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Dealing with Fear, Anxiety, and Stress – Part 1

I’m going to spend this first session talking about an introduction that I believe will be instructive. I believe you’ll learn something because personally, I believe our perspective is everything. And, what I’d like to do just to kind of start this morning is to share, or describe, a couple of scenarios and see if you can relate to them.

It’s Monday morning. You’re getting dressed and getting ready for work and you’re starting to think about all that lays ahead in the coming week and you realize it’s going to be a bear of a week because you’ve got so much on your plate. You’ve got some deadlines; you’ve got a number of meetings, and you know, you start to kind of feel a tightness in your chest as you’re getting ready. And, then it’s one of those weeks where, you’re on the way out the door and your wife reminds you that you need to be at the school today because your child is in a play, or is receiving an award, or whatever. She just makes it clear you need you’re expected at the school, and you know, that wasn’t on your agenda. You’ve forgotten about it. And, then you get to work and the first thing you notice, you have, your voicemail is practically full, and you have all these people that are calling you and they expect an immediate return phone call. And, then you’re in the middle of the day and all of a sudden an assistant or somebody that works with you comes and informs you that one of your big clients, that the CEO of a company that you do business with who you’re very close to, his father died over the weekend and the funeral is tomorrow in Anniston at two o’clock and you’re expected to be there. And, all of a sudden, as you’re, as the unexpected events come at you, and your schedule that is already packed full, you begin to feel a tightness in your chest, a churning in your stomach, or whatever way it may manifest itself in your life, and that’s what stress is.

I felt stressed this morning as I was getting out of the shower and I was realizing, I’m going to be late getting here this morning, I’m starting to get tight thinking about, I’m late.

Let me share another scenario. It’s the middle of the night. You know, you went to sleep. You’ve had a good night’s rest. 2 o’clock you get up and go to the restroom. You come back, you get in the bed, and all of a sudden, you start thinking about things. You don’t intend to, you just start thinking, and the next thing you know, you’re wide awake, and all these little molehills in your life have become a mountain. Then you can’t go back to sleep, and you’re feeling all this anxiety.

You know, it’s interesting, three years ago I had never heard of this word but I hear it all the time from men. Ambien. You know that word? You know, insomnia is a real problem today and I think the reason is, is because our lives have changed. There’s more going on, there’s more stress, there’s more anxiety.

It’s kind of interesting, I read a book a number of years ago. I went back and looked at it because it was published in 1993 it was written by a guy by the name of Dr. Paul Brand. Brand is an orthopedic surgeon, his specialty is the issue of pain, and he wrote a book called The Problem of Pain, and in the book, he says something, and I share that, I tell you that it was written, or published in ‘93 because this may have changed, even though I doubt it. But he says the three best selling drugs in America in 1993, one was a hypertension drug, the second one was a medication for ulcers, and the third was a tranquilizer. I mean, what does that tell you about us?

And then, by the way, this is a wonderful book that I would highly recommend. It’s called Margin by Dr. Richard Swenson. It’s called Margin: Restoring Emotional Physical Financial and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives. And this guy’s a physician, I’m assuming he is a psychiatrist, but I don’t know for certain, but he makes this comment. He says,

“Many social critics would contend that people have always been stressed. It is simply part of living. There has always been changed to cope with, there have always been economic problems, and people have always battled depression. It’s the nature of life to have its ups and downs so what’s all the fuss? Well I’m not the one who’s making the fuss. I’m only writing about it. I’m only being honest about what I see all around me. I sit in my examining room and I listen, and then I report what I hear. Something is wrong. People are tired and frazzled. People are anxious and depressed. People don’t have the time to heal anymore. There is a psychic instability in our day that prevents peace from implanting itself very firmly in the human spirit, and despite the skeptics, this instability is not the same old nemesis recast in a modern role. What we have here is a brand new phenomenon.”

Now we all have stress in our lives, we all have anxiety in our lives, and then there’s one final thing that looms out there in the background, and that’s what Jesus called the storms of life. That’s an added problem. The storms of life, you know, events that create unbelievable fear and stress, and if you, I think we would all agree that they’re all just a phone call away. As Solomon says in Proverbs 27:1, you never know what a day may bring forth. And Jesus talks about this in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7.

