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Treasures in Darkness

“When it is dark enough, you can see the stars.” I read that Persian Proverb several years ago as I was walking through a year-long wilderness journey of extremely high anxiety and panic attacks that came on out of nowhere. The anxiety was so high and so pervasive that I couldn’t even shake it when I was with close friends who I knew I could fall apart in front of, if needed. It led to a huge crisis of faith where I questioned if God was even real and if the Bible could be trusted. Much of the time I felt like I was hanging onto faith by a thread. God eventually led me out of that intense anxiety and taught me how to overcome it. Now I can honestly tell you that on the other side of it, I am thankful for the experience.

Treasure Hunting With God
In Isaiah 45:3 God says, “I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, who summons you by name.” Only in walking through darkness–that wilderness–do we receive those secret treasures from God. There are certain things we only learn and experience while suffering.

My experience of anxiety tested my faith (proving it stronger on the other side); developed my character; gave me deep compassion for others in similar trials; and drew me closer to the heart of God. In the midst of what feels like darkness to us, we can be encouraged that even “darkness is as light” to God (Psalm 139:12). He sees everything. He is with you, no matter what “time of day” it is in your life.

Recently I listened to a sermon where the teacher suggested that perhaps the wilderness times in our lives are one of God’s favorite times to spend with us. Not because we’re suffering or are experiencing pain but because during those times we tend to draw even closer to the Father; to have our character refined causing us to resemble Jesus more and more; and we gain insights we never would have learned if we always stayed on the mountain top. And while suffering we also have the opportunity to fellowship with Jesus in a way that we cannot at any other time; to tap into just a small piece of what He suffered for us on the cross.

O My Strength, I Watch For You
One of my favorite verses in the Bible is written by David, who went through a very long wilderness experience before he became king. During that time he grew so close to God and learned to truly depend on Him for every need. David’s character, way of thinking, and the way he worshiped God were forever imprinted in a positive way because of that dark wilderness journey; a journey that prepared him to be king of God’s people. In Psalm 59:9-10 David writes:

“O my Strength, I watch for You; You, O God, are my fortress, my loving God.” 

Notice that David addresses God as His Strength and his fortress; and even in the midst of his trial David knows how kind and loving God is toward him. But here’s an interesting thing: David is watching for God to show up to help him. He is expectant. David knows that God will come through for him; he doesn’t doubt for a second. He knows from experience after experience that God will not fail him. Ever.

God Will Never Fail Us
God always wants to draw us to Himself. He wants us to rely fully on Him. He wants us to give up control to Him. So He will allow certain situations into our lives that accomplish just that: coming to the end of ourselves; not being able to control situations; having to fully lean and rely on and trust in Him. That can be a tough experience to live out daily. And that is where I was living while walking through anxiety. But the result of that experience is that I know that He is my Source. And I know now that God will not fail me. Ever. I don’t just mean I know it in my head. I mean I know it. Just like David, I know to look for God and expect Him to come through for me no matter what I am facing.

Be encouraged by that today if you are in the midst of groping your way through the darkness. God is with you. He is. Submit yourself to Him. Trust Him and watch for Him. There is treasure in the dark times, just as the stars are a treasure only visible to us at night.

I’m sharing this blog post as part of a synchroblog connected with the release of Ed Cyzewski and Derek Cooper’s new book Hazardous: Committing to the Cost of Following Jesus

 

Read other stories of faith here.

 

 

Overcoming Anxiety—A Personal Testimony

I had never had any major issues with anxiety until six years ago. One night just after going to bed I suddenly became very dizzy, my heart started beating extremely fast, I became short of breath. I felt like I was going to die. It was an awful and intense experience. And then after about 5 minutes it passed. I realized that, out of the blue, I had had my first anxiety attack. It was very scary and puzzling. Why did it happen? I didn’t think I was feeling anxious that day. Over the next year I would have a handful more of the attacks I just described; two of which came on an overseas flight to another country, which instantly gave me an intense fear of flying; something I had not experienced before and have had to battle through as I continue to fly. Although the anxiety attacks were not frequent or long-lived, what did develop for about a year was an ever-present and fiercely intense anxiety that threatened everything I did.

As a Result…

I began to feel unbearably anxious all the time, especially when I went anywhere I had to interact in depth with people. Even going out to eat with close friends I trusted made me feel so anxious that I would be near tears and would want to cancel the outing. If I was going somewhere with friends that required driving, I would drive myself so that I was “in control” and knew I could leave anytime I wanted to. When I went anywhere that required me to sit with a bunch of people, like at church, I always sat on the aisle. That way I could easily get up anytime and leave if I needed to. Having an “out” like this made me feel more like I was in control and that made me feel slightly less anxious. Despite the anxiety I still pushed through and kept going to church, kept getting together with people, kept going to work, even when I felt like I was barely making it.

