Apr 23 - Trusting God When I'm Anxious And Afraid

Trusting God When I'm Anxious And Afraid

April 23, 2017

Matthew 8:5-11

 

TRUSTING GOD WHEN I’M ANXIOUS AND AFRAID

April 23rd, 2017

Matthew 8:5-11

 

Imagine what your life would be like if you had complete faith, complete assurance, perfect confidence, in four things:

 

  1. God exists – YHWH, the name of God means The One Who Actually Exists, The One Who Is There.  Imagine you believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that he exists.

 

  1. God is a spirit being who has a personal identity.  He is not an impersonal universal force, not Gaia, nor the universe.  Imagine you were perfectly confident that there is a personal God.

 

  1. God knows of my existence and life.  Imagine that you believed with complete assurance that God is interested in me.  

     

  2. He is on my side.  He will never leave me nor forsake me.  He sees me through the best and the worst of times, including when I shuffle off this mortal coil.  Imagine that you had complete trust that God is on your side and will bring something good out of even the worst of situations.    

 

Maybe you know someone who, when things go sideways in life, when the bottom drops out, when things go bad, is able to say:

 

Well, things are really bad and I can’t really see anything good coming from this, but I am completely certain that God is with me and will see me through and will use this in some way to bless someone.

 

Maybe you’ve met someone who was having a terrible time.  And you doubt God’s existence or his goodness on his or her behalf.  How could God let this happen?  But the person says to you that they are just fine, that this has not shaken their faith in the least. 

 

Or maybe you know someone who fully trusts God, no matter how bad things get in the world: 

 

Wars and rumours of wars.

Sabre rattling of insane megalomaniacs and oppressive dictators. 

The violent oppression and execution of any dissidents. 

Rapes and domestic violence.

Starvation and human trafficking.

Shootings and massacres.

Heartless con artists and shysters.

Terrorism and the bombing of places of worship.

 

While they may be dismayed at the amount of evil in the world, but they are not cowed or discouraged, because they fully trust God.  

 

These are individuals who don’t seem to be anxious or afraid or worried …  such is their trust in God. 

I believe that this is what God would want for each one of us. 

 

The problem is that we can doubt and trust God even when things are going good. 

 

And when things are bad, then we often disregard God altogether, try to take control of our lives, or simply give up.

 

Or what about those who are struggling with memories of a horrible event in the past … who as a result have PTSD with flashbacks that sometimes immobilizes them with fear and anxiety? 

 

Although they love God, they may have stopped trusting him as a result a long time ago.  How could God allow such a terrible thing to happen to them?

 

Or what about those who struggle with what is called Generalized Anxiety Disorder or GAD for short?  GAD takes away GLAD.  It is characterized by frequent, constant worry with little or no cause.

 

Through no choice of their own, they live in a state of anxiety that is largely disconnected from the reality of our otherwise normal circumstances.

 

Exercise, medication and therapy can only help so far in keeping anxious and fearful thoughts at bay.

 

Would they, and possibly you and I, respond like the writer of Psalm 22?

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?[1]  Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?  My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest.  Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the one Israel praises.                                             Psalm 22:1-3       

 

How many of us worry about our own future, or the lives and future of our children or grandchildren?  How many of us feel broken or exhausted?  How many of us feel that we’re falling apart?

 

And then, despite his despair, the Psalmist writes:

 

Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the one Israel praises.

 

For those who struggle with fear and worry and anxiety, there may be no more important word in the Bible than the little word, “YET.”

 

Yet tells us the story hasn’t fully been told.

Yet tells us a page is about to be turned.

Yet tells us God has a different perspective.

 

The Psalmist felt like God was distant and unfeeling, like He was not listening.  But despite all this, there is a yet.  

 

God isn’t just the God of the calm and peaceful situations, even though he is often referred to as the God who gives us peace.

 

YHWH gives strength to his people.  YHWH blesses his people with peace.                      Psalm 29:11

 

God isn’t just God of the happy and safe situation, even though he is often referred to as God our rock.

 

YHWH is my rock, my fortress, my saviour.  My God is my rock, in whom I find protection.  He is my shield, my power that saves me, and my place of safety.                                                        Psalm 18:2

 

God isn’t just the God of peace and safety.  He’s also the God who is in the chaos.  He’s God in the courtroom, in the emergency room, in the waiting room and in the viewing room.

 

And in each and every situation he remains the Holy One.  The one who exists, the spirit being who knows and cares for me and for you.  

