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Dealing with Fear, Anxiety, and Stress – Part 3


Let me open us with prayer and we’ll get started.

Father, we do thank You for the gift of life and the gift of friendship, just the opportunity we have to come together to fellowship. Lord, I pray that you would use this time in our lives as we seek wisdom, as we seek to learn more about the difficult circumstances of life that we all know that we’ll be faced with, and are currently faced with, and just pray that You would use this to teach and instruct us. We commit this time to You now. In Christ’s Name, Amen.

Before we start, I want to share with you something that I think is very pertinent to this series. It’s some words from Tim Keller, who I consider, this is my opinion, the greatest teacher in our land today; he’s just a terrific teacher and instructor, and he made this observation as a minister of 30-something years. He says, “We all have a basic motivational drive. Every human heart has something that drives them. It gets us out of bed and it gets us through life. It moves us to do what we do and for most of us, I believe it is fear. After all these years of pastoring, I truly think this is it. The fear of missing out, the fear of not proving ourselves, the fear of not living up, of being somebody, the fear of failure, the fear of death.”

Now, I don’t know whether he’s right about that or not, you know, it’s hard sometimes to look into a man’s heart, but I do know that we are motivated by fear, and if you think about it, think about how our lives could be transformed if we could be set free from this fear that so motivates our lives. I mean, not only do I think we’d make better decisions, but think of how it might impact us, not only physically, and emotionally, and psychologically, and spiritually, but even relationally. I don’t know how many of you’ve been to the first two parts of this series but if I had to describe the core of the teaching thus far, it’s building a strong foundation to weather the storms and pressures of life. And Jesus talks about this in Matthew chapter 7 verses 24 through 27, that we have the option of building our our lives on solid rock or on the sand, but He says, regardless, no one’s immune from this, every single one of us are going to face the storms of life. He’s telling us, in advance, that the storms in life are coming our way.

In the first two weeks, we looked at the issue of perspective, which is a critical part of having a strong foundation. You know, how do we view, as Christians, how do we view difficulty when it comes into our lives? Because the way we see it, the way we view it, means everything. Today and next week we’re going to go deeper into this and we’re going to look at how we live our lives and how we respond to the storms of life. It’s interesting, if you go back a chapter, from Matthew 7 to Matthew 6, which is part of the Sermon on the Mount, you know, just some great teaching from Jesus, we get some great insight if we go to chapter 6, into this issue of worry and anxiety. Jesus addresses it.

And in Matthew chapter 6, if you have your Bibles and want to follow me, starting in verse 25 this is what he says. “For this reason, I say to you, do not be worried about your life as to what you will eat or what you will drink nor your body as to what you will put on it is not life more than food and the body more than clothing. Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow nor reap nor gather into barns and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life, and why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow that they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these, but if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you, oh, you of little faith. So, do not worry then, saying well, what will we eat or what will we drink or what will we wear for clothing, for the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things, for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things, but seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Now, I want to spend a few moments this morning focusing on those last two verses because I think they’re packed with good instruction, if we kind of unravel it, take a good hard look at it, it will give us some really good insight on the issue of fear and worry and anxiety and stress and pressure and all that goes with it. And I want to start with verse 34, notice what he says in verse 34, he says, do not worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. He’s speaking here of tomorrow versus today; the future versus the present. You see, worry and fear are all about tomorrow. The uncertainty over what’s going to happen tomorrow.

