Dealing with Fear, Anxiety, and Stress – Part 4

We need to work on perspective so that we each of us will know how to have this foundation to weather the storms of life.

Now, one of most enlightening things that I have learned this past year, and I use it so much when I counsel men, it’s some words from Blaise Pascal, and he says this, “One of the primary reasons people struggle so much with life is because they have false ideas about reality.”

Stephen Covey makes the same point in his book, The Seven Habits, and he kind of lays it out this way, easy for us to understand. He says, “Imagine you’re going to Chicago for the first time and you want to see the city but you need a map, and somebody gives you a map and it says “Chicago” across the top. The problem is, the printer made an accident, and it’s really a map of Detroit, but it says “Chicago” across the top. That’s the way most people live their lives. They’re trying to live in Chicago with a map of Detroit and they don’t know it. Think about it. It doesn’t matter how good an attitude you have. You’re still going to be lost. No matter how diligent you are and how hard you work at following the map, it doesn’t matter, you’ll still be lost.”

Now, I share this because I think this has application to us in this series because I believe most of us have a false understanding and perspective on the negative circumstances, on the pressure, and the storms of life. I want to read some very significant verses from the Bible regarding, as it relates to difficult circumstances. The circumstances that cause fear and anxiety and worry, and this is from the prophet Isaiah, the 55th chapter beginning in the eighth and ninth verse. He says, this is God talking, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways, for as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.”

He also says in Psalm chapter 50, verse 21, He says, you know what the problem with you guys is, you think I’m just like you. In other words, He’s saying, you look at life, and you see life, and you think, this is the way God ought to do things, but He very clearly says, I am not like you, I don’t think like you think, I don’t see life the way you see it, and I don’t see painful and troubling circumstances as you do. And so, I think it’s important that we realize that maybe, just maybe, God’s perspective on the struggles we face is different from our view. Again, we’re building on perspective, how we view life, and how we view the storms of life, how we view the pressure that comes into our lives.

Now, this is particularly pertinent when you consider God’s perspective on time because His perspective on time and ours is so different. You think about your life right now today. Most of us are planning and focusing on the next year, maybe the next three years. I don’t know, maybe you have a five-year plan, but you know we’re thinking about the next few years of our lives. But, you know what’s interesting? In II Peter chapter 3 verse 8, we’re told a thousand years is like one day to God.

A good example of what I’m trying to tell you is this. Think about your children. In my case, I have three young children, nine and a half, almost eight, and six.  One of the things, and you know this as a father, my children don’t understand my ways, nor do they understand the boundaries that I set on their lives, and they don’t understand why I make them go through experiences that they don’t want to go through. Good example. My oldest, back in January, we talked to him about going to camp. He was all for it. He had a buddy that was going. We checked the camp out, it was just one week. Well, just recently, he’s letting me know, he don’t want to go, and he’s made a big deal about it, and my wife and I thought, we’ve talked about it and thought through it, talked to these other parents, and we agreed, he needs to go. It’s gonna be a great experience. Just a week, and we’re getting ready to inform him, and I know, because I know him so well, his response is going to be one that’s going to cause him a great deal of fear, it’s going to cause him a great deal of stress, and it’s going to cause a great deal of worry in his life, but we don’t mind it. We really don’t, as much as we love him, and that’s going to be painful to go through, and watch him go through this, one thing he doesn’t realize is that my wife and I, we have a different time perspective than he does. You see, we’re concerned about him and his brother and sister. We’re concerned about their growing into adulthood. We’re focused on the type of people they’re becoming and part of their growth, and part of their development is going to involve negative circumstances that we bring to bear into their lives. Because the problem with my children is, their time horizon, at this age, is about 24 hours. I mean, they’re not like teenagers who are looking forward to the weekends, that’s about as far as a teenager can go, you know, but my children, they don’t think about the next 10, 15, 20 years of their lives.

