Tag Archives: anxiety

Where Faith & Depression Meet

The first time I met with “Jennifer” she told me she was struggling with severe depression. As usual, I spent our first counseling session gathering information about her past, and wasn’t surprised to learn that she had experienced sexual abuse at the hands of an older cousin from the time she was 8-years-old until she was 13. When the secret finally came out, her mother told her not to say anything to anyone, but just to avoid being alone with her cousin. She wasn’t even sure if her mom spoke to her cousin’s parents, and somehow she was made to feel responsible for what happened.

For years Jennifer carried the shame of what happened to her. She grew up and married, but he turned out to be physically abusive, and by the time her son was 5 she was divorced. As her marriage was falling apart, a friend invited her to church. Within months of visiting the church, Jennifer fell in love with the One who suffered and died in order to redeem her soul. Her life was changed, and she felt peace like none she had ever known. Yet, five years later she was meeting with me because of depression.

As a survivor of abuse I could relate to Jennifer’s struggle. Getting out of the abuse was much easier than getting the abuse out of my head. It had warped my thinking, and caused me to believe lies about God and about myself. I found myself consumed with negative thoughts, and the more I thought about things, the more depressed I became. I wondered why God allowed the abuse to happen, and felt that my experiences had damaged me for life. It seemed as though I was engulfed in darkness, and suicidal thoughts plagued me. If  not for my children, I’m not sure I would be here today. But that wasn’t the end of the story for me. Misery drove me to scripture. Between my own private bible study, and a few solid group studies, I became determined to “cast down” the negative thoughts that overwhelmed me (2 Co. 10:5). I often tell people God brought me through an intensive period of supernatural cognitive behavioral therapy that eventually set me free.

Jennifer was looking for freedom from depression too, but when I asked her about her thought life, she just looked at me and said, “I really don’t think about anything.” That is the day I came up with the idea of keeping a “thought journal.” I asked Jennifer to set a timer to go off several times a day (especially those times when she was feeling depressed), and to write down what she was thinking about during those times. The idea was to write out any negative beliefs that were fueling the depression, and then to find scriptures to counter them. When I met with Jennifer a week later, I asked about her journal. She told me that the timer had worked, because she realized that she was constantly thinking discouraging thoughts. Even though she had been out of abusive relationships for years, her abusers still had power over her. Deep below the surface she felt she was unworthy of God’s love. Even worse, she doubted it altogether.

The solution for Jennifer, and for anyone struggling with negative emotions, is to identify beliefs that are contrary to God’s truth. I often tell ladies in our support group to print out specific passages of scripture, and to say them out loud any time the destructive thoughts come. I also believe that singing along with praise music is powerful, because it makes God bigger than our problems. In his presence there is fullness of joy (Ps. 16:11), and depression will have to flee. I used to imagine myself being held by the Mighty Warrior as he quieted me with his love and rejoiced over me with singing (Zep. 3:17). There is nothing more healing than being in his presence. Those who make the effort to find him in the midst of their pain will not be disappointed. He gives us “beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness” (Is. 61:3). 

God is a healer! I have never seen him fail to restore those who have tenaciously determined to believe his truth. It’s not a quick fix, but it is a powerful one. Nothing gives me greater joy than to watch the faces of God’s precious children learning to embrace the freedom he offers. If you are plagued by depression or anxiety, please know that he offers “liberty for the captives” (Lk. 4:18), even as you learn to “take every thought captive” to his truth (2 Co. 10:5). Identifying false beliefs about God and about yourself, and replacing those thoughts with his promises will heal your broken heart. Ultimately, his peace, that surpasses human comprehension, will protect your mind from worry and your heart from despair (Phil. 4:7).

 

If you read this article, and are wondering where to begin, please contact me  for a list of helpful scriptures.

Feeling Frantic?