There’s a great scholar by the name of David Wells. He’s a professor and a theologian up at Gordon Conwell up in Boston, and he wrote something quite interesting.  He believes that that we, living here in the modern world we live in, these are unprecedented times and he says there is a greater intensity to modern life which brings all this pressure and stress into our lives that our forebears didn’t have to deal with. Listen to what he says; he said, “The world intrudes upon us as it never has before. One of the surest indications of this is that the levels of anxiety have never been higher, and why are we more anxious? There are no doubt many reasons including a heightened tempo in the workplace, greater economic insecurity, too many choices, and perhaps, family breakdown. What’s more, the extraordinary rapidity of change in our society powerfully fixes our attention upon the future. For we need to anticipate events that are in the making in order to avoid what will be harmful and to capitalize on what will be beneficial.” Now, listen to this. He says, “Anxiety, however, is nothing more than living out the future before it arrives and modernity obliges us to do this many times over. The future is thereby greatly intensified for us.” You know, we’re being instructed, interestingly, by Jesus this is pretty simple, but we are being instructed to live in the present; that our lives should be focused on the day in front of us. Now, I don’t know if any of you knew this gentleman, his name was Dr. Jim Collier. He was an ophthalmologist who died of lung cancer several years ago, but I had a chance to really get to know Jim the last couple of years of his life, and then even spent some time with him just before he died. In fact, I went to his home for lunch, this is probably six months before he passed away, and just an amazing man, and as we sat down for lunch at his home, I was amazed at just how calm and tranquil he was. I mean, he knew his prognosis was not good, but he shared with me something that just had a real impact on me, and this he shared, I wrote this down, and this is what he said. He said, “God has given me the grace to live in the joy of the moment, to live in the present, in the now”, just as Christ instructed us here. And what was amazing, as I sat there and talked to him, the thing that amazed me, there was no despair in his life, there was only a joy and a peace, as he was really just focusing on that day, that moment, as we had lunch. And I heard him, interestingly, speak to a large group of people and he shared this, and as we sit here this morning, I know this is hard to fathom, I mean he fought like a two to three-year battle with lung cancer before he passed away, and though I know he would have loved to have stayed on, he had a great family, a great wife, he said, “I would not trade what I have been through for anything”. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Just the closeness, and the presence, and the reality of God in his life as he went through this.

Now, I would just say to you this morning, this is just the first thought that I wanted to bring forward as we think about building a strong foundation. If we’re weighed down by the uncertainty over tomorrow, if you have certain issues in your life that loom out there, and you’re struggling with it, and particularly, if they’re going to be with you for a long period of time, I want to suggest that we should be asking God each day in our prayer life, Lord, I pray that You would give me the grace to live one day at a time. It’s a great prayer for any of us. Help me to focus on today. You know, I say, Lord give me the grace, remember what he word grace is? Grace is God enabling us to do that which we can’t do ourselves. It’s divine enablement and this, I believe, is what Jim Collier did and he lived out the balance of his days one day at a time. What a great way to approach life. Desn’t mean you don’t plan, as a businessman, but, as you live your life, live in the now. We’re always living in the future, but Christ is saying live in the now, live in the present, live in the fullness of each day, and it’ll make a difference.

This is interesting. If you go back and read the verses, these nine verses, Matthew 6:25 through 34. It’s interesting, in verses 25 through 32, the primary focus is on God’s responsibility as our heavenly Father to His people; that He cares for us He cares about our well-being, He is committed to our well-being. Remember how Drayton last Friday talked about George Mueller and how he had that the orphanage of 600 and how God not only cared and provided for them, but they had an abundance; they ended up having so much he said they had to look for places to give it away. It’s interesting ,you get from 25 to 32, to God’s responsibility for us and then you get to verse 33 and verse 33 starts with the word ‘but’. But seek first. I found that interesting. Rarely do you start a sentence with the word ‘but’.  If you and I were having a conversation, and I walked up to you, I wouldn’t start a conversation with just the word ‘but’. I find, as a parent, I find my children use that word a lot when they’re making an excuse, but Dad. The word ‘but’ is also used, however, as a transitional word, to make a delineation, to make a distinction. For instance, if you say, you know Bob is a nice guy, but his brother, Tom, is not, you make a distinction, and, in one sense, that’s what Jesus is doing here. In verses 25 to 32, He says, this is My responsibility, but then He gets to verse 32, He says, but you, seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. He’s sayin, this is your responsibility, this is My responsibility to care for you. You fulfill your responsibility, and I’ll fulfill Mine, or, another way, I think a better way of even considering this, is to go back what we said the first time, the first week we met, or maybe it was a second, I can’t remember, it is to think of it as that sheep / Shepherd relationship, you know, that’s what we’re told. The Lord is my shepherd.

