This fall we have jumped into an incredibly important conversation on the most important, but also the most ignored area of our lives.  We are talking about and focusing on the soul.  This allows us to talk about the areas of our lives that so many of us are struggling with these days, our inner worlds, and our emotional and mental health.  I think for many of us this may have been a new thought, that our soul is tied directly to our mental health and inner world.   We must understand something about ourselves.   We are profoundly spiritual beings, and there is no irony in the fact that as we sit in the middle of a mental health crisis while culturally and as a people we choose to distance ourselves from God.  We are ignoring our souls and it is destroying us from the inside out.  It’s not ironic that as we distance ourselves from God, we struggle internally…it is not a coincidence.  We must care for our souls.  God put a soul in your body and breathed life into your soul.  We must understand that we are profoundly spiritual beings with a soul.  Your soul is the source of your life; if you ignore it, it becomes the source of your pain.  So, this is an incredibly important conversation talking about this profoundly important and often ignored area of our lives.  This gives us a chance to talk about things that are way too popular in our world today, and we want you to see that so many of these painful realities and struggles come down to your soul and how it is being cared for…or not.  This is not to undermine true medical conditions or issues; we believe in doctors and medicine but we want to show you that a spiritual being with a soul must understand that the soul needs to be cared for because when it is ignored it is the source of our pain.

Early on in this series, we are talking about things that so many of us are struggling with in our lives, things that we may have never realized are profoundly spiritual issues as our soul processes things in our lives.  We talked about two big ones so far.  Two weeks ago, we talked about discouragement, which is how our soul processes the circumstances of our lives.  Last week, Ken had a very important topic and one that unfortunately so many of us struggle with today and that is depression.  Depression is how your soul processes regret.  We want you to understand that you can feel depressed and not necessarily be walking in or living in depression, which is a very important distinction.  Ken did a great job with that talk and showed us what depression is and how to overcome it with four important decisions we can make to overcome depression.  Do you remember that?  First, we are to accept the reality that life is hard and it’s not fair!  The second was to decide that we are filled with the righteousness of God!  Third was to decide and recognize that you matter and have value to God!  The fourth decision was to do something!

Now today we continue this conversation with another very important, very popular, and challenging subject.  This is something that many people are struggling with in our world today.  We are talking about anxiety.  In some ways this is a continuation of our conversation with Ken last week, diving into this area of our lives where so many of us are struggling today, our inner worlds, our emotions, and mental health.  Depression and Anxiety are often paired together and talked about together but there are differences between the two, and I would like to spend some time talking about anxiety and what it is before we get into what it does and how to overcome it.

Anxiety is a very big issue in our world today.  In fact, according to the National Alliance on Mental Health, Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health concern in the United States. Over 40 million adults in the U.S. (around 19%) have an anxiety disorder. Meanwhile, approximately 4-5 million (around 7%) of children aged 3-17 experience issues with anxiety each year. Most people develop symptoms before age 21.  Another massive issue that is way too popular in our world today, so a challenging subject but one that needs to be talked about.

So, what is anxiety?

Anxiety is an apprehensive feeling of worry, nervousness, concern, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.  Here’s a second definition.  Anxiety is distress or uneasiness of mind caused by fear of danger or misfortune.  Now this feeling is not a medical condition, but an emotion that is important for us people.  We have talked about this, but fear isn’t necessarily negative.  It helps us with survival when we find ourselves in danger.  It is something that we all experience at one point or another, and it is a normal and often healthy emotion. It is part of how God designed us.  But anxiety can lead to many things we don’t want to see or deal with in our lives that are not healthy or positive…things that many people are struggling with today.  Things like excessive worry, fatigue, irritability, trouble sleeping, trouble concentrating, muscle tension, panic attacks, the onset of phobias, and the list could go on.  But just like we talked about with depression there is a very important distinction we need to make as we get started here today.  In life, you will feel anxiety, but that doesn’t mean you are living in anxiety.  You can feel anxious and stressed about things and you will.  It’s how God wired us to keep us alive.  We all feel anxious from time to time.  For example, driving in heavy traffic is a common source of anxiety, but it helps keep us alert and cautious to avoid accidents.  But, when feelings of intense fear and distress become overwhelming and prevent us from living our everyday lives, an anxiety disorder may be the cause. That is a very important distinction to make as we get started here today.  There is a difference between feeling anxious and living in anxiety.

