Fear, Anxiety, and Worry

This morning we are talking about fear, anxiety, and worry.  So, I asked Billy to set up this microphone because I’m going to have us form a line, and I want you to walk across the stage, and tell us what your biggest fear is…

Ok, I’m kidding. You can stop your glossophobia…the fear of public speaking

Now I might have given some of you ecclesiophobia- Fear of church

Here is the irrational part…if you know me even just a little bit, you would know I don’t put people on the spot like that. I would never want someone to feel embarrassed or pushed into a situation like this…and yet fear might have caused you, for just a moment to ask, “What if he’s serious?”

Fear…Anxiety…Worry… All of these interconnected emotions play a big role in our lives. They are part of a foundation of emotion which has both good and bad elements. Fear has kept our human ancestors alive for a long time. We have this fight or flight aspect to our human nature triggered by fear that have kept us from being bitten by dangerous animals and kept us clear of dangerous situations.

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Concern enables us to care for others who are in need and to think about future issues that might arise so we can prepare for them…

But when they combine and compound and are given a status in our lives that was never intended…they can be devastating…

Freakonomics authors Steven Dubner and Steven Levitt have noted over and over that human beings are extremely bad at determining what to actually be afraid of…

A few years ago I was backpacking with a friend in southern Ohio. He had never been that deep into a wooded, inaccessible area, and began to get a bit freaked out. I tried to assure him there were really no bears in Ohio…maybe one or two crossed over from KY or WV, but they weren’t enough of an issue to even think about.

But he kept going…then he asked, “Aren’t you afraid of bears?” I said, “No, I have a pair of gym shoes with me. I’ll be ok.” “But you can’t out run a bear!” “I don’t have to outrun the bear, I just have to outrun you.”

Sharks kill on average about 6 people a year.

Getting killed by a bear is even less likely: 3 people each year

Things more likely to kill you than a shark attack:

  1. Coconuts: 150 deaths a year
  2. Mosquitos: 800,000 people a year
  3. Champagne Corks: 24 people a year
  4. Tripping: 6,000 people a year…about 1,400 people die from Drunk Walking each year
  5. Lunch: 3,000 people a year
  6. Raw meat: 5,000 people a year
  7. Cows: 20 people a year
  8. Wind: 104
  9. Elephants: 200+ people a year
  10. Bees: 100 people a year
  11. Horses: 20 people a year
  12. The cold: 600 people each year
  13. Ladders: 355 deaths
  14. Hot Tap water: 100 people die from being scalded
  15. Ants: 50 people a year
  16. Dogs: 30
  17. Icicles:15
  18. Hippos: 2,900
  19. Being Left Handed and using stuff for righthanders: some claim as many as 2,500
  20. Vending Machines: 37
  21. Beds: 450 from falling out of bed

So if we are this bad at fearing the wrong things…maybe, just maybe it would do us a bit of good to re-evaluate the role that fear and worry play in our own lives…because while there are plenty of real things to fear…most of the things we allow to cause fear and worry in our lives are not something we should fear or never happen. I mean, how many times have you worried about something and it didn’t happen? How many times have you worried about something and it actually changed the outcome?

As Jesus said, “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”

The obvious answer is No, no you can’t add an hour to your life by being fearful and worrying…in fact, the opposite is true…you take time off of your life with worry and fear and axiety…

So the question becomes how do we deal with it…

Because we have all read the biblical commands, “Do not worry…Do not fear…Do not be anxious…” And we know those commands are there, but putting them into practice is something else entirely.

So let’s look at some of the Apostle Paul’s recommendations for dealing with the issue…

Philippians 4:6-9

6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Paul and the people of Philiippi had plenty of things to be fearful of and worry about…Paul was writing from prison where he was facing the death penalty. The Church in Philippi were facing regular and brutal persecution simply for being a follower of Jesus. At any moment, Roman guards could bust through their door and drag them off to prison or put them to death simply for worshipping Jesus rather than the political leader Caesar or one of the other “acceptable” gods.

Not to mention that fear, anxiety, and worry were already big factors in the everyday life of the ancient world: fear of not pleasing the right deity at the right time, fear of rape and robbery just traveling from one town to another, fear of war, fear of despotic leaders and corrupt government officials, fear of famine and poverty…there were a lot of things to be afraid of and worry about in the ancient world.

