The cautiousness was present in his eyes the first time that I met him, though I did not quite yet know the depth of pensive hesitation that lie behind his glancing eyes and shifting posture. In some ways, aside from the blissful naivety of his youngest child, it seemed to me that the whole family was in retreat, determined to keep people at a safe distance, even as they were moving towards our church leadership expressing a desire to become a part of our faith family. Though I saw the defensive posture of a wounded and wounding family, I didn’t know quite what I was seeing. It would be years before the pixelated representation of their lives would come into focus. Yet, it almost never did. It was almost a decade before my friend courageously took a step of faith and slowly brought his real struggles and fears into focus, before he invited others to be a part of his messy journey of faith.
This past weekend during the depression and anxiety conference led by Dr. Edward Welch from the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation (CCEF), he said, “One of the hallmarks of the kingdom of heaven is that we speak about what is on our hearts.” This statement grabbed my attention, not because I disagree with it, but because if this statement is true, why is it so rarely put into practice among God’s people? One reason is obvious: we’re afraid. What will people think of us if they know the truth about our struggles? Will they reject us? Will they indict us as a fraud? Will they break the bruised reed?
Another reason people do not speak what is on their hearts is because we are not contributing to a culture where people are invited to speak more of what is on their heart. Do I share my own struggles with anxiety, pride, fear of man, depression, etc.? Do people really know me? Of course, this creates a vicious, self-perpetuating cycle. If I’m afraid of people rejecting me for not really possessing the strength of faith I project I have (and I project strong faith not because my faith is not real or genuine or to mask hypocrisy, but rather, because I’m not sure it’s safe to speak that honestly about following Jesus), then I’m not likely to talk about my struggles.
In many ways, this past weekend’s weekender on anxiety and depression gave us a foretaste of what Jesus desires the kingdom of heaven here on the earth to be like. For a few hours, our busy, well-manicured lives were interrupted with real words of comfort and honest confessions of specific fears, soul-eclipsing despair, and relationally isolating anxieties.
The culture of the kingdom of heaven is a world where, not only are we helping others, but we are willing to ask others for help. The kingdom of heaven is not for the strong; the kingdom of heaven is for the weak. Rather, the kingdom of heaven is for the meek. Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).
Meekness isn’t a word we use very much. I’m not even sure it’s a spiritual quality many of us understand. We often think of meekness as weakness. We think of meek people as those who are simply submissive because they lack the resources to do anything else. We can certainly feel this way when we are overwhelmed with anxious thoughts, feelings of despair, and a sense of helplessness about the fear that is in front of us.
But true meekness isn’t measured by strength or weakness. It is measured by humility and trust. A strong person can possess meekness because they could assert themselves but choose not to. The spiritually meek trust God, commit their ways to God, and wait for God to act.
Meekness is required to become a people who speak what is on our hearts in the kingdom of heaven. Meekness is required because we have to trust God to use vulnerability and weakness as the means for us to experience God’s power. We speak what is on our hearts because this is how God uses the body of Christ – where each of us serve the purpose of building one another up (1 Corinthian 12:7) – to be helped and help others as we follow Jesus.
In closing, Dr. Welch said that a godly goal for the church should be that we really know one person well enough to know how to really pray for them. And by “really pray”, we do not mean the shallow prayers of general provision (though these prayers are not bad. In fact, they are real and necessary prayers. However, you don’t have to “know” someone to ask God to provide them a job. The point is, “Do I have a depth of relationship where my prayers can reach deeper than just below the surface?”). We “really pray” when our prayers are for God to do more in the hearts of his people, that we would know the love of God, we would grow in the knowledge of Christ, we would stand firm in the crucible of faith, and we would persevere in our faith until the end.
I wonder, “Does anyone (outside of your family) at Community Bible know you well enough to really pray for you?” It will take courage and humility for you to let a person know the truest version of who you are in Jesus. But as my friend has found out, as I am finding out, it is a risk worth taking.
Learning to Speak What’s on Our Hearts Together,
My mom is the youngest of 11 children. One of her older sisters just recently entered Heaven at the earthly age of 102. Of the 11 children, 9 were daughters. (My mom’s father, a farmer, had hoped for a family of strong rugged farmhands).
I grew up surrounded by scores of aunts, uncles, and cousins. We gathered at my grandparents’ farm for holidays and summer vacations. There was always lots of food, ceaseless activity, and incessant chatter. I loved those gatherings, and I can get lost in the memories of those days with my cousins when we gathered eggs, fed cows and pigs, rode horses, and gathered pecans in bushel baskets while the uncles hunted in nearby woods and the aunts cleaned the kitchen after huge family meals.
As thankful as I am for my family and the memories of those care-free days of country life, I realize now that those simple times were also intermingled with mammoth doses of worry. The sisters were fretters. All 9 of them. They feared and fumed and agonized. Their family had battled through The Great Depression and sent sons and sons-in-law off to war. Worry was the air they exhaled and the air I breathed.
The interesting thing is that in my family, worry was seen as a virtue. The sisters explained that their worry was an evidence of how deeply they loved. That sounded right to me. It never occurred to me that worry was wreaking havoc with my emotions and perspective and interpretation of life.