Anxiety and the soul. 

I also want you to see what anxiety is doing in our inner world, in our souls.  While discouragement is how our soul processes our circumstances and depression is how our soul processes regret.  Anxiety is different and can be crippling.  Anxiety is how your soul processes fear.  When we are anxious, we lose our strength, when we are afraid, we lose our courage.  So, think about that for a moment, and remember those statistics we just read.  Anxiety is the most popular mental health concern in the United States.  The most common thing people are wrestling with is how their soul processes fear.  So over 20 percent of the population is wrestling with anxiety and fear, struggling to not lose strength and courage in their lives!  That is an amazing thing to think through, isn’t it?  And I would add, that it is also not coincidental since we live in the middle of a spiritual war with an enemy who never wants you standing tall as the person God called you to be!  I would also like you to understand that this isn’t a new issue for us here in 2023.  Scripture addresses anxiety, fear, and worry a lot.  I’ve told you before that our Scriptures tell us to not be afraid or to fear not 365 times in our Scriptures and I tell you often that something on repeat in the Bible is a big deal, so God seems to understand the challenge we face in this area of anxiety.

Before we dive into Scripture and talk about overcoming anxiety, I just want to talk for a moment.  I have told you recently that I have dealt with fear and anxiety at a level that has truly convicted me and felt like something I needed to really take to God and repent of and just deal with because it felt like an unhealthy level of stress and fear.  Now, I have had good reasons to feel anxious with many challenging situations that have come up in my home, with my family, with people, and even here with the churches, but it was really bothering me, just how much stress and fear I was feeling.  Now, I could contribute it to my life stage, or getting older, or whatever but it was a struggle.   I am thankful for it in some ways because as stressful as it felt, that tension and pain helped me see, and I have learned through it all.  I’m realizing that so much of getting older, and just progressing through life…life is just a process of letting go.  Life is all about letting go of things that matter greatly to us.  It’s watching my children grow up and letting go as they move hundreds of miles away.  It’s letting go of things they do now as young adults that worry or scare me that are beyond my control.  It’s letting go of hopes and dreams in life that aren’t going to happen.  It can be letting go of people, or relationships or even letting go of your own invincibility and learning that you do have limits in your life, physically, emotionally, with time, intellectually, and even financially but life seems to be teaching me that life is about letting go.  That in itself can cause a lot of stress and anxiety because it isn’t always easy to let go, especially of the things we care about most.  Even more so in the world you and I live in that is extremely difficult and filled with so many hurts, so much adversity, and so many challenges.  Can’t imagine why anxiety is so popular in our world with so much going on, can you?

