When you give your life to God, you have spiritual strength, God places it inside you.

For the Kingdom of God is not just fancy talk; it is living by God’s power. NLT 1 Corinthians 4:20

God has given you His grace to wash away all sin, guilt and shame [Galatians 3:3]. When you walk with sin and shame and guilt, it’s exhausting and defeating. But, when you bring it to God, God washes it all away to refresh your soul. That’s grace. And you do nothing to earn that, just come to God and He gives you that gift.

God has given you the righteousness of Jesus [2 Corinthians 5:21]. When you accept Jesus into your life, scripture tells us God pours the goodness and righteousness of Jesus into you. That means every time God sees you, He doesn’t see sin or failure. God sees the righteousness of Jesus in you.

God has placed the Holy Spirit inside you as a guarantee that He is with you [Ephesians 1:14]. God told us that the Holy Spirit is His guarantee that He is with us today and into the future. The Holy Spirit is God, part of the trinity, God the Father, the Son and God the Holy Spirit. God is literally putting God into you.

Just think about this for a second; only God can put God in you. That’s spiritual strength. Our question for you is this; What is your Kryptonite? In other words, what is stealing the spiritual strength that God has given you? What is it that is wearing you down? The apostle Paul had this experience. I want to read it for you soon.

Paul experienced God’s life changing grace and started several churches. He then wrote letters to each church to love them, support them and correct them. Those letters he wrote to those churches were put together and they make up much of the New Testament. Corinthians. Galatians. Ephesians. Philippians. Colossians. Wouldn’t it be great to get the real story behind Paul? What was it really like to be a Christian in a godless world? Wouldn’t it be awesome to read Paul’s journal? What I am about to read to you, I think, is like reading his journal. As I read this, see if you connect with Paul.

Chapter 7:21 It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. 22 I truly delight in God’s commands, 23 but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge. 24 I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?

25 The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.

Chapter 8:1 With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, that fateful dilemma is resolved. Those who enter into Christ’s being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud. 2 A new power is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death.

3 God went for the jugular when he sent his own Son. He didn’t deal with the problem as something remote and unimportant. In his Son, Jesus, he personally took on the human condition, entered the disordered mess of struggling humanity in order to set it right once and for all. The law code, weakened as it always was by fractured human nature, could never have done that. MSG Romans 7:21-8:3

What is Paul saying? There are times when the Christian life thing is hard. I want to do the right thing but I fail. And when I fail, I feel defeated. He wrote:

24 I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. MSG

Same verse, different translation.

24 Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin? NLT

Isn’t this your experience too? Reading Paul’s daily journal, we get the real story, the back story. He felt discouraged, frustrated and miserable. What does this do to you to know that one of the greatest figures in scripture is just like you? He tried. He failed. He felt miserable. And that’s what we want to talk about today. How can we break free from the things that keep us in bondage?

Paul wrote:

…the Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death. MSG

Same verse, different translation.

…the power of the life-giving Spirit-and this power is mine through Christ Jesus-has freed me from the vicious circle of sin and death. TLB

How do we move from feeling failure and discouragement to experiencing the power of the life-giving Spirit? How do we break the sin-confess, sin-confess, sin-confess cycle of living? How do we get healing from emotional pain like depression, negative thoughts and a general heaviness of oppression? How do we break the control in our lives so that we can trust God?

Just real quickly before we move on. I think control becomes a bigger issue the older we get. Something can happen when we attend church for years and years. A sense of control can move in. That means, I know exactly what scripture teaches and I am not going to do it. I know God wants me to forgive. I know God wants me to give. I know God wants me to love. I know God wants me to support and submit to my leader. I know all that stuff, but I don’t want to. I will stay in control. How do we break control in our lives?

The answer: we have work to do. Let me give you an analogy. If you told me you wanted to lose weight, I could buy you a gym membership. I could give you a sticker from that gym for your care. That would be a gift to you. You didn’t earn it or deserve it, I would just give you that gift. That gym membership is like God’s grace, a free gift.

The gym membership doesn’t really mean anything unless you use it. Unless you set aside time in the day to exercise, worked on the machines, the membership wouldn’t mean much. You can have God’s grace but to break out of bondage, the gym membership, but we have work to do.

I want to ask you three questions and Randi is coming to specifically talk about how to break away from fear and anxiety.

Question 1: Have you asked Jesus to save you?

23 Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, 24 God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ. MSG Romans 3:23-24

The first step in experiencing the power of the life-giving Spirit of God, is to ask God to save you. That means, you realize that you need God. You ask God to forgive you of your sins and live inside you. When you do that, you literally move from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light. You move from being the center of your life and you place God as the center of your life. You move from living for yourself to living for God.