As I grew up, I became really good and experienced at worrying. If there had been a Worry Tourney, I would have been awarded “Most Valuable Player.” If there had been an Anxiety Society, I would have been President. You get the idea.
God gave me new life when I was a young teenager. I started having vague inklings that worry was not compatible with this new life in Christ. I remember the first time I read Psalm 46:10 – “Be still, and know that I am God.” That verse began to sink its way into my heart and my thinking, and I longed to make it true in my experience.
To some, worry may seem like a relatively innocuous stronghold. But for me, it was brutal. It affected every area of my experience, and sapped joy and strength from my life. It kept me awake at night, and invaded my relationships. I didn’t even recognize it as a stronghold for many years, because I had been trained so thoroughly in believing it was a virtue.
I vividly remember the first time I heard a pastor teach that worry is a sin. I was startled and felt insulted. I didn’t want to admit that my identity was wrapped up in the sin of worry. It was so much a part of who I was that I didn’t see how I could ever disentangle my heart from the tentacles of my deep-rooted anxiety.
Over a period of years, God did that mighty work of untangling. It was a hard-won spiritual battle. And I thought I was forever free. By God’s unfailing grace, Rob and I made it through his 3 1/2 years of cancer without a return of the uninvited companion of debilitating worry.
However, in early widowhood, worry returned with a vengeance. It was unexpected. I didn’t realize right away that it had happened. I was living with a constant undercurrent of anxiety that I had never experienced. During the ravages and devastation of cancer, Rob had been with me. In his presence and strength, the burden had been shared. In widowhood, without Rob by my side, the load seemed unbearable. My daily mental refrain was, “This is too hard; I’m not going to be able to do this.”
God was so patient and merciful. The lessons He taught me during those dreadful days were life-giving and heart-strengthening. It started with His reminder to me to discern what was ruling my thoughts. In those days, it was definitely worry and anxiety.
Worry is sin because it rules my heart. It dethrones Jesus. He alone is to reign on the throne of my heart. Worry is also a choice. David says three times in Psalm 37, “Do not fret….” In verse 8, he says, “Do not fret, it leads only to evildoing….” In the margin of my Bible, this quote is written beside Psalm 37: “Fretting is an injury we inflict upon ourselves – people or circumstances may be the occasion of our worry, but no one can fret us except we ourselves.”
During those first weeks of widowhood after repeatedly rehearsing to myself the plaintive refrain, “This is too hard; I’m not going to be able to do this,” I realized that I was listening to myself rather than speaking to myself. The fact was that widowhood was too hard, and that I wasn’t going to be able to do it on my own. But the greater truth was that I wasn’t alone. I had been focusing on the lesser truth of my own frailty rather than the greater truth of God’s grace made perfect in my weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9-10) and that I can do all things through Jesus who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13). Paul Miller says that “anxiety is self on its own.” With God-granted peace, I could rest in the greatest truth that I was not on my own. At the cross, God had bound Himself to me in Christ.
In his first “Breaking Strongholds” message, Aaron said that we must “challenge our thoughts” in the spiritual battle against strongholds. He told us to “take cover” in God’s truth. I thought of the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13 in which Jesus teaches that the worry of the world “chokes the word, and it becomes unfruitful.” This is exactly Satan’s strategy, and why the spiritual battle for our thoughts is so intense. The choking of the word and the resulting unfruitfulness are high stakes. Our thoughts do not surrender easily. Life is war.
Philippians 4:6-7 says, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Peace is choked when I succumb to worry. Peace is God’s promised gift when I forsake the sin of worry and commit my way to Him.
Olan Stubbs says, “If worry is a conversation we have with ourselves about something we can’t do anything about, then prayer is a conversation we have with God about something He can do everything about.” Aaron reminded us that we must “depend on the Spirit in prayer.” God’s truth and prayer are indispensible in this all-out war we face on a daily basis. We must fight back with these spiritual weapons.
The manifold worries of widowhood, unemployment, disease, relationship challenges, parenthood, and living in this sin-scorched world are meant to throw us into the Everlasting Arms that uphold and sustain the boundless universe…and the smallest sparrow. In Christ, we are His. As Aaron proclaimed in his message, “Victory is certain!”
Greetings, CBC family! I wanted to update you with what we have been going through and what we have been learning over the last couple months as a student ministry. Whether you are a parent of a middle school or high school student or even if you do not have children, I hope that informing you as to what our students have been growing in will not only encourage you personally, but it will also show you how you can pray more specifically for our students.
If you did not already know, each week our students meet for tribe groups. Their tribal groups (or small groups) are broken up by grade and gender and are led by an adult. We find that discipleship best happens in relationship. Because of that, it is my desire that the conversations that happen on Sundays between students and leaders will be the starting point for a more meaningful relationship throughout the week. Each Sunday, after a 25-30 minute sermon, students and leaders continue the conversation from stage with each other at their individual tables.
