Fleeing the Birdcage
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God. And the peace of God which passes all understanding will guide your hearts and minds in Jesus Christ.” - Philippians 4:6-7
Before even reading the newsletter I get every month, I know what the topic for May was: anxiety. The devotional featured a sketch of a stressed out bird trapped in a birdcage. Upset, confused and hunched over, the bird was unable to escape and had become despondent. The point of the newsletter was to emphasize some key facts about anxiety and to point toward possible biblical solutions.
Let’s start with our world. What is going on out there? We have been experiencing plenty of stress and anxiety. According to one health organization, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the US, and these anxiety issues appear to be on the rise, with the greatest at risk people being teenagers and young adults. In his research, author Pastor William Barclay noted that retail book seller Barnes and Noble reported the sale of books dealing with anxiety has increased by 25% during the Pandemic.
What is anxiety? Webster defines it as being: apprehensive uneasiness or nervousness usually over an impending state or anticipated illness. But clearly something deeper is going on impacting people more than just uneasiness, as it has begun to show the effects on the overall health of people and society. The etymology or word origin sheds a more specific light for us to consider. The word “anxiety” in Greek can be translated to mean: being “pulled apart,” “drawn in opposite directions,” or “divided into parts.” Doesn’t this better describe what we experience; where we are?
What does scripture say? There are plenty of scriptures telling us not to be anxious. The reason so much attention is given to any subject in scripture is due to our propensity to be stuck on those issues. Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:34 not to be anxious about tomorrow. Why? The answer is because we are stuck on the perpetual tomorrows while losing site of today! In Philippians 4:6, Paul states: “do not be anxious about anything…” but despite those exhortations, we still become anxious, with our anxieties covering all aspects of our lives, both personal and corporate. We all struggle with anxiety and we need help but where to find help is critical.
There are several points to consider as followers of Christ regarding anxiety. The first is to reconsider Jesus’ words. Why does he implore us not to worry? Think of it this way: How many times do we miss the blessing of today worrying about what might be tomorrow? The great 19th century Baptist preacher, Charles Spurgeon, reminded his congregation and us that: “Anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but only empties today of its strength.”
There are plenty of self effort books being written and sold, but very few biblically have real source of relief from anxiety. At hand is the issue of who do we turn to for help? In times of anxiety, what does god call us to do? On reason so many are anxious is because they are failing to turn to God, to trust in God with their doubts and anxieties.
We need to maintain perspective. Let me be blunt: God does not promise us a life free from trials and tribulations. We need to know, understand and acknowledge that our condition as believers is not unique or exclusive to this moment in history. In our continuing education, we have seen over and over again, the anxiety, stress and trouble each generation of believers has had throughout the history of the church. Do you remember what we said a few weeks ago about our “being in end times?” Since the first Pentecost, the church has been in her “final days.” the kingdom is on the move, the kingdom is here, and the kingdom is coming. In reality, the kingdom of God has come through Christ Jesus and the Spirit of the Living God! Some of you may be asking where this is occurring as we cannot see it. We live in a world of paradox. Maybe you are looking in the wrong place!
When anxiety strikes, do you go to God? If we are honest, to God is the last place we turn to, after we have exhausted all other avenues of self effort. What if we went to God in prayer, in confidence, that we can cast our burdens on Him because He cares? (1 Peter 5). Our identities in Christ should form our response to anxieties and stress that will come. Do you remember math problems where a complicated equation would be surrounded by brackets and parentheses? Deriving the correct answer depended on what part of the problem you solved first; did you work with the parentheses first or did you work with the numbers in the brackets first? The lesson of dealing with anxiety is much the same. Is God first in the order of operations?
As the remedy to anxiety, I would encourage one and all to cultivate a deeper prayer life. On Saturday, May 15, we are having a “Walk Around the Church” as a day of prayer for our community of believers, our message, and our witness. Will you join us? Praying from home also works! We also are offering on Sunday mornings a challenging, in depth study of romans 8, the passage of assurance in Christ against all charges against God’s people.
God’s promises are sure and steadfast. Learn to stand on those promises!