Anxiety (4)

Intentional Grandparenting: What? Why? How? #4

Dear Grandparents who care deeply about the spiritual health of your grandchildren,

Christmas season is, for many grandparents, a mixture of joy, sadness, and stress. If you are experiencing the joy of good and healthy relationships with your grandkids (whether biological or temporarily “adopted”), our one word of encouragement is “Alleluia!”

But often we, at the same time, experience higher-than-usual tension in other grandchild relationships­­. It overcomes our joy—and sometimes breaks our hearts. Satan loves to see that happen.

How can we protect, maintain, or regain our personal spiritual and relational balance in such situations? One crucial step is to stop allowing those stressful relationships to dominate our thoughts. Let’s focus instead on the most vital relationship in life: our relationship with Yahweh, our Father in heaven (Philippians 4:8).

How can we refocus on Him? One way is to ponder the timeless truth revealed in the ancient names and descriptions of God that we see in the Scriptures. Here are several of His names and descriptions; may He soothe your heart today with these realities:

  • Are you being ignored, unnoticed by your grandchild? God is El Ro9570812857?profile=originali, “The Living One who sees me” – Genesis 16:6-14; Psalm 139:7-12.
  • Feeling alone, abandoned, or even rejected by your grandchild or their parent(s)?? He is Immanuel, “God with us” – Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23. 
  • Are you worried, anxious, or even depressed about your grandchild’s relationship with you or with God? “The Lord is my Shepherd” – Psalm 23:1-3; Philippians 4:4-8.
  • Are you frustrated, unable to heal that relationship? Brokenhearted? God is Jehovah-Rapha, “The Lord who heals” – Psalm 147:3.
  • Do you struggle with forgiving that grandchild who disappointed or offended you personally? Imitate the mercy, grace, and steadfast love of Jehovah – Exodus 34:4-7a; Luke 15:11-20.

What now? In the words of Romans 15:13 (ESV): “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”

P.S. Does pondering these names of God encourage you? If so, then here’s another way to cultivate your legacy of spiritual influence on your grandkids when they need encouragement: Share one or more of these names of God with them!

(c) John C. Garmo

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Lay Down Your Anxiety

Let’s begin our exploration of our future at its most immediate location: Today.

11-59.jpg?w=174&h=174&width=174My dad has a phrase I’ve used a lot in the past couple decades: “He’s the God of 11:59.” In other words, God intervenes in our lives when he’s supposed to, at our time of deepest need—not when we think he ought to show up, or when it would be easiest for us. Those who constantly take faith-filled risks live in 11:59. The rest of us would do well to remember that 11:59 might, in fact, be the best place to live our lives.

Peter wrote the following about the Day of the Lord, but I believe it applies pretty well on this day, too: “But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance (2 Peter 3:8–9).

What I interpret as God’s slowness in making my life less stressful is, rather, his patience in waiting for me to repent and be willing to live in 11:59—to fully accept the easy yoke of Jesus, so that I move at his correct pace, knowing that his provision will always be there when I need it, and that his provision to me in fact brings him glory.

Thus, I’m also often been fond of adding a corollary phrase to my dad’s: “I need to reset my watch.”

The truth is, we often have no clue about God’s timing. But a good rule of thumb is this: Remove yourself, and anything else other than the God you trust in, from the equation—which is also to say, remove the pain that “waiting” brings to you—then view the situation again. At that point in time when it’s clear there’s nothing you can do to meet that need, there God will be.

I’m writing today’s entry in such a season. Over the past year, things I thought I could depend on—schedules, promises, routines, people—have failed or fallen by the wayside. My wife and I are in a place where each week could be the one when we no longer can successfully pay the bills, when work may or may not come. And yet, weeks and now months like this have now gone by, and a check or an assignment arrives in time, or the money went further than expected. Thus, if we look at the situation objectively rather than with an anxiety about our future, the fact is… we lack nothing.

We are already residing in eternity, even here. The more I realize that, the less I need to worry that God will take care of our needs. We all have to rely on God, whether we care to admit that or not. The blessing, when it comes right down to it, is when we realize that and live as if it were true. Because it is.

Matthew 6, the center of the Sermon on the Mount, is loaded with Jesus’ assertions about our future: The Lord’s Prayer, the promise that our private giving—and fasting—will be rewarded openly, the encouragement to store up treasures in heaven rather than on earth, but most apparently in the following passage used by every one of us who worry about the future—thus, I’ll step aside and let Jesus close today’s thoughts, because after all they’re about today:

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:25–34).