In John 10, it says Jesus is the Good Shepherd, and throughout Scripture, we’re always referred to as sheep, you know, not stallions, not elephants, not tigers, we’re sheep, pitiful creatures, always getting in trouble. You know, if a sheep rolls over on his back he can’t get up by itself. It’s absolutely amazing, always in the ditch, and He’s saying very, very clearly if you look at this relationship, the sheep / Shepherd relationship, it is a very functional relationship. In other words, the responsibilities are clearly defined. The shepherds, the Good Shepherd has a clear functional relationship. This is what I am to do as a shepherd. I am to care for you, I am to nurture you, I’m to protect you, I am to guide you as my sheep. This is my responsibility to you and I will fulfill my responsibility but there’s one condition; you have to fulfill yours. Obviously we’re talking about this metaphorically here with sheep, and what is the sheep’s responsibility? To stay close to the Shepherd, to listen to his voice. That’s it; very simple, and think about how this relates to fear as we consider our responsibilities in this relationship with the Shepherd. Think about it; when sheep stay close to their Shepherd and they encounter a ditch, they encounter a wild animal, they fall on their back, or encounter any kind of danger, they can rest in the Shepherd’s care, but when they go their own way and they drift away from the Shepherd, which the Bible says is our natural tendency as His people, it’s hard to rely on Him when a crisis comes along. The Shepherd is nowhere around.

Now, this is crucial to understand the statement. This, hopefully, may be worth you coming this morning. Faith and trust in God comes much more naturally when we’re close to it. I want to say that again. Faith and trust in God comes much more naturally to us when we’re close to it; we’re living in close relationship with Him, when we know Him at a deep level. I mean, think about it. It’s very difficult to trust somebody you don’t know, it really is. No matter what you’ve heard about them. It’s hard to trust them if you don’t really know them. That’s why the Psalmist in Psalm 73 verse 28, one of my favorite verses in the Psalms says, “the nearness of my God, is my good…” “the nearness of God is my good.”

As we look at verse 33 that starts with the word, ‘but’ I’ll share with you another interesting insight. It says, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God.” The Bible talks a great deal about the kingdom of God, but one of the most interesting comments that Jesus makes about the kingdom of God is He says, when He’s talking to Pilate, remember when He and, Pilate is confronting Him, one of most fascinating, I think, conversations He has in Scripture, He doesn’t say much, but when Pilate finally gets Him, ‘so, you are a king?’ Remember what Jesus says? Well, yes, but My kingdom is not of this world; if it was, My servants would be fighting, but My kingdom is not of this world.

Jesus is telling us, My responsibility is to care for your life, your responsibility, your first priority, is to be seeking the things that are not of this world, the eternal, not the temporal, the spiritual. Listen to what Paul says in II Corinthians 4:18. “We fix our eyes,” in other words, what he’s really saying is, we focus our lives not on what is seen but on what is unseen for what is seen is temporal but what is unseen is eternal. Where am I going with this? Let me go back to the text because if you go back to where we started in verse 25, I don’t know if any of you picked up on this when I started reading, but it says, “For this reason, I say to you,” again, I would never come up to you and start a conversation with ‘for this reason’. Whenever you read that, in order to understand what He’s saying you’vr got to go back to see what did He say just prior to this. This is really interesting. These are words we all are familiar with but I’m not sure we always like to hear, but listen to what he was what He’s referring to: “do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but store up for yourselves treasures in Heaven where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in or steal, for where your treasure is, that’s where your heart will be also. No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one, and love the other, or you’ll be devoted to one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth, for this reason, I say to you…” see, now, that makes sense. Most people, when they read these verses, they believe Jesus is condemning wealth, and I’m here to tell you, He’s not, but what He’s doing is lasering in on the affections of the heart, you know, what is it we really treasure in life? You see, the heart is where our greatest loves are.

