Thursday, June 1, 2017

A Living Hope for Those Who Are Anxious

1 Peter 5:6-11 Anxiety is a universal part of the human experience but surely we modern Americans are the most worried, anxious people who have ever lived.  Reports say that 15 % of Americans are on some kind of anti-anxiety medication and 2 of the top 10 most widely prescribed medications are for anxiety.  And it’s not just a serious medical issue.
Lives filled with cares and concerns say something about our life with God-- there is a spiritual component to worry and anxiety—but there is also spiritual help.  And so today we are going to hear about our living hope in anxious times.  The bible says:  Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God
Anxiety and worry are not only mental health problems—but they are spiritual issues.  In fact, they are reflective of the first sin that is our common heritage as human beings:  the sin of idolatry—the sin of wanting to be our own god. 
Now it may not seem that way when we are anxious and worried--but what’s behind worry and anxiety is the desire to be in control and choose for ourselves how we want things to be and when it doesn’t go our way:  we get worried and anxious
That is why the first step in God’s cure for anxiety is to come to place of repentant humility where we recognize that we are not God.  We can kick and scream about it like a petulant child.  We can try to manipulate God and make deals with him like pagans.  Or we can rejoice in the Good News that we are not God and that there is someone Who Is God—powerful and mighty to be sure—but also as a God of love who took on our flesh and died upon a cross.
It is those mighty hands—pierced with nails upon the cross—that rule the world --and our lives-- and that is why we confidently humble ourselves under his mighty hand without fear or worry because we know that he rules for our good.  The Bible says: 
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you,
            Jesus rules the world in order to bless us—to lift us up out of the hardships and difficulties that cause us to worry and be anxious—but at just the right time in our life—and not before—for the waiting times are also a part of his loving will. 
Maybe you are not spiritually mature enough right now to handle some particular blessing without it becoming an occasion for sin and so that blessing is in the future. 
Maybe God wants to deepen your faith and trust with a delay in your plans. 
Maybe God wants to teach you how to really pray that his will would be done when things don’t go your way. 
God really is your loving heavenly Father and has the wisdom to know that perfect moment to deliver you from those things that trouble you.  That is why you can cast all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.
And so how do we do that?  How do we cast our anxieties upon the Lord?  First of all, we admit our frailty.  The vast, vast majority of things that happen to us in this life are beyond our control.  We were not created to bear the weight of the world upon our shoulders and those burdens that make us anxious- are too much for us to bear. 
And then, we acknowledge the Lord’s strength.  He is the Creator of the world and upholds it moment by moment.  He bore the weight of humanity’s sins upon his own shoulders and carried them to the cross.  He defeated the strength of the devil and delivered us from his dark dominion over us. 
The One who has created us and saved us is certainly strong enough to bear those troubles and fears that cause us to be anxious and worried. 
And finally we accept his gracious invitation to cast our anxieties on Jesus—confident that he cares for us.  This requires a great deal of faith and trust on our part-- but he is worthy of that faith and trust and has proven it at the cross. 
Jesus’ care for us is certain—but it still does not keep us from all difficulties--- for we live in a world where there is evil.  The Bible says: 
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  
We need to be aware that there is a spiritual component to situations and circumstances that cause us to worry and be anxious.  God is working them for our good-- but we can be just as certain that the devil will try to use them to hurt our faith.
The devil has been defeated—but he is still dangerous—just like a vicious dog on a chain—and if we’re not careful about temptation or if we get too close—the devil is right there to hurt us.  Let me explain:
            God may be using an illness to remind us that this life is not all there is and that we should live for eternity.  But the devil will use that same illness to tempt us to believe that God does not love us. 
God may be using economic hard times to remind us that we do not live by bread alone-- but the devil is right there tempting us to doubt God’s provision. 
God may be using the daily frustrations of family life to teach us patience and sacrifice-- but the devil is tempting us to abandon our family for what seem to be greener pastures.
In all of the things that cause us worry and anxiety, there is a spiritual dimension where God is working for our salvation and the devil is working for our destruction.  And so then, recognizing this spiritual reality, what should we do?  The Bible says: 
Resist the devil, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.
That we have to fight against temptation and resist the devil’s lies is not a sign of weakness or faithlessness on our part—in fact, it is one of the surest signs of faith! 
It is only the child of God who wants to trust God more.  It is only the child of God who does not want to fall into temptation.  This involves a spiritual battle!
We are called to stand firm in our faith:  to believe that God loves us with an everlasting love—that he is working all things for our good.  We are called to stand firm in our faith and to believe that we can fight the good fight of faith—that we do not have to walk in sin—that we can resist the devil’s temptations-- because other believers have. 
The trials and tribulations and temptations we face that give rise to anxiety and worry are not new or unique to us and we should be encouraged by the fact that other Christians have faced them and remained faithful. 
Joseph was tempted to sin sexually with Potiphar’s wife but remained faithful.  The widow on the brink of starvation gave her last mite and trusted in the Lord’s provision.  Paul learned that God’s grace—not his own health—was sufficient for him. 
This is the testimony and example of the saints of the past who were no different than we are in the frailty of their flesh—and had no different God than we have in the Lord—and yet they remained firm in their faith, confident in the goodness of God even in hard times—which, after all, will not last forever.  The bible says: 
And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.
One of the most important parts of God’s cure for anxiety is a proper view of time and eternity—that we know “the length of eternity and the shortness of time”.  In times of anxiety and worry we tend to get those mixed up—we think of the particular situation or circumstance that makes us anxious as something that will last forever.  But it won’t—only eternity lasts forever.
When we begin to see the hardships of life in the light of eternity -they begin to look very different indeed!  They really are only for a little while compared to the length of eternity-- and they really are only a small thing compared to the greatness of the glory to which God has called us in Christ. 
The point is this:  the gracious God who has promised you eternity and a share in the greatness of his glory will help you in here in time with the small troubles of life. 
Our God is the God of all grace—grace for the moment—grace sufficient for the situation—grace that relieves our worry and anxiety because we have his promise that he will restore, confirm, strengthen and establish us. 
In other words, no matter what the situation that make us anxious—the Lord will bring us through it safe and sound.  That is why we can say with Peter:  To him be the dominion forever and ever.  Amen. 
Jesus invites us to cast our anxiety on to him and trust that he is mighty enough and strong enough and wise enough to carry that burden and see us through and cause all things to work for our good.  He has given us the enduring sign of that promise in the cross.  How will he not bless us with every other good gift?  He will!

Our Lord and Savior and King reigns at the right hand of the Father—he has dominion over all things in heaven and on earth and under the earth—and that is the best possible news for us.  And so then, let us cast down the idol of our own will from the throne in our hearts—with all the worries and anxieties that come with it—and yield ourselves to the Savior’s loving will with faith and trust.  Amen.  

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