And yet both Jesus and Paul have the audacity to say to them, Do not worry…Do not be anxious…Do not be afraid…

Why? Because they both knew

Overcoming fear, anxiety, and worry begins with a deep trust in God.

Do we really trust God?

Matthew 8 tells the story of Jesus and his disciples crossing the Sea of Galilee. As they traveled a violent storm came up, and all the disciples were extremely afraid…in their fear they woke Jesus us…Jesus had to be awakened…he wasn’t afraid. He wasn’t fearful. This storm is so fierce that seasoned fishermen and sailors were terrified…and Jesus is asleep.

When they wake him up, he says to the disciples, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?”

They were afraid of dying. But more deeply they failed to trust God.

Some might argue that Jesus wasn’t afraid because HE was God. But I don’t think that’s the case. Jesus lived and experienced life just like you and me. He may have been God, but he experienced life as you and I have to experience it.  I think Jesus was fearless because He had spent time learning to trusted in God the Father.

He trusted that God had the best in mind.

He trusted that if something happened, God would take care of him.

He trusted that if things went poorly, then God would bring good out of it.

He trusted that if things went VERY badly and they all perished…that even then that wasn’t the worst thing that could happen to them…

When worry, fear, and anxiety come your way…

Do you trust that God is in control? That He loves you? That he can and will bring good even out of the worst situations? That even if death takes place that even that is not the worst possible outcome? Do you realize your worry and anxiety and fear has no impact on the outcome and can actually hinder a good outcome from happening?

Have you ever watch someone playing a game and see how nervous and unfocused they become as the clock starts ticking down to the end or an opponent starts closing in on them?

Jesus connected the disciples fear to their lack of faith…and Paul says

6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

When fear, anxiety, and worry hit us, what is the first thing we do? If you are like most people you start to think about all the things that could go wrong…you play them over and over in your head…

And here, Paul reminds us that the way to beat the anxiety and fear is to surrender those to God in prayer, but in order for that prayer to work we have to trust that God loves us, cares for us, will handle things…And the problem is the balancing act that has to go on here…we have to trust God in order to pray, but we have to pray in order to trust God. As we do each more the other builds and grows.

But as we do…we get this unexplainable peace…That is the cycle. We pray and place some trust in God…he fills us with peace that enables us to trust him more.

This requires more than just a once off, quick prayer to God asking for help when we are feeling anxious or afraid…it requires a regular, deep time with God because trying to catch up once we are in the place of anxiety isn’t the best approach. In order for us to withstand all the fears, worries, and anxieties that flood our lives, we need more than just a moment here and there with God…

But even that is just beginning…

Overcoming fear, anxiety, and worry requires we refocus our thoughts.

For awhile I played golf. I still have a set of clubs in my shed that haven’t been used in about 20 years…I liked it, I was pretty decent at it, but it just wasn’t all that fun for me. But when you are learning to play, just about everything is frustrating…especially water hazards. Even after I got better, I struggled with water hazards. On most holes, I would hit the ball a few hundred yards down the fairway, but put a pond in front of me, and I would drop it right in the middle.

Until a friend and more experienced golfer gave me a great piece of advice. He said, “Stop thinking about the water and stop looking at it. Look where you want the ball to go, not the problem in front of you.” It was like magic! I went from hitting the water about 98% of the time to hitting about 5% of the time. I simply focused on something else.

Again we have this cycle when it comes to worry, fear, and anxiety.  This trifecta begins as we focus on the things that could go wrong or are going wrong, but then, as those flood our minds, they begin to steal our attention…

There about a million ways we add and compound them…we flood our minds with other people’s worries and fears by consuming their social media posts, we watch the news…which thrives on fear-mongering, cliff-hangers, and misleading information…no to mention the trials and struggles we have as part of our lives.

They they begin to consume the rest of your thought life…you become an insomniac and/or to wake up at all hours of the night…It consumes your thoughts and takes over your minds…and what do we normally do…we let let it. We think and ruminate all the things we have to do, all the things can and might go wrong, all the many troubles and woes in our life…

But the Apostle Paul reminds us that we must take charge of our minds and what we think about because where we focus our attention impacts our fear and worry and anxiety.