An analogy would be you sitting in a dirty house with a cleaning crew out front of your house. You can be angry at the cleaning crew for not helping you, but they aren’t coming in until you reach out to them and invite them in. Have you reached out to God to save you, to give Him all authority to your life? Even if you have been attending church for 30 years, when was the last time you reached out to God to save you?

Question 2: Be honest, do you really want freedom?

The heart is the most deceitful thing there is and desperately wicked. No one can really know how bad it is! Only the Lord knows! TLB Jeremiah 17:9-10

The second step in experiencing the power of the life-giving Spirit of God, is to make changes. Some people can appear sad or remorseful but to the core of who they are, they aren’t changing. We call that being unrepentant or rebellious. The heart that lives like this goes to church, reads the words, sings the songs but goes back to life and never allows God to break their pride, soften and empower their heart.

Years ago, I had a man sit on my front porch with me. He said that he decided to get a divorce from his wife because the God stuff wasn’t working. I asked him to explain. He said they had been attending church for years and God didn’t do one thing to change them. I asked him if he made any changes over the years. He said, ‘no.’ I felt like saying, ‘Here is your sign!’ but I didn’t. His understanding of God and church was so off. He thought God was like a genie. God would come and magically make things perfect. God doesn’t do that. God comes when we surrender and make changes.

If you want freedom, you need to make changes. If you fall to temptation, remove yourself from the things or people who tempt you.   If you feel sad, lonely, depressed, remove yourself from depressing  people, music, books, movies and actively put healthy, Godly things in your mind. If you are angry and controlling, actively commit to forgive and bring out the best in others. If you are greedy, actively commit to give.

Question 3: If only God can put God in you, are you spending time with God?

Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace. MSG Jesus in Matthew 6:6

This is by far the most important change you could ever make in your life. Many people who have attended church for years struggle to do this. The third step in experiencing the power of the life-giving Spirit of God, is to slow down, pray, read the bible and fill your life with worship music. As you do this, God will put His strength in you.

How do you move from feeling failure and discouragement to experiencing the power of the life-giving Spirit? How do we break the sin-confess, sin-confess, sin-confess cycle of living? How do we get healing from emotional pain like depression, negative thoughts and a general heaviness of oppression? How do we break the control in our lives so that we can trust God?

Give your life to Christ; ask Him to save you. Move from darkness to light.

Make active changes. God isn’t a genie. God empowers you as you surrender.

Because only God can put God in you, spend time with God and He will give you His strength.

Breaking through bondage of fear and anxiety

The women’s group has been walking through the series, “Anxious for Nothing,” by Max Lucado, which is where much of the content of my portion is from. This book breaks down Paul’s prescription for anxiety, found in Philippians 4:4-8. Let’s read through the passage up front and then we can break it down into sections.

“Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. 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 understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy – meditate on these things.”

The first part of this prescription is a call to action. “Rejoice in the Lord always.” Not only does he call us to rejoice, he repeats the call just to make sure he has our attention – Again I will say, rejoice! Hang on, Paul. Rejoice always? You want me to be happy…all the time…even when I am going through a really hard time or a health struggle or I just lost someone I really cared about? No, that’s not what he is saying. Paul is calling us to a decision, not a feeling. A decision to rejoice in the confidence that despite our circumstances, God exists, that he is in control, and that he is good. What we believe about God is the most important thing about us – because belief always precedes behavior. How you react to the changing circumstances in life is directly related to what you believe to be true about life – is God real? Is he actually in control of my life? Does my life have purpose? Do I have value? Is this life all there is? If your belief system is strong, you will stand through the storm. If it is weak, the storm will prevail. Our comfort must come from trusting in the sovereignty of God – or God’s perfect control and management of everything – including every detail of your life. Anxiety is often the consequence of perceived chaos, but perceived control creates calm. So here are our options – we can either try to control every detail of our lives, which doesn’t work, speaking from personal experience; OR, rather than seeking total control, we can relinquish it to the One who created the Heavens and the Earth, and designed each of us in his image. Peace is within reach, not for lack of problems, but because of the presence of a sovereign Lord.

Lamentations 3:21-26 – “This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have hope. The Lord’s loving kindnesses indeed never cease, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I have hope in Him.” The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him. It is good that he waits silently for the salvation of the Lord.”

