Faith And Anxiety

“…do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” –  Philippians 4:6-7 (ESV).

People of this age suffer from anxiety more than any other generation before us. We make plans for the future, seeing bright possibilities in front of us, only to be disappointed or frustrated when they don’t work out. We’re trying to make ends meet in a difficult economy while still longing to pursue the dreams we’re passionate about. We live in a world that’s in a constant state of distress, there is an opportunity to worry around every corner, and the future seems more cloudy than ever before. The bigger question is what as Christians do we do about it. 

The Philippians 4:6-7 scripture passage is an invitation to check our hearts. We are not criticized or berated for our anxiety or fear, we’re redirected and refocused. Paul is telling us that instead of being anxious or fearful about your present circumstances, lift your eyes and your perspective to the One who is ultimately in control. When anxiety and fear set in we are offered an opportunity to examine where our trust is placed. Do you have faith that God is as good as He says he is? Do you trust that God is a good Father who loves His children? Or are you busy trying to control outcomes?

Unbelief is the perfect breeding ground for anxiety. When we lack faith, we’re inviting fear into our hearts and asking it to move right in. We cannot fix this on our own. Navigating the change from anxiety to belief, from fear to faith, only comes through the Holy Spirit, who transforms our hearts and minds.

Paul didn’t write in Philippians 4 that when we pray God will magically fix things. Instead, he wrote that God’s peace would flood our hearts and minds, and an impossible level of calm will surround our emotions and our thoughts. When our minds and hearts are in a state of chaotic, anxious fear, God’s peace is there first. God’s peace blocks out the anxiety and uncertainty of life. 

When anxiety and chaos surround us, we need to “think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth”(Colossians 3:2) and come to God with “…all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.” (1 Peter 5:7). There are things we can’t control and be out of control often results in fear. But what we can control, is our attitude and our response when circumstances zap our hope and have faith in God that He is in control and things will work according to His plans. The truth is you cannot handle everything that happens to you in your life, but God can, Lamentations 5:17 says “Our hearts are sick and weary, and our eyes grow dim with tears.” But verse 19 adds, “But Lord, you remain the same forever! Your throne continues from generation to generation.”

Discussion Questions: 

  1. Knowing God and His Word allows us to face our fears with faith. Why? How can you do this in practical ways?
  2. It’s not uncommon to be anxious when life gets hard. What does this imply about what we believe about God?

Doing A New Thing through Faith.

“But forget all that— it is nothing compared to what I am going to do. For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.” — Isaiah 43:18-19.

If you find yourself doing the same thing month after month, year after year, yet nothing happens and you never come any closer to getting done what you want to be done, you may need to change what you are doing.  Albert Einstein is widely credited with saying, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” While I would not use the word insanity, it is a common trap that most of us fall into during our lives. Human beings are creatures of routine. It is difficult to break out of our routines and habits and try different approaches to the problems in our life.

But here is the bottom line: If you want something different, you have to do something different today to create a different life tomorrow. There’s no other way to get there. And that is true of our spiritual life as well.

In Isaiah 43, God spoke about doing something new. The ESV says, “Behold, I am doing a new thing.” God was calling His people out from the old and into the new. A  powerful example of God doing a new thing was seen in the ministry of Jesus Christ. The Pharisees were dedicated to keeping the Law and had developed a complex system of rules they thought helped them do this. But Jesus consistently violated their rules. The Pharisees were convinced that Jesus was breaking the law, but He repeatedly told them, “Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose.” (Matthew 5:17).

Are you expecting God to do a new thing in your life? That may seem overwhelming when you consider your present circumstances. So much is on the horizon, so much lies ahead. Don’t be discouraged by bumps in the road or detours on the path. Continue to trust, put your faith in God and work on putting new things into every season of life.

God can use change to perfect you. Change, when responded to correctly, can build your character and your faith.  Romans 5:3-4 says, “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is it difficult for you to try new things? Why?
  2. How could God start something new in you this week if you let go?

Where Are You Going?