For the last 3-4 months, we have been going through a series by J.D. Greear called “Gospel Revolution.” It has been my desire in going through this series that our students would be able to see their entire lives through a gospel lens. I find that often times students may be able to articulate the gospel in terms of how they came to be a Christian, but they do not know what to do with the gospel after that. They understand that God created everything, that Jesus died on the cross for them and rose again, and they may have made a profession of faith at some point in their life, but after that, they don’t really know how to connect the cross with the daily details of their life. “How does the gospel speak into my identity and the way I view myself? How does the gospel affect my relationships? How does the gospel continue to change me after I make a decision to follow Jesus? How does the gospel affect the way I interact with my friends on my team or what I watch on Netflix? How does the gospel speak into my insecurities and my fears? How does the gospel affect the way I process and cope with personal tragedy and failure? How does the gospel speak into my feelings of loneliness and isolation? While these are not questions that can simply be answered over the course of a few weeks, it is my hope that this series will help students to start seeing that the gospel changes everything!
During week 1, we talked about Gospel Change and we determined that Gospel change is a lot different from religious change because religious change is only on the outside. Religious change is nothing more than us manipulating how we look to other people when the condition of our heart is still the same – full of sin. Gospel change starts on the inside and is a fruit of being made new in Christ. Gospel change is often messier than religious change, but is the only change that honors God and ultimately changes the condition of our hearts.
In week 2, the title of the lesson was Gospel Discovery. We talked about the importance of having a sense of awe and amazement at who God is and how He is active in both our lives and in the world. To mention Paul David Tripp, we (humanity) do not have merely a sin problem, we have an awe problem. We worship and we direct our lives towards that which we are most in awe of. Being in awe of the gospel is different than simply agreeing with the events of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. Being in awe of Jesus and what He did for us on the cross draws us in to experience intimacy in relationship with Him.
During week 3, we talked about Gospel Acceptance and the gospel prayer for that week was, “in Christ, there is nothing I can do that would make God love me any more and there is nothing I can do that would make God love me any less….” The reason that God loves me and the reason that God accepts me – once you have trusted in Christ for salvation and have confessed Him as Lord – is because when God looks at me and you, He sees the blood of Jesus covering me.
For week 4, we talked about Gospel Approval. The gospel prayer for this week was – “your presence and approval are all I need for everlasting joy….” We naturally look for approval in everyone else other than God and because of that we end up bitter and unsatisfied and constantly trying to impress people. However, since God looks at us with joy and approval because of Christ, we can have a deep sense of joy and satisfaction that is not controlled by what other people think about us.
In week 5, the title of the lesson was Gospel Response and the gospel prayer was – “as you have been to me, so I will be to others…” A theme that is laced all throughout scripture starting with the children of Israel all the way to the great commission in the New testament is that God blesses us to be a blessing. He gives us salvation, not for us to just keep to ourselves and go about life, however we want, he saves us so we will go and extend the same grace to others.
In week 6, the title was Gospel Faith. We looked more specifically at faith in terms of how it affects our prayer life. The gospel prayer (which is the last in the series) was “as I pray, I will measure your compassion by the cross and your power by the resurrection.” Even though we see the level of God’s compassion for us on the cross, and we see God’s limitless power in raising Jesus from the dead – we often do not pray to Him like He is compassionate and powerful. Instead, we often pray to Him like He is distant or like He doesn’t have enough time for us or that He is incapable of helping us. How would our prayers change if we actually prayed in light of both God’s compassion – displayed in His willingness to die on the cross for us, and His power – displayed in Jesus raising from the dead on the third day and conquering sin?
During week 7, we investigated the idea of Substitute Gospels. We made the observation that there are many worldviews and ways of thinking about life that are both explicitly (being obvious) and implicitly (being more difficult to discern on the surface) different than the gospel. It could be another religion which worships a different god like Islam or Hinduism, or it could also be something that may look legitimate on the surface and may even use similar language but once you get down to the root it is fundamentally different than the gospel of Jesus – such as Unitarianism, the prosperity gospel, etc. Not only are there worldviews that are fundamentally opposed to the gospel which have names attached to them, we also can adopt ways of thinking and personal belief systems that may not have a name and may not even be spoken out loud, but are functionally a substitute of the gospel. Because of this, we need to listen to Paul’s warning in 2 Timothy to “guard the deposit entrusted to you.” One of the ways we can do that is by hiding “hiding God’s Word in our heart, so that we might not sin against Him” (Ps. 119:11).
And finally, this Sunday we will investigate the last topic in our Gospel series, Gospel Depth. In closing out our series, we are going to discuss how our spiritual grow never goes above or beyond the gospel. You may become the most brilliant theologian, the most gifted evangelist, or the most passionate missionary the world has ever seen, but your spiritual development must only go deeper into the gospel of Jesus and never outside of it. That is the beauty of the gospel – a child can understand their need for the gospel and can have the ability to confess Jesus as Lord, while at the same time, the most renowned theological scholar cannot fully understand and articulate the weightiness of the gospel. In closing, as J.D. Greear puts it, “the gospel is not just the diving board, it’s the pool itself.” That means that once we are in Christ, real spiritual growth starts with the gospel (justification) and continues in the gospel as we are gradually transformed more into the image of Christ (sanctification).