You know, last weekend was a blast for me…or at least it should have been.  I was down in South Carolina and had my whole family together for a long weekend.   It is rare and very important to Mashawn and I to have all our children in one place…and as they spread out over the United States it takes some effort and doesn’t happen a lot.  So I was looking forward to this for a while now, but on the trip itself, I just was struggling to relax.  I wanted everyone to be happy, and to be ok.  I was stressed about getting everyone to and from everything, making sure they had food, and whatever they needed, and was just feeling anxious.  I would hear someone was tired or hungry, or bummed at the weather and I would try to fix it all…yeah, even praying like Elijah for the weather. 🙂  Now they were all having a blast, but I was wearing down!  Trey saw it and just laughed at me and said “Dad, you are so uptight, you need to calm down or take something for anxiety or something!”  I’m like, “What?  I’m the cool, laid-back guy…I’m getting ready to preach on anxiety, I’m not uptight, and I’m not stressed!” But he was right.  I was struggling.  I was anxious.  I was worried about everything when I should have been enjoying the time!  You know, I do this all through life but I realized from that funny comment from Trey that I needed to let go and just enjoy my time with the family because it is so rare and I was missing it.  I was working so hard to make it work and fun, and stressing so much about how it was going, because of the weather, or their emotions, or their comfort, or whatever that I was not only tiring myself out but I was missing the rare time I was having with them!  That moment and Trey’s laugh helped me slow down, and I enjoyed the rest of the time but in so many ways this is what anxiety does to us in life.  In all our stress, fears, and worries we exhaust ourselves worrying about things we can’t do anything about while missing out on what is happening right in front of us!  In our fear or worry, we are exhausted and can’t enjoy the day.  It’s a small example from a family trip but it’s a great window into what anxiety does in our lives.  I want to show just three things that anxiety does to us before we talk about overcoming it.

First, Anxiety Distracts Us.  

Whether the focus of our anxiety is fearing something in the future or in the past, it takes us out of the present.  We would enjoy life so much more if we could just be where our feet are.  Anxiety distracts us from what is going on that truly matters right in front of us.  When we are not present, we miss all that “right now” has to offer. We can miss the rare gifts and times that truly matter and are a blessing, and once those moments pass, they are gone, we miss out, and we can’t get them back.  Like this weekend with my now adult children, a daughter living in Georgia who I see a couple of times a year.  A son going to school in South Carolina who is now 20 years old and a young man…and I found myself looking at these young adults, just hoping that time hadn’t passed me by, while time seems to be passing me by.  We must be where our feet are.  As we walked the beach or sat and talked this weekend I couldn’t help but think back over our lives and I thought of so much of the anxiety and stress of my work life and ministry and people stuff, and just how often those hurts and stresses pulled me away, or distracted me, which is what anxiety does.  It keeps us from being where our feet are and we miss out.  So, personally watching these young adults that we raised,  I hope and continue to try my best to just be where my feet are and enjoy the gift of my life…my family and my loved ones.  It happened on the trip until I could slow down and realize it was happening.  So, think about that for a moment, are you able to be where your feet are?  Are you struggling with anxiety?  For so many of us, we are missing out on so much because we are distracted with anxiety.  Anxiety takes our focus off the gifts around us, the present is a present…and we can miss so much.

“Anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but only empties today of its strength.”—Charles Spurgeon

If you struggle with anxiety, fear, and worry in your life.  I want your attention right now.   Who or what are you missing by worrying about things beyond your control?  Think about it, can you be where your feet are or has anxiety pulled your focus off of what matters most?  What people in your life may be right in front of you, and miss you?  What things are you not enjoying while worry keeps you from being present?

Second, Anxiety Wastes Your Energy and Time. 

Now if you struggle with anxiety this is going to be hard to hear.  But worrying about something that may or may not happen is a tremendous waste of time and energy.  Worrying about something that you have no control over is also a major waste of time and energy.  This is what anxiety does.  It wears us down worrying about things we can’t do anything about. It takes your energy and time away and let’s face it as we get older, we just don’t have the energy or time to give to empty things that we can’t do anything about.  We need to see and understand this.  Jesus explains how empty this is with a great question that should make us think!

Matthew 6:27 Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? NLT

When we allow ourselves to focus on the thoughts and fears that make us anxious, we are distracted from the things that matter right in front of us, and this stuff wears us down.  We waste time and energy while missing the important things in life and live life distracted and exhausted.  While anxiety takes our energy and time we simply can’t or don’t engage in what matters.  Things like our relationship with God go by the wayside, and our relationship with the people that matter most to us like our spouses, children, and families…why?  Because we are filling up our time with worry and we only have so much time, and we only have so much energy.  We waste our time and energy working on and focusing on things that we can’t control the outcomes of while never engaging in what truly matters.  We are exhausted, stressed out, and missing so much as we fall into this trap of anxiety.  Anxiety takes time and energy from us that we just don’t have and wastes it, leaving us tired, and still stressed and anxious with no real say in what is taking place, so the only thing we can really do is worry more.