“Simon Peter asked, “Lord, where are you going?” And Jesus replied, “You can’t go with me now, but you will follow me later.” – John 13:36

 The Lord was with the twelve in an upper room.  After Jesus humbly stooped to wash His disciples’ feet, they celebrated the Passover meal one last time together. Afterward, Jesus was giving final instructions and words of comfort to His disciples. He  told them that “where I am going, you cannot come.”

When Jesus says He is going away, Peter naturally wants to know where He is going. Peter and the others have been with Jesus virtually 24 hours a day since Jesus called them to follow Him. There have been times Jesus has sent them off on a mission or an errand of some sort, there were times Jesus snuck away from the group to pray and be alone with his Father. But the reality is, they were always together, so naturally Peter is curious about where Jesus is going that they cannot go. 

This response is classic Peter. Quick to react and quick to speak while not always taking the time to think before reacting. If Peter were a rollercoaster, every rider would be in serious need of Dramamine from the constant ups and downs. It is pretty easy to understand the confusion because most of us know Peter.  We understand Peter.  Of all the people in scripture, Peter jumps out as one person we can identify with.   

Peter typifies whom Jesus came to save.  Jesus came to seek the lost.  That includes Peter, you, and me.  Jesus saved the lost.  Jesus saved Peter.  Jesus saved us.

So now we are carriers of the gospel. Sometimes it doesn’t go all that well. Most of us have done it. We’ve overstated (or at least, overestimated) our commitment, abilities, or strength. Our intentions, at the time, were probably good. We just didn’t realize Satan’s power to combine circumstance, fear, doubt, disillusionment … in a concoction brewed just right to bring us to our knees. Peter had a tendency to overstate everything in his early years as a disciple. Eventually, however, Jesus had a disciple fully prepared to lead powerfully while also walking humbly. Let’s not let our fears and failures keep us from following Christ and being used for His glory. In addition, let’s not overstate our ability to handle temptations, trials, difficulties, challenges, or problems and be bold carriers of the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

Discussion Questions

  1. In what ways do you identify with Peter? 
  2. What can we do this week to be a better carrier of the gospel of Jesus Christ?   

Failure Is The Opportunity To Succeed

“My mother always taught me never to look back in regret but to move on to the next thing. The amount of time people waste dwelling on failures rather than putting that energy into another project always amazes me. I have fun running all the Virgin businesses–so a setback is never a bad experience, just a learning curve.” – Richard Branson

One of the most well-known stories in the Bible is the first encounter between Jesus and Peter. Peter and his friends had fished all night, but they have caught nothing. The next day, Peter was washing his nets, probably tired and discouraged. Jesus comes along and tells him that He would like to use his boat as a platform from which to speak. So Peter allows Jesus to use his boat. After Jesus finishes he tells Peter, “Let us go fishing.” Peter reacted and said, “Master,” Simon replied, “we worked hard all last night and didn’t catch a thing. But if you say so, I’ll let the nets down again.” Peter went fishing and caught such a haul of fish that he was astonished.

This story teaches us about failure and success. On their first fishing trip, their work netted them nothing. On the second trip, they caught so many fish their nets began to tear. It was the same lake, the same boat, the same nets, and the same people fishing.

So what made the difference? Jesus was in the boat the second time. The second time, Peter was not going it alone. Jesus makes all the difference.  When the fishermen saw what Jesus had done, they were amazed.  Luke 5:8 tells us: “When Simon Peter realized what had happened, he fell to his knees before Jesus and said, “Oh, Lord, please leave me—I’m such a sinful man.” 

“For he was awestruck by the number of fish they had caught, as were the others with him. His partners, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were also amazed. Jesus replied to Simon, “Don’t be afraid! From now on you’ll be fishing for people!” (Luke 5:9-10)

If you’re reading this today and feel as Peter did, then we need to remember that It doesn’t matter what we’ve done, or how far we’ve wandered or how many failures you have experienced along the way. God is always actively pursuing us to bring us back to Himself. I want you to know that He will break every possible barrier to reach you. Today, you can meet with Jesus, bring Him your failures and mistakes, and allow Him to work in your life. With Jesus in your boat, the fear of failure and worry about the results fade away.