 

Trouble may abound but God is still the Holy One.  And if that is true, then he’s in control even in our scary circumstances, so that we don’t have to hold on too tightly to the fear and anxiety in order to give us the impression that we are still in control. 

 

So when the pressure overwhelms, when we’re broken on the floor or feel like we just can’t handle what the world may hand us … is there any possibility that we can find the Holy One despite it all?  I believe it is. 

 

By the way, we often stigmatize ourselves when we feel anxious, from being overwhelmed to worrying to being genuinely paralyzed by fear, maybe because we think that Christians shouldn’t be experiencing what we are. 

 

To show you just how common this is, there is actually a book called The Anxious Christian written by a marriage and family therapist.

 

The subtitle: "Can God use your anxiety for good?”, is really rhetorical.  The answer of course is “YES.”

 

Most Christians never think about their anxiety as a tool that God could actually use to shape them.  On their best days they think of their condition as a pesky trial, on their worst days they view it as the complete absence of God and a sign that they don’t trust God at all. 

 

They almost never see it as something that may have a purpose, perhaps a means of drawing closer to God, anchoring on him as the Holy One who is sufficient. 

 

Anxiety and fear may not be pointless and foolish after all.  Feeling anxious or worried does not mean a Christian is somehow less than those who do not struggle with anxiety. 

 

As many of you know, I struggle with insomnia.  You know what the worst thing is?  For kindhearted and well-meaning Christians to quote from Psalm 127:

 

God grants sleep to those he loves.  Psalm 127:2

 

OK, that means that God obviously doesn’t love me – and never has. 

 

Unfortunately, the default mode of many is fear and anxiety.  Left to their own devices, that is what they would wallow in for most of their days, either because perfectionism is killing any motivation or because it allows them to opt out of life

 

However, there is a way of looking at anxiety as a constant reminder of one’s joyful dependence on and confidence in God.  When we feel fear, we can allow God’s grace and mercy to draw us to him and be reminded of HIS sufficiency in all things. 

 

And there is no need to draw a direct connection between our spiritual health and our experience of anxiety when we trust God to use our anxiety for good.

 

If God can leverage even our fear and anxiety and worry for good, then perhaps there’s no need to panic. No worrying that God has lost control of things. No anxiety over things unknown. Just the calm, confident confession that God is still holy.

 

And in that holiness, God manages the details of the whole universe … including you, me and the people we love.

 

So regardless of whether or not we suffer with PTSD or GAD, God’s desire for us is to trust him fully.  In fact, one of the best things that can happen in a marriage is when two people fully trust each other to do the best for each other – it is trust that is proven over time. 

 

If you think about it, the story about the Garden of Eden is really not just a story about disobedience, it really is a story about a lack of trust

 

Look, God is not on your side.  He’s keeping you from eating this fruit because it will make you like God.  He is withholding something good from you.  He cannot be trusted.

 

God’s desire is to draw us back into a relationship of trust.  And that’s really the question for all of us, even if we are just seeking for spiritual truth or we may have just decided to return to church.

 

The primary issue is one of trust – whether or not we believe that God exists and that he loves us, that he’s on our side, that he’s safe enough to entrust our lives to him. 

 

Perhaps some of you simply aren’t there yet.  There is still the fear that if you turn your life over to God then he will place a heavy burden on you, will want you to be miserable, will inundate you with a list of don’ts. 

 

I want to read to you about a situation during Jesus’ ministry.  We are told that Jesus was amazed at a number of points during that time.  For example, he was amazed at the lack of faith, at the unbelief, of the people at Nazareth or the lack of faith of his disciples.  Well in this story, this is the only time when Jesus was amazed at the amount of faith and trust that someone had.

 

When Jesus entered Capernaum, a centurion came toward him asking for help.  “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.’[2]  And Jesus said to the man, “I will come and heal him.” [3]                                                           Matthew 8:5-7

 

A roman centurion was something like a Roman lieutenant who was in charge of a platoon of more less 100 foot soldiers or legionaries.  And if you haven’t picked up on it by this time, let me tell you that for 1st century Jews, the Romans are the bad guys

 

The Romans were the occupying force who exacted taxes from Jewish people.  These are the foreigners who could arrest any Jew and make them disappear if that was the will of the governor.  These are the enemy who could force Jewish people into carrying their burdens.  These are the greedy who could extort money and take valuables from common people ... and there was no recourse. They were coarse and immoral and worshipped gods and goddesses who themselves were coarse and immoral.

