Sometimes Life is Overwhelming

overwhelm_life2Sometimes life is overwhelming.

You work hard and try to live right, but your problems just won’t go away.

You give it your all.  You work long hours. You stay away from immorality.  Yet, your messes seem to get messier.

You may have friends who seem to have all kinds of advice for you.  ”This is what you ought to do,” she says.

Still others seem to know (or think they know) what God is up to at any given moment.  ”I think the Lord is trying to show you . . . .”

Monday afternoon, I was on the telephone with a longtime friend.  We talked about life, our families, and the time that has passed since we last saw one another.

My friend reminded me of a text that I had actually preached from many years ago — Habakkuk 1:1-5.

How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save?  Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted.

The Lord’s Answer

Look at the nations and watch—and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.

God-hungry people believe that God is at work even when he appears to be doing nothing.  God is at work when we feel overwhelmed by life.  God is at work even when we feel defeated and overwhelmed, and at a loss for what to do next.

In Habakkuk, God reminds us that we would not believe what he was doing, even if he were to tell us.

Do you need to hear these words about a God who is behind the scenes working?  Do you need to hear again that God’s ways and works are so awesome that you would not believe them even if you were told?

I need to hear this.  Maybe you will join me today in hearing this word of encouragement.

There is a tomorrow.

 

What Has Fear Done To You?

img-book-start-smallJon Acuff has written a fine book entitled Start.  At one point in the book as he discusses fear he writes, “Stories without dragons are boring” (p. 64).  He says that in every story there is typically a villain of some sort. 

For many of us the villain in our lives is the voice that often puts fear in our hearts.

Fear can be paralyzing.  It can keep you from starting.

Fear can be deadly.  It can destroy your confidence.

Fear can be self-defeating.  It can cause you to severely limit yourself.

As a result,  you don’t take the initiative.  You don’t take risks.  You don’t start.  Instead, you talk about “someday.”

Someday is the day that never comes.

The internal voice of fear will stop you in your tracks and keep you from doing the very thing you know you need to do.

  • Fear will cause you to accept a status quo life instead of what God wants you to have.
  • Fear will keep you from pursuing your dream, and stepping out on faith.
  • Fear will keep you from addressing an obvious problem for fear you might fail.
  • Fear will keep you from starting.
  • Fear allows you to think that one day you are going to do this or that but to never make any attempt.
  • Fear causes us to be afraid as a congregation living in a world that is changing rapidly.
  • Fear will keep you from obeying Jesus.

Think about what we fear.

When Fear Shows Up (3 Helpful Reminders)

fear3Fear is powerful.

Fear will stop a great idea.  It will shut down conversation. It will cause you to disqualify yourself from a new opportunity to serve.

I’ve certainly felt fearful, worried, and anxious.

This week I read a post on Michael Hyatt’s blog regarding fear.  Jeff Goins has very openly talked about his own fears in becoming a writer. These are good posts about dealing with fear.

I suspect that fear, anxiety and worry are very familiar to most of us.  In fact, they are something we have in common with one another.  Whether we will admit it or not, we know these three companions.

  • What if the test comes back with bad results?
  • What if my child has to repeat a grade?
  • What if my company finds out that I don’t know as much as they think I do?
  • What if I don’t pass the test?
  • What if we get sued?
  • What if the economy completely collapses?
  • What if our company goes under?
  • What if I get laid off?
  • What if we have to move?
  • What if I take this job and then fail?

I can remember nights when I would be awake wondering what I would do when this or that happened.  I would lay in bed watching this drama play out in my mind.  Things generally look bleak at 3:00 a.m.  I was being ruled by fear.

Ministry Inside.93

Ministers can be very fearful people and yet never acknowledge their fears.

Fear has a way of becoming the elephant in the room in ministry. A minister, out of fear and insecurity, finds ways of reminding others that he is an important person and is needed by the congregation. He may become fearful when he is not “in the know” about a particular family or issue.

Ministers can cripple their ministry and severely limit their influence by not addressing their fears.

Ministers can be imprisoned and bound by fear:

  • What if people see how inadequate I really am?
  • What if the people in the congregation stop liking me?
  • What if I fail in this congregation?
  • What if my ministry peers see that I am not as competent or skilled as they are?
  • What if I lead this initiative and it fails?
  • What if people find out that sometimes, as a church leader, I don’t know what to do?
  • What if I remain in obscurity for the rest of my life?
  • What if I am never seen as significant, important, or competent?
  • What if I never move beyond my fears and my insecurities?
  • What if I should be doing something else with my life besides “full-time” ministry?
  • What if I’m fired?
  • What if others see me as fearful instead of a person of faith?

Maybe you identify with at least one of these thoughts. I wish I could say that I’ve only had one of these fears.

If not met head on with the power of God’s Spirit, fear has a way of taking over one’s life.

The following has been helpful:

1. God can and will deliver us from our fears (Psalms 34:4).

2. Pray, trusting in the Holy Spirit, for God to give you the power and courage to take the next obedient step. This is critical. After all, fear can be paralyzing and cause you to

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be immobile and unresponsive to what God wants you to do.