Peter and the other disciples had a lot to learn, and there would be failures, but from this point on they followed Him.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What emotions might Peter have felt at that moment when he pulled up the nets with so many fish? Have you had such moments in your life? 
  2. A failure is an opportunity to grow. Agree or disagree and why? 
  3. What can we do this week to move past our failures? 

Hope For The Best

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” — 1 Peter 1:3.

In this life, there are many reasons to feel discouraged. The news alone can provide the reasons to make one feel hopeless. But on the other hand. there are reasons for hope as well. 

The basic definition of hope is to look forward with confidence or expectation. The Word of God is replete with hope. Paul knew that all of us need hope in the midst of hopeless situations. As he and Silas sat in a Philippian jail, they could have been in despair. But, instead, they had hope and sang praises to God. And God brought them deliverance and victory (Acts 16).

We may go through situations that are threatening, that can cause uncertainty, anxiety, doubt, or fear. But if we depend on God, we can know that He is the source of hope, and we can rejoice in Him and the hope He promises us. If we have hope we can be filled with joy and peace, no matter what is going on in the world.

Hope will paint a picture for faith to believe to receive. Hope will connect faith with God’s love to supply the answer. Hope looks forward to a promise of God. Faith reaches out to receive it. Today, remind yourself not to place your hope in the world, the world system, or any human being in the world. Rejoice in the hope that God has given you. Place your hope in the living God and His eternal power to save and make everything right in His time, in His way. And then spread the hope you have. 

Putting hope or faith into action can take many different shapes, but I believe it should always follow Jesus’ example of solidarity with those less fortunate, inclusion of those on the margins, and putting others before ourselves. There are so many needs out there. We can’t fix all of them, none of us have the time, resources, or money to fix every wrong.  

Giving hope to others won’t be quick or easy, but it is possible.  We see examples of changing people’s lives all the time. You have to choose to get involved. It requires a resolve to get involved, to make a difference in somebody’s life this season. We only need to get involved in our journey of hope today. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does a hope-filled life look like?
  2. Through Christ, we have hope. How can that be evident in your life this week?

A Shining Faith

“You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.” – Matthew 5:14-16. 

In the Bible, God instructs His people to live in such a way that we profoundly impact the lives of others. And it doesn’t have a lot to do with age, experience, or qualifications.  A case in point: The apostle Paul told his young protégé Timothy, “Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity.” (1 Timothy 4:12). Timothy was quite capable of setting an example for others, even though he was young. Likewise, you are capable of setting a life-changing example for someone else, regardless of your past or personal struggles. Regardless of your family background or your level of formal Christian education.  

A quote often mistakenly attributed to St. Francis of Assisi gets to the heart of the matter: “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.” Words certainly have their place in a believer’s life. The right words, spoken at the right time, can change lives. But those words must be accompanied by loving actions and concern. Jesus set the example. He was a man of actions and words. He involved himself in the lives of others. He demonstrated His love through compassionate interaction.

Light brings sight. Light reveals the unseen. Not only that, it chases away the darkness. It brings security and comfort. Think about it. Each time you turn on a lamp, darkness can no longer remain. What seems so dark and heavy, and sometimes oppressing, immediately leaves with just a flick of a switch. Light is powerful. And we have light in us. That light is Jesus Christ. We can’t do that if we’re demonstrating our faith and love to those around us. Light is never meant to be hidden. It has a purpose. We may be the only example of God for someone in our lives. How will they ever get to know Him, if we are not a carrier for faith, hope, and love?  In other words, we project the light, life, and love of Jesus for the world to see.

Jesus told His followers to “let your light shine before others,” calling them to live an active faith, not a passive one. Put your light on its stand. Your circumstances are an opportunity to shine brightly for the Lord and to share God’s overcoming truth with those around you. Your family and community can tell what you believe by how you live.

Discussion Questions: 

  1. What situation are you in right now in which you have to exercise faith in God?
  2. How can you share your faith with others in the midst of your circumstances?

