Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words
Have you ever been afraid of your imagination? At times that fear can be so convincing that you truly believe that the worst case scenario is somehow inevitable. Try and make that opening question relevant to your life. Think about a specific event or experience where you were afraid of something that never came to fruition. The grip of anxiety can be debilitating as you wait for your medical test results to come in. You agonize over the poor quality of life you might have if there is ever an unexpected economic collapse. Your hairline might rapidly recede as you stress over the outcome of the war our nation is still involved in, and do I even need to mention the new global pandemic? You’re robbed of sleep as you imagine the potential horrible outcomes that may never happen. These things may never happen because the Lord could come. They may never happen because whatever you’re afraid of— it’s simply worse in your own mind. It may never happen because God has proven Himself to be one who calms the storm instead of letting you perish.
I believe we would all benefit from recalling those occasions in our past where fear proved unnecessary and we worked ourselves up for nothing! If the fear in your life has a big appetite and it’s devouring all your time and peace, maybe it’s time to feed something else. Sitting Bull once said, “Inside of me there are two dogs. One is mean and evil and the other is good. They fight each other all the time. When asked which one wins I answer, ‘the one I feed the most.’” How vividly this illustrates a daily struggle for so many. Fear and faith will scrap with one another until we decide which one will win. Do you think our faith would emerge victorious every day if we could physically witness God’s power, but in a miraculous way? If my own eyes could witness Jesus bring the dead back from the grave, cast out a demon, or walk on stormy waters, then I would never worry again. Or would I? Seeing Jesus perform miracles never made anyone perfect. His disciples were far from perfect and they stood feet from the Savior while He did things only God could do.
On one occasion, which was hinted at earlier, Jesus calms the storm after being abruptly awakened by His terrified followers (Mark 4). There are some details about this account that will help us feed our faith when fear threatens to win the day.
First, our cries to God, even in the desperate times, are heard. The disciples exclaim, “Don’t you care that we’re about to die?” Following this fearful plea, Jesus will demonstrate a fraction of His awesome power. After all, what is calming a stormy sea to the One who spoke every drop of water into existence?
Second, excessive fear of anything in this world is a foolish mistake. God is bigger and greater than our worries.
Third, God is not asleep. It may seem like He is when we don’t feel optimistic about the future, but it’s when we recognize that He’s the only answer to our peace that He will calm our storm.
I was watching a program from Japan in which the protagonist sighed. We can relate to sighing. I know I may find myself sighing quite a bit. (One researcher noted we all sigh about every 5 minutes. 1) In this program, however, another person, walking by, cautioned the protagonist not to sigh since that allowed happiness to escape. Later, I observed another Japanese show where the same idea was expressed. I know the Japanese have proverbs and idioms, but I’ve yet to locate the source for that expression. I presume it’s a cultural thing since it’s the only context in which I’ve seen it expressed.
Why do we sigh? A sigh serves as a reset, both physically and mentally, for the body. 2 As such, it’s an important biological function. Yet, we likewise tend to sigh when we’re frustrated. In fact, that seems to be when we become aware of our sighs. For this reason, most people interpret sighing with negative emotions. 3 If I sighed while we’re having a “vigorous discussion,” you might conclude I’m angry with or didn’t like you. However, the heated exchange might have simply stressed me, triggering a sigh to release the pent-up anxiety.
Despite being commanded to be “anxious for nothing” (Philippians 4.6), we’ve already observed people do sigh. Obviously, if we sigh every 5 minutes, our sighs cannot always be about anxiety. Yet, it remains amazing God provided for a means of regulating excess anxiety through that rush of relaxation one receives by sighing. This, is of course, in addition to the inconceivable peace received from prayer (Philippians 4.6-7). It may be that with one’s sigh, he is refocused upon his task. Thus, a burden is momentarily laid aside so one can get a better grasp of it to carry it further to the goal.
Jesus told us not to worry, but He also said each day has enough trouble of its own (Matthew 6.33-34). One should try to practice mindfulness in connection with his faith. Since we do notice our sighs of frustration and anxiety more often, we ought to allow our sigh to signal us concerning our stress and take the appropriate measures to resolve it. If a sigh is prompted by a person, either you forbear (tolerate—NASB) them in love (Ephesians 4.2), or you talk to them about the troubling matter privately (Matthew 18.15-17; Acts 18.24-28). If a sigh is because we feel we’re a failure, let us remember the sufficiency of God’s grace (2 Corinthians 12.9). By walking in the Light, we have the continuous cleansing of Jesus’ blood (1 John 1.7). And if someone we’ve tried to reach with the Gospel frustrates us, after we’ve delivered ourselves of bloodguilt (Ezekiel 3.17-19), let us recall the sad truth that only a few find the narrow way (Matthew 7.13-14). Our sigh may be a sign that it is time to knock the sand from our sandals and move on (Luke 9.5).
Yes, rather than serving to remind him of something negative, a Christian’s sigh might also serve as an opportunity, an opportunity to reset his faith.
