I hate hearing the words...”You’re doing it wrong.” I am sure there is a good, scientific reason, but if I am being transparent I’ll admit that I simply do not like to be wrong. I enjoy getting high marks on homework assignments. Even better are the stickers teachers used to place on my assignments. I don’t argue a lot, but when I do argue, I like being right.
So when God helped me see what my anxiety really says, to say the least, I did not like it. As we learned in my previous post, You’re Doing It Wrong - What Your Body Might Be Telling You, anxiety is our body’s way of telling us we are leaning too much on our own strength and power. The “it” in the phrase “you are doing it wrong” is less about a specific task and more about our approach. We are living a self-centered and not a God-centered life.
Let’s Leave God Out Of This
Often as believers, we acknowledge God and understand who Jesus is, but we live our lives as if the Holy Spirit does not exist. OUCH!
I understand this statement hurts, but keeping reading. What I mean is we approach situations as if they depend solely on us. In our own way, we leave the Holy Spirit(God) out of this by grasping for control of each and every situation.
Indirectly, we choose to ignore God’s goodness, his love, and his sovereignty. We swim in the wake of past trauma while trying to predict and control future events. Overwhelmed, we frequently find it difficult to look at things outside the lens of fear. When something does not work, we often try harder expecting our hard work to magically fix our situation.
Unfortunate Side Effects
While doing all of this, we can develop other health issues such as unexplainable stomach pain. We wonder why we can not relax or why we remain on edge all of the time. We find our anxiety lurking just beneath the surface of our skin, ready to boil over at any moment. As a result, we often find we are not sleeping as well as we have in the past. The compound effects of fear can cause us to spiral out of control quickly.
The Harsh Reality of Our Own Strength
The harsh reality of living in our own strength is a life spent trying to both grasp for control and earn everything through our works. As we will see, neither of these options are real options. One does not have to live long to realize that we control very little in life. Hard work is a great character trait, but it will only take a person so far. Neither of these will lead to the full life you are seeking.
Recognize The Loss
If you find yourself struggling with fear and anxiety, there is a good possibility you have experienced some form of loss. What I have found is this loss often comes as a loss of control. Now let me be clear, it is not that we have more or less control, we simply become aware of how little control we actually have in life. This realization changes us forever.
We discover perhaps what most of us fear. We discover our own humanity. Simply, that we’re not God. Ha! Yeah right! You might say, but hold that thought. I’m not purposing that any of us go around so self-absorbed that we believe we are god. What I am saying is that we have somehow bought into the Americanized, self-made, self-sufficiency myth. The idea that we are sovereign. Do what?! Not me...you say. Let’s talk a bit about sovereignty.
When most people think about sovereignty, they typically drift towards the political science definition. This is certainly not the only meaning, so let us take a look at what the dictionary has to say about sovereignty. As I looked at the primary definitions from well-known sources they weren’t quite making sense. As I began looking at some alternative definitions from Merriam-Webster for sovereignty, I found it. I discovered what I believe to be the most commonly held view of sovereignty.
a country's independent authority and the right to govern itself
So what does this have to do with me? Let us take Merriam-Webster’s definition and swap out the word country with person to make sovereignty more personal.
a person’s independent authority and the right to govern/rule him/her self
While it is interesting to talk about surrender in a church setting, humans have a tough time with surrender in reality. If we go back to the Garden of Eden, we can see Adam and Eve’s struggle with surrender there in Genesis 3. The Bible does not come out and say they struggled, but in retrospect the choice to obey God had a lot to do with surrender. Adam and Eve’s ability to trust God required them to surrender their need to know right and wrong to God.
Seeking Stability Following A Loss
Now let us get back to the topic of loss. The first thing humans often seek after losing a sense of control is stability. Many times people will pursue this stability through a greater sense of control. When humans experience loss in one area, they might be tempted to grasp for control in another area of their lives. To some extent this desire for control is normal following such loss, but it does have the potential to get out of hand.
Surrender VS Control
The Bible teaches us that following the Holy Spirit requires surrender. If we look at [Matthew 16:24-26], we see that following Jesus Christ requires every believer to take up their cross or give up our own way. If you find yourself struggling with fear and anxiety, the last thing you will want to do is to surrender. I get it! I’ve been there.
This idea of surrender flies in the face of what you might be feeling. I recommend surrounding yourself with people you trust. Let these people know what is going on in your life. This is the time for intentional self-care. You won’t get very far if you do not first stop the sensation that you are spinning out of control. More on this later. Next we should address the desire to earn our own way.
Striving - The Bad News
Our attempt at earning God’s approval often comes through striving. This is where the “work harder” mentality comes into my story. Before we get into that, let us stop a moment and take a better look at what it means to strive.
According to [Merriam-Webster], to strive is “to devote serious effort or energy” or “to struggle in opposition.”
Following Requires Surrender
When believers strive, inadvertently they choose hard work over surrender. If you are experiencing fear, your brain will pursue a greater sense of control and will not be in a position to relinquish any. Our sinful nature struggles in opposition to the Holy Spirit [Romans 8:7-8]. When we strive, we are trying to earn our salvation, God’s approval, or fill in the blank, through our hard work(s).
The Bible teaches in [Ephesians 2:8-9] that our salvation is a gift from God and we cannot take credit for it. In [Mark 8:34 NLT], Jesus is talking to his disciples and the crowd when he says, “...If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me.” Then again in [Matthew 16:24-26 NLT], it says, “Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me.” When we choose to live in our own strength and strive instead of surrender, essentially, we are refusing to take up our cross.
“The Spirit alone gives eternal life. Human effort accomplishes nothing. And the very words I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”
John 6:63 NLT
The Bible is clear that the life of a believer requires SURRENDER not striving.
The Results of Our Own Strength
When we live in our own strength, we frequently run up against our own limitations and wonder where we went wrong. Experiencing loss through the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, or a global pandemic can leave anyone’s life spiraling out of control. Remember, God promises us full life, but we cannot experience this full life if we do not surrender our own way. I know it is not that simple, but I hope you will stick with me to hear what God has taught me through my own journey.
We were meant to:
- Have relationship with and depend on the Holy Spirit
- Surrender our own way in pursuit of God’s calling
- Trust in Jesus (As our provider, as our sustainer, with the future and with our past)
We will revisit the Holy Spirit as described by Paul in [2 Timothy 1:7]. For now let us dive into some of the more practical, every day aspects of fear and anxiety.