“Anxiety is like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but it doesn’t get you very far.”—Jodi Picoult

If you struggle with anxiety, fear, and worry in your life.  I want your attention right now.   What do you worry about?  What fills up your time and takes your energy?  Where do you spend your time?  What do you do to find energy and rest?  Can you rest?  Why or why not?  Anxiety will do its best to fill up your thoughts, and your time, if you let it, it will take it all, including all of your energy…what are you going to do about it?

Anxiety is the enemy of your faith. The last thing I want you to see about what anxiety does in your life is that it takes your faith.  It is the great enemy of your faith in God.  Faith helps us see that everything will happen as God wants in His timing, but anxiety makes us think that everything must happen right now in our strength!  Remember, anxiety is how your soul processes fear, and it takes your strength and courage away.  It is not possible to wholeheartedly trust God and spin in this world of fear and worry.  Remember, what Peter tells us?  This will lead us to how to overcome anxiety in our lives, but we need to see this.

1 Peter 5:6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. 7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. NIV

Anxiety doesn’t allow us to humble ourselves and slow down our minds enough to cast all our anxiety on God.  To just take a breath, and realize that God cares for us…which as simple as it sounds isn’t all that easy!  It could be the game changer for our lives…but we are learning that something simple in concept which most of God’s teachings are,  doesn’t make it easy to live out…anxiety is the number one health concern in the United States for a reason!

So let’s talk about how to overcome this massive issue in our lives, and the beauty is God gives us the answers in our Scriptures.  You know, I have done a 10 podcast conversation on Anxiety on The Ready Heart Podcast, and was so pumped for all the directions this could go today…but instead of listing out tips and techniques and laying out a ton of things in Scripture, I want us to really focus on the way to overcome anxiety.  Because at the foundation of all of this is, it really will come down to one thing.

TRUST. The way through is to TRUST.  We Overcome Anxiety by Trusting God.

If you want to overcome anxiety it will come down to trusting God.  Trusting in His love.  When we trust in God, when we trust and understand His love, and accept it in our lives as true for ourselves, things change and we find peace.  Why?  Because understanding the enormity of who He is and the magnitude of His love allows us to trust in His protection, provision, and care for our lives.  We could list out a lot of techniques to relieve stress and pressure today, but in the end, true inner peace will come down to this, can we trust that God loves us or not?  If we do, we can let go, we can let Him lead, and we can…RELAX.   Let me show you the secret, it is so special and so clearly given to us in Scripture and even describes anxiety so well in our lives as this crippling fear.

1 John 4:18 There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life — fear of death, fear of judgment — is one not yet fully formed in love. MSG

Okay, now we are getting somewhere, let’s switch over to the NIV and read that again.