Augustine said this, the main problem, that one of our main problems, that which brings so much trouble into our lives now, what causes worry and fear and anxiety, the troubles that come into our lives, he says, that which brings so much trouble into our lives, he says, our heart is filled with disordered loves. And Tim Keller says, “If anyone but God is the main love of your heart, you will be a fool, you’ll make poor choices, and your priorities will be out of order, and, in the process, you will invite all types of stress and fear and worry into our lives.” So, maybe guys, maybe Jesus is trying to teach us here in the Sermon on the Mount that so much of the worry and fear and problems we face would be eliminated from this life if Christ and the eternal things are our first love and our first priority because, when that’s the case, I think what he’s saying is we’ll not be so attached to the to the temporal things of life. I think David Wells, I’ll go back to him, made a fascinating observation. He said, since the end of World War II, our material well-being has skyrocketed, but, interestingly our psychological well-being has plummeted. And the conclusion that he draws is that so much of our anxiousness and stress has been created by the overemphasis we place on the pursuit of wealth and all the stuff in our lives that we have to attend to, which reminds me of the words of Martha in that encounter she has with Jesus in her own home that we looked at in series 1. And remember, Jesus says, “Martha, Martha, you worry about too many things that are not really important,” and I wonder sometimes if that’s not true of our lives. In the eternal scheme of things. Are we too focused on things that, in the long run, are not really that important?

Now, in verse 33, he says, but seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. He’s speaking of righteous living, following the ways of God, living wisely. I don’t know about you, but many people think, and you may think this also, that if you depart from the will of God, if you depart from the ways of God, he’s gonna smack you. I don’t if you think that, but some people do. That’s the way God operates. You get out of line, and He’s gonna smack you, but that’s not really the way it is. The way it really is, is that if we live outside of the will of God, we’ll smack ourselves. You see, that’s the way God designed life, and most of life’s problems, we create ourselves because, guys, let me just tell you, and I believe this with all my heart, there truly is an art to living. The Bible tells us there’s a pattern or fabric to all of reality and life is governed by certain principles and if you think about it, wisdom seeks to perceive and understands that pattern, those principles, and then live their lives in harmony with them. That’s what Stephen Covey emphasizes in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. He says, “While we are free to choose our actions, we’re not free to choose the consequences of those actions. Consequences are governed by natural law. We can decide to step in front of a fast-moving train, but we cannot decide what will happen when the train hits us. We can decide to be dishonest in our business dealings, while the social consequences of that decision may vary, depending on whether or not we are found out, the natural consequences to our basic character are a fixed result. Our behavior is governed by principles living in harmony with them brings positive consequences; violating them brings negative consequences.” And what causes fear and anxiety and worry? Negative circumstances. “We are free to choose our response in any situation, but in doing so, we choose the attendant consequence. When we pick up one end of the stick, we pick up the other.”

And then, several pages later, he again emphasizes this. He says, “Principles always have natural consequences attached to them. There are positive consequences when we live in harmony with the principles; there are negative consequences when we ignore them, but because these principles apply to everyone, these principles apply to everything. Whether or not they are aware, because this limitation is universal and the more we know of correct principles, the greater is our personal freedom to act wisely by centering our lives on timeless, unchanging principles we create a fundamental paradigm of effective living it is the center that puts all other centers in perspective. Now, this is not to say if that you live your life completely in the center of God’s will that you won’t have any problems, but I will say this. So much of what I see that comes into men’s lives that causes so much stress and so much worry and so much anxiety is the consequence of making poor decisions, unwise decisions. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Andy Stanley, he’s a terrific minister over in Atlanta, Georgia. He made this observation, he said, I quote, “the number one way to remove layers of stress from your life is to seek to keep your life in the center of God’s will.” He said, “I don’t, I do not think people realize that living within the boundaries God has set for our lives will eliminate all kinds of stress and worry from ever entering our lives,” and then he says, this is quite interesting, he said, “many men live with secret habits and addictions and there is nothing more stressful than the fear of being found out, the fear of being caught, of being exposed.”Now, I want to share kind of one, conclude the kind of a conclusion that that’ll tie this up, and then I want to read to you a fantastic parable to end our time together.