Lay It Down Today

We’re going to spend some extra time in the Word in the coming entries, to discipline ourselves in this habit. But first, let’s try a little experiment. Find a watch or a clock with a second hand. Then, do not be anxious: Close your eyes and wait before Jesus right now. In fact, do it for exactly 1 minute and 59 seconds—or at least what you think is 1 minute and 59 seconds. Keep your eyes closed until you think that amount of time has passed, then look up. Note how close you were (or weren’t). Read Matthew 6:25–34 again, then reflect:

  • How hard was it to still yourself and wait, for not even two minutes? What kinds of things went through your head during that time? Why?
  • Why do we seem to be able to do everything but wait? Why does that make us so uncomfortable?

Close your eyes once more—this time to pray. Ask God to “reset your watch,” that you can live more within his perfect will and timing, free from anxiety about your future—including your future today.

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5 Simple Stress-Busters for a Better Life

I recently started playing my guitar again, and I’ve been struck by the importance of proper tuning. If just one or two strings are too tight or too loose, every chord will sound like discord.

Stress works the same way. If our lives had no stress at all, we’d be like a guitar string dangling in the air. That kind of life is boring, purposeless, and unfulfilling.

However, many of us have grown accustomed to far too much tension on our strings. Not only does that create an off-key sound, but it also runs the risk of snapping the string snapping. Before electric guitar tuners were invented, I broke lots of strings that way.

Although entire books have been written on the keys to handling stress, I want to share 5 of the most important and most practical lessons I’ve learned in my personal struggles with this important issue:

Triage. Perhaps you’ve heard this term associated with sorting out the victims in a battle scene, terrorist attack, or natural disaster. Often it’s not possible for the medical team to save all the victims, so they must prioritize. For example, some of the victims will die even if given medical care, while others will survive whether they are given treatment or not. So often the top priority is to determine where you can truly make a difference—starting with those whose very survival will be determined by whether they receive care.

Of course, this analogy is far from perfect. But like a triage situation, most of us have more problems coming our way than we can possibly handle all at once. We will inevitably be overwhelmed by anxiety unless we determine some kind of prioritization of the needs we face.

To put it rather crudely, most of us feel like a mosquito in a nudist colony: There’s plenty to do, but we just don’t know where to start. That’s why it’s essential to have some kind of grid or criteria to help us decide where to begin.

Focus. This principle follows directly on the heels of triage. After triage helps us sort things out, focus enables us to devote our time and resources in the direction of one thing at a time. This is incredibly hard for most of us, especially in the age of multitasking, but it’s a crucial part of reducing our stress.

As a kid, I loved playing with magnifying glasses. It seemed almost magical to start fires by focusing the rays of the sun. In contrast, I noticed that unfocused sunrays only made things warm—there was little impact and no combustion.

If we truly expect our lives to make an impact, there must be focus, for that’s the only way to set the world on fire! Accordingly, a friend recently sent me this acronym: F.O.C.U.S. = Follow One Course Until Successful. That’s good advice, isn’t it?

Honesty. I’ll never forget the time a friend began an internship with a company that had the mistaken impression that he was a computer guru. As a result, the company was expecting him to do all sorts of things he was completely unqualified for. Talk about stressful! It was a very humbling situation, but the only solution was to honestly inform the company of his true competencies. It was a hard conversation to have, but quite a relief when things were out in the open.

While people typically use lies to avoid difficulties, such schemes always backfire. By its very nature, dishonesty is stressful. When we’re disingenuous, we inevitably create all kinds of unnecessary anxiety.

Self-Awareness. Not long ago, I was introduced to some new friends who specialize in helping people “brand themselves.” They asked me all sorts of probing questions about my mission and vision in life, trying to get me to clarify my true “identity” and purpose.

At my age, you would think I would be pretty good at giving an “elevator speech” about who I am and what I do. However, this was much more difficult than I had hoped. After all, I’ve been an attorney, a pastor, a writer, and a businessman during my varied career, so it’s not really surprising that focus doesn’t come easy for me.

But this is an important issue. Without a deep awareness of our God-given gifts and purpose, we have no way to screen out the distractions in our lives. There’s no grid to help us say “No” to things that are outside our sphere, because we don’t even know what our sphere is.

A lack of self-awareness will also cause us to struggle to know whether to delegate a task or handle it ourselves. Often we end up shouldering things that others should be doing—and this results in a lot more unnecessary stress.

