connecting with people; especially with those whom we may disagree.

Sound scary? If so, know that you have the same promises and encouragement from Jesus as Paul did as he moved to Corinth.

Copyright © 2015 Timothy S. Lane

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.