 

They were hated by the Jews and, God forbid, that any God-fearing Jew should EVER enter the home of a Roman - in fact, rabbinic teaching forbade any Jew to enter the house of a non-Jew for fear of being contaminated and spiritually unclean. 

 

Those who were listening in to the conversation may have thought: “Good, we’re glad the man’s servant is sick - and we hope it’s contagious, and they all get infected and die.  Surely Jesus will turn the man down.  I mean, if Jesus is going to help anyone, it should be a Jew!  There are so many Jews who are suffering, there is no need to bother with this Gentile dog.

 

But Jesus responds quite unexpectantly. 

OK, I’ll come to your home and I will help your servant.  To which the centurion replied:

 

But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof.  Just say the word and my servant will be healed.  I too am a man with authority and soldiers under me.  And I say to one, ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes.  I say to my slave ‘Do this!’ and he does it.”  

                                                Matthew 8:8-9

 

Jesus:  “I’ll just come to your place and heal.” 

The centurion: “No need to bother, you can just heal my servant from here … long distance as it were.

Jesus, you and I have something in common ... we both are people who have authority.  I have authority over 100 soldiers who will do whatever I ask of them.  They cannot question me.  You have authority to tell sickness to go and it obeys you.  So you just say the word and it will happen.”

 

The centurion had total faith and trust in Jesus’ ability to heal his servant … even at a distance.

 

And when Jesus heard this he marveled (he was amazed and astounded) and said to his followers, “Truly, I tell you.  I have not found anyone in Israel with that kind of faith.  I tell you, many [non-Jews] will come from the east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.                              Matthew 8:10-11

 

If you think about Jesus’ words, that was quite an insult for the Jews who heard him.  This soldier had likely never been to the temple or synagogue.  He likely worshipped Jupiter, Mars, or other gods and goddesses of the Roman pantheon.  And yet, no Jewish person in Israel displayed that kind of faith or trust or confidence in Jesus to have the divine authority needed to heal his servant

 

That’s an example to us of the kind of faith, trust and confidence that we should have in God.  Therefore, what are the catalysts to spiritual growth, growth in faith, growth in a trusting relationship with God? 

 

I’ll give you a list of five things.  They may not all apply to you.  Or they may not list every area that in fact applies to you, when it comes to what makes your faith and trust in God grow. 

This is just a list that I think applies to most people most of the time.

 

What will make my trust in God grow?

 

  1. Practical application

 

Jesus once told a story about a foolish and a wise builder.  One built on a solid foundation, the other on the bare ground.  The first stood during a flood, the second fell.  (Matt 7:24-27)

 

What was the difference?  The wise man is the one who actually put Jesus’ teaching into practice, the foolish man is the one who didn’t.

 

The author of James also makes the same point:  The person who does not put into practice the teaching he receives actually deceives himself

 

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves.  Do what it says.  Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.  But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.                                     James 1:22-25

 

Now it’s good to know what is in the Bible, but simply knowing the Bible without putting it into practice, can lead to pride. 

 

Did you see how long it took her to find the Book of Romans?  Goodness me. (Shows her). 

 

By the way, this point about practical application also presupposes that when we receive spiritual teaching it has a life application.  It isn’t just theory.  It isn’t just information.  It actually calls for a decision or for action. 

 

Our trust and faith in God grows when we receive practical teaching and we actually apply it to our lives.  The real value of knowledge is in the application.

 

What will make my trust in God grow?

 

2. Positive relationships

 

Another part of growing to trust God is encountering an individual or a couple or a group of people who were instrumental in actually living out what it means to be a believer.  Not perfect people, but safe and caring people who were able to put feet to their faith.

 

Could be a boss, a friend, a neighbour, a family member.

 

God brought them into someone’s life and it was instrumental in bringing them to faith or helping them to grow in their trust of God.

 

What will make my trust in God grow?

 

3. Spiritual disciplines: Prayer, generosity, reading Scripture (at times)

 

Someone taught us or encouraged us to speak with God on a personal level - with our own words... to pray to him.  They may have encouraged us to always thank God for the people and events in our lives. 

 

They may have challenged us to read the Bible on our own, beginning with some suggestions, so we don’t bog down when we hit Numbers (yawn) or get stuck in the messages of the prophets. 

 

Someone may have given us a devotional book, or a book that really challenged us to live out the Christian life. 

 

Someone may have shown us their journal, and inspired us to journal ourselves. 