1 John 4:18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. NIV

Fear and anxiety are so crippling, draining us of strength and courage.  It’s so challenging in those moments to move at all, to take just one step, but we must see what casts or drives out fear.  It is God’s love.  His perfect, well-formed love drives out fear from our lives.  If you are crippled with fear over things beyond your control, I want you to take a moment and think with me here.  Scripture tells us this could all be about your concept and perception of God’s love.  So, let’s slow down here for a moment.  I want to ask you this.  Do you know how loved you are by God?  Do you truly believe that He will care for you and comfort you?  Now, I know you are at church and the answer is yes, but stop, and think for a moment.  Be honest with yourself here.  Do you truly know God’s perfect love AND accept that it can be true for you?  Scripture says this love is what drives out fear in your life, and if we struggle with fear in our lives, we have not yet allowed God’s love all the way into our souls.  The one who fears is not yet fully formed in love. Do you see how worry and anxiety about things like the future, death, judgment, punishment, or whatever are all there because we truly don’t grasp God’s perfect and all-encompassing love in our lives?  What would you need to do to begin wrapping your heart and mind around how loved you are?  Do you understand you are loved at this level?  A great way to see if you grasp God’s love for you is to ask yourself if you love others.  A great window into your relationship with God is your relationship with others.  If you struggle with this concept of love, please think about this.  God is love, He made you, loves you perfectly, and cares for you.  If you struggle with fear and anxiety, it is a major sign that you do not understand and accept just how loved you are by God.  This is the truth that allows us to overcome anxiety in our lives, we must accept the truth, that we are lovable, and loved unconditionally and perfectly by our Heavenly Father.  I love this quote and want you to truly slow down and hear this today.

“Our stresses, anxieties, pains, and problems arise because we do not see the world, others or even ourselves as worthy of love.”—Prem Prakash

Think about this, truly process this.  The key to overcoming fear and anxiety in our lives is to truly get to the place where we trust in God’s great love for us.  This is why this prayer from Paul is so powerful and essential for our lives. Do you truly trust in God’s great love for you and accept that as truth in your life?

Ephesians 3:16 I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. 17 Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. 18 And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. 19 May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. NLT

Paul knows that if the people under his care could get to this place where they truly grasp God’s love for them, how amazing and perfect it is, life will change, and inner peace and life to the full are obtained.  I want you to really process this with me today.  For years of my life, I would hear someone say something like this, about trusting and accepting God’s love in my life as an answer to everything in my life from anxiety to depression to just bringing me inner peace and I struggled to wrap my heart, mind, and soul around it…because my life was still my life.  I would hear that and think, yeah but I am still struggling with this or that…but it’s the truth.  So, we could walk through a lot of practical steps and practices today that could help lift some stress or pressure from your life, which quite frankly is what most people want without truly wanting to be put fully together by God, just let life let up on me some and I’m good for right now…they would rather have a temporary band-aid or the pressure lifted at the moment while God wants and provides us with deep healing of our souls…yes those temporary pressure lifts may ease some tension in the moment but nothing will bring you peace until you truly grasp God’s love and accept that it is true for you.  God’s perfect love drives out fear from our lives.  Living in God and trusting in His love means we have no room for fear in our lives because we know that God has us, protects us, leads us, and controls the outcomes of things we cannot.  When we get to this place where we truly wrap our hearts and minds around how deep and wide and long and high and massive God’s love truly is, AND accept that it is true for ourselves we will be made complete, and well-formed in His love.  Which drives out fear from our lives.  Doesn’t mean life won’t still have its challenges but be can trust that He truly has our best interest in mind even when we walk through tough times.

As my children get older, and as I continue to walk through life, there is one thing that is very clear to me, life is not easy.  Frankly, life is hard.  It is full of disappointing, painful, and frustrating realities that will hit our lives and hit them hard.  Nothing seems to work out the way I would like it to, yet I continue to stress, worry, and even try to control outcomes that you would think I would know by now, I can’t control!  You would also think at some point I would get to this place where I could recognize that in all the things I walk through, from the good to the bad, and even the ugly, God is doing work in me, and He has never let me down, even when it felt like He has in the moment.  As I get to this place where I can truly trust God and His love, I live differently.  Paul’s prayer is so beautiful in Ephesians because as we get to this place where we understand God’s incredible love for us AND trust it AND accept God’s love for us, we live so differently.  We not only live differently but we also have a completely different perspective on life as it happens.  I wanted to share this quote with you.  I’m not sure who said it originally, I found three different people who take credit for it but it’s so important to this conversation today.  As we get to this place of understanding and living in God’s love and trusting Him in all of it, we see life differently…we see it like this.