But before sharing that with you, let me lay out something that happened recently. This is just an example of a storm. As it turned out, it was a temporary storm for this guy, but I was having breakfast with a guy I went to high school with, hadn’t seen him in years, and he was a smoker, and he’d been to see the doctor, and he was told, this was a Friday morning, that he has a spot on his lung. He said, but based on what we see, it’s very likely benign, but, because you’re a smoker, it could very well be cancerous. And they said, well, you’ll know for sure on Monday. Here he is on Friday, I mean, think about this, put yourself in his shoes, Friday, it could be cancer, and you have 72 hours just to sit and wait. As it turned out, it was benign, but think about that 72 hours, that was a major storm in this guy’s life, a real wake-up call.

But Jesus tells us something very important in Matthew 7 in the Sermon on the Mount when He says,

“Everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts upon them may be compared to a wise man who builds his house on the rock and the winds come and the storms come and beat against that house and it stands firm because it had been founded upon the rock.” He says, “He who hears these words of Mine and fails to act upon them may be compared to a fool who built his house on the sand and the winds come and the rains come and the storms come and beat upon that house and it falls because it was founded and built on the sand.”

There’s so much that we can get from this one illustration that Christ gives us, but the thing that strikes me most forcibly is the fact that we are being told by Christ, in advance, that the storms in life are going to come to all of us. No one is immune from the storms of life. They will come to each of us and He’s asking, are you prepared? Philip Yancey says the best way to prepare for the storms of life is to work on a strong supportive life when you’re healthy because, he said, you cannot suddenly construct a foundation of inner strength. It must be built day by day by day.

Again, Dr. Paul Brand, who spent so many years of his life working with leprosy patients in India and then in Louisiana. He saw a lot of death, he saw a lot of suffering. He says this,

“Most of us one day will face some severe struggles in our lives. I am convinced the attitude we cultivate in advance may well determine how suffering will affect us when it does strike.”

Now guys, hopefully, this series will be helpful to you in this regard. I don’t know how many of you were with us back in November when Jerry Leachman spoke. He spoke in November at Birmingham Country Club. We had probably over 400 men there and he gave just a wonderful talk. But I don’t know if you remember, he made this comment, he spoke about fear. You know he lives in Washington, he works with a lot of people in politics and whatever. And, he says, fear runs rampant up there, but he said, he talked about fear in his own life and he reached a point where he says, I’m tired of being afraid. And then he shared something I’ve heard several times, I’ve never researched this, but he shared something that I think most of us aren’t aware of, he said the most commonly found commandment or imperative in the Scriptures is that we fear not, that we’d be not afraid, that we be anxious for nothing, let not your heart be troubled. When you take all of these verses, he says, that is the number-one imperative that God desires, and really commands, us in this life. In other words, this is God’s will for our lives, that we fear not.

I think a question that we might immediately ask is why would this be the commandment most emphasized in the Bible? Why is it so important over everything else? Well, I think it’s quite clear, because of what it does to us as human beings. Think about it, think about how fear and anxiety impact our lives starting with just plain-old physically. Stress could kill you, it can wreck your health.

Wednesday after I shared this, I had a physician come forward and we chatted for a minute, and he said, you wouldn’t believe the number of people that come into my office and are just ailing, and he said, we run a battery of tests, and I have to sit down with them and say, we can’t find anything, there’s nothing wrong. He said you wouldn’t believe the number of them that’ll just break down and start crying because they’ve got such stress and such fear and so much going on internally that it impacts them physically. He says they just start confessing things that are going on in their lives and all their problems. So it impacts us physically.

I love the verse from Proverbs 14:30. Listen to this. It says,

“A tranquil heart is life to the body.”

A tranquil heart is life to the body. So, it impacts us physically. It impacts us emotionally, I mean, fear, if you think about it, is an emotion, but I think where it really impacts significantly and impacts us in our day to day life, it impacts us psychologically. You know, fear has the tendency to run wild in our imagination.

The same physician shared with me how if he ever has to tell one of his patients that they have cancer, as soon as they hear the word cancer, he says, you can tell, they just blocked me out. He said, I can say, tell them that they have cancer but it’s not serious, it’s something we can treat, and you’ll be well, he says, they don’t hear anything after that. He says their minds just run wild thinking of all the possibilities.

