Putting Anxiety to Work Part 1 by Pastor Abidan Shah

PUTTING ANXIETY TO WORK by Pastor Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

puttinganxietytowork

Introduction: This morning we’re starting a brand new series from the Sermon on the Mount called “Putting Anxiety to Work.” So many have messaged me and told me how much they’re looking forward to this series! I am looking forward to it as well!

Matthew 6   31 “Therefore do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?’ or “What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

Overall Background: We’ve come to the section in the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus talks about anxiety. In fact, between verses 25-34, 6 times He uses the Greek word merimnaw, which can be translated as anxiety, worry, or care. The fact that Jesus used the word so many times implies that He was talking about something more than just casual concern. All of us have those but the repetition tells us that He had something deeper in mind. It’s also interesting to me that Jesus talked more about anxiety or worry in His sermon than He did about prayer. Could it be that it was a big issue for people back then? We will see more on that in a few minutes but here’s a question: If Jesus unabashedly discussed this subject, why is the church so reluctant to talk about it? Did you know that according to the National Institute of Mental Health, 40 million Americans or 18% of the population suffers from clinical anxiety disorder? According to surveys by Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 6.8 million Americans or 3.1% of the population suffers from Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), 6 million or 2.7% struggle with Panic Disorder, 15 million or 6.8% struggle with Social Anxiety Disorder, 19 million or 8.7% struggle with Specific Phobias, 7.7 million or 3.5% struggle with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and the list goes on. According to a study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry in 2006, each year Americans lose altogether 321 million days of work due to anxiety and depression, which ends up costing the economy $50 billion each year. By the way, women more than men face anxiety and 1 out of 8 children are affected by it as well. I can go on and on but the question is why aren’t we speaking on this subject when people and loved ones all around us are struggling? Jesus did!

Question: Are you facing anxiety of some form in your life? Do you know someone who is struggling with it? How do you view anxiety? Do you view it as something that can just be shaken off? Do you view it as a result of some sin? Let me give you my approach in these messages – Much of what the Bible condemns is “worry anxiety,” which is more than casual concerns but not what we know today as “anxiety disorders.” In fact, it is hard to find “anxiety disorders” in the Bible but there are many powerful and life-changing principles in God’s Word, especially the Sermon on the Mount, which can help us deal with those anxieties. In fact, many ideas that are being sold in self-help books and bestsellers are actually found in the most distilled and pure form in the Bible. It’s like buried treasure in your backyard waiting to be found! But before we start digging, let me say a couple of things upfront – First, some anxiety problems do require antianxiety medications and tranquilizers. That’s not a sin but medication alone will not solve your problems; second, this is not a psychology class on anxiety. My purpose is to help you have a balanced biblical perspective that will enable you to live Christ-honoring, joyful, and productive lives.

Before we begin, let me ask you – “Are you saved?” Do you know Christ as your Savior?

Today’s message is the introduction to this series with several important questions:

I. WHAT IS ANXIETY? 

To understand it, we need to distinguish it from 2 other words: worry and stress. People often confuse them. Let’s look at each of them:

Worry – It is more than casual concern. It comes from the Old Germanic word “wurgen,” which meant, “to strangle.” Later in Middle English it took on the meaning of “seize by the throat.” At its core, worrying is refusing to trust God and trying to live independently of Him. It’s a sin. The Bible repeatedly condemns it. In His parable of the Sower or soils, Jesus said in Matthew 13:22 “Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful.” The same Greek word merimnaw is used but the idea is one of “worry.” So also I Peter 5:7 “casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.” The Greek word switches from merimnaw to melei, which has the idea that “God takes interest in you.”

Stress – There are many ways experts define stress but the best definition that I’ve come across is that “Stress is any situation where a person feels that they don’t have the adequate resources to deal with their circumstances.” The situation may be physical threat like death or emotional threat like divorce or breakups or financial threats like deadlines or bottom lines. Life is full of stressful situations, especially in our world today. Did you know that it was back in 1983 that the phrase “stressed out” entered our vocabulary? And would you agree that life is more stressful today than it was 30 years ago? Dr. Archibald Hart in his book The Anxiety Cure” says, “Human beings were designed for camel travel, but most people are now acting like supersonic jets.”