1 Heid, Markham. “3 Reasons You Sigh So Much.” Prevention, Hearst Magazine Media, Inc, 11 June 2019, www.prevention.com/health/a20508517/why-you-sigh-so-much/.
2 Lewis, Jordan Gaines. “Why Do We Sigh?” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, LLC., 10 Apr. 2013, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/brain-babble/201304/why-do-we-sigh.
It’s common in the age we live in to get stuck on the “daily grind.” We wake up, drink coffee, get dressed, go to work or school, come home at the end of the day, and start all over again in the morning. It’s repetitive and the days can seem to blend together. On top of this monotony, you have your own problems to solve. We’ve got our own responsibilities to keep up with. For some it’s family and for others it’s homework or any number of other duties. This can cause anxiety or depression. Those thoughts that are familiar to so many can creep into our minds. Thoughts like, “why am I even doing this? What’s the point?” Our shoulders are tired with the burden of life. There’s too much going on and we may just want to shut down or sleep to escape the day. The weight is heavy.
So try something. Wake up! When our minds are full of our problems and our responsibilities and everything that’s wrong with our lives and our circumstance, we miss something precious. We miss out on the lives of everybody else that also share this planet. Solve your problems and shake the daily grind by branching out. Strive to achieve selflessness by loving others and showing compassion. Solve your problems by trying to help others with theirs. If I personally have my own problems as a young adult, I know that there are others with problems much bigger than mine. Their shoulders are killing them and they’ve been carrying the weight longer than me.
There are people all around you struggling with the same things or worse. The next time you Tweet, begin to create a Facebook status, or blog, are you about to be another problem for someone else? Or are you about to ease their aching shoulders?
My problems are so big, my worries so mighty, there’s nothing my anxieties can’t do. Wait, that’s not how that song goes. It’s been said that the there are more stars in the known universe than all of the sand on earth combined. That being said, in just one grain of sand there are more atoms than all of the stars. That’s pretty amazing. Our planet is but a speck in the grandeur of space. Countless stars, planets, galaxies, lightyears and somehow God is well aware of the happenings of people.
Have you stood on the mountain tops? Have you observed the power of the oceans as the waves crash on the shore? Has your heart almost stopped after the vibrating sensation of a thunder clap resinates in your chest? The might of the Creator is everywhere in the world around us and at times it just demands to be noticed.
1 Kings 19:11-13 is a section of scripture that is mysterious and fascinating. The Lord of hosts is about to show Himself to a depressed and exhausted Elijah, but in a way that he would never forget. “The Lord said, ‘go out on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’ Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out to stand at the mouth of the cave. Then the voice said, ‘what are you doing here Elijah?’” In the hush of Horeb, Elijah seeks to avoid the troubles of his world. The acoustics of the mountainous area along with the time spent in silence must have made the shattering rocks, raging fire, splitting hills, and rumbling earth all but deafening and definitely a terrifying display of divine power. Then in sharp contrast, a still whisper comes. This gentleness, no doubt, is the reason Elijah decides to cautiously emerge from his hiding place. God is teaching His worn-out servant a lesson that holds true for us today.
The fact is, there is no more God, His wisdom, power, and presence in an earthquake than there is in the sweet breath of a blooming flower. The quiet ticking of a wrist watch reveals just as much intelligence and purpose as does the striking of a clock tower’s bell. One may walk out into an open field at night and stare up into the vast sky, lit up with numerous twinkling stars and declare, “I’ve found God!” But God is no more in the sky than He is in the blades of grass flattened beneath your feet. The question came to Elijah from that still voice, “What are you doing here?” To the prophet, his problems were too great and too large and his solution was to run and hide. God, in a magnificent way, is trying to remind Elijah of his place. Our place in life is not to take matters into our own hands or solve life’s many difficulties on our own. The answer is not to run away, but to walk humbly with our awesome God. He is strong enough to lift our burdens, wise enough to counsel us, patient enough to allow us to learn, and loving enough to constantly forgive. My God is so big, so strong, and so mighty, there’s nothing my God cannot do— for you, too.
…Of concerns over the future–decisions to make, the specter of tomorrow, growing old, retirement?
…Of sin–fighting temptation and not always winning, beating one thing and then finding another cropping up in its place, and the guilt it brings?
…Of disappointment–both of what I inflict and what is inflicted upon me?
…Of fear–when it comes to my spouse, my children, my parents, my brethren, our nation?
…Of doubt–whether in the process of prayer, struggles with asking God “why?,” or especially doubting myself?
…Of neglect–leaving undone things central to my purpose as a Christian due to apathy, distraction, misplaced priorities, and the like?
...Of failure–trying and not succeeding, not trying hard enough, not knowing what or how to try, and of simply falling short?
…Of betrayal–whether through gossip, lying, broken promises, insincerity, or treachery?
…Of insecurity–that can result from any of these and other struggles?
We don’t always have days when we wonder these things, but they come around often enough that they can prey on our minds. Sometimes, we face these questions due to our shortcomings. Other times, it’s because of the failings of others. Both can lead to despair.
