I’m writing to myself today. We live in a world overflowing with anxiety, of which I myself have grabbed more than my “fair share”. I’ve struggled with anxiety my whole life. I’ve been in recovery for over three years now, and one of the greatest parts of my recovery was the fact that as I got into recovery and began working the recovery principle and 12 steps, my anxiety vanished. Which I can say definitively because, for the first tine I remember in my life, sleep was not an issue. When I say for the first time I remember, I mean that even as an 8 year old child, I remember lying in bed at night, unable to sleep. I would lie awake, waiting for my dad and step mother to go to bed, then very often get up and creep into the living room so I could turn on the tv and watch whatever was on, often watching until the station would sign off for the night.
When I got into recovery, and especially got through step 3, turning our lives and our wills over to the care the care of God, the sleepless nights vanished. They were over. For the first time I could ever remember, I was not laying awake, thinking, worrying, stressing out about who knows what. Then stressing out about lying awake and being unable to sleep, causing even more anxiety. I had found the peace of God which surpasses all understanding. I didn’t understand it, I didn’t worry about, I didn’t have to think about. I was simply able live under the love of Christ with peace in my heart, my mind free of the anxiety which I had known my whole life.
But now here I am, and I’ve picked it back up again. The sleepless nights have returned. Most often it is Sunday nights, maybe because I know Monday morning is coming and there is always so much to do. So I lie awake all night, not actually thinking about anything in particular, just on edge. I will glance over at the clock and see its numbers – 12:00, 1:00, now 2:00. Now I’m thinking about how I’ve got to be up in the morning, there’s only a short time to go. I reset the alarm an hour later, but it doesn’t matter, sleep never comes. Now I’m facing the day with so much to do, and more thing added to do is to deal with the stress and anxiety created by the lack of sleep because I’ve got to think about all those things I’ve got to do.
Because I’ve picked it back up again, I am in control. Life keeps happening, things have not always gone my way. It’s not just work either. There are things in my life which I think I can control or affect. I consciously know that I can’t, but I also know that I am thinking and behaving like I can. Last week it wasn’t just Sunday night that I got zero sleep, but it came back around Thursday night into Friday. Then again this Sunday just passed. Which at that point made 3 nights out of 8 that I have gotten zero sleep.
Why do I tell you this? Because like I said earlier, I am writing to myself today.
I came across something this week that screamed at me. Listening to a podcast of Alistair Begg, I understood what had happened to my peace, and why I had picked up again the anxiety I had previously left at the foot of the cross of Jesus Christ. It’s from the first letter of Peter to some of the early believers in the church.
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. That’s right, the famous “cast your cares”. But notice that in the ESV it is not a directive to cast your cares, it’s an action based upon the actual directive, which is a call to humility. It’s an active participle, showing an action that flows from the command which came before it. This, apparently, is more accurate translation from the Greek, because the in the original Greek it was written in this same way, as an active participle. In other words, the command here to humble ourselves is not separate from from the casting of cares. Peter did not separate the two. It is not ‘humble yourselves. Cast your care.’ It is ‘humble yourselves…casting your care.’
I do have a point here. Humility is a trait which we know is desirable to God and in our lives. Most of us would wish that we could be more humble (at least, we might wish for our neighbor to be more humble, correct?). We would wish for more humility, at the same time we would wish less anxiety.
If we read Peter honestly for what the lord is saying through him, casting our cares and anxiety upon him comes from our posture of humility towards him. The trouble is, my anxiety which I am suffering right now is a result of the return of my own pride and arrogance into my heart. This is screaming to me that I have no longer humbled myself, I have dropped the ball on that third step, and I am up and running again in control of my own life. The fruits of this is manifested in the anxiety and sleepless nights which I again am dealing with.
This is nothing new. Think about the believers Peter was writing to originally. He was exhorting them to be humble before the lord, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. We think we have worries, but I’m not sure we can compete with the stress these believers had. Peter was writing to scattered Christians living in the Roman Empire. The political environment was completely against them. They were thought of as antisocial nuisances. Many Romans thought they were locking themselves into rooms and practicing cannibalism, because they had no understanding of the Lord’s Supper.
Persecution was always right around the corner. They lived with their own daily expectation of “the big one” which was to come. And their big one did come, with the persecution of Nero (which would include the upside down crucifixion and beheading of Paul). It started with Nero and continued at points for the next 250-300 years. The Christians Peter was writing to, their anxiety was for their very lives. Not for the creature comforts of those lives mind you, but the very existence on their lives themselves. Their stress and worry would have been for the lubes of their children, their grand children. They would have had to worry then about their business, how to earn a living, and what about any hopes and dreams?
We sorry about a lot of things today ourselves, don’t we?? We think we have major worries. We worry about our lives. Not the existence of the life so much, but we worry nonetheless. We worry about our lives, our families our hopes, our dreams. We worry about being caught in a crowd, we worry about being alone. We worry about failure, we worry what it will mean if we succeed, we worry about change, we worry about not changing. We worry about the heights, the dark, the light, or being brought down low.
We worry about our place in the grand cosmic scheme of things. We worry that there is no cosmic scheme.