C.S. Lewis reminds us of this. God will give us the strength to bear what comes our way, but He does not give us strength to handle all the things we imagine will happen to us. You see, most of what we fear exists in the realm of our imagination, and most of it rarely comes to pass.

You know, I don’t really like acronyms very much, I find that sometimes they’re kind of cheesy, but I heard one that I thought was really good as it relates to this. The word fear. The definition of fear, fear is False Expectations Appearing Real. False Expectations Appearing Real. You know, the word worry comes from an old English word that means, to choke, or to strangle. Yes, it strangles the mind, and the ability to reason and think clearly and I see this so often.

In the past couple of months, I met with several men that are struggling with depression, and one of the things that I notice is, they have, truly, they have false ideas about reality, the way they perceive themselves and their circumstances, and in their imagination, they have all these fears and worries that’ll never come to pass. So, it impacts us physically, emotionally, psychologically, and most significantly, I think it has a huge impact on our spiritual lives. I mean, think about what Jesus said in Mark 4:19,

“The worries of the world choke the Word of God and we are unfruitful.”

In other words, it cripples our spiritual growth.

In Luke 21:34, Jesus says,

“The worries of life weigh down the heart.”

And then, I think, most significantly one of my favorite encounters that Christ has in the Bible is, it’s nothing spectacular, but it’s filled, I think, with meaning, is when Jesus goes into the house of Martha and Mary, and He goes into their house and He’s sitting there teaching, there are probably a host of people in this home, and Mary is sitting at Jesus’ feet listening to Him teach, listening to His words, glued to the teaching of Christ. But Martha, on the other hand, and these are the words that the New American Standard uses, it says,

“She was busy, and she was bothered, and she was worried.”

She was scurrying around trying to just, you know, get a meal ready, getting things done, not paying attention to what Christ was teaching, and it says, she was busy, bothered, and worried. Does that ever describe your life? And then she comes forward and she gets in Jesus’s face and says, “Could you get my sister to help me?” And, though the text doesn’t say this, I almost feel like Jesus looks at her, and probably smiles, and says Martha, Martha, you’re worrying about too many things, too many trivial things, because really, in this life, there are only a few things that matter, and He says, and there’s one thing that matters more than anything else. And when He says that, He points to Mary, then, in verse 39, it says, Mary was seated at the feet of Jesus listening to His words. And it’s important to note, Christ was not telling Martha what she was doing is wrong, this was not a moral issue. It was a priority issue; it had everything to do with, what’s important Martha. I think He’s saying so much of our stress and worry is over issues that are not really important in the grand scheme of things, and what it generally does, it keeps us from focusing on what matters most, and He says, what matters most is our relationship with Him, because this is where we get our strength. So clearly, stress, worry, and fear do great harm to our lives and this is why we’re instructed to fear not.

So it’s critical to note that God’s will for your life and my life is to live without fear, without worry, without anxiety, but He does say there is one exception. He says we are to fear Him, we are to fear being outside of His will.  As one wise man once said to me, the best place in life to be, the safest place to be, the most stress-free place in this life to be, is inside of the will of God, and I’m going to talk about this in one of our later sessions.

When we consider this, all that I’ve said thus far, I think it’s important to note that there are four primary causes of fear and anxiety in this life, and there may be more, but there are four primary ones, and let me just say this, if you run into an issue in your life and you can deal with it, I mean, it’s in your realm of all right, this is a problem I need to confront it and deal with it, you should. That’s one of the things that’s very clear. God says, you do your part, but you know so much of what we face and what we will face out there in the future in the unknown will be many issues and problems that we have no control over and that’s basically, those are the storms of life where we struggle most.

I mean, you can’t control, as a business person, you can’t control the price of oil, you can’t control the price of steel, you can’t control interest rates. I mean, ultimately, you can do that, be the best parent in the world, but you can’t control the decisions your children make as they get to be teenagers and beyond. You can’t control the fact that you’re going to die one day. There’s so much out there, I mean, men think that they can think they can control their own destiny but ultimately, you can’t, because there is so much in this life that you were powerless to control. So what do you do?

