Monday 8 August
With Ben Stuart
Years ago some buddies and I decided to hike down into the Grand Canyon. We camped at the bottom and the next morning, I suggested going to see a waterfall I had read about six miles away. All of my friends said, “No” – they just wanted to relax. I was frustrated and so I began to walk in the direction of the waterfall.
I was talking to God about what a beautiful day it was. I was walking towards the waterfall with the Lord and suddenly I realised I had no idea how long I had been walking. I didn’t have a phone with me. I didn’t have any water or food. It was just me and a canyon. I didn’t want to give up but I started walking faster.
Then I saw a couple walking ahead of me and they invited me to walk with them. But I kept going on my own becoming more and more agitated. Eventually I started running. Then I thought, “What if I have already passed the waterfall?” I start panicking. I started climbing up a cliff to try and get to higher ground so I could see. But I spotted a deer and startled, I slipped and fell down the cliff. I cut my hands and I was covered in dust.
As I was panicking, I realised I could hear the distant crash of the waterfall. As I turned the corner, I saw this beautiful waterfall and the couple I had seen earlier was sitting there enjoying their lunch. They were shocked at the state I was in. I had freaked out.
And I don’t think I’m the only one who does that. If we are honest, a lot of us have shown up here at NH covered in the dust and blood of our own “freak out”.
For many of us we are plagued by anxiety. Our problems are not our biggest problem. Our anxiety about our problems are our biggest problem. One of the enemy’s greatest tactics to keep us from intimacy with the Almighty, is anxiety.
Jesus said, “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ …but seek first the kingdom of God…” (Matthew 6:31 – 33)
The enemy wants to fill you with anxiety. In Luke 8 Jesus talks how He scatters His word like seed. Some seed falls on hard soil and the enemy takes it away. Some grows quickly and as quickly withers. Some grows but becomes choked by weeds. And some grows on good soil and produces fruit.
The seed is His word. The soil is our life. Jesus wants to plant His word in your life. The weeds are the worries of this life that can choke out the word of life. For many people anxiety about grades leads to cheating. Anxiety about dating, leads them to date a loser. For many, anxiety will lead to destructive ways of living. We can continue to drown those anxieties in all kinds of addictions.
Anxiety levels in the US have been increasingly regularly. Over 41% of Americans are reporting clinical levels of anxiety. The traditional buffers against stress have been removed. Young Americans are less religious and increasingly more stressed, depressed and alone and this has led to destructive addictions. The onslaught of new technology has bombarded people with information. We are in the midst of an uncontrolled experiment on young people. Young people, this is not your fault but it is your problem.
The world will not be impressed when we sing about a prince of peace but live a life of stress.
In the ancient city of Frigia, they found an inscription from a guy whose baptismal name literally meant that he was “not worried about stuff”.
How do we do that?
V6 says Do not be anxious about anything. That word is to be distracted and drawn in different directions. I do not want to diminish genuine medical issues and the need to seek medical advice. And yet there is never a circumstance presented to you by God that you are obligated to worry about. God has given us responsibilities but not to be anxious about. Rather in everything, let your requests be made known to God.
I apply anxiety to nothing. I apply prayer to everything. I can hear some of you saying, “Wow that’s your answer? Just pray more.?”
The truth is we all take our anxiety somewhere. How is your system working for you? What would your verse say? Do not be anxious about anything but in everything rush to the pantry and eat snacks. We get it. I know what that is like. We take our anxieties to the kitchen rather than take our cares to the Lord.
Or… find anything on your phone to distract you. And the crazy thing is that what we look for to bring us freedom is bringing us into slavery.
Secular studies say that meditation and gratitude is the answer. Modern science is pointing to Biblical principles. I release my worries to the Lord.
Some of you wake up calm and serene. But for many, the weight of all the fears and uncertainties of yesterday are already on your chest. All that anxiety is pressing in on you. What I love about the Bible here is it is not shaming you for that. Paul says, “Let your requests be made known to God.” He is inviting you to share your anxieties with Him. If there is something we are worried about so often we try to distract ourselves but that doesn’t create solutions.
How many billions of prayers have been lost because of the distraction of our phones?
Maybe it is time to put away the world and pick up the word. I don’t want a distraction, I want a devotion.
How do we do that? By prayer!
Slow is smooth and smooth is fast. If you try to rush, you will miss. Trying to hurry takes more time. If you slow yourself down, you become more efficient. Some of you are busy but you are not effective, you are like an octopus on roller skates. You would do better in life if you spent some time being still. Quiet the noise… take some space and find a way to be honest with God about what is going on in your heart.