And I share this because we, in one sense, guys, whether we realize it or not, are very much like our children. We may be focusing on the next few years of our lives, where God’s time horizon is eternity. He cares about your and my eternal well-being. That’s first and foremost on His mind. You see; therefore, He doesn’t see what we see, and his thoughts and plans are so much higher than our plans as we live this life.

Where I want to go now, this is gonna take a minute for me to lay this out, but this is such a significant principle as it relates to this issue. I want to read to you a true story and then ask a question. This took place back during World War II in Hungary. There was a concentration camp in Hungary where a bunch of Jewish prisoners lived under horrible conditions and performed back-breaking work in one of the Nazis’ giant factories, and then one day, an Allied aircraft blasted the area and destroyed the hated factory. The next morning, several hundred inmates were herded to one end of its charred remains. Expecting orders to begin rebuilding, they were startled when the Nazi officer commanded them to shovel sand into carts and drag it to the other end of the plant. The next day the process was repeated in reverse. They were ordered to move the huge pile of sand back to the other end of the compound. A mistake had been made, they thought. Those stupid swine Nazis. Day after day, they hauled the same pile of sand then from one end of the camp to the other. Finally, one day, one old man began crying uncontrollably. The guard hauled him away. Another screened until he was beaten into silence, then a young man who had survived three years in the camp darted from the group. The guard shouted for him to stop as he ran toward the electrified fence. The other prisoners cried out, but it was too late. There was a blinding flash and a terrible sizzling noise as smoke puffed from his smoldering flesh. In the days that followed, dozens of the prisoners went mad and ran from their work only to be shot by the guards or electrocuted by the fence. The commandant smugly remarked that there soon would be no more need to use the crematorium. And the point the writer makes is, you know, human beings need to live purposeful meaningful lives. If they don’t, the mind will snap, and this has real application when pressure comes into your life. If it’s meaningless, over time, it can grind you down.

Now, let me ask you a question. Do you think it would have made a difference if the Nazis had asked these prisoners to build an orphanage for kids who had lost their parents in the war? Do you think that would have made a difference, as back-breaking as the work might have been, it would have had some meaning to it, and this is the point I want to drive home. The meaning behind what you’re experiencing is everything. Let me give you another example, and this may seem a little crass, but Paul Brand, a very Godly man used it, and I think he makes a great point. He says, take a woman a woman who is in love with her husband, they have a beautiful marriage, they have a romantic evening, they have sexual relations, a thing of beauty, and then he says, you take the same woman, and she is forcibly raped by some strange man, and Brand makes this point. He says, you know, physiologically, it’s the same act. He says, it involves the same nerve endings of the body, but one experience is of great beauty and meaning he says, the other is the worst nightmare a woman could ever experience, and the point he makes again is, the meaning behind what you’re experiencing is everything.

One final example, again, comes from Brand’s book, Pain: The Gift That Nobody Wants.  He says, Dr. Henry K. Beecher of the Harvard Medical School made an interesting observation among the 250 wounded soldiers from the NGO beachhead in World War II. He says, only one of these four soldiers, with serious injuries, which were fractures, amputations, penetrated chest or cerebrum, asked for morphine. Only one out of four. He says, though it was freely available, they simply did not need help with the pain, and indeed, many of them denied feeling any pain at all. Beecher, an anesthesiologist, contrasted the soldiers’ reactions to what he’d seen in private practice, where 80% of his patients who had the exact same type of wounds, recovering from these wounds, begged for morphine or narcotics, and he goes on to make this point. He says, the soldiers’ response to pain was impacted by the fact that their injuries carried with them a sense of meaning, because they were a result of being involved in a significant mission for their country, and there was also a sense of gratitude that they’d survived the battle. And he says, the problem is, his civilian patients who suffered from the same wounds, he said they always seemed to see their injuries as being depressing and calamitous. He said, therefore, they were always begging for morphine.