Lift your eyes from your troubled circumstances and onto the sovereign Lord who promises to “work for the good of those who love him.” (Rom 8:28)

The second point Paul makes is “Let your gentleness be made known to all, the Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing.” The Lord is near! You are not alone – even if you feel alone, or think you are alone. But there is never a moment in which you face life without help. God is near. God calls himself Immanuel, which means “God with us.” After he died for our sin and shame, he defeated the grave and left behind his Holy Spirit to comfort, teach, and guide us. We are certainly not alone. So, when we experience a hard time, or are going through a challenging season where we want to say to God, “this is just too much for me to handle!” – let us not focus on what we perceive we lack, but focus on what Jesus has, and allow Him to fill in the gaps. Before we lash out in fear, let us look up in faith. Calm will be experienced to the degree that we turn to him.

Next, Paul writes, “in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.” This verse calls us each to take action against our anxiety. Choose prayer over despair – peace happens when people pray. 1 Peter 5:7 says “cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” Max Lucado writes that God wants us to pray about everything – making humble requests regarding the particulars of our problems. Why is it important to be specific in prayer? Here are 3 reasons:

  1. A specific prayer is a serious prayer – when we offer specifics God knows that our petition is sincere & important to us.
  2. Specific prayer is an opportunity for us to see God at work. When we see him respond in specific ways to specific requests, our faith grows. For the first time in my life, I began journaling and writing prayer lists last year. When looking back over the specific and heart felt prayers I have listed in that journal and seeing what and how God has responded to these, makes me in awe of Him, thus building my faith that he is good and faithful.
  3. Specific prayer creates a lighter load. Many of our anxieties seem threatening because they are ill defined and vague. If we can distill the challenge into a phrase, we bring it down to size.

The path to peace is paved with prayer. Fewer anxious thoughts, more prayer-filled thoughts. As you pray, the peace of God will guard your heart and mind.

There is a small detail in a description of how Paul tells us to present our requests to God – with thanksgiving. Worry refuses to share the heart with gratitude. Gratitude is a mindful awareness of the benefits of life. Gratitude leads us from thinking “if only” to realizing “already.” Paul wants us to focus on what we do have and less on what we don’t. Philippians 4:11-13 –

“I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

Just in case you aren’t familiar – Paul writes these words not from an all-inclusive resort on a beach somewhere…he writes them from a jail cell, awaiting almost certain death by the Roman emperor Nero. He had received 39 lashes on 5 different occasions. He was beaten with rods, left for dead, deserted by friends, and has endured shipwrecks, storms, & starvation. But Paul never shakes a fist at God; instead, he lifts his thanks to God and calls on us to do the same.

The next part of the verse is reassuring – “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” As we do our part (rejoice in the Lord, pursue a gentle spirit, pray about everything, and cling to gratitude), God does his part. He bestows upon us the peace of God, resulting in an inexplicable calm. We should be worried, but we aren’t. We should be upset, but we are comforted. The peace of God transcends all logic, scheming, and efforts to explain it. When our son, at 6 months old, needed to be under anesthesia for 4 hours during surgery at Hershey Med I was a mess prior to it. I cried the entire way to the hospital that morning. I scrutinized every face of each nurse and doctor that would be caring for him – just to make sure they looked rested and in a good mood that day. But as we waited…and waited…and waited in the waiting room, and as I surrendered all of my worries to God, (talk about a control freak realizing they have absolutely no control)… you better believe I was able to sit there peacefully and not have a clue as to why. John 14:27 – “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” God has never promised a life with no storms. But he has promised to be there when we face them.

Lastly, meditating on good things. Healing from anxiety requires healthy thinking. Our challenge is not our challenge. Our challenge is the way we think about our challenge. And you know who knows this? Satan – and he is always right there to capitalize on our weaknesses. I will quote Sam, as he loves to quote John 10:10 – “The thief comes to steal, kill, & destroy.” Satan is the master of deceit, but he is not the master of our minds. We have a power he cannot defeat – we have God on our side. So “fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” (Phil 4:8) Max Lucado quotes a woman named Christyn Taylor, whom says “It is easy to praise God during seasons of wellness. But it was in my greatest distress when I felt the Lord’s presence poured upon me. And it was in those heartbreaking moments that I learned to trust in this God who provided unimaginable strength during unimaginable pain.” How beautiful.

To close, I want to encourage everyone that we are not alone in our suffering. We are not alone in our anxieties. The circumstances causing our angst are different – health, relationships, finances, jobs, etc, – but we know we are not alone because the Lord is with us. And he does not waste our pain. The presence of anxiety is unavoidable, but the prison of anxiety is optional. I leave you with the idea of CALM:

Celebrate God’s goodness.

Ask God for help.

Leave your concerns with Him.

Meditate on good things.