Now comes Anxiety – Again, many definitions are out there but the most balanced one I have found is by Dr. Archibald Hart (Senior professor of psychology, dean emeritus at Fuller Theological Seminary, a licensed psychologist, etc.) – “Anxiety is a disease of stress.” He goes on to say – “It is clearly the consequence of too much stress acting on your highly vulnerable brain chemistry. And if you have inherited a weakness in your brain’s chemistry, you will have a much lower threshold for tolerating anxiety than others.” He even gives this formula – “High adrenaline, caused by overextension and stress, depletes the brain’s natural tranquilizers and sets the stage for high anxiety.” What are the brain’s natural tranquilizers? God has so designed us that when we face stress, there are natural tranquilizers in our brains, brain chemicals known as “neurotransmitters” that keep us sane in the face of stresses in life. Some people call them the “happy messengers” – Serotonin, Noradrenaline, and Dopamine. Stress depletes our natural tranquilizers. In essence, anxiety is not that something bad has entered the brain. It’s actually something good is now absent from the brain or it’s running low. By the way, it usually affects the tough people.

II. WHAT IS ANXIETY DISORDER?

Now, please don’t walk out and start telling people that you have an anxiety disorder and you need some medication. Most people don’t. Let me clarify a few things again:

  • Anger is not anxiety disorder. You are facing a threatening situation and you go on the attack. It may be wrong, depending on the situation, but that’s not anxiety. Sometimes the Bible tells us as in Ephesians 4:26 “Be angry, and do not sin” and then in Ephesians 4:31 tells us “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you…”
  • Fear is not anxiety disorder. You are facing a threatening situation and you retreat. That’s normal. In fact, some fear is actually commanded. Psalm 34:9 “Oh, fear the LORD, you His saints! There is no want to those who fear Him.”
  • Panic is not anxiety disorder. Panic attack is a body’s smoke alarm that is warning you that something is not right. What does it feel like? According to the American Psychiatric Association 1994, typical symptoms include “pounding heart, sweating, trembling, shortness of breath, chest discomfort, nausea, dizziness, lightheadedness, dispersonalization, numbness, tingling, chills, or hot flashes.” Some of you have shared with me that it feels as if you are having a heart attack or going crazy. Your brain is trying to tell you that have too much stress in your life. It’s time to take some actions and make some significant life changes. When does it become a disorder? When they are recurrent, unexpected, and you become preoccupied with them and start making significant changes in your lifestyle.

There are other types of Anxiety Disorders like “event specific,” “phobia induced,” “ruminative or focused attention,” or “generalized anxiety.” As I mentioned earlier, this is not a psychology class. My purpose is to simply introduce this subject and educate the church.

III. WHERE DOES THE CHURCH COME IN? 

For anxiety disorder, you will need professional help. You may need medication to bring the natural tranquilizers back to their proper level but that’s not enough. This is where the church body is vital. There are 2 other ways that the church can help –

  1. Connecting with others facing similar struggles. Communication with others who have similar convictions and have gone through similar struggles helps. We are planning on starting something like this soon. Let me know if you are interested.
  2. Biblical Preaching: Even though the Bible doesn’t talk about “anxiety disorders,” it has much to say about how to reduce stress and start living a balanced life. The reason I chose to do this series is because in His Sermon on the Mount Jesus tells us how to do this. In Matthew 6:21 He says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” In other words, ask yourself – “what is driving you?” Is money driving you? It will drive you mad. Money is not evil. It’s a great servant but a horrible master. Matthew 6:22 “The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. Is there darkness inside, then it’s time to check the windows of your souls. Matthew 6:24“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other…” How many things are controlling your life? Matthew 6:26 Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? When was the last time you took time to enjoy the beauty of God’s creation?

I can go on and on. The point is this – preaching brings these truths to the minds and the hearts of the people. Let me say something here – Sometimes people have a very dismissive attitude towards preaching. We don’t need any more preaching. It’s about connecting with each other in small settings and then going out there and doing ministry. I guess the Holy Spirit made a mistake in telling us that preaching is important.

Mark 3:14 “Then He (Jesus) appointed twelve, that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach…”

Acts 8:4   Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word.

Ephesians 3:8 “To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.”

Romans 10 14 How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? 17 So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

2 Timothy 4:2 Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.

“Well…the preacher has to say that. That’s his bread and butter.” Not true. This is God’s appointed means by which He speaks to His people. This does not take away from personal bible study or small groups (we have Clearview Circles and you should join them). Preaching is the way He has chosen to speak through earthen vessels. This is the hour when my best counseling takes place.

Are you saved? Are you ready for the life God wants you to live?

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