8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

How do we begin to think differently about things that worry us:

Ask: Can I do anything about this problem?

If you can:

Sit down and begin writing out a plan or begin doing something to correct the problem; something small. Break it down because when you look at the whole thing it can be overwhelming and cause more fear and anxiety.

This week I took on the task of cleaning my office…it had become the dumping ground for everything that just needed to be out of the way. But when I looked at it, it was overwhelming. So I focused on one thing…the laundry that had been shoved in there and simply needed sorted and folded. I did that. Then I saw some things that needed to be moved out so I could rearrange things before I put them back where they belong, so I did that. Then it was a stack of papers…I simply took one small task at a time and worked on that instead of focusing on the larger problem.

So if you can do something about the situation…then start doing something even if it is simply writing out a To-Do List or picking up one small thing…

But if the answer to the question “Can I do anything about this problem?” is no…then the approach has to change.

Do you care about your children? Yes. Does sitting, fretting, worrying about them help bring them home any safer than if you didn’t? No. We might convince ourselves it does, but it doesn’t. And when something does happen, we say things like, “I knew I should…” and the reality is our worry doesn’t make a bit of difference.

And it is the same with most all our worries and fears…you and I can change very little if anything in the outcome of the things we worry about…so we have to build a lifestyle around Paul’s command to the Church of Philippi to think about

whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Watch your thoughts….the minute they go astray…redirect them…I have found that a memorized prayer or reciting a memorized piece of Scripture helps…I have also changed locations…

But you also have to be proactive…you can’t wait until the last minute to try and force yourself to think good things…in the same way you can’t wait until the last minute to build a prayer life that will help keep the anxiety and worry at bay and build trust in God.

If you wait until the moment of…it is already too late. You have to spend time dwelling and meditating on things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy.

This began to break for me about a year and a half ago…I realized how much hatred there was on social media between people I respected or had once respected. I saw how far the public discourse had fallen talking about politics, but also just about every area of life. So I stopped watching and reading so much news. I stopped reading people’s posts. I stopped paying attention to the Bible and theology discussions. I stopped posting my “thoughts” on anything and just started taking and posting my photography…and whether it helps to add beauty or distraction for other people…for me, it helped me refocus my mind on things that were good and lovely and right and pure and things God had created for our enjoyment.

Conclusion

Every year, Chapman University releases the results of their survey on American Fears…they recently stated that in 2017 Americans were far more fearful than all the previous years with 5 different fears making it into the “Very afraid” category where in previous years it had only been 1.

We live in a time of unrest that isn’t all that different from any other time in history, but it is a time when people seem to be internalizing and holding on to things far more…we are building fear and anxiety and worry in a frenzied way that we haven’t really seen before in this wide-spread way…maybe it’s the connectivity of the Internet and social media and television…we see more pain and suffering because we can see it all in just a few seconds…every picture, tweet, and broadcast…every worry and fear and anxiety inducing post by everyone everywhere…

And our focus is drawn to all of that because God has made us people who have the capacity and call to be concerned…to be filled with compassion for others…we are human beings with the capacity to feel fear…it has served us well at times…But just like anything else that is good…when it spirals out of control and takes a place of prominence that it was never intended to take…it becomes sin…it becomes something that separates us from God and requires us to confess it…to name it before God…to repent…to turn from it…to find a new, healthy way of dealing and living with that particular temptation that calls to us.

Don’t get me wrong…there are chemical reactions within us that can and do escalate the issues. There are times when medication is required to help bring some of this under control. But sometimes…we prefer to try and correct things in medical ways…when what is needed most deeply is God’s forgiveness for focusing on the wrong thing, for our lack of faith, What we need is God’s healing in our lives and to rearrange the way we approach dealing with our fears and our patterns of life…

Here’s what I have found…that as we turn toward God…as we spend time in prayer and focus our thoughts on the good things…Fear and fearful things don’t go away…in fact, God will often lead us directly into the heart of some fearful things simply because we are following His Will…but our levels of trust in the God who calls us forward has expanded and swelled inside of us to the point that we are looking at Jesus and not at the storm around around us.

We will never be free of fear…worry and anxiety are extension of fear and concern that is out of control in our lives…

Joshua 1:9

9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

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