I journal every morning because writing out my thoughts every day helps me. I open a page and I write, “How do you feel?” I have to think about that… do I feel scared, anxious, frustrated…? And then I ask my soul questions. Why are you so downcast oh my soul? I take my insecurities and the root issues to the Lord. I come to Him and I give Him my heart and I do it with thanksgiving. Why do I do it with thanksgiving when I’m telling Him all my problems? I am grateful because I get to tell my problems to the one person who can do something about it – to God.
“Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.”– I Peter 5:7
“Cast your cares on the LORD and He will sustain you; He will never let the righteous be shaken.” Psalm 55:22
He is strong enough to deal with your problems and loving enough to want to.
When my daughter was little, I picked her up to carry her up the stairs and she said, “No, I’m too heavy.” I told her, “You are not too heavy for Daddy.” The things that seem heavy to you are not too heavy for Him.
Jesus said, “Fear not little flock.” He is not shaming you. He understands. Even a sheep is strong in the presence of their shepherd. Bring those fears to Him because He is strong enough to carry you. The peace of God that surpasses understanding, will guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus.
Releasing our worries moves us from fear to focus. I’m letting go of one thing and taking hold of another.
Embracing His word.
Paul says, “Think about these things…” (whatever is pure, lovely… etc.). Jeremiah Burroughs said you don’t pour wine into a shaky bottle. Still the bottle first and then you can pour wine into it.
God wants to bless you but He wants you to be still first. Take a deep breath. It honours Him when we stop freaking out. It shows we believe that He can provide. I still myself and cast my cares upon Him and my soul can become still waters. I need to fix my mind on what is honourable and true.
The average person spends 7 – 8 hours a day staring at a screen and only 30 minutes a week listening to a sermon. Our mind is soaking in chaos. I want to put the worries of this life down and pick up the word of God.
I tell my young people:
Scripture before social media. More Scripture than social media. Pray before you post.
At the start of the pandemic, like most people, I was consuming the news. But then I began to go for a walk before looking at the news. As I communed with God to start the day, I had a word for my people. I released those anxieties so I could embrace His word. In college, I realised I had been a Christian for years but I needed to study the word of God. I grabbed a notebook and a Bible and I would write out bible verses by hand.
Today I have an ABC:
- Acknowledge my feelings
- Breathe – focus on things that are pure and honourable and lovely.
- Consider the Word of God and allow Him to speak to me.
I embrace His word and engage His word. The God of peace will be with me as I cast off anxiety and walk with Him in His steps. Someone told me, “Your life is about walking with the Lord and your ministry will flow out of that.”
1993 during the battle of Mogadishu Sergeant Jeff Struecker was a member of a unit ordered to capture a high value target in Somalia. But one of those Black Hawk helicopters was shot down. As they tried to escape, Sgt. Struecker was driving and someone was shot. When he escaped back to base the truck was riddled with bullet holes and covered in blood. Then his CO said, “You have to back”. He was told to wash the blood from the truck but as he he tried to do that, he panicked. At that moment he stopped and did the only thing he knew to do. What Jesus did in the garden of Gethsemane. He prayed and as he prayed he realised, “God determines my future, no one else. If I live today, I go home to my wife and kids. If I die today I go home to my Saviour. Either way I’m going home.” After rescuing multiple men they asked him, “How were you so calm when the world was falling apart?” They saw supernatural peace in the most dangerous of situations.
John Paton was a great missionary to the Great Hebrides. One day he was surrounded with a hostile crowd. There was a moment when he was uncertain if he would live or die. He wrote, “I climbed into the tree, and was left there alone in the bush. The hours I spent there live all before me as if it were but of yesterday. I heard the frequent discharge of muskets, and the yells of the savages. Yet I sat there among the branches, safe in the arms of Jesus! Never, in all my sorrows did my Lord draw nearer to me, and speak more soothingly to my soul, than when the moonlight flickered among these chestnut leaves, and the night air played on my throbbing brow, as I told all my heart to Jesus. Alone, yet not alone! If it be to glorify my God, I will not grudge to spend many nights alone in such a tree, to feel again my Saviour’s spiritual presence, to enjoy His consoling fellowship.”
Have you a friend who will not fail you? You do with Jesus Christ. Do you know Him? If so, then the peace that surpasses all understanding is yours.