3. Thank God for his powerful presence. Throughout Scripture, he reminds his people (and his leaders in particular): “I will be with you” (Genesis 31:3, Exodus 3:12, Joshua 1:5, Judges 6:16).

4. Voice your fear aloud to God. “Lord, I am afraid that ….” Sometimes we allow the restless rumblings in our hearts to dominate. Articulating your concerns to God in prayer instead of quietly brooding can sometimes help in claiming the promises and power of God’s presence.

Question:

What has been helpful to you in dealing with your fear?

Fear

(I am away on a vacation/study break during the month of July. The posts that appear during the month are from the archives.)

Fear.

It is everywhere! No, I am not talking about the fear of the Lord. Nor am I talking about any sort of healthy fear.

No, I am referring to another kind of fear — an unhealthy fear.

She sat just outside the main doors to our auditorium (sanctuary, worship center, etc.). She was in her late 40s, had alcohol on her breath, and looked as if she had been crying for days. The doors were open and the service was about to begin. She sat in a chair and refused to go in. She said something about not being worthy. She sat in that chair, legs crossed, and rocked.

I knew this woman and some of her family. She was an alcoholic and had lived in much pain and had caused much pain for many years. She had lived a sad life.

Deep within this woman was much fear. She was fearful that God no longer loved her. She was afraid to stop drinking and afraid to continue. She had been hurt deeply by others. She had been through one broken marriage and wondered if she would be loved again.

When Perfection Becomes an Obstacle

David Seamands, a longtime Christian counselor, told of a young woman whose mom always demanded perfection. She was never good enough for mom’s praise. When she was 6 or 7 she had a piano recital. She had worked hard and practiced and practiced. On the day of the recital she performed her piece flawlessly. Her teacher leaned over and whispered, “You were perfect!” The young girl then sat down by her mother who said nothing. Ten minutes later her mom finally said, “Your slip was showing.”   perfection.jpg


I wonder if some of us do not have a similar view of God. You do your best and then expect him, like this girl’s mother to say, “Your slip was showing.” No matter what you do, or how well you do it, it is not enough. Such a view of God, is not only inaccurate, but can be actually be paralyzing.


I remember sitting in my first graduate Bible class at Abilene Christian University, a number of years ago. It was “Introduction to the New Testament.” The class was full of students who seemed to know more than I knew. The professor would refer to various scholars and other students would nod their heads knowingly. Sometimes a student would raise his hand and interject thoughts from a book he had read recently.


I sat there feeling as if I was at the back of the line, behind most of the other students. It seemed they knew so much more.


Eventually, I finished school, and we moved back to Alabama where I began preaching for a small church full of patient people. I was new, and I wanted to do well. Yet, even though I had just begun my work there, I felt hopelessly behind. I wrestled with these kinds of questions:

  • How can I read all of these books?
  • How can I know everything that is in the Bible?
  • How do I know when I have sufficiently prepared a sermon or Bible class?
  • What if I steer someone in the wrong direction? Is this really the best answer to give them?
  • What am I supposed to do?
  • Am I doing this (ministry) right?
  • Am I praying the way I should?
  • Am I depending on God the way I should?
  • What if I don’t do ministry very well?
  • What if I fail?


Then, someone would call our church office. They wanted to ask a question about the Bible.

“I just thought I would call you. I figured you would probably know the answer to this question.”

“Right.”


I wanted to do my work right but for the longest I was so focused on perfection and not making a mistake that it became paralyzing. It was hard for me to finish anything without worrying about whether or not it was good enough.

Does any of this sound familiar to you?

Years later, I am thankful to be free from that kind of bondage! I am glad to be free to give the time and effort that I have and to trust God to be at work in whatever I have to offer. I am glad to be free to trust God instead of my own performance. I am glad to seek excellence but to be satisfied with what I have to offer, trusting that God will bless.


Question:

Can you describe a time when you found seeking this kind of perfection to be an obstacle or even paralyzing?


When the Sharp Teeth are Pulled From Human Anxiety

Lately, I have been spending a lot of time with The Paraclete Psalter: A Book of Daily Prayer. Yesterday’s reflection on Psalm 46 was especially meaningful to me.


God is our refuge and strength.


In 1529 the church reformer and former Augustinian monk Martin Luther paraphrased Psalm 46 in a hymn that has been sung with hope-filled zeal by generations: “A mighty fortress is our God / A bulwark never failing; / Our helper he amid the flood / Of mortal ills prevailing.”

worry1.jpg

The theme running through this Psalm is the incomparable beauty and unshakable security of the city of God. The place where God makes his abode is the most glorious and the most stable place in all the earth. To live within its borders is to live without fear, for nothing in all creation–not the volatile power of nature, nor that of man, nor the destructive power of “our ancient foe”(in Luther’s words)–can do harm in “the holy place where the Most High dwells” (v. 4).