And the thought that I want to share to tie this together, similar to something I shared back during the wisdom series that we did back last June, and it comes from C.S. Lewis’s book, The Abolition of Man, and then he reveals why modern people never become wise and they live foolishly and they bring all kind of kind of problems into their lives, all kind of stress into their lives, and he says this ancient wisdom recognized that man’s chief problem was this. “How do I conform my soul to reality?” And the answer was wisdom. In other words, what Lewis was saying is, here’s life, it’s out in front of us, here’s life and I need to see, and understand how it works. I need to see the laws and principles that govern it, and then I need to live in accordance with it, and that’s what wisdom is, but then Lewis says, you know, the problem with modern man and, he of course, died in 1963, so, no telling what he would think today, but, he says, “modern man seeks to subdue reality to the wishes of the soul.” In other words, he says we look for ways to make life work in accordance with what I want.

But Covey, again, I think, says this just brilliantly. He says, the problem is the principles in life, or set in concrete, it’s impossible to break them. We can only break ourselves when we try to defy them, but that’s what modern people try to do, and he says, what we do in seeking to change reality to fit the desires of the soul, he says, we look for different techniques, we look for formulas as it relates to what we’re talking about here this morning. It’d be like us saying, all right, I really don’t want to take the time to build a strong foundation, I want to, I’m looking for some easy steps, so, we go to Barnes & Noble, and I bet you can find a book, five easy steps that lead to a stress-free life, or three ways to be worry-free, I mean, yeah, it’s amazing to how the bookshelves are filled with easy formulas to make, basically to make your life be whatever you want it to be. See, the problem is, maybe, in fact, let me even say, that some of you may have come this morning, or this becoming a serious thing, I’m coming for four weeks here, that hear Richard speak and I’ll have a strong foundation to live out the rest of my days, and let me just say this guys, we need to be, daily, day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year, we need to be constructing a foundation of inner strength to prepare ourselves for the storms of life, and the way we do this is we seek to live each day as it comes, one day at a time, as Jesus is instructed, we should be seeking daily to deepen our relationship with Christ, and stay close to the shepherd. We need to be making sure that we have our priorities in line. What’s really important, what is my first love, and as we seek to live wisely every day, we seek to live wisely, where our lives aren’t in harmony with God’s will. Again, as Tim Keller says, for those of us who live close to the Good Shepherd, to Christ, we will find a real confidence and a real sense of peace, for we will have in our lives, we will have a shepherd that walks with us through life even through the valley of the shadow of death and He will teach us and He will lead us and He will guide us and He will nurture us, and what will happen over time, we will find a calm and a poise to face all of life’s circumstances as they come our way. Now, I want to leave you with a very powerful parable that really just brings all of this together, and it’s it’s perfect, it’s a perfect parable for a group of men like the audience here this morning. The name of the parable is called The Persona.