A Crisis of Faith

Also as a result of this anxiety, I had a major crisis of faith. I questioned if God was real, if the Bible was even true and reliable, if God was good, etc. I felt like I was hanging on by a thread of faith. Sometimes I questioned if I was going crazy. I even considered leaving God. But I realized that peace comes directly from God and I didn’t want to ever live apart from Him and have even more intense anxiety. I was also comforted by good friends who had gone through similar experiences and had come out OK on the other side. They encouraged me to keep on going….it really was going to be alright, which was difficult to believe at the time.

How I Overcame It

I knew I had to deal with this anxiety so I started meeting with a Christian biblical counselor to work through issues that I needed to be set free from. I made a choice not to take any kind of anti-anxiety medication. This anxiety had not always been a part of my life, and I wanted it gone, not merely subdued. Even though it was extremely difficult, painful and harrowing, I wanted to get to the root of the problem so I could get rid of it for good! I think it takes a lot of courage to actually feel and deal with unpleasant emotions and experiences as you work through them. I’m not necessarily anti-medication; there is a time and place for it. But I do think medication should not take the place of dealing with the deeper issue, emotional or otherwise.

During this time I learned that the anxiety I felt was a result of feeling out of control in life. Most things in life we really don’t have a lot of control over, especially other people’s actions and responses. The only way to have full, real and lasting peace is to know and trust the loving and good God who actually is in control of all things. This is where true peace and freedom come from. From then on, anytime I felt anxiety come up, I would ask Jesus to come into the feeling and dissipate it. And I would make a decision to trust that He really was in control of everything. I have to tell you, that as I leaned on and trusted Jesus to take care of me, every single time I asked Him to take away the feelings of anxiety, He did! Most of the time it was immediate. A few times I really had to press into trusting Him and it took a little while because I was so worked up. But He always took the anxiety away. Always. Whether it be in the car, on planes, while meeting with people, while at work, while being way out of my comfort zone.

Walking Into Freedom

Over time, as I kept learning more and more to trust God with everything in my life, to fully lean on Him and to ask Him to come into these negative feelings and transform them, I began to come out of the constant “anxiety coma”. All of a sudden I would realize, I went to church and sat in the middle of the row and didn’t even think twice about it. Or, I did something with friends and I didn’t feel an ounce of anxiety. I haven’t had any anxiety attacks since then and I don’t have much anxiety now. When I do feel anxiety or fear or any other potentially crippling emotion, I still rely on God to help, and trust that He’s in control. I still ask Him to come into those negative emotions and dissipate them and to show me the root cause of them. He always does. He is faithful and is fully reliable. His reputation precedes Him.

So…

+What has God set you free from? Be sure to tell other people about it! One of my favorite verses in the Bible,Revelation 12:11, talks about the power of our personal testimony of what God has done in our life! “And they overcame him (the devil) by the blood of the Lamb (Jesus) and by the word of their testimony…”

+What do you still need to be set free from? Ask God to help you and to show you your part in receiving freedom. Do you need counseling? Or to start reading the Bible to learn who God is and who He says you are? Or do you need to start realizing that you can’t control everything so you need to learn to fully trust God? Or….?

God desires to meet us in the midst of every large and small experience in each of our lives; in everything that scares us, troubles us, confuses us and breaks our heart. What are you struggling with today that God desires to meet you in the midst of and deliver you from? I encourage you to invite Him into it and ask Him to deal with it and minister to you in the midst of it. It can be frightening and painful to look into all of the dark and wounded places of our hearts. But I tell you from experience that God’s freedom on the other side is a million times worth each step of the journey!

Prayer ….

God, You are truly so, so, so good, faithful, loving and kind! I know that from so many of my personal experiences. Thank You for caring about me with such tenderness and for caring about every aspect of my life. And thank You for setting me free! Even after experiencing intense struggles through things like anxiety I can genuinely say that I am thankful for the experience because it makes me know more and more how good You are, and it gives me more compassion for people who are experiencing their own struggles. I love you! Amen.

*You can read more specifically about my personal experience overcoming anxiety while flying, right here.

Receiving God’s Offer of Peace

Have you ever seen a person who is in the midst of a major life crisis and even though the world seems to be crashing down around them, they are full of unexplainable peace? Or have you experienced that yourself? I have! Saying farewell to all anxiety and worry and being in a continued state of peace is something we can have. It’s available to us through Jesus. We just need to know how to access it and receive it.

When I pray for people I often ask God to let His peace guard the person’s heart and mind in Christ Jesus. On its own this is a totally legitimate prayer because God offers us His complete peace and wants us to fully receive it…to walk in it daily. Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27

But there is another specific verse where I get that phrase, “guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus”, and the first part of the verse gives us a part to play in obtaining that unexplainable peace of God. It’s in Philippians 4:6-7:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

First….“Do not be anxious about anything”

We really do have the choice to not be anxious about what is happening in our life. Anxiety is the opposite of what God wants for us—peace. Anxiety and peace do not co-exist together. We truly can make a decision to not give away our peace, as we put our trust in God, no matter what the circumstance.