You see, what you’re experiencing, the meaning of the experience, is everything. Now Jesus even speaks to this in the book of John. If you have your Bible, turn to John chapter 16, and this is right before the Crucifixion, this is right before His, you know, the disciples had a pretty good thing going. They were with Him, they were witnessing all His miracles, they were hearing His teaching, but He was getting ready to say the storms in life are getting ready to come for you guys. But listen to what He says. Whenever a woman is in labor, she has pain because her hour has come, but when she gives birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy that a child has been born into the world. And then He says, guys, you’re getting ready to experience real grief and a lot of pain in your life, but He’s saying you need to understand the meaning behind it. I mean Jesus’ example is terrific if you think about it. I mean, think about a mother going into childbirth. I realize they have epidurals today. It’s interesting, when my wife had our first child, he came so fast, they didn’t have time to really administer it, so I sat there and watched her deliver a child in unbelievable pain. I mean, my knees got weak just watching what she was experiencing, and yet, what’s interesting, after our son was born, it’s like, she didn’t remember the pain, and she was ready to have another baby. Because, if you think about it, a mother’s pain produces something with meaning, a new life, and so, they’re ready to go through it again. Again, the meaning behind what you’re experiencing is everything. Now, the point I’m trying to make is foundational. If we’re going to effectively deal with the fear and the anxiety that we encounter in life.  I want to make this statement, and it’s so important for us to grasp, I’m gonna read it twice. “In the midst of the storms of life, we will either allow what we’re experiencing to interpret our view of God, or we will allow our view of God to interpret what we’re experiencing.” I hope that makes sense. I’m gonna read it again. “In the midst of the storms of life we will either allow what we’re experiencing,” the pain, the struggle, the difficulty, “to interpret our view of God, or we will allow our view of God to interpret what we’re experiencing.” Because, you know, if you look at, if we look at our fears through the lens of God’s truth, I want to tell you something, they can truly be transformed. Listen what the Psalmist says, in Psalm 27, quite interesting, in verse 1, he says, the Lord is my light and my salvation whom shall I fear? Now think about what he’s saying. God’s light, seeing life through God’s lens, seeing life through God’s perspective, allows me to see the storms as they really are, and to see God as He really is, and then he says, so who shall I fear? Who shall I fear?

So, the question that we need to ask this morning is, what is it I need to know about God and His truth that will enable me to properly interpret what I’m experiencing in the storms of life? And there’s a lot that I could share, but I’m just going to limit it to maybe four or five verses, but when you put them all together, it really gives you a philosophy, a perspective, to approach life and its storms.

In Matthew chapter 6, verse 25, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus makes this comment. He says, don’t worry about your life and your circumstances. Don’t worry about them, and then He tells us why in the next verse. He says, now look, He makes this simple illustration, look around, look at the birds of the air, they don’t sow, or reap, or gather into barns, and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them, and then He says this. Are you not worth much more than they? In other words, He’s saying, I care for the birds of the air, but just how much more valuable we are to Him is what He’s trying to tell us. We are of great value to Him, and then He tells us in Jeremiah 31:3, listen to this, I have loved you with an everlasting love. I have loved you with an everlasting love. Psalm 56, listen to this, listen to how God knows the details of our lives. He says, the Psalmist says, You have taken account my wanderings, You have put my tears in your bottle; are they not in Your book? This I know. God is for me, in God Whose word I praise, and the Lord Whose Word I praise, in God I have put my trust and I shall not be afraid.

In another place, He talks about how My love for you is so much greater than the love your earthly father has for you. My love for you is perfect. And so, the scripture reveals this commitment, that I love you, you’re of great value to Me and I am committed to you and committed to your well-being. But then he says this in Matthew 10:29. “Are not two sparrows sold for a cent and yet not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father’s consent,” and notice, He’s talking about how He is sovereign over the events of life and He’s saying, if there is a storm in your life, I’ve allowed it to come in your life.