Do you ever feel frantic? I know I do, and I’ve learned it is a sure sign that rather than trusting God, I am seeking control. Basically, it boils down to idolatry. Idols are the things we run to for comfort so that we can keep things from getting out of hand.  Yet, from time to time, in spite of all we do, things do spin out of our control. As people of God, those times are wake up calls to help us realize only he is sovereign over everything, and our efforts are feeble. They are an illusion, because in reality, we have control over very little. The One who holds everything together could allow it to fall apart at any time, but because of his grace, he sustains us. He is good, so he can be trusted. And trusting him leads to joy (being blessed), while trusting in flesh (self and other shallow substitutes) leads to misery or being cursed. The choice is clear.

This is what the LORD says: “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh and whose heart turns away from the LORD. That person will be like a bush in the wastelands; they will not see prosperity when it comes. They will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives. “But blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? “I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve.” Jer. 17:5-10

Jeremiah’s task as a young prophet was to proclaim God’s coming judgment against his people, because they had forsaken him and turned to idols. Yet, even in judgment, he was offering hope to those who would chose to trust him. It’s interesting to me that while much of Jeremiah’s warnings against the people are related to sins of commission and omission, this passage seems to get to the heart behind those sins. It’s all a matter of trust. The blatant sins were idolatry and failing to honor the Sabbath, but at the root of those sins was a lack of trust in God. As God’s people we are supposed to be different. The tendency of human flesh is to trust in self or others that we can see and touch. It it not in our nature to trust an unseen God. We want to be in control. We can control flesh, but we cannot control the unseen. It seems unnatural for flesh to trust in supernatural, but that is what God calls us to do, and if we don’t, there are consequences.

To be cursed means to be miserable, as opposed to being blessed or happy. Trusting him results in something else that is unseen—our roots are firmly established. They develop deep and tap into the fountains of living water. Being tapped into those streams of living water is the key to blessing. This is not based on activity, but trust. Trust stands still and waits. It does not feel the need for control, and it is never frantic. When we realize we have no control, and that the One who does have it is good, and wants the best for us, we can choose the blessing of trusting him.

Oh Lord, help us to trust you rather than frantically strive for control. We know you are good, and you can be trusted, but sometimes we are afraid anyway. Help us to be still and know you are God and that your love for us is everlasting. We can trust in One who loves us that much. So even though circumstances and things in this seen world try to move us, we will not be moved. We will be like trees planted by streams of living waters and have no need to fear. We choose to believe you. Amen

 

Living in Dread…

I often tell people that whatever we fear is what we serve, so that the object of our fear basically becomes our god. This morning a passage in Isaiah reminded me of that truth.

“Whom have you so dreaded and feared that you have been false to me, and have neither remembered me nor pondered this in your hearts? Is it not because I have long been silent that you do not fear me?  I will expose your righteousness and your works, and they will not benefit you. When you cry out for help, let your collection [of idols] save you! The wind will carry all of them off, a mere breath will blow them away. But the man who makes me his refuge will inherit the land and possess my holy mountain.” (Is.57:11-13).

“Whom have you so dreaded and feared that you have been false to me…” I’m not sure how much more clear that could be! At the heart of being unfaithful to God is usually a fear of something else (no matter what that something else is, I’d call it an idol). An idol is anything we meditate on, and spend our time trying to appease. For years, I did the dance of fear trying to keep an abusive husband happy so he wouldn’t lash out. I feared him much more than God, and the result was I served him rather than God. In fact, he became my god, because of the way I served him.

Another interesting thing about this passage is “I will expose your righteousness and your works…” Very often people do good works out of fear—they worry what people think and are trying to impress them rather than God. This fear of man is idolatry of the worst sort. It becomes works-based rather than love-based. God does not desire our feeble efforts; he desires our love. From that love, genuine works of righteousness will flow naturally. The ones born of fear of man are wood, hay, and stubble mentioned by Paul in 1 Cor. 3. These works may look wonderful to people, but they cannot stand before the Judge.