Second….Prayer, Petition, Thanksgiving

In every situation (not just sometimes, every time) present your requests (not demands) to God. Do this with thankfulness, by talking to God and offering over your petitions to Him. There is something powerful about continually offering up thanksgiving to God. Not only does He deserve our worship through thanksgiving, but it changes our attitude in a positive way.

And Then….The Peace of God

So, we’ve made a decision to not dwell in the land of anxiety. Then we’ve had a conversation with God about how thankful we are to Him, and we told Him our requests…what we would like to have happen. We’ve given it over to Him, trusting that He will do what is best. Then, supernaturally, God pours His peace into us. Not only is His peace in us….it is guarding our heart and our mind.

Like Jesus said in John 14:27, the peace that He gives is not a temporary peace that you can conjure up every now and then when everything in life seems to be running smoothly. Jesus’ peace is the peace that can only come from God, to us, and into circumstances where you wouldn’t normally feel peace at all. It’s a peace “that passes all understanding” because it’s so difficult for people to understand how you can have peace in the midst of “that” (insert your life crisis here). Therefore, it is a peace that glorifies God because it only comes from Him.

You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in You, God.” Isaiah 26:3

So…

+Are you ready to make a decision to walk in God’s peace instead of anxiety and worry?

+Are you mindful of having a thankful heart as you pray and make requests to God?

+Is it easier for you to live in anxiety than peace, because anxiety has become a “comfortably uncomfortable known” and it can be scary leaving that behind to walk in into something new, even when the new thing is better?

Prayer

God, I desire to walk in the complete peace that You offer me. This week, please help me to trust in You with every detail of my life. Help me to make a choice to let go of anxiety, to be thankful as I make my requests known to You, and to leave all of my cares in Your trustworthy hands. Amen.

Not to Worry….

 

Is it just me, or does it bug you when people make up corny Christian acronyms that are supposed to be catchy but really they just make non-Christians think we’re a bunch of dorks? One of those acronyms is PUSH… “Pray Until Something Happens”. Have you heard of that one? Even though I think the acronym itself is a little corny, the concept behind it certainly is not. In fact, it’s powerful. Pray until something….happens!

If you’re human you will surely go through many experiences in your lifetime that cause severe worry. Financial woes, sickness, fears and “what ifs” can all lead to worry. Chronic worry causes high stress, anxiety, fear, doubt and physical illness, to name a few things. And it cripples our faith. Continual worry cannot co-exist with strong trust and unfettered belief that God is in control, that God is good, and that He knows your situation and will help you. If we truly believe those things, there is really no room for worry. And even when we are feeling weak, we still have the power to make a choice to trust God rather than making a god out of worry. No one can serve two masters.

I have a lot of issues with fear…which at times leads to excessive worry. God has brought much freedom in that area for me, but there is still more freedom to be gained. Last week, as I was intensely upset and worried about some choices people I love are making, I was racked with worry. I knew I needed intervention from God in the midst of my worry. Then I read this from Philippians 4:6-9:

“Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.

“Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.” (The Message)

From these verses I see a couple of things. First, we have a choice. We can default to worry….or we can take what’s behind “Door #2”. Instead of stewing in a pot of worry, we can choose to take action. Namely, we can pray. Pray until something happens. While we are approaching God with thanksgiving and asking Him to intervene, while we are focused on Him, God will “settle us down”. The NIV version says that “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” The peace of God really doesn’t make sense sometimes, does it? How can I be at peace when there is major turmoil around me that I “should” be worrying about? But when you choose to trade worry for trusting that God is in control of the situation, it makes sense that God’s peace is what you receive in return. I would rather walk in peace than worry any day, wouldn’t you?

In the second half of the verses, we are encouraged to think on good things, the best, the beautiful, things to praise….this helps us to have an attitude of thankfulness and to keep our minds out of negativity, which often leads to worry.

Here are a couple more scriptures that I have been meditating on lately about trusting God, and not worrying:

Isaiah 26:3 “You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.”

Isaiah 41:10 “So do not fear, for I (God) am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

So…

+ What have you been worrying about? Make a decision to give it over to God as you continue to pray and trust Him with the outcome. Receive the peace He wants to give you.

+ When you are feeling intense worry, fear, anxiety or doubt, ask God to come into the midst of it and dissipate it. I do this all the time and God has never failed to dissipate it. Try it!

+ As we continue our daily 30/30 prayer times, let’s be mindful of cultivating a habit of praising God and praying the moment we begin to worry.

Prayer

God, I am so thankful to know You and to know that You are always with me and that You are in control. Even when we blow it, You work everything for good (Romans 8:28) because You are good. This week, help me to make a choice to pray instead of worry. Teach me how to give all of my worries and anxieties over to You, and to receive Your peace in exchange. 1 Peter 5:7 says, “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.” Help me to do that God. Thank You for caring about what I care about. Amen.