Antidote for Anxiety

When I’m frustrated and angry over some injustice, Psalm 37 is my go-to Psalm. It deals with the wicked and the unrighteous, the prosperity they enjoy in this life and the consequence of their evil doings when they have to face God. Psalm 37 reminds me that God will vindicate the righteous in due time. But as I prepared recently to preach from this Psalm, I found that–for me, anyway–the real treasure is found in the first eleven verses as David deals with an issue that most of us struggle with fairly regularly.

Anxious worry–which David refers to as “fretting”–is something I come by honestly. My mom was an anxious worrier, and her mother before her. There is much in our culture and in our world to provoke anxiety. News media focus on the negative, sensationalizing every terrorist plot, every tragedy, anything having to do with health issues, and so on. Our modern technology which promised us a more carefree life has instead enslaved us. (Just notice the anxiety you feel when you misplace your mobile device!) And all too often the doctors, hospitals, and pharmaceutical companies we trust to take care of us when we are sick have proven to be more concerned about the bottom line of their financial statements than curing our health problem.

(I could go on, but I prefer to be more of a “glass is half-full rather than half-empty” kind of woman!)

Here’s where those first eleven verses of Psalm 37 come in. King David penned this Psalm in his old age, after he’d lived long and accumulated much wisdom. The first two words are, “Fret not.” He says it twice more in the following eight verses, which should catch our attention. Now granted, he is saying this in reference to fretting over the godless who are prospering, but I think it’s applicable to most any kind of anxiety we experience.

David goes on to offer some very good, very wise advice…

  • Trust in the Lord and do good
  • Take delight in the Lord
  • Commit your way to the Lord
  • Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him
  • Refrain from anger and turn from wrath

Trust in the Lord and do good.

Only when we trust in the Lord are we truly free to do good. When I fret over my possessions or achievements, comparing myself to others and coming up wanting, I invariably struggle to do good. Instead, I become self-referenced and bogged down in a scarcity mentality, that state of mind that says we are “never enough” or that we never have enough–whether that is time, sleep, energy, material possessions, significance, recognition, or…well, you fill in the blank. Scarcity mentality essentially says that I don’t trust that God has provided what I truly need and that he will continue to do so. Doing good, then, becomes a threat to my own security, for in doing good to and for others, I run the risk of not having enough for myself.

Trusting in the Lord and doing good leaves less time and energy for fretting. We have less inclination to give in to anxious worry because we aren’t thinking about what we lack, but what we can give.

I invite you to ponder that a bit to see if there is any truth in it for you. I’ll speak to the rest of David’s advice in my next post…

 

 

Is God good?

I became a Christian in 1986. For several years, my focus was on Jesus. I read the New Testament because it was clearly about Jesus. I prayed to Jesus. Jesus was my Lord and my Savior, my Brother and my Friend. I was all about Jesus.

Nevermind that Jesus continually talked about the Father. Nevermind that Jesus prayed to the Father. Nevermind that Jesus said He only did what the Father told Him to do. Nevermind the Father. Jesus was all I needed. It only took about 20 years for me to start paying attention to the fact that Jesus was always pointing to the Father, and to decide that perhaps I should take notice and follow Jesus’ example.

During a season of upheaval in my life, I sought the help of a Christian counselor. I know it’s a tired metaphor, but I felt like a rudderless boat in a storm-tossed ocean, and Jesus was nowhere in sight. The source of my angst defied illumination until one day the counselor asked, “Do you believe that God is good?” He quickly followed that up with an admonishment not to give him the Sunday school answer! (How well he knew me by this point.) I remember clearly just sitting there in stunned silence as the tears welled up from a place deep, deep inside me. When my sobbing subsided, it was like the sun breaking through clouds after a summer storm. At long last, the turbulent sea of my soul was calm.

I really wasn’t aware that I was ignoring the Father. I didn’t struggle with the mystery of the Trinity. And I didn’t have “daddy issues” resulting from a poor relationship with my biological father. He wasn’t perfect and we had our issues from time to time, but I always knew he loved me.

So why did I distance myself from God? Perhaps because God didn’t quite live up to my expectations. I suffered a deep loss at a tender age, and I blamed God. For years I had nothing to do with God or Jesus, or any form of religion. Even when I accepted Christ as Savior, I simply put Father God on a shelf. I had Jesus, and that was enough.

I’m sure there are others who have great fellowship with Jesus while keeping God at arm’s length, unsure if he really is as good as Jesus says he is. If he is such a good God, why does he allow pain? Why does he not stop all the suffering?

I don’t pretend to have the answers to those questions. I do know that my problem was a direct result of my expectations. When I understood that he is GOD–omnipotent and almighty and beyond my manipulation…while, at the same time, loving and gentle and merciful–it was at that moment that everything changed.

I know now–beyond a shadow of doubt–that God is good. He is the definition of good! That certainty came about because someone asked me what I believed, and wouldn’t allow me to put on my church leader mask to evade giving an honest answer. It stands out as one of the best days of my life.