This passage should be a wake up call to the people of God. The warning here is not based on actions, but on misplaced fear. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and when we are more worried about pleasing him than people or unpleasant circumstances, that is wisdom. Then we will be like the man who built his house upon the rock in in Matthew 7:24-25. No matter what life brings our way, we can overcome because we know the One we fear is in control and his love casts out sinful fear. We can stand firm knowing he is in charge. Sinful fear dreads losing control, and that is why the Israelites sacrificed to idols. They believed that appeasing them would make things run smoothly, and that if they didn’t sacrifice things would go badly. When we live in fear of man, we have a similar mentality. “If I can just…” everything will be ok. We’re trying to maintain control. Yet, the Lord calls us to leave the control in his hands. That is what the fear of the Lord does. It trusts in his goodness for the outcome, and we have nothing to dread.

Lord, help me never dread anything more than I desire to love and please you. Help me to avoid the trap of misplaced fear. Nothing on this earth is more powerful than you, so I need to reserve my fear for you alone. Yet, it is a different sort of fear than dread. It is honoring you above anything else, and resting in your control rather than trying to be in control. You are worthy of all honor and praise. Nothing on earth can ever cause me to be consumed with fear as long as I am consumed with you. Amen

God Uses the Reluctant

I love the story of Gideon. It amazes me that God was so patient with him. Like Moses he argued with God about his calling. Like Moses he saw only his limitations, but God proclaimed who he would be. We see things according to human limitations, God sees the limitless possibilities when we put our trust in him and walk in his Spirit. Gideon would question and test God numerous times before he became willing to step into the spiritual realities God pronounced over him. I love the following account in Judges 6. Gideon was sure the Lord had abandoned his people, but God…

And the angel of the Lord appeared to him and said to him, “The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor. “ And Gideon said to him “Please sir if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us, saying, ’Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has forsaken us and given us into the hand of Midian.” And the Lord turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you? And he said to him, “Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” And the Lord said to him, “But I will be with you and you shall strike the Midianites as one man” (Ju. 6:12-16).

The Israelites were being oppressed by Midian because of their sin. The Midianites swarmed in against them and stripped the land like locusts every harvest season. Everything the children of Israel had worked for was stolen when they came. After seven years in this pattern scripture says that “Israel was brought very low… and the people of Israel cried out for help to the Lord.” It was basically the Lord’s compassion that answered, because nothing here says the people repented. They were just brought very low, and God had mercy. When he answers prayers it is rarely because of our worthiness. It’s more about him than us. When he answers, he comes in and empowers weak and reluctant people. Gideon remained reluctant until God showed up and proved himself to him. God did not say, “Go read the scripture, examine your sin, find my promises, and walk in obedience.” Instead, he answered every one of Gideon’s fear-based prayers, and he proclaimed something over Gideon that seemed completely removed from reality.

Reality was harsh. The enemy was devouring God’s people. The Israelites were hiding out in caves to escape with their lives. They were basically working for nothing, because everything they produced was stolen. The enemy was stronger that they were, yet God would not let them remain in defeat. When they cried out for help, he was faithful to answer, and to find a reluctant hero to lead the charge against the enemy. First he had to convince Gideon to take on the job, and of course that required answering his doubts and fears. Even after God answered, Gideon obeyed by tearing down the altar of Baal, but he was so afraid of his own family he did it at night. As God continued to prove himself to Gideon he soon began to live up to the angel’s description “mighty man of valor.” Before it was all over, God tested Gideon by reducing his troop size from 32,000 to 300. By this point, God had proven himself to Gideon, and he obeyed in spite of circumstances. It made no sense for a band of 300 to rise up against a huge army, but Gideon did it, because he had learned God was faithful.

This account is beautiful, because it shows me that God uses reluctant, weak people. It shows me that there are no limits with God—all things are possible. It shows me that as long as I am walking with him and willing, he will empower me in his strength. I can express my doubts and fears as long as I don’t run away. I need to wait and watch for his answer. God comes to the aid of the weak. He answers prayer, and he gives his power to the powerless. His reality seems far removed from circumstances and human logic, but nothing is more real! The One who created the universe can certainly turn a reluctant weakling into a mighty man of valor, as long as the man is willing.