And then you throw in Jeremiah 32:27 when He says, behold I’m the Lord the God of all flesh, is there anything too difficult for Me? I mean, He’s saying, you know, I can remove any difficulty, any pressure, any struggle, I can remove it in a heartbeat if I chose to, but think about it, and I love you, I’m committed to you, and then you have this final verse to really kind of wrap this up. Romans 8:28. We know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. Now, if you’ve ever heard me teach, you know what’s coming next, because I used this verse a lot. The first time I ever heard that verse, it was the greatest thing I’d ever heard because I realized it was saying, God, regardless of what my circumstances were, is going to cause everything to work together for my good. The big problem that I had was, my interpretation of that word “good” because I felt like what that meant was God is going to cause all things to work together for my pleasure, my comfort, my prosperity, because that was what was important to me, and yet, if you keep reading and go one more verse, down to verse 29, God tells us what is good. He says, what is good is to be conformed to the image of Christ. That’s what He cares about when He looks at your life and my life. In other words, that we might take on Christ’s character, that we might possess His wisdom, and that we might be able to have love and compassion for others as He did. And because of His great love for us, He is committed to seeing that come to pass in your life, in my life, and often, not always, but often, will wisely use difficulty and trials to see it become a reality. Let me just say this. Guys this is very Biblical. He uses an example in another place, He talks about a plant, and pruning a plant that it might bear more fruit. It can be a pruning process, but this what I’ve just shared is very Biblical. Let me share with you a couple of examples of what I’m talking about.

Again many of you know, one of my favorite quotes is from Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Solzhenitsyn won the Pulitzer Prize back, I believe, in the early 80s or late 70s for literature. He was thrown into prison and spent eight years of his life in a Russian prison because he made a couple of disparaging remarks about Joseph Stalin. He went into prison as an atheist, and he spent eight years away from his family, his friends, all that he loved, his writing, eight years of his life, and he came out a Christian, and the first words that came from his mouth were, I bless you prison, I bless you for being in my life, for there, lying on rotting prison straw, I learned that the object of life was not prosperity, as I had grown up to believe, but it is the maturing of the soul. As we sit here this morning, I would ask you this question as we examine our own lives. What is the object of our life? What’s the object of life? Is it comfort, is it pleasure, is it prosperity, is that the object of life, because, you know, if it is, if it is for us, then we will see the storms of life is nothing more than a great calamity that should be avoided at all cost, but if we see Christlikeness as the object of life, the maturing of the soul as the greatest good of life, then we’ll see hardship when it does come, not that we need to go out looking for it and inviting it into our lives, but we will see hardship as a blessing. Even almost as a gift because look at Solzhenitsyn. I mean, as we sit here this morning, how could anyone say that eight years of prison, away from all that he loved, could be a blessing, and yet, what he recognized was the only way for him to find spiritual truth that he had otherwise been blind to. And so, in his mind, eight years of his life was worth it to find Christ.

I remember, a number of years ago, being in a setting similar to this, a group of men and there was a speaker and this guy, I would say was in his early 40s maybe, I can’t really quite remember, and he had lived the American dream. He had been incredibly successful, he had plenty of money, he had a beautiful wife, he had three children, healthy children, and then one day he was diagnosed with cancer, and I remember when he was speaking, he lost all his hair and, at the time that he gave this talk, he wasn’t sure he was still going to survive, it was iffy, and he did survive, but, at the time, he didn’t know, and he said this, and I was so moved, I took notes. He said, before the cancer, this is the way he described himself, he said, I was a self-centered fake. Interesting. A self-centered fake, and these are his own words. He said, “I screwed people in business, I had no real appreciation for my family, and I gave very little time or money to God or the church.” And then he said, I was diagnosed with this cancer, and this is what he said, and I quote, he says, “And I’ve come to understand this. I tell you this, this day, I’ve come to believe and understand that suffering is good for us.” He says this. It helps us, it helps our minds focus on what’s really important, he said it has deepened my relationship with my wife, our marriage is in a place that it has never been before, it’s given me a real compassion for others that are hurting. In the past, somebody had a problem, I could care less because it was all about me, but now when I see anybody is hurting, I have compassion. You know what the word compassion means? To suffer with. And he says, “For the first time, God is so real in my life.” Now think about this, guys. Think about what success and smooth sailing had wrought in this man’s life. He said, “I was a self-centered fake.” And then look at how contracting cancer led to such a transformation of who he was, and I think it remains to this day.