Since then, my experience of Father God has been totally different. Mornings are spent in quiet communion with the one who loves me, reminiscent of walks in the Garden when we were God’s beloved companions. I sense his love in the core of my being, and his wisdom and provision are what I most long for. I pray always now to the Father. Jesus–my precious Savior–is continually with me, too, the bridge to my Father’s open arms.good father

So, on the off chance that you have been ignoring Father God in favor of Jesus, let me ask you…

Do you believe that God is good?

And, please, don’t feel obliged to give the Sunday school answer.

 

P.S.–Two of my favorite songs that remind me of God’s goodness: Good, Good Father by Chris Tomlin and King of My Heart by John Mark McMillan and Sarah McMillan

Recognizing Leaders

What does a good leader really look like? Seriously. We all know lots of leaders, but are they good leaders? Osama bin Laden was said to be a charismatic leader, but he certainly wasn’t good. Are the leaders we look up to effective leaders? I can think of several politicians who are esteemed as leaders, but who accomplish little aside from padding their pockets. They certainly aren’t effective.

There is much chatter in the “church world” about leadership. The Church has seen leaders who have advanced the kingdom, and  leaders who have blemished and stained her.  It seems that we would do well to identify some traits of a mature, godly leader so that we know what to look for. I’ll get the conversation rolling…

Wisdom

The older I get, the more I look for–and desire for myself–wisdom. Proverbs has a lot to say about wisdom: it comes from the Lord (2:6), it is supreme and therefore we should get it (4:7), it is more precious than rubies (8:11). The first deacons were chosen because of their wisdom (Acts 6:3). Knowledge is great, but wisdom tells you how to use it effectively. Interestingly, people who possess great wisdom are often quiet… and perhaps overlooked as potential leaders.

Teachable

The most effective leaders I know have a lifelong love for learning. The need to appear all-knowing is not part of their makeup; these leaders realize that there is always something new to learn that will help them be better at what they do and who they are. They are teachable, which often points to a humble spirit.

Values Relationship

Show me a person who values people over programs, relationships over material things, and I will bet my last dollar that this person can become a good and effective leader! Programs and buildings are temporal. Programs are subject to the winds of change and will lose their effectiveness in time; any material thing will eventually decay. Jesus commands us to love one another as He loves us (John 13:34). Later, in his first letter, John tells us that the world and its desires will pass away, but the one who does the will of God (loves others) lives forever (2:17). John learned well from Jesus!

These are just three of the things that I consider essential to good, effective leadership. What would you add?

Two wrong questions; One right answer

Where do you look for your leaders? Gotta have ’em, right? And too often we need them sooner rather than later! So we begin the search, which might look like this…

We need a strong leader for our finance committee. Who in the church is experienced in accounting or finance? Wrong question!

When I served on the staff of a large mainline denominational church, that’s the question that was most frequently asked during the nominations process. Who has marketplace experience in something directly related to the leadership role we need to fill? Who are the insurance brokers, builders, engineers who have exhibited marketplace success that we can nominate for trustees? Who among our congregation are teachers that we can nominate to lead discipleship? Who works in human resources that we can nominate to serve on this nominations committee? Wrong questions.

Or perhaps the search process might begin like this…

We need a leader for our finance committee. Who do we know that has the time to serve? Wrong question!

Smaller churches may not even be thinking about who is successful in the marketplace. They may simply be asking, “Who isn’t already serving in other areas? Who has the time to lead this committee? Who can we ask that we won’t have to strong-arm into saying “yes?” Wrong questions.

If you are honest, you know you’ve asked these same questions. When we are desperate for leadership, we can easily succumb to the temptation to ask the default questions, Who’s got experience? or Who’s got time?

Several years ago I read an article that asked, “What’s the most important quality to look for in a leader?” Now there’s a good question! The answer: Wisdom.

Scripture has quite a bit to say about wisdom. According to Proverbs, wisdom is supreme (4:7), worth far more than rubies (8:11), accompanies humility (11:2), is found in those who take advice (13:10), and brings joy (29:3). Solomon asked for wisdom and knowledge above all else, and the Lord was so pleased that He granted the request–along with the wealth, riches, and honor that Solomon did not ask for! (2 Chronicles 1:8-12) What’s more, James tells us that God still honors that request (James 1:5). The first deacons were chosen because they were full of the Spirit and wisdom (Acts 6:3), and Paul includes wisdom in the list of spiritual gifts necessary for health and maturity in the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:8). There are plenty more references to wisdom–pull out your concordance and see for yourself. A word study on wisdom might be a worthwhile expenditure of our time.

Marketplace experience is no match for godly wisdom. And having time to spare may be an indication of idleness (scripture has something to say about that, too!). Wisdom, on the other hand, is a “generalist.” A person who is wise will employ their wisdom in a leadership role on any team or committee. A wise person also knows how to manage their time, and values balance between work and rest. A person who is truly wise derives their wisdom from the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:17) and will lead accordingly. That sounds to me like the right person to fill the leadership role. What do you think?

I have some more thoughts on leadership to share in the coming days. I hope you will join in the conversation!