Father, we face many impossible looking circumstances right now.  We ask you to show yourself to us, and answer our doubts even as you did for Gideon, because Lord you have great compassion on your children who are being downtrodden by the enemy. This is not about us, but about you, and we are willing to go and do whatever you call us to do. Regardless of our doubts, we will not run away in fear. Instead, we will be your mighty men and women of valor in spite of ourselves, because you will be with us. We will look to you rather than circumstances. We love and trust you. Amen

 

 

Hope for the Discouraged

Those who belong to God have no reason to walk in fear or discouragement. His promises and presence help us overcome our natural tendencies to be fearful and discouraged. Walking with him sets us free from fear. My reading in Joshua recently emphasized that point.

Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:8-9)

I find it interesting that God repeatedly told Joshua to be strong and courageous, but that wasn’t all. He also repeatedly told him he would be with him. That is where our source of courage comes from—from walking with him. When we go out on our own without his leading, we will end up walking in fear. His presence and his Word are the remedy for fear and discouragement. Discouragement is strongly related to fear. When we are afraid we can’t do something we become discouraged. When we are afraid of failure, or afraid of looking foolish, we get discouraged.

In this passage, God is surely asking Joshua and the Israelites to do something that would seem foolish in the eyes of the world. The task alone would make most discouraged, but rather than standing still in fear they chose to move forward in the promises of God. Rather than cowering and longing for the comforts of Egypt, they chose to follow God’s leading and believe his promises. The generation before them had failed this same test. They looked at things from a human perspective and failed to enter the Promised Land. Finally their children made the better choice to walk by faith, and they were able to take the land. They even walked into it on dry land as the waters of the Jordan parted for them.

When we choose to trust God, rather than looking at circumstances, he makes a way when there seems to be no way. It involves a choice on our part to walk by faith, to believe his Word, and to stay in his presence. When we do these things, fear will not be able to overtake us.

Lord, it is so easy to live by fear rather than faith. In fact, I would say fear is our natural human tendency, while faith is a choice to reject our natural inclinations. Faith is not the easy road, but it is the better road. When we decide to walk by faith, you always make a way. I am so grateful to be your child, because otherwise I would be paralyzed by fear on a regular basis. Thank you for delivering me from myself. I love you Lord! Amen

I’m CONFIDENT!!

Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then I will be confident. (Ps.27:3) I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. (Ps. 27:13)

The world teaches us that if we believe in ourselves we can do anything, but I have to say that my self-confidence levels are really not that high. I’ve lived with myself long enough to know that I can utterly blow it in the blink of an eye. Outside of the grace and Spirit of God I don’t trust myself, and I know that without confidence in his great love for me, I would be crippled by fear and anxiety. Even after I became a believer, fear was a constant struggle for me until God graciously used some trying circumstances in my life, and his Word, to help me overcome it. (Click here to learn more.)

Victory over fear is far more than just the absence of anxiety and dread; it is confidence in God’s goodness towards us even in the midst of trying circumstances. Psalm 27:10 has long been a favorite verse of mine. “Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me.” When I fear that people will fail me, I can trust that he will not. 1 John 4:18 says that perfect love drives out fear. It took me a while to grasp that, but now it gives my heart great confidence. I know that he loves me, and that he promises to work “all things” together for my good (Rom. 8:28), so I don’t have to freak out when bad things happen. I can remain confident that I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of living! No matter what happens (even a full-scale war against me!), my heart can be confident and reject fear. So yes, I am loaded with confidence; it’s just not in myself.