“I asked for strength and God gave me difficulties to make me strong.  I asked for wisdom and God gave me problems to learn to solve. I asked for prosperity and God gave me a brain and brawn to work. I asked for courage and God gave me dangers to overcome. I asked for love and God gave me people to help. I asked for favors and God gave me opportunities. I received nothing I wanted.  I received everything I needed.” – unknown.

You know anxiety, just doesn’t want you in that place, where you live life from the perspective of trusting God in all things.  Anxiety wants you stressed out, worried, and fighting life and God’s plan for your life every step of the way…because when you fight life, you won’t grow.  Anxiety will block what God is doing in you through your circumstances so you are stunted and don’t become mature and complete not lacking anything in God.  Anxiety fights all that is happening and doesn’t allow you to see that God is leading you to the very life you thought you would never find.  It keeps you worn down, distracted, and missing the gift and life to its fullest.   When we trust God. When we trust in His great love for us and accept that it is true for us…we see life in a very different way…even when it isn’t coming together or happening the way we want.  Why?  Because we truly understand that God is in control and has our best interest in mind even when we don’t see it or get it because His love for us is that great.  It’s God’s perfect love that drives out fear.  When God lives in us and we truly trust and accept His love for us, there is no room for fear and anxiety in our lives.  So even when life hurts or is hard we know it is for our benefit.  Even when it doesn’t make sense we can trust and center on His great love for us knowing with confidence that God is in control, and we are not.

Remember anxiety is how your soul processes fear.  When we are anxious, we lose our strength. When we are afraid, we lose our courage.  Anxiety is also the number one mental health concern in the United States today, and the way through is trusting and accepting God’s love for us.  I had so much more to do with you today on this topic but frankly, none of it truly matters if we don’t trust and accept God’s love on a very personal and real level today.  So, no tips or techniques to relieve some pressure or stress today, you can go online and do a Google Search and find thousands of those…just know that while you may feel better in the moment, it won’t lead to true healing in your life.  There is only one thing that gets us to that point and leads us away from anxiety and into true inner peace.  It’s this one question, and your answer is very important.

Do you truly understand, trust in, and accept God’s love for you?

I want you to understand that if you are struggling with anxiety and fear in your life, it is a sign that you do not trust and accept God’s love in your life.  That’s not my opinion, that is what Scripture told us.  God’s perfect love drives out fear.  So if you are struggling with anxiety and fear, think today.  Why is that?  What would it take for you to let go and trust God?  What stops you from doing so?  Is it your personality?  Your need for control?  Do you remember Jesus’ question from earlier?

Matthew 6:27 Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? NLT

The answer is no, and quite frankly those worries are taking moments from your life!  So, what would it take to let go and give it all to God?  What or who are you missing because of the distraction of anxiety and fear in your life?  Do not let anxiety take your time and energy away, don’t let time pass you by.  You do not want to look back someday and realize you missed out on all that could have been…be where your feet are!  You don’t want to miss the blessings and good right in front of you while worrying about things beyond your control.   Do you truly trust God?  Do you truly understand His love and accept it in your life?  What would it take for you to get to a place where His love was central to your thinking, focus, and life?  The best way to know if you truly believe in, trust, and accept God’s love for you is to look at your life.  If there is fear in your life today, it is a sign that you do not truly accept and trust in God’s love for you, because His love drives out all fear.  So think about this, what do you need to let go of and give over to God so you can begin to understand and accept and live in God’s perfect love, grasping and trusting in Him and His care, provision, and protection in your life…getting to a place where you truly see how wide, how long, how deep, and how high his love truly is for you.  What if tomorrow could be a new day, a day when you could stop living in crippling fear and allow God all the way into your soul…trusting that regardless of what life throws at you next God loves you and is doing work in you and is controlling what you cannot in your life.

We love you so much and are praying that you truly get this.  Please don’t leave this moment today without an honest answer to this question.

Do you truly trust and accept God’s love in your life?