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Worry Does Not Make Things Better

The other night someone was telling me about a job situation that is less than satisfying, more than difficult, and equal to a monumental disaster. I asked the person what he was going to do about it, and he said he couldn’t afford to quit, so he had to stay until he found something else.

The great challenge for my friend, of course, is not just dealing with the immediate pressures and displeasures but worrying about the “what ifs.” “What if I can’t find better employment? What if I get stuck here for another six months (or six weeks)? What if my boss finds out I’m looking for another job and makes my life even more miserable?”

Worry is the mother of anxiety and the father of stress. In the devotional, Streams in the Desert, the author writes, “Worrying over what we have lost or what has been taken from us will not make things better but will only prevent us from improving what remains. We will only serve to make the rope around us tighter if we rebel against it” (L. B. Cowman, ed. Jim Reimann [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008], 245).

What a profound picture. Worry does not make things better; in fact it prevents us from improving what remains. The more we worry, the more we strain against the ropes that bind us. The more we fight, the tighter the bondage becomes, and we inflict potential harm on ourselves and those around us.

My sister served in children’s ministry for a time, and one Sunday she had a child with severe autism who began to thrash violently due to a class disturbance of screaming children. To keep him from hurting himself and others, my sister—very lovingly but firmly—wrapped her arms around his and held him tightly. He fought against her for a few minutes, but then became calm, and she opened her arms and let him go. He continued to play the rest of the hour as though nothing had happened.

When your worry escalates to stress and anxiety, and you find yourself internally thrashing around, picture the arms of our loving heavenly Father wrapping around you to hold you tight and then releasing you once you have returned to a state of calm.

If we’re not careful, our worry incapacitates us, leading to anxiety, which becomes despair, and digresses to hopelessness before the living God of hope. God is not pleased when we replace hope with despondency. Fear is the enemy of faith, and despair leads us to surrender.

 

Why don’t we choose a different path—not the road of “super Christian” (if there really is such a creature)—but the road of humble confession? What if we approach God with our brokenness and fears and ask Him to heal and bring compassion? The Scripture tells us, “A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:17). “But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness” (Psalm 86:15).

Stop straining against the ropes that bind you. Stop hitting your head against the wall. Stop trying to dig yourself out of the hole in which you find yourself. Calmly, serenely trust in the God of hope who fills you “with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).

Whatever you may be facing right now, don’t cringe in fear but give yourself to a reckless, holy abandon to the only One who can save you (Psalm 68:20). Deliverance is not the absence of trials but the awareness that those trials hold no power over you. Faith is not blind pacifism but trust in an active God who lifts you “out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire;” he sets your “feet on a rock” and gives you “a firm place to stand” (Psalm 40:2). Stop fighting and start letting Him fight for you.

What Captivates Is What Compels

Have you ever wondered who is to blame for the increasing secularization of our culture? When you drill deep into the rise of the religiously unaffiliated, you will discover two points of interest: (1) The surge is coming from hundreds of thousands Mainline Protestants who are jumping their proverbial church ships. What this indicates is a colossal loss in the middle of the religious spectrum. (2) The only statistical growth has come from the “poles,” meaning the far ends of the spectrum of adamant belief or adamant disbelief.

Now, before you stop reading from boredom, consider the following.

At one end of the religious spectrum are those who believe in nothing in particular, and at the other end are those who are largely conservative and mostly evangelical and non-denominational. Both groups possess what James Emery White calls, “fire in the belly” (The Rise of the Nones, 123), and they each represent about sixteen percent of the population. Yes, indeed, we are losing the religious middle, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

In this day and age, when people choose what they believe, they really choose it. They may choose to have “no faith,” but they are still making a resolute choice. What this means for the Church is that lukewarm Christianity holds little value. What captivates is what compels. If our faith lacks conviction, passion, or the promise of life-, community- and global-transformation, it is deemed irrelevant and not worth investigating.

When I think of the church I serve, I recognize that if our voice is going to arrest attention, it has to be convicting in its purpose, clear in its message, substantive in its content, and bold in its challenge. In other words, we need to reclaim our prophetic voice.

Mark Galli put it this way: “The most needful and difficult task of the church today is to again preach the message of the Cross, and to do so in a way that alarms, surprises, scandalizes, challenges, invigorates, and inspires a 21st-century world…. The current state of our preaching is driven by an admirable desire to show our age the relevance of the gospel. But our recent attempts have inadvertently turned that gospel into mere good advice—about sex, about social ethics, about how to live successfully. This either offends or bores our culture. A renewed focus on the Cross, articulated in a culturally intelligent way, is the only way forward. Some will be scandalized by it, others will call it foolishness, and yet some will cling to it as salvation. But at least everyone will be talking about that which is truly First and Last” (in Thomas Cahill, How the Irish Saved Civilization, 193-194).

So, who is to blame for the increasing secularization of our culture? We are, as long as we remain in our state of comfortable Christianity. We can no longer afford the luxury of meandering through mediocrity. We must revitalize our faith, know what we believe and why we believe it, and then go live it…with fire in our bellies. As Juergen Moltmann once wrote, “The church does not have a mission; the mission has us.”

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