Fear Not

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” – Isaiah 43:2-3

Fear is a strong motivator and very difficult to resist. We allow it to paralyze us when we know we should act, to work us into a frenzy when we know we should remain calm; it causes us to stretch the truth, dictate relationships, and to guide our interactions with each other.  Rick Warren says, “Fear is a self-imposed prison that will keep you from becoming what God intends for you to be. You must move against it with the weapons of faith and love.”

Fear can drive us to do things that we otherwise would not do. As followers of Jesus Christ, how do we deal with fear? How are we to respond to fears in our past? In our present? And how can we prepare for fears we have yet to face?

Jesus knew that we would be afraid. That is why we read “fear not” over and over again in the Bible. God knows that we alone cannot overcome our fears. Fortunately, His love and grace enable us to conquer our fears. The good news is God does not want us living in fear.

If we are going to do and be all that God intended, then we have to decide to silence the negative voices of fear and instead listen to and speak the truth of God’s Word.  The devil will try to fan your fears with “what if you fail?  What if you embarrass yourself?” In those times, concentrate on the promises and reassurance of God. Remember His power, love, presence, and trustworthiness. Remember His faithfulness.  The reality is that Christ is with us and He is at work in and through us. He is on our side, protecting us always.

Jesus asks us to turn our fear over to Him.  Replace that fear with the love, power, and sound mind that He gave us. “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7) His presence is the answer to our fear.  Fight fear with a faithful, indescribable God.

The only way to deal with fear is to face it head-on before it takes over your life. Trust that God is for us and if God is for us what do we have to fear?  “I prayed to the Lord, and he answered me. He freed me from all my fears.” (Psalm 34:4)

Again, I don’t know what 2022 and beyond holds, but regardless of what comes your way this year, remember to fear the Lord. There will always be fears to face, but the fear of the Lord will help you face and overcome your fears by focusing on the one who is greater than anything you could face in this life.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What fears do you have in your life today? 
  2. What can we do this week to give those fears to God?  

Faith And Acceptance

“Have you lost your senses? After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?” – Galatians 3:3.  

Have you ever been in a situation where you didn’t feel accepted or you just didn’t fit in? Perhaps it was the way you dressed, or maybe it was because you were too brutally honest. Or maybe there wasn’t a specific cause, but you just didn’t fit in.  

When we sense that we tend to go over the event or circumstance looking for why we were not accepted. You start to think of what you might do differently next time to be accepted.  When you become a follower of Jesus you are wholly and fully accepted in Christ, by Christ, and through Christ.  

The apostle Paul wrote to the churches of Galatia in part because they had forgotten this foundational spiritual principle. Within two years of visiting the churches in the region, a group of devout, God-fearing, people known as the Judaizers had slipped into the church and were trying to convince the church that God’s acceptance through Christ wasn’t enough. They had forgotten that they were saved by faith alone through God’s grace (Ephesians 2:8).

 In Galatians, Paul emphasizes the critical importance of understanding that salvation is a free gift of God’s grace that is received by faith alone in Christ alone. In Galatians 3:3, Paul asks the people this question: “Have you lost your senses? After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?”

That is a good question then and a good question now. Many people have the same problem that plagued the Galatians: practicing religion instead of relationships. They are trying to live for God through their own efforts instead of allowing God to live in and through us by faith. Genuine faith is about believing in God. It’s a relationship between us and God that begins by faith, is lived by faith, and ends in faith. 

Genuine faith is not a long list of performances we do to impress others. It is the secret to the Christian life. Perhaps we’ve been trying to do all the work ourselves. If we daily stay connected to our Source, then the natural outcome will be a simple life of genuine faith. Genuine faith requires putting our trust in God alone. We will never experience the peace of heaven if our hope is in this earth. We will never experience the power and help of the Holy Spirit if our hope is in our own abilities, talents, and strengths. We will never fully experience the satisfaction of truly being loved if we place our hope of affirmation in the opinions of others. 

 Discussion Questions:

  1. Why is it so hard to accept that salvation is a free gift of God’s grace? 
  2. What can you do this week to live more with faith? 

Each Of Us Has God-Given Abilities

“This is why I remind you to fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you when I laid my hands on you. For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” – 2 Timothy 1:6-7.

