Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A Forgotten Strategy in Overcoming Anxiety

 "Anxiety in a man's heart weighs it down,
      but a good word makes it glad."  (Proverbs 12:25)

As a regular attender of our weekly prayer meetings, I have noticed that consistently, one of the Scriptures most often quoted in prayer - especially for those who are going through anxious times - is Philippians 4:6-7, where the apostle Paul, in light of his previous statement that the Lord Jesus is "at hand", encourages the believers:

"Do not be anxious about anything,
    but in everything by prayer and supplication,
       with thanksgiving,
           let your requests be known to God.
 And the peace of God,
    which passes all understanding
        will guard your hearts and your minds
            in Christ Jesus."

Prayer is perhaps the best known 'guard' for the Christian's heart, as he or she simply and humbly (see 1 Peter 5:6-7) casts all their cares upon their burden-bearing Savior.

But an oft-neglected means of grace, especially (and increasingly) in our independent culture is a "Word" centered, saturated, and speaking community.

Jesus promised His people that there would be trials and hardships in this life. In this fallen, sin-sick world, anxieties are part and parcel of our lives. Whether anxieties for our families, our health, our salvation, our jobs, or whatever, God has seen fit to allow a steady supply of anxiety-creating circumstances into the lives of all people, His people not excluded.

When we are tempted to become anxious over the circumstances of life, of course the first thing we need to do is cry out in prayer as God's dependent, needy, and helpless children, being mindful that those who are His children are very dear to His tender fatherly heart.

And yet, as many Christians can attest, sometimes the slough of despond and bog of despair are so thick and sludgy that even this is seemingly impossible. The anxiety in the heart is of such a kind that the believer becomes so focused inwardly that his or her neck is unable to look upwardly to Christ in supplication.

This is why a Word-centered, saturated, and speaking community is so essential in our own personal sanctification. There have been times where I have been so overwhelmingly beaten down that I almost became spiritually paralyzed. I was stuck in the muck in the castle of despair. And unlike Christian in John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, the key of promise was entirely forgotten in my bosom and foreign to my lips.

And then, in God's sweet mercy, a dear brother or sister, a messenger of the Lord's deliverance, has come with a "good word" for me. In God's great providence, this has brought not only emancipation from my slavery to anxiety, but has also brought exaltation from my heart to Christ. In the words of Solomon, my heart was "made glad" by another's "good word."

Only a few verses earlier (12:18), Solomon tells us that "the tongue of the wise brings healing." And in 12:26, the very next verse, he says, "One who is righteous is a guide to his neighbor." Oh how often a dear saint, one of those declared righteous by their faith in Christ, has come as a faithful physician, bringing with them the great elixir of healing to guide my wavering heart back to the old, old story of Jesus and His unwavering, steadfast love.

Indeed, with the hymn writer I must confess that through prayer the Lord has often delivered me from the tempter's snare. But, in all truthfulness, I may equally confess that a good word, spoken by another in season, has often been an effective healing balm to my soul.

And so my encouragement for the reader (myself included) is to endeavor to become an active participant in a Word centered, saturated, and speaking community: not merely to receive from others the good words of the gospel, but also to deliver them.

By active, I mean not merely 'being there,' but actually participating, actually speaking, actually and actively ministering. There may be a dear brother or sister who is so engulfed in their anxiety that their weak hands are unable to grasp, let alone wield, the sword of the Spirit. They are unable to preach the gospel to themselves. They feel too unworthy or unaccepted to dwell on the good Word. This is where Christ-centered community is needed.

In our isolated, individualistic culture, we as Christians often forget that we are not alone in this battle against the cosmic powers over this present darkness. We are in a war, and yet Christ has not left us alone. If Paul needed his "fellow workers and fellow-soldiers" to cheer him up in the rainy seasons of ministry, how much more do we need our brothers and sisters in our lives? How often when my gospel shoes don't seem to fit, do I need a brother or sister, whose feet have been shod with a readiness to proclaim the gospel, to come along side me in my weakness and speak that good and heart-gladdening word in season?

May our churches be filled with those, who being filled with the Spirit, "address one another in psalms, and hymns, and Spiritual songs." Because, as Paul tells us in the same letter, when we do speak the truth in love, the body 'grows up into its Head'. That is, the body matures together as we minister to and encourage one another with Christ's life-giving, and life-sustaining, Word (see Ephesians 4:11-16).

If your church has prayer-meetings, or Sunday school, or community groups, or college and career, or youth groups, I would heartily encourage you to prayerfully consider attending one of these corporate gatherings where you can both minister, and be ministered to, with such "good words."

Because, as Solomon, says,

"Anxiety in a person's heart weighs his heart down,
    but a good word makes their heart glad."  (Proverbs 12:25, my translation)

O Jesus, our "good Word" par excellence, please gladden the hearts of Your people even this day! May we be a community of saints who bear one another's burdens, fulfilling Your great law of love.

In Christ, and for His Father's glory to the ends of the earth, through His church,
Pastor Ryan

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