 

Someone may have challenged us to give back to God a portion of our income on a regular basis.  Or someone might have modelled to us what it means to be a generous person when it comes to our time or money or possessions and it challenged us.

 

Someone might have challenged us to fast

 

These are the spiritual disciplines that we have to learn to do by ourselves.  And when we pray and God answers the prayer directly, or we read the Bible and something jumps off the page because it intersects with our lives at that moment ... then our faith and trust and confidence in God increases. 

 

But here’s a caveat again.  If we think that we are the most righteous Christian, that God is incredibly pleased with us, because we don’t watch TV or don’t have internet or don’t eat meat, or read a chapter of the Bible every day, that’s a problem even if there is nothing wrong with any of these things. 

 

If our actions are not married to charity and dependent on God, it can make us legalistic and judgmental. 

 

What will make my trust in God grow?

 

4. Service to others

 

Many people who share their journey of faith relate that at one point or another they got involved in service.  They taught.  They volunteered.  They went on a missions’ trip.  They were moved to serve.  And even though they felt completely inadequate for the task, they depended on God.  And their trust grew.

 

I strongly believe that any time that we listen to the voice inside of us that tells us to stop and help out, to take time out of our busy lives in order to make a positive difference in someone else’s life, it strengthens our faith and trust in God

 

One of the primary ways God grows our faith is through personal ministry,  our service to others.

 

What will make my trust in God grow?

 

5. Life events

 

Life is full of surprises—some good, some bad; some joyous, others tragic. But each unexpected event that comes our way is actually a divine opportunity for spiritual growth.

 

A loved one got really sick, perhaps died or was healed.  We receive a report from the doctor or specialist – good or bad.  We have our first baby, or we are told we’re not able to have children.  We get married, we get divorced.  We get our drivers’ license, we have an accident.  We have a restful vacation or a taxing stressful week at work. 

 

Each is an event in our life that could take us away from God, or cause us to draw closer to him and trust him more. 

 

When we are faced with a tragedy and we draw closer to God it will not necessarily take the pain away.  But if we know that God can leverage the tragedies of life and bring something good from them, then our trust in him will grow.

 

While we cannot force our faith and trust in God to grow, we can keep ourselves in places where our faith and trust can in fact grow.  We can go on a mission’s trip, surround ourselves with positive believers, look for opportunities to serve and help, talk with God as often as possible, even if we are fearful and anxious and down.    

 

Ironically, those in Jesus’ day who knew the OT the best and were the holiest when it came to doing what they thought God wanted of them, with a very few exceptions (Nicodemus, Joseph of Aramathia), didn’t get Jesus at all. 

 

And the Centurion who has no knowledge of the OT, cannot recite any of the commandments, is living the lifestyle of a pagan … has more trust, more faith in Jesus than all of the pious and self-righteous Jews in Judea at that time. 

 

That’s not to say that knowledge is bad or wrong.  It is indeed necessary.  But even more necessary is trusting that God exists, that he is concerned about me, that he is on my side, no matter what I may face in life, and no matter how much I may struggle with anxiety or fear.

 

WHAT IS CAUSING ME TO DOUBT GOD’S GOODNESS OR CONCERN FOR ME?

WHAT WILL I DO TO ALLOW MY TRUST AND FAITH IN GOD TO GROW?

 

Prayer:

 

God, I am frightened of far too many things. Things that overwhelm me and cause me to believe you’re really not in control. And You know how I often try to become the saviour of my little world, hyper-managing my life and the people I love, because I’m terrified You won’t show up. Regardless of how dark my circumstances feel or how terrifying my personal problems, you are the Holy One who loves me and is in control.  Thank You for being holy and loving — and for being in total control. Let me rest in the peace of that knowledge and learn to trust you more and more.  Amen.

 

 

[1] If you were here last Sunday you might remember that the first verse of which Jesus cried out when he was hanging on the cross dying an agonizing death.

 

[2] Luke 7:2 - “sick and at the point of death.”  In Matthew, the centurion speaks directly with Jesus.  In Luke, the centurion sends Jewish elders to plead on his behalf.  John 4:46-54 may be recounting the same story.  An official from Capernaum asks Jesus to heal his son, who was at the point of death.  Jesus tells him his son is healed and the man believes and goes home.  Servants come to meet him to tell him that the fever broke at the same time that Jesus told the man that his son would be healed. 

[3] Could also be in the form of a question: “Should I come and heal him?”