Where God is, there is no reason to fear. And, since God is “with us” (v. 7) and within us, there is no place to fear. In just a few short verses, the psalmist effectively pulls the sharp teeth from all human anxiety. What real threat exists that is able to subdue the faith of those whose “refuge and strength” is God? “Be still, and know that I am God.”


Yesterday morning, I read this meditation and this Psalm once and then I read it again. I read it another time later in the day. Today I read it again. Again and again, I need to need to hear the words of this wonderful Psalm. This Psalm (and this meditation) is a powerful reminder that God has pulled the sharp teeth from all human anxiety.

Let me encourage you to name your worries and bring these before this wonderful God who is with us.

If you are like me, you may know what it is to sleep through a part of the night only to awaken at 4 am. You lie in bed for a few moments only to feel that sense of dread again. As peaceful as your sleep has been, that heartbreaking problem has not gone away.

Read again these ancient words and know that God’s promise to be present is just as real now as it was then.


Question:

What has been particularly helpful to you in times of anxiety and worry?


Question: What are the Great Fears?

What are the great fears?

questions.jpg

I am interested in your response to this question.


Consider the following:

  • What do you sense from your friends? What do they really fear?
  • What do you hear through the media that might cause one to fear?
  • What are some of the great fears that people have in general?


Today, I was at lunch with a group of friends. One observed that so many people are anxious today. Unsure. Uncertain. Uneasy.

I would love to hear your thoughts regarding fear and what you are observing.

If I Could Say What I’m Really Thinking

Yesterday, Anne Jackson’s new book, Permission To Speak Freely.JPG Permission to Speak Freely arrived in the mail.

Last night, I read the entire book.

No, I don’t normally read an entire book in one evening. However, this book was different. Perhaps it was her raw honesty that kept me engaged. Maybe, I was captivated because I felt as if I was looking into the soul of many, many people who I have known through the years. It could be that I was seeing myself in places.

In May 2008, Anne asked this question on her blog, FlowerDust.net:


What is one thing you feel you can’t say in the church?


Hundreds of people responded. This book, in part, is a reflection on this experience.

The book opens with a wonderful, candid discussion of fear. I found this to section to be particularly helpful. Anne writes:

I realize Fear isn’t only affecting me, but humanity as well. As I look around today, I see him hooking into many people I encounter. Their hearts are fighting for their dreams, yet Fear claws away at their spirits, telling them their dreams are impossible.

These people want to have a family, go back to school, quit their jobs and move to Africa, ask that girl out, volunteer at a shelter, stand up for justice, pose a question, right a wrong, or say hi to their neighbor, but Fear soaks into their bloodstream like a paralyzing virus and prevents them from taking a step in the beautiful, wonderful, difficult life in front of them.

Fear wants to stop our stories.

You might be interested in visiting the Permission to Speak Freely website or Anne’s blog. The book is available for purchase here.

  

What Has Helped You Feel Less Self-Conscious?

I never intended to be a minister.

Never.

I grew up in a church. Over the years, there were probably a half-dozen ministers who preached at this church. As a child, I really didn’t know much about them. I only saw them from a distance. Yet, most of them seemed “different.” Not different in a Christian sort of way. Just different in terms of manner. I remember dark suits, pulpit voices, and distance. I don’t say this to be critical. I am just expressing what I sensed as a child.

So, I never intended to be a minister.

Yet, I am a minister. I have been in this role for 30 years. I mean the kind who preaches each Sunday and does various kinds of ministry “full-time.” (Whatever that means!)

How did I end up in this role? How did I come to believe that God wanted me to do this for a portion of my life? That is a long story. Yet, I can honestly tell you that during my younger years, I never gave a thought to wanting to be a minister.

Years later, as I found myself moving toward this role, I had to grapple with my self-consciousness. I worriedself1.jpg (a lot) about what people thought about me. Would they think I was odd, weird, or different? The answer is “yes.” Yet, I learned that the issue to grapple with was not their perception but my own self-consciousness.   

I’ve known some ministers who seem to to deal with this by attempting to project a certain “coolness.” It sort of feels like this person is saying, “Hey, I’m not odd, weird, or different. I’m cool. I’m like you.” Well, ok. I just don’t think I want to approach this problem this way. Maybe I don’t trust my motives. It seems to me that in trying to convey “coolness” that my own self-consciousness is still in control.

I have learned to deal with this by first recognizing when I am feeling self-conscious and then focusing my energy and intent toward being authentic and being “me.”

The other day I was at a luncheon. Most of the other people present were either attorneys or business people. I was there as a guest of the luncheon speaker. At each table, we were asked to stand and introduce ourselves to those in the room. In this self-introduction, we were to give our name and our work. At one time, being the only minister present, I would have felt self-conscious in such a setting. That day, however, I was more focused on the conversation taking place between myself and a very interesting man who I had just met. I was more interested in him than focused on myself. It was an enjoyable lunch.

Question:

Do you ever find yourself so concerned about what others think of you that you don’t enjoy the moment? What has helped you become less self-conscious?