The wonderful news is that we can be free of them all. There is a day coming when none of these will weigh us down ever again. I love the encouragement of the Hebrews’ writer, who urges, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted” (12:1-3).
Whether we are struggling due to our sinfulness or if it is any other weight, we’re encouraged to hang on and hang in there. When the struggle might be the greatest, that’s when we’ve got to turn and fix our focus on Jesus. Watch how He won! See what He did! Remember that He helps make it possible for us to fight and win.
If you are in the valley of despair right now, for whatever reason, don’t give up! Look to Jesus. Hang on! The end is in sight. Through Him, we will overcome!
The rubber band’s a handy tool
If it but follows a simple rule
It must know how much that it can take
If it goes beyond that, it might break
It does no good inside the drawer
Or on a peg inside the store
It must assume its intended use
If sitting unused, it amounts to abuse
But when in working operation
It must guard against its ruination
Stretched too often or too far
It will not work or be up to par.
Just like that loop which holds together
That which needs a trusty tether
You and I must know our max
And not our limit to unduly tax
We’re not useful up on the shelf
We must work hard, extend ourself
But taken too far, we risk too much
We can hurt ourselves by doing such
Let’s prayerfully consider each opportunity
And realize none has complete immunity
From burnout, fallout, stress and strain—
Then we’ll be useful, happy, strong and sane!
A few years ago, the American Psychological Association named Denver the city with the most stressed out people in America. 75% of Denver residents are too stressed out about job and money, with half of Denverites saying their stress had significantly increased over the past year. Doctors and researchers have long connected a variety of health problems to stress, including high blood pressure and high cholesterol. The Harris Interactive polling group conducted this survey on behalf of the APA. Maybe the high stress levels are why so many Denver-area folks have such high octane workout routines, to counteract all of this.
In response, the Colorado Psychological Association provided some tips for coping with stress: (1) Set limits, (2) Tap into your support system, (3) Make one health-related commitment (cut back on caffeine, exercise, get more sleep, etc), (4) Strive for a positive outlook, and (5) Seek additional help. These tips are wise and useful, and especially is this true when we consider a “spiritual twist” on them. While I have found living in this area to be peaceful and enjoyable, I also know that life in America in general is stressful. There are so many uncertainties and that alone is a stressor.
Christians are best-equipped to deal with stress. Matthew 6:33 helps us properly prioritize so that we have a spiritual basis to determine what needs to be eliminated and what is more valuable. Further, we have the greatest support system possible through the church (cf. Rom. 12:15; 1 Thess. 5:11; Eph. 4:13-16; Heb. 13:1; etc.). Living the Christian life properly is a prime way to a healthier lifestyle, so long as we remember such principles as are found in 1 Timothy 4:8, Proverbs 23:2, and 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (I’d recommend your reading those). Who has a more positive outlook than one who can say, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21-24). That is essentially saying, “I’ve got it great, and it will only get better.” Finally, there is no better help than that which we have available in Christ. Having the help of heaven to cope with life’s uncertainties is the greatest stress-buster there is.
Whether you live in Denver or even Small Town U.S.A., you are not immune from potential stress. Yet, wherever you live, if you are a Christian you have the best coping tools imaginable. Being in Christ eliminates many of the worries so many face. May we not take this for granted. Even more, let us not neglect to take advantage of the peace found only in Jesus (cf. John 14:27).
I heard about the guy last week who tried to choke his neighbor’s lawn service worker for failing to weed the neighbor’s flower bed. The worker explained he had been hired to cut and trim the grass, but not the beds. This apparently unsatisfactory answer led to the “choker” leaving visible marks on his victim and ultimately being charged with a count of felony battery. The irate neighbor was convinced that the lack of weeding was causing him to now be fighting weeds in his own lawn. The attacking neighbor tried to pull the victim off his riding mower and grabbed him by the neck.
If these are all the facts, what an extreme case of mixed up priorities. Hurting another person over how unkempt or manicured his or their lawn is? It seems unthinkable. But many of us know “that” neighbor. Some of us may wrestle with being “that” neighbor. If we could step back, we might see how silly excessive obsession with such things is.
In speaking about worry, Jesus reminds us that the grass of the field is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace (Mat. 6:30). Peter adds that the grass withers (1 Pe. 1:24). James similarly speaks of withering, fading, and expiring grass (1:10ff). These men said this to make a spiritual point about worrying, the Word, and wisdom, but the fact remains that grass is numbered among those things that will be burned up at the end of the world (2 Pe. 3:10). Yet, the souls of men will continue somewhere everlastingly (cf. Mat. 25:46).
Are we spending too much time grappling over grass, fretting over finances, or wrapped up in the world? Are we giving the best part of ourselves for that which in the end matters least? Jesus said, “Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life…” (John 6:27). Maybe it’s not food or grass for you. Whatever earthly thing it may be, put it in its proper place. And put Him in His proper place (cf. Mat. 6:33).