That’s why we’re here this morning. Let me share with you four areas that we struggle with where the pressure comes, where the fear comes with anxiety, where the stress comes first. Clearly, for men, their business life, their financial life, I kind of combine those together. Let me think about it, that, where does most of your stress come from? Where does most of your fear and worry come from? I mean, not only is it just, you pray, it impacts your relationships, but most likely, it has an impact on your marriage. You know, clearly, the number one issue that causes stress in a marriage that causes divorce is problems over money.

I’ll never forget. I’ve been married almost 11 years, I’ll never forget the first time this came up in our marriage and created, it’s just real stress, we just got married, we took a 10-day honeymoon. I had anticipated the cost of the honeymoon to be “x”. When I got my credit card bill in a week after we had returned, it cost two times X and I’m just, I come home and my, you know, my wife, we’ve been home a week, happy little bride, you know, cooking dinner.  I come in and I’m in a sour mood, and I don’t know why I said this, but I said, she’s, you know, we start talking, I just said, “I got our credit card bill.” I said, “We’re broke.” And, let me just say this. I have never used that language again in our marriage, but it caused some real stress that evening. It really did. So, your business life, your financial, I don’t think I need to say any more about that.

But then the second one is huge. This one’s kind of underlying when we think of fear. We fear what people think about us. It’s amazing how we worry about how we’re perceived by others, how much energy we expend trying to impress other people, or how much energy we expend trying to hide our inadequacies from others. But you know, one of the biggest fears men have, one of the biggest fears men have is fear failure. I talk to men all the time who, if you look at their lives, they’re incredibly successful but they still they walk around with this fear of failure, and failure, as they define it, it’s a huge struggle for men. So business and financial life, we fear what people think.

And, this next one’s a big one. We worry about the well-being of those we care about. For some of us, it may be your parents or just people you’re close to, but I find for most, and this is a big struggle for me, this is something I worry about a lot, my children. My children. I think many parents, until the day they die, worry about their kids.

And then, the final area, the fourth area would be just health related issues; facing death, dealing with that. You know when I look around at this group and the ages that we are, you know, that’s coming. I mean, we’re all clearly in the second half of life, and that’s coming.

Now, I want to shift gears for a second and go in a different direction. This next part, I think, is very important as we examine our own lives, and I ask you to do this. I’m going to throw a question out and I ask you to think about, how do you deal with stress? I mean, when it comes to how do you deal with fear when you experience something out there that’s causing you great anxiety and fear? How do you deal with it, how do you respond to it, what are you doing when it enters your life? Because, you know, it can be quite unsettling, it can be very painful, it creates pressure, and you got to do something. Well, you know, the most common response, there’s one response that I think is more common than all others, and that is, we carry it around on our shoulders, we try to bear it ourselves, hoping it’ll go away soon, but since it goes away, something else comes up. The problem with this strategy is we weren’t designed to be burden bearing creatures.

When you read the Bible there’s one description of human beings that God uses over and over again. He compares us to sheep. Not real impressive is it? He doesn’t compare us to a stallion or to a tiger or to a elephant, we’re sheep. How many sheep do you know? You think that you see carrying around loads of wood or pulling something or having a saddle on him which people robbing? They just don’t. Sheep are not burden bearing animals. They don’t bear loads very well.

Dr. Tim Keller says this.

“Why does Jesus say that you were the sheep and I am the shepherd? Why not you were the horse and I am your trainer? Because horses without a trainer go wild, sheep without a shepherd. If you go out in the wilderness you never see a herd of wild sheep. Sheep need a shepherd, comprehensively, unlike any other animal. A shepherd provides everything for the sheep. That is why you cannot come to Him just when you are in trouble. We have to say, here is my whole life, we trust Him with our entire life because we must remember, He is the Good Shepherd that lay down His life for the sheep.”

I think a second strategy that we look to, because, you know, we live in prosperous times, we have a lot of successful men in this room.  I think we look to our financial resources as a means to create a security that keeps troubling circumstances out of our lives, or if they do in our lives. We can use our wealth and our financial resources to make them go away.