We know fear, and we know anxiety. We worry about our past, we worry about our future. Anxiety distracts and divides our minds, which fuels our fears, which fuels our anxiety and distracts our minds even more, becoming as for me, it’s own self fueling and self fulfilling prophecy.
So Peter tells us to be humble before the Lord, casting our anxieties upon Him. I can’t help but thank of these words of Jesus himself, which Peter would have been right there to hear. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”” Matthew 11:28-30 ESV. It does not say the anxieties, the burdens, don’t exist. It does not tell us to deny or ignore our anxiety. This is not a call to repression, but a call to realism.
The fears and anxieties we face are real. Life is hard. It’s hard now just like it was hard 2000 years ago. Sure, we have our creature comforts and modern amenities, but that core spiritual truth remains – life is hard. But we should be casting all your anxieties on him. The verb here in Greek for casting is the same as the word used on Palm Sunday when his disciples untied the colt of a donkey and threw their cloaks on it in preparation for Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem that day. It is in this way we are to throw our very real anxieties upon Him.
Humbling ourselves before the Lord transforms everything else we do. Casting our anxiety upon Him is a necessary part of coming under Christ’s care and control. Because the question for us all is this – do we trust Jesus to be in control of our lives?? CAN we trust Jesus to be in control of our lives?? It’s like this – if you are on big jet airplane flying from DCA to LAX, can you trust the pilot to get you where you going?? Or are you trying to fly that plane from your window seat?? Can you humble yourselves under the pilots care?
He cares for you. He knows your children. He knows where you live. He knows who your boss is. He knows your neighbor. His instruction is to humble ourselves and trust him in the ride. If we don’t, we are taking matters into our own hands. When we do this, when we consume ourselves with worry, we reveal the truth that we are concerned with our own selves and not him. We will try to give the impression that we are concerned with him, but we are more concerned with our own pride than we are in making progress in his kingdom.
Here’s an example we might be able to relate to. “Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”” Luke 10:38-42 ESV. Notice Martha was distracted with much serving. Martha was distracted – we might say she was anxious. Martha was upset about many things, but Mary chose what was better. It’s not that we are not to be useful and of service to the lord and to those around us. It’s just that our posture and our heart needs to be like that of Mary during our times of activity and service. We are more like Martha, anxious and troubled about many things. But we need to remember it’s all in the name of and for Him, and he can never be taken away from us.
The posture of Mary needs to be the heart of OUR Martha here. If it is not, then our preoccupation of what we do for Jesus may rob us of our time spent with Jesus, and the enjoyment of the companionship of Jesus. This can create a bitterness in us that we will then resent the humble spirits of others who have chosen a less frantic way of life (is this hitting home with anyone?)
In the words of Alistair Begg, “The presence of anxiety is directly related to the absence of humility“. Having dispensed with the transcendent God who who is in control if all our lives, and exalted ourselves in our pride, we now fill in the blanks ourselves. As we scramble to fill in all these blanks, we have become a neurotic society. We are full if neuroses, full of anxiety, stressed out, burdened, fractured, divided, crushed, debilitated, and paralyzed. Until we humble ourselves and bow before God to acknowledge that our hearts are restless, we will never make sense of it all and we will continue to be unstable and riddled with anxiety.
How do we cope?? We have our 90 proof anesthetic to get us through our fear of flying and everything else. We have our boozy lunches to get us through the day. We have the endless, 24 hour possibilities of entertainment in excess to temporarily give us hope and a quick lift.
As Christians, we are responsible to challenge the way of the world – not with false cries of bravado, but in the example of humbling ourselves before God and declaring how powerful we believe his hand to be in our lives. We are to be nit just saying it, but living it!! It’s easy to say we are living free of worry, it’s a whole other thing altogether to be experientially free of worry. It’s real easy to talk the good talk without actually living the good life.
We are not called to cast our troubles onto him, but we are allied to throw those anxieties which the troubles cause his way. Life sometimes takes turns which we simply can’t control. We can not be free of all trouble, we might not be able to change every condition in our lives. But we can be free of the anxiety, because he cares for you. I can refuse to be burdened by the cares weighing me down which have disturbed my peace and distracted my mind.
I can refuse this because in the anxiety we face, there is an action we take, and an assurance we find. If we are in Christ, if we know the reality of sins forgiven, the joy of forgiveness, the presence of the spirit in our lives, then the promise of God’s word is that we are his personal concern. Our trust is not misplaced. “Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” Psalms 121:4 ESV. He never sleeps, he never slumbers. He never needs a wake up call. I am his personal concern.
Until man bows in humility to the god of the whole universe who knows every hair on my head – there is no hope for the neurotic lives we lead. Anything else may deal with symptoms. The care of God is ultimately expressed in a cross, sending his own son to die for us. The love of God is heard in a cry – “And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Luke 23:34 ESV. The peace of God is discovered in a moment – “And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”” Luke 23:43 ESV.
Sometimes we (I) live in a silent cave of our own creation. ‘I can share this with no one. No one cares.’ Except Jesus stands right there in the shadows making each one of us his personal concern.
I AM writing to myself today.
“…Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”
1 Peter 5:5-7 ESV