Trusting God. Perhaps this sounds like a religious platitude, but it must be much more than that. The Bible repeatedly tells us to cast our burdens on the Lord, because He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7, Psalm 55:22).

There’s NOTHING more stressful than trying to play God instead of allowing God to live His life through us. The old hymn correctly observed, “Oh, what peace we often forfeit, oh what needless pain we bear, all because we do not carry, everything to God in prayer!”

So the wisest advice I can give you today is this: Recognize that He’s God, and you’re NOT! It’s no wonder your life is stressful if you’ve inadvertently switched roles with the Almighty.

Take a moment to review these 5 keys once more. What practical changes do you need to make in order to tune the strings of your heart to the proper pitch?

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Lay Down Your Doubt

Our anxiety expresses itself through doubt. And our doubt expresses itself by taking things into our own hands. Whether we say it or even consciously think it, trying to make things happen on our own says, at best, “God’s not giving me what I want when I want it, so I’d better make it happen myself.” And despite what seventy-five percent of Christians believe (Barna, 2005), the phrase “God helps those who help themselves” does not come from the Bible.

In this season of my life, God has been confronting my tendency to live out of my doubt. Ask anyone: I’m good at coming up with a plan, pulling things together, and making them happen. I am, to use a human compliment, resourceful. Heck, I like referring to myself as “tenacious.” And yet, in this season all my efforts have come to nothing. Instead, God says, “Depend on me. Let me handle it.”

I try every idea at my disposal, thinking one of them will work. They don’t. And then something that wasn’t my idea shows up and accomplishes what all my bright ideas and efforts couldn’t. Again, God repeats, “Depend on me. Let me handle it.”

Sometimes we already know things are out of our hands. And yet, we wrestle with the same problem as the anxious and the self-reliant—the failure to acknowledge that things still in God’s hands. We see a great example of this as Jesus encounters a boy with an unclean spirit—and even moreso in the people surrounding Jesus and the boy:

And when they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and scribes arguing with them. And immediately all the crowd, when they saw him, were greatly amazed and ran up to him and greeted him. And he asked them, “What are you arguing about with them?” And someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.” And he answered them, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.” And they brought the boy to him. And when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer” (Mark 9:14–29).

I love the incredulousness of Jesus’ “If you can!” here. It not only carries the sense of “Who do you think I am?” but also “Who do you think you are, in God’s sight?” Which is borne out by Jesus’ next sentence, “All things are possible for one who believes.”

While it’s not simply a matter of “God helps those who help themselves,” our inability to “make” God’s will manifest might indeed be a matter of us not being in position for God to use us. Our doubt restrains God’s ability to operate. Not that he couldn’t blow past it any time he liked, as Jesus in fact does here. Nonetheless, God wants us to believe, and is willing to withhold his temporal blessings and deliverance until we do so.

I’m not advocating a “name-it-and-claim-it” theology here, but I am suggesting a principle of “believe it and you’ll receive it”—provided it’s what God wanted to give you all along. Psalm 84:11b affirms this: “No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.” There is a truth buried within the more positivistic twistings of the gospel, and it’s this: So much of God’s will for our lives remains unclaimed, because we can’t bring ourselves to believe that God would really want to do something good for us.

Thus, I suspect that the prayer and fasting the disciples lacked for this situation wasn’t purely a matter of failing to press the right spiritual buttons—let alone “if you do this spiritual discipline more regularly, you’ll be so much more effective for the kingdom.” There’s truth to that, but there’s a deeper truth here: Like every spiritual discipline, prayer and fasting was a way for the disciples to humble themselves before God so that they too could see the situation properly, become acutely aware of their own fallenness, human inability, and just plain lack of trust—and acknowledge, as the boy’s father did, “I believe; help my unbelief!”

Lay down your doubt, and let Jesus help your unbelief, so that you can receive the good things he has already prepared for you.

Lay It Down Today

Let’s get more creative with today’s passage from Mark. Read it again right now, putting yourself in the disciples’ place. Experience the inability to heal, Jesus’ rebuke, and the curiosity/humility afterward. Then read it once more, from the perspective of the father—the overwhelmedness and desperation for his son to be delivered, and the equally deep desperation to want to believe fully that Jesus could, and would, deliver his son.

Who do you identify with more right now? Spend some time giving up your doubt, and the roadblocks you’ve placed to reinforce that doubt, to Jesus right now. Hand over to him those things that make you anxious or overwhelmed. Let him handle them, and ask him to keep those things out of your hands from this day forward.

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