I mean, ultimately, this is what Jesus says about the rich fool in Luke 12, you remember that parable? Here’s a man, he is very successful, he’s a farmer but he’s very productive. And, one day he says, he’s got so much, he says, you know, I’m going to be like, I need to, he thinks to himself, he says, I need to tear down my barns and then build back much bigger barns and then I can store everything that I’m producing, and he’s thinking about this. He says, and once I’ve done that, he says, then I’ll be secure, then I’ll have no worries. But do you remember what Jesus says about this man? He said about him, you fool, this very night your soul is required of you, and now who will own all of this.

You see, Christ is saying, wealth provides no real security in this life.

Now Solomon says a rich man’s wealth is like a high wall in his own imagination. In other words, what he’s saying, and I think what Jesus is saying, wealth provides imagined security. So we carry our stress and our fear around; we try to buy it off. Or thirdly, a very common strategy is to seek temporary relief to deaden it. Drugs and alcohol, it can be a number of things,

I’ve spoken a number of times at a place here in Birmingham, it’s a drug and alcohol recovery center. They deal with people who are addicted, and I’ve spoken there a number of times. And the guy that’s in charge, I’ve heard him saying, and I say, you know, what else is interesting. 80 percent of the people are men. Men seem to be the ones that struggle most with this and that’s interesting. But he said, in every case, there’s generally an underlying issue that has led to the addiction, an underlying issue, and I think that issue clearly and easily can be just stress and fear and the difficulty of living this life.

A fourth way we respond, and this is more common than you think. We face circumstances that create severe anxiety and pressure and though they are real and authentic, the Bible says we seek to suppress the truth. And, as we go into denial, this is very interesting, listen to this. This is quite, he says, there is a significant difference between repression and suppression. We repress naturally out of pain. In other words and I know a number of women today who, as young girls, were sexually abused, sexually molested by somebody that they were close to, and it was so painful. And, they just couldn’t, that they couldn’t remember it. They went through that life and never remember, remembering it, until something later in life triggers their memory to come back. Repression is a mechanism to help people deal with unbearable pain, but suppression is intentional. It is an intentional conscious decision. Repression is a psychic defense against pain. It’s like throwing a stone into quicksand. The quicksand can’t hold the way to the sand but suppression is a conscious forgetting, it’s intentional. You choose to check out and put aside troubling circumstances. It’s akin to sitting on a volleyball in a swimming pool.

The major differentiation between suppression or repression is the element of consciousness or choice. One happens, one is chosen, and suppression, going into denial, can be defined as the active holding down of truth. This is the primary strategy people use in dealing with the fear of death. They live their lives as if it’s not going to happen to me, and the way they block it out is, they fill their lives with diversion. If you’ve read the book that I’ve written, you know I talk about this extensively. So, in other words, we go into denial. That’s a good way to handle difficulty or difficult circumstances. Just push it aside, pretend like it’s not there, and hope it’ll go away,

But you know, there’s one final way we can deal with fear and anxiety, and listen to this, this is crucial. We can transfer the circumstances and the results to somebody else. My kids do this often. They might be stressed out about something and they’ll come to me and they’ll say, Daddy, I got this problem, and I’ll often want to say, I’ll take care of it, I’ll handle it. And you know what? They walk away just trouble-free. It’s kind of like, you know, that’s my Dad’s problem now.

But, you know, in one sense, that’s what God is telling us in IPeter 5:7. It’s us throw all your worries on Him for the Lord cares for you. This is what it means to trust God and to walk by faith. The Bible is clear, guys. God desires His people to walk by faith and not by sight.

2Corinthians 5:7. The problem we all have, all of us is, we grow up learning to live by what we see and then we just react to it and this is what fear is. Listen to that, fear is reacting to negative circumstances that creates uncertainty regarding the future. I’m going to read that again. Fear is the way we react to negative circumstances that create uncertainty regarding the future. Fear is all about the future, uncertainty over the future.

I want to say, it’s very unnatural to live by faith and it’s something that has to be learned. I would almost compare it to riding a bike or learning how to swim. You just can’t read a book, you can’t just listen to a tape, you can’t listen to me, and say, I’ve got faith now. Ultimately, we learn to trust God by trusting Him and when we learn to trust Him, listen to this. When we learn to trust Him, that’s when He moves in our lives and He moves in our circumstances. And, that’s why I continue, I contend that God continually allows circumstances to come into our lives which is an opportunity for His people. It allows us to learn to trust Him.