In this psalm David reminds himself to seek God’s face. That is his response to fearful events, and as he turns to God his fears begin to melt. He reminds himself that the Lord has been his helper, and then boldly proclaims he will never be forsaken. Knowing his goodness, and getting into his presence will dispel every fear. There is nothing that can shake us when we are hiding in the shadow of his wing. When I am afraid, I close my eyes and imagine myself climbing up into my Heavenly Father’s lap and listen as he sings over me (Zep. 3:17). I think of the many times I held and sang over my own children and grandchildren when they were upset or afraid. As soon as they stopped struggling, rest and peace came. I chose to be still and know that he is God. He is bigger than all my troubles combined, and I can have confidence in him as I rest in his love.

Lord God, I praise you for your great love! I am so honored to be your child. That the sovereign Lord, creator of heaven and earth, cares enough to quiet me with his love is simply amazing. Today I choose not to strive, but to rest as you hold me and give me confidence to face the day. Life in this world is just hard sometimes, but you are so good, and you have overcome the world for us. Bless your holy name! I love you, and I rest in your love today. Amen

Waking up to Worry…

Do you ever wake up worried? I know I do! In my case, it’s usually because of people. Either something they did or didn’t do leaves me wondering how I can change the situation. To be more honest, I’m really wondering how I can control it! I know I should simply submit the problem to God, and roll back over, but my mind won’t let go. Don’t these people care? Don’t they realize their action or inaction is affecting me? Honestly, they probably don’t. They are usually wrapped up in their own worries, and have no idea that I’m lying awake fretting—which makes the whole exercise even more pointless! Not to mention the fact that God has instructed me to cast my cares on Him. It amazes me that I even allow my mind to go there after all He has done for me. Daily I see evidences of his grace and provision, yet I freak out when things aren’t going according to my plan. It’s a little “Martha” of me. Basically, I’m thinking “Lord, don’t you care that these people aren’t helping me?” Then I remember Jesus’ words that cut right to the heart of Martha’s worry. “Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary” (Lk. 10:41-42). That one thing is to spend time in the presence of the One who is in control of everything. Although He will never force anyone to change, His plans cannot be thwarted (Job 42:2), and that means I can trust Him, even when people fail. It means that I need to be directing my thoughts towards Him rather than worrying about imperfect people. I have no power to change them, so it’s a complete waste of time. When you think about it, worry is almost like a negative for of worship. It is allowing your mind to mediate and dwell on bad rather than good things (Ph. 4:8).

Worst of all, I am sure it’s just plain sinful to worry. At the heart of the problem, I really am saying, “Lord, don’t You care?” I’m not only filled with doubt in people, but the bottom line is that my doubt is aimed at God too! I am failing to trust His ability to accomplish His good purposes in my life in spite of people, or even through them. Perhaps He wants to use their faults to teach me more about His amazing patience and grace towards me. Maybe they are actually instruments in His hands to help grow my faith. It certainly wouldn’t be unlike Him to use negative circumstances for good. In fact, I would say that’s His specialty! On numerous occasions throughout my life, He has given me beauty for ashes, and yet I still wake up worrying as if He doesn’t care about the latest difficulty. I don’t know if I should cry or laugh at myself. I know I should ask for forgiveness for questioning His goodness. I also need to replace worry with truth! “If God is for me, who can be against me?” I know He will work all things together for my good! (Rom. 8:31, 28). I will not let my heart be troubled or afraid (Jn. 14:1), because in the end, worry really is a choice. It’s a choice to be anxious and distracted about many things when the Lover of our souls is inviting us to come and sit at His feet. It’s a choice to tune out the still small voice of hope, and to make temporary things a priority over the eternal (2 Cor. 4:17-18). We live in a world that is filled with trouble, but we have a God who has overcome it. He took on suffering and death to secure our place in His family, and our Daddy loves us with an everlasting love. His perfect love should dispel all fear (1 Jn. 4:18), and worry is nothing but fear. I refuse to let it remain in my heart this morning. Right now I am casting all my cares at the feet of the One who cares for me, and am choosing to replace unholy fear with true worship. He is worthy and able to guard everything I entrust to Him forever (2 Tim. 1:12).