Now, I want to conclude and wrap this up, and tie it together with a couple of thoughts. Remember where we started? God does not see life and the events of life the way we see them and His thoughts and His ways are so much higher than ours, and secondly, if we’re facing or going through a difficult time, but if we can see meaning behind the experience, if we can see God’s hand behind the experience, it will transform the pain and will naturally enable us to relinquish the fear, and I know this to be true in my own experience. And finally, this is crucial, what we’re here to talk about, finally, if we can see the struggles and storms of life as Solzhenitsyn saw them, as a gift, as a blessing that God’s going to use in our lives for our good, think about how we should respond. If somebody gives you a gift, how do you respond? Thanksgiving. Now this is radical, this is radical, I admit, but listen to this, this is powerful.

There was a doctor by the name of Hans Selye. He was the true pioneer in discovering the impact that emotions have on our health, the impact that fear has on our health, and he wrote 30 books on the subject, and there been well over a hundred thousand articles published about the stress syndrome which he first described in 1936. He said, “In searching for the root causes of stress, Selye found that such factors as anxiety and depression can trigger attacks of pain or intensify pain that’s already present. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, two thirds of office visits to family doctors are prompted by stress-related symptoms.” Last Wednesday after we spoke, a doctor came up, a physician, and confirmed that, most of the people that come see me, they don’t realize it, but we can’t find thing wrong with them physically, and they generally break down and say, and talk about their fears and their anxiety and their worries. As Selye summarized his research before the end of his life, he got to the end of his life, he took all of his research and he said this. He said, “Vengeance and bitterness is the emotional response most likely to produce high stress levels in human beings. Conversely, he concluded that gratitude is the single response most nourishing to our health.  People who view pain and struggles as the enemy, I have noted instinctively they respond with vengeance or bitterness. Why me? I don’t deserve this. This isn’t fair, which has the vicious circle effect of making their pain even worse. In 1st Thessalonians chapter 5, verse 8, Paul makes this incredible statement. He says, whether it’s in good times, or whether you’re going through a struggle, he says in everything, give thanks, for this is God’s will for your life in Christ Jesus. You see what he’s saying guys? Is that our circumstances are our friend because God is sovereign over them, and so when we approach God with the attitude of, in the midst of a great storm, we say Lord, I don’t necessarily know what You’re doing, but I thank You for the way You’re gonna use this in my life, I pray that what I’m experiencing might lead to spiritual growth and inner transformation of my life, and so I thank you, I thank You for the way You’re gonna use this in my life. You know, this is what it means to walk by faith and not by sight, because what you’re doing there is trusting Him with the circumstances and the outcome, and this, I believe, is when God will really begin to move in our lives and in our circumstances, because clearly, and I hope to talk about this next time, the way we respond impacts the way He responds. It’s almost like He waits to see our response. Because the scripture is very clear guys, He always responds when people walk by faith and live by faith.

Now, I realize, if you don’t really believe that the Bible is God’s written revelation, and consequently, our source of spiritual truth, then this probably is not going to be very meaningful to you, but, if that’s the case, then life and the way you view life, it’s going to be nothing more than a series of random events. Life will be kind of like a crapshoot. Maybe you’ll get lucky and then maybe you won’t. But if the Bible is true, then what I’ve shared with you this morning is true, and it’s the foundation to weather the storms of life, which we know are coming. And also, what I’ve shared is why God expects us to live without fear. You remember Jesus’s words in John 14, verse 1? He says this, “Let not your heart be troubled, believe what God has told you, believe what I have told you.” Well believe what? Believe that you’re of great value to me. Believe that I have loved you with an everlasting love. Believe that I am sovereign over the circumstances in your life and believe that I’m causing all things to work together for your good. Believe this, He says, rest in this, and trust Me. Trust Me.

There’s a great verse in Psalm 46 and I’ll leave you with this. It’s verse 10. Some translations say, be still and know that I am God. Others say cease striving and know that I am God, but what the literal translation is, relax, let go, and know that I am God.”

Let’s close in prayer.


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