What are you really good at? Listening? Or showing empathy? Maybe you’ve never met a computer glitch you couldn’t repair, or you’re an amazing manager. Perhaps you just seem to uncover opportunities to help people wherever you go. Whatever your talent or skill is, it comes from God. God doesn’t give us talents or skills so we can be uber-successful. While that can happen, God wants us to be “good and faithful servants” with our talents.

Jesus tells the parable of three servants who were given one, two, and five talents respectively. The two servants who received five and two talents used the money wisely and doubled it in business ventures. The third servant buried the money in the ground and didn’t even loan it to lenders to draw interest. Remember, one talent was plenty of money to do something with. It could have been used wisely. Each servant was given according to how well he had proved his abilities. The point is not how much you’re given, but how well you use what you’re given.  

Every Christian has at least one spiritual gift. Wayne Gruden in Systematic Theology describes a spiritual gift as “any ability that is empowered by the Holy Spirit and used in any ministry of the church.” In 2 Timothy 1: 6-7 we read these words that Paul wrote to Timothy. “This is why I remind you to fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you when I laid my hands on you. For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.”

What talents or gifts has God given you? Today is a good day to take an honest inventory of all the abilities God has endowed you with. And more importantly, ask yourself: Why has God given me these talents?  There are many examples of ways talents can be used to show glory to God. If you are gifted in teaching, perhaps you can use your talents to lead a small group. Do you find it easy to converse with others? Consider using that gift to ask someone who is lonely to lunch. Is cooking one of your talents? Preparing meals for a person who lost a family member could be one application of your talent.

Look for opportunities to serve God and use your gifts in your daily life. Using your talents for God might not look the same every day. Some days you may notice exactly how God is working through your talents; other days it may be more behind closed doors and you may not see how your gift is affecting others.

Even if you do not see how your talent is making an impact, it is important to let yourself be used by God because you may never know how you affected someone’s life.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is or has been your attitude toward spiritual gifts?
  2. What would you say are your spiritual gifts? What has led you to this identification of gifts, or how did you discover your gifts? If you are unsure of your spiritual gifts, how can you determine what your gifts are?  

Stay Positive In A Negative World

 “Be careful what you think, because your thoughts run your life.” Proverbs 4:23 (NCV)

Negativity is nothing new. Since Adam and Eve were first banished from the garden, life has been hard and we have been complaining about it. Too often other people or our circumstances cause us to feel offended, angry, or hurt, and to be reminded of our shortcomings and flaws. It is difficult to find peace and joy in such times. 

Proverbs 4:23 was written by King Solomon. If you read chapter 4 you see that while Solomon was king, he didn’t focus on advising about royal matters.  Instead, he spoke of things such as the value of controlling their thoughts, which determine how they felt and how they lived. Is teaching us to be careful how we think because the quality of our thoughts will always determine the quality of our life.

It doesn’t take a Ph.D. from Harvard to discern that we live in difficult times. Certainly “peace” would not be a word that we would use to describe the world we live in. The more likely words we would use would be pandemic, racial division, strife, and political division: The list goes on. It is easy to be discouraged and let negative thoughts run rampant in our lives.

Whatever our minds focus on is what will play out in our lives and eventually shape who we are. King Solomon knew this to be true, and counsels us to be careful about what we think and feel. He knew it’s often our thoughts, not our circumstances, which cause us to be discouraged and negative. When we think negative thoughts, we feel negative feelings, leading us to believe life is negative overall.

The solution is to replace negative thoughts with positive ones. When you catch yourself thinking a negative thought, try halting yourself and think of something positive. There are many Bible verses pertaining to our “minds” and “thoughts.” 2 Corinthians 10:5 says, “We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ.” Isaiah 26:3 adds, “You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!” And finally Ephesians 4:23: “Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes.”

Ask God this week to help us conquer our negative thoughts and focus completely on Him.

Discussion Questions

  1. What happens to us inside when we overemphasize negative things? How does our negativity influence others? 
  2. What can you do this week to minimize the negative in our lives?