Tag Archives: Struggle

Dealing with Anxiety

It happened again yesterday. It was the first time in a long while that I had again felt the wave of irrational panic sweep through my body. My hands began to shake, my pulse quickened, noises seemed deafening. The room began to spin, it was difficult to get a deep breath, and my arms began to feel week. I know this foe that occasionally appears to steal my calm though I cannot tell you why it comes. About 8 years ago I had my first real anxiety attack. I was in my office and everything in the room started to go sideways. My hands began to shake and I felt weak. I thought I just needed some hot tea (a minor obsession of mine, I drink four cups a day). I shuffled into the copy room and made myself some tea and quietly hurried back to my office where I tried to relax. After some time of prayer and considerable effort to simply relax, I finally forced myself to go into the youth building and pick things up. Eventually, I was able to calm my nerves.

After that first attack, I began to wrestle more often with anxiety. Sometimes it felt like a weekly issue. Now, to be clear, I don’t have a medical anxiety issue. I’m naturally a pretty easy-going and calm person. Though in Brazoria Texas, I’m told I am high-strung (so I guess that’s a matter of perspective). I like things to be in order and I live a relatively ordered and easy life. I do not claim that my struggles with anxiety are anywhere near the difficulty of some people who feel the walls close in and have to completely shut down the outside world. I do not have “crippling anxiety.” I do struggle with minor anxiety attacks. About 4 years ago they were frequent and I had not experienced an attack for about a year and a half… until yesterday. I shared what I did to address the issue in a tweet and was told that it was helpful. So… I thought I’d explain a bit more. Maybe you’ll find some help. Maybe you know this already. Maybe…

4 observations about anxiety.

  1. Usually, anxiety attacks have a trigger. Often anxiety attacks are a result of some sort of encounter, suppressed or remembered. People who struggle with anxiety typically have a looming pressure that they can feel coming closer. My anxiety has almost always been associated with meetings or people. Both meetings and people bother me. I feel nervous at the very thought of sitting down and having a “talk” with someone in a meeting in which I do not control the agenda. For me, I recognize this as a trigger. I’ve been around other people who have anxiety as a response to chaotic noise or crowded rooms. I even knew one person who had an anxiety attack whenever they saw a particular flower. Identifying these triggers can help. It is important not to avoid these triggers… It is best to address them.
  2. Anxiety is a real issue. This is not a pretend psychological gloss of fear or an excuse to avoid confrontation. It’s a real problem people struggle with. Further, when Paul says “be anxious for nothing, but in all things, by prayer and petition make your request known to God” (Phil 4:6) he is not talking about dealing with anxiety attacks. (For thoughts on that particular passage, click here.) That said, anxiety affects people differently. The common symptoms are shaking, shortness of breath, inability to focus, and a light-headed feeling. However, they are not limited to these.
  3. Honesty and transparency in community can help to alleviate anxiety. There are few things more powerful than living in authentic community. A community based on trust and openness is a powerful aid in dealing with anxiety. When transparency is held in high value, many triggers will be arrested and dispelled in the comfort of open community.
  4. You cannot simply “fix” anxiety. It is a complex problem. Most people who struggle with anxiety cannot tell you why they struggle with anxiety. They simply do. It is difficult to identify triggers much less the source of anxiety. I’m a pastor and I’d love to tell you that there is a verse that will solve every anxiety you will ever face. And while it is true that strengthening your faith and knowledge of God can help, anxiety is not simply answered with a verse. It takes more to war against this opponent.

Some things I do to address anxiety attacks.

  1. Silence is counter-intuitive in our culture. We desire to drown out noise with louder sounds. However, when anxiety strikes me, I need silence. Soft music doesn’t help, in fact, it often increases the strength of the attack. Years ago I invested in some noise canceling headphones. When I feel an attack coming, I grab my headphones first.
  2. A calming hot drink. Personally, I prefer hot tea. I put a small scoop of cinnamon in it. I was told that cinnamon in hot tea can help with unsteady nerves. I’m not a doctor, I have no medical evidence for this. But, I can attest that it does work.
  3. Focus on one task. When I struggle with an anxiety attack, I need to feel successful. I need to be reminded that I can complete something. Assurance that I’m useful. The task does not have to be a big one. It can be something as simple stacking papers or making lunch. I find it is helpful when the task takes some effort but is mostly rote.
  4. Practicing the presence of God. Christians have a great advantage over others who struggle with anxiety. A disciplined practice of faith and consistent routine will help to stabilize your life and offer strength when the attacks hit. Anxiety can be heightened by unfamiliar activity. Because I occasionally struggle to control my anxiety, it is helpful to maintain a consistent and disciplined routine.
  5. It’s hard to breathe when the room closes in. But you need to breathe. It helps to control heart rate and settle the racing mind. So take slow steady breaths and bring some control to your heart rate.
  6. Ask for help. I live in authentic community with people who know me well. When anxiety closes in, one phone call and I’ve got a community around me, praying, coming to help, and offering presence. This is probably the greatest asset to overcoming anxiety. If you don’t have a community, join one. If you’re in my area, Sovereign Grace Fellowship is a community that will offer you that kind of fellowship.
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The Disciple John