I want to ask you have you ever considered this? When you encounter life struggles that maybe there’s a purpose here, and that’s what I’ll talk about a little bit next week.

One of the wisest men I know said to me one day, I’ve never forgotten this, he said this,

“When God looks at your life and my life, the number one spiritual objective that He has for you is that you would learn to live by faith.”

Peter confirms this when he says our faith is more precious than gold. But, guys, this is a key if we’re going to learn to live without fear.

Now I’m going to wrap this up. I want to read a verse to you, make a comment, and share a final story.

This is I just, I think this is a wonderful scripture to wrap this up with. This is from Psalm 56.  This is David, a real warrior, a real courageous man. And he says this, “When I am afraid,” here he is a warrior,

“When I’m afraid, I will put my trust in you in God, whose word I praise, in God, I have put my trust, I shall not be afraid, what can mere man do to me.”

I love these words, in God, I’ve put my trust, therefore I shall not be afraid.

Life is full of circumstances that will bring pressure into our lives, the storms in life are going to come, that’s what our future holds, that’s what Jesus promises us, it’s going to happen. And, when that pressure comes in, that fear comes in, our natural reaction is to have that troubled heart. And, yet, Christ wants us to react with faith. He says, let not your heart be troubled. Believe in Me, learn to trust Me. And when you do, it will make all the difference. And, this is what we’re going to explore over the next few weeks.

But I want to close with one of my favorite stories. It won’t take but a second, an incident in the life of David. This is when David isn’t, he has not become King. He is fleeing Saul but he’s got an army of men and their families and they have set up a community. And, David and his men go out to battle and three days later they come back. And, it says, ”

“Then it happened when David his men came back to Ziklag on the third day and the Amalekites, one of their enemies, had made a raid while they were gone it made a raid on the Ziklag and they had overthrown Ziklag and their community and they had burned it with fire and they had taken captive all the women and all were who were in it, both small and great, without killing any of them.”

They’re all safe but they carried them off and they went their way.  And, so here, David and his men returned from battle, their community is burned to the ground, and their families are gone. So how’d they react? When David and his men came to the city behold it was burned with fire and their wives and their sons and their daughters have been taken captive.  And, then David and the people who are with them lifted their voices and they wept until there was no strength in them to weep. You get the picture here. David is the leader, he’s the man. What does he do, what is it, what does he do?

Well listen to this, it gets worse. Moreover, David was greatly distressed because the people, his men, spoke of stoning him, for all of the people were embittered, each one, because of his sons and daughters. So, not only was David’s family gone, his men were looking at him like, you eat, this is your problem, you’re at fault. And, they were thinking, they were talking about stoning their leader. So, what did David do? Listen to what he did.

But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God and then David inquired of Lord saying, shall I pursue, you know, basically, he said, Lord, what should I do first? He strengthened himself, then he said, what shall I do? And, God said, gave him in the instructions and they went and pursued and they rescued their families.

Now, this is a, I think, this is a great story because here you find David in a very stressful predicament, and that’s an understatement. But not only has his family been taken but they were going to stone him.  But I should notice what he did not do. He didn’t just say, I’m, he didn’t break the wine out and drown his sorrows, he didn’t go into denial, he didn’t blame some of his men, he didn’t do what a lot of men do. He didn’t say,

“I’m going to figure a way to get out of here.”

He didn’t fully, in fact, notice this, he didn’t even beg God to change the circumstances. He didn’t say “Lord please bring them back.” Notice what he did. He turned to his Heavenly Father.  He trusted his Father, he strengthened himself, it says, in the Lord.

And we’re going to talk about what that really means. And, when that the strength that he found was a peace and a confidence.  And, then he looked to God, didn’t just say, okay, well Lord, I’m going to trust You. He says,

“What would You have me to do?”

Yes, this is a picture of a man who walked by faith and not by sight and this is what we need to learn; how to do this. This is what we’ll be talking about over the next few weeks.

Let me close with prayer.

Richard E Simmons III is the founder and Executive Director of The Center for Executive Leadership and a best-selling author.

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