Once, a foolish man built a boat his intention was that it would be the grandest the most talked-about boat that ever sailed from the harbor of the boat club of which he was a member thus he determined to spare no expense or effort as he built the man outfitted his craft with colorful sails complex rigging and comfortable appointments and conveniences in its cabin the decks were made from beautiful teak wood all the fittings were custom made of polished brass and on the stern painted in gold letters readable from a considerable distance was the name of the boat the persona as he built the persona the foolish man could not resist fantasizing upon the anticipated admiration and applause from club members at the launching of his new boat in fact the more he thought about the praise that he was soon to come the more time and attention he gave to those aspects of the boats appearance that would attract the crowd and intensify excitement now and this seems reasonable because no one would ever see the underside of the persona the man saw a little need to be concerned about the boats keel or for that matter anything that had to do with the issue of properly distributed weight or ballast experienced sailors might wince at this but one must remember that the boat builder was acting with the perceptions of the crowd in mind and not the sea worthiness of the vessel seaworthiness seems not an important issue while it drydock one of those occasions when he was sorting out his priorities of time and resources he said to himself why should I spend money or time on what is out of everyone’s sight when I listened to the conversations of people at the club I hear them praising only what they can see I can never remember anyone admiring the underside of a boat instead I sense that my yachting colleagues really find exciting the color and shape of a boat sails its brass fittings its cabin and creature comforts its decks and wood texture its speed and the skill that wins the Sunday afternoon regattas so driven by such reasoning the man built his boat and everything that would be visible to the people soon begin to gleam with excellence but things that would be invisible when the boat under the water were generally ignored people did not seem to take notice of this or if they did they made no comment the builders suspicions were correct the people of the boat club understood and appreciated sales and riggings and decks and brass and staterooms and what they saw they praised sometimes he overheard people say that his efforts to build the grandest boat in the history of the club with Sunday result in his selection as Commodore that had no little effect upon his conviction that he had made good decisions and was on a correct course to boat club acceptance and success when the day came for the book boats maiden voyage the people of the club joined him at dockside a bottle of champagne was broken over the bow and the moment came for the man to set sail as the breeze fill the sails and push The Persona from the club’s harbor he stood at the helm and heard what he’d anticipated for years the cheers and well-wishes of envious admirers who said to one another our club has never seen a grander both in this this man will make us the talk of the yachting world there were some boat owners who joined him sailing on either side and formed a spectacular flotilla as they moved out beyond the breakwater and out into the ocean and soon the beautiful persona was merely a blip on the horizon as it cut through the swells its builder and owner who at this moment seemed anything but a foolish man gripped the rudder with a feeling of fierce pride when he had a cop what had he accomplished he was seized with an increasing rush of confidence that everything the boat his future is a boat club member and probably as Commodore and even the ocean why not when one is feeling confident was his to control but a few miles out to sea a storm arose it was not a hurricane but it was not a squall either there were sudden wind gusts in excess of 40 knots waves above 15 feet The Persona began to shudder and water swept over the sides bad things began to happen and the poise of the captain began to waver perhaps the ocean wasn’t his after all well how about connections with other club members the ones who sailed from the harbor on either side cheering and waving he looked about for them but none were to be seen the boats that had been there in the early part of the voyage had turned back long ago he’d been too self-absorbed to notice besides other captains knew storm clouds when they saw them within minutes The Persona’s color for sail colorful sails were in shreds the splendid masts was splintered in pieces and the rigging was unceremoniously draped all over the bow the teak wood decks and the lavishly appointed cabin were with water and then before the man could prepare himself a wave bigger than anything he’d ever seen hurled down upon The Persona and the boat capsized now and this is important when most boats would have righted themselves after such a battering The Persona did not why because its builder had ignored the importance of what was below the waterline there was no weight there in a moment when a well-designed keel and adequate ballast might have saved the ship they were nowhere to be found the foolish man had concerned himself with the appearance of things and not enough with resilience and stability in the secret unseen unseen places where storms are withstood furthermore because the foolish man had such confidence in his sailing abilities he had never contemplated the possibility of a situation he could not manage and that’s why later investigations revealed that there were no rescue devices aboard no rafts lifejackets emergency radios and the result of this mixture of poor planning and blind pride the foolish man was lost at sea forever.

You know, I really like this parable as it relates to this series because I think it’s right on target as far as us, as men. It pegs us as men, and what he’s trying to say is, for so many of us, we build our lives with an eye on the praise of the spectators around us. We seem to live for man’s approval, always seeking to impress and yet, this one line from the parable, I believe, captures our problem as men. This man had concerned himself with the appearance of things the way he appeared and not enough with resilience and stability in the secret unseen places where storms are withstood every single one of us sitting here this morning is building our lives on something and Jesus says it’s either the rock or on the sand and so this morning, I would challenge each one of us need leave, we need to challenge ourselves and assess our lives and determine what is the foundation of my life because Christ is telling us in advance the storms and life are coming you can count on it. Let’s close in prayer. Father, we do thank You for the instruction that You’ve given us in Your Word.

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