A Digital Refresh – April 25, 2020: Leaning into God in Times of Anxiousness

Mini-Yo-We

Today’s reflection comes from John Wright. John is a former camper, a long time camp supporter, a staff parent and a member of our board.

Today’s Reading: Philippians 4:4-8

“Rejoice in the Lord always, I will say it again: Rejoice!
Let your gentleness be evident to all.
The Lord is near.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything,
By prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your request to God.
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding,
Will guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus.
Finally, children, whatever is true, whatever is noble