fire_from_heaven

James and John often make me laugh.  Did you know that John has only a handful of lines in the Bible? Surprising, I know, but there is reason that what he says was not often written down.  There is very little personal testimony of John’s character from his own mouth and the little we do have reveals his own goofy character.  One of my favorite scenes is when James and John see Jesus rejected in Samaria in Luke 9:51-56.  The sons of thunder see Jesus rejected and they ask Jesus, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them!?”  I imagine the Biblical account leaves out the extended lecture that they received from Jesus.  It simply records, “Jesus rebuked them.”  What is even funnier is the story immediately before.  Jesus has just told them that the

greatest among them is the one who would be the least (verses 46-48).  Then John answers Jesus, “Master we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and he was not with us, so we tried to make him stop.”  Jesus corrects the misconception and moves on.  Now, here in these two snip-it’s a little of the Character of John is revealed.

In the first story, James and John are clearly zealous for the name of the LORD.  Much like the Jews that Paul references in Romans 10:2, “they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge.”  You see these two young men had not yet learned the way of Jesus.  Indeed they don’t learn it until the book of Acts.  They think that Jesus came to destroy his enemies and lay fire to those who

would reject him.  They fail to see the love that Jesus has.  Luke records in verse 51 and in verse 53 that Jesus’ face was “set towards Jerusalem.”  So he is focused on getting to Jerusalem.  James and John are probably under the assumption that this is a victory march and they are about to see Jesus lay the smack down on the Religious Elite, the half-bread Samaritan Jews, and the Roman oppressors!  But the way of Jesus is different from the way of the world.  Glory for Jesus is found in death and humiliation.  Glory is found in making the enemy your family.  Glory is found in bending over backward to establish the necessary forgiveness for the salvation of the lost sheep.  James and John think that one must triumph by violence and strength.  But Jesus is going to show them that triumph is found in peace and meekness.  Jesus is going to die, not kill.  James and John do not see

that Jesus is going to die, they think Jesus is going to win.  But the agenda of victory for Jesus is to die so that He God can win, so that the enemy might be saved.  The character of James and John is one of zeal without knowledge.  They persist in proclaiming what they think of Jesus, without actually searching out Jesus’ will.  Did you notice, they don’t say a word to Jesus before proclaiming with pride their intent to burn up those He came to save?

How does one know the will of God?  In John 7:17 Jesus says, “ If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority.”  In this simple statement Jesus calls everyone to

conform their life to the will of God.  Make your will to DO His will and you will know.  James and John needed to conform themselves to God’s will before they could understand God’s mission.  Only in laying aside their own desires and striving to desire God’s will are they able to understand God’s heart.   Indeed they would soon understand fully as their master is about to show them.

In the preceding story, John proclaims proudly, “WE STOPPED HIM!”  Again, John is not concerned for the good of the people here.  People were being rescued from demonic oppression in the name of Jesus.  But instead of recognizing the Love of God poured out through a willing vessel, John is concerned for his own agenda.  John was on the team, this other guy was not!  This other guy did not

follow Jesus in the same manner that John and the 11 did, therefore he must be stopped!  John imposed on this other brother the necessity of worshiping the exact same way he did.  Surely you can’t know Jesus unless you do the same thing John was doing!  Again, Jesus corrects John.

You know…  the disciples are often wrong and I like to laugh at them.  But I am

no different.  I sometimes insist that people must worship the same way I do.  They must have the same kind of music, the same preaching style, the same kind of building or they cannot possibly be worshiping correctly.  They must observe the same worship times and teach their children the same way I do.  They must read their Bible the same amount of time I do and they must listen to Piper, Chandler, MacArthur and balance that out reading Bonhoeffer, Hirsch, Mclaren, and Tozer.   (Now just s disclaimer: The Bible is the authority over how Christians should worship, and we need to be careful to obey Jesus through His Word!  But let’s be honest, there is a lot of stuff we do that has nothing to do with the Bible and is therefore not worth squabbling over.)  Like John, I am often zealous for what I deem is right… and yet I find myself having to seek the Lord all the more to understand His love and attitude toward those I deem worthy of death.  Then I find myself asking forgiveness for wrong motives and a self-aggrandizing vision.  So, I keep walking with Jesus and striving to understand His way, I will eventually grasp this love and will be conformed to the image of Him who created me. (Col 3:10, Phil. 3:10

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John 21 Pt. 1

Jesus eating fish

You ever have the unsettled feeling in the pit of your stomach. As if you have done something wrong but can’t quite figure out what it is? Maybe you know exactly what it is, but you don’t know how to fix it? You worry that everyone is watching and everyone knows whatever it is you don’t. You become snippy with people who pass by and you think that there must be some sort of action that you can take that will heal this issue. The person you are certain you have offended suddenly becomes the single greatest judge in your life and the object of all your efforts of approval. That feeling in the pit of your stomach can be paralyzing. I think that’s the feeling Peter was wrestling with in John 21.

Peter failed Jesus. He failed Jesus in the most grievous way! Peter denied Jesus as Jesus walked to the cross carrying Peter’s sins. When Jesus rose, he didn’t show himself to Peter first. Peter could have let his mind wonder why? He saw Jesus with the other disciples, but Jesus didn’t really recognize him. Peter wouldn’t dare to say something in front of others until acknowledged. His offense is too great. So… it’s been several days since the disciples have seen the risen Lord and I imagine Peter is waiting for Jesus to say something like, “hey buddy, I love you. We’re good, don’t sweat it.” He hopes for a nod, he longs for a fist bump, anything to tell him it’s ok. But, he gets nothing. Jesus has returned, He has shown Himself, and Peter has yet to be affirmed. Imagine the depression.

So… what do we do when we have this feeling of complete and utter failure in our stomach and no resolution? We fall back to what we have done in the past. So, Peter goes fishing! I think his friends must have felt the uncomfortable tension in their most braggadocios leader. They all acquiesce to his desires and go fishing.

Well, Jesus is not done dealing with Peter. Jesus has purpose for our struggles for approval. There is a great deal we can learn. He shows up on the shore where they are fishing and repeats a miracle they had seen before.

While they are in the boat he calls to them and says cast your nets on the other side! They do and they get fish. How comforting to know that Jesus will continue to show himself to us in ways that work for our own needs. The disciple whom Jesus loved says, “it’s the LORD!!” Without hesitation, Peter puts on his cloths and dives into the water to swim back. Now at this point, the other disciples must be a little annoyed at Peter’s attempt to reconcile himself. It’s always like that when you know someone is irrationally trying to reconcile himself to an authority. From the outside, it looks like they are simply being annoying. They neglect chores and duty for the sake of proving themselves in some drastic way! The conversation probably went like this:
Disciple Jesus Loved: Check it out it’s Jesus (turns to get the net), help me dra..(hears a splash), Wha!? Hey! Get back in the boat and help with the fish! Ahhh.. it’s no use.

James: Dude, what did you say to Peter?

DJL: Nothing, I just said it’s the Lord and he jumps out of the boat!

Andrew: would you guys stop yapping about captain mopey and get over here and help!

So they drag in the fish and row back to the shore. At which point Peter stands up and runs over to the boat to grab all the fish hastily and drags it to Jesus as if to say, “look! I have caught all these for you!” What’s funny, is

Jesus already had fish. He has a fire set and is already cooking fish and bread, but he asks for their fish anyway. You see, Jesus values our efforts, even when He does not need them. He still wants them, He still loves our work, He values you. The first lesson Jesus is showing Peter, is “I’m still here.” No matter what you have done, you cannot drive the LORD of heaven away from you and you cannot drive away His love. The second lesson is that Jesus values our work, even when it is inadequate.

So Peter struggles to earn the grace that Christ has given him and He sits down to eat with the King of all Glory, the King that Peter failed. Peter has been confronted with a reality, he cannot fix what he has done. He cannot change it. He cannot earn the grace that Jesus keeps on handing him. So, what is Peter to do? He sits, eating fish, awaiting his head nod. He waits for an, “it’s ok buddy.” He waits for some acknowledgement of his approval and forgiveness. Jesus will give him the most powerful antidote for his affliction and indeed the most powerful antidote for our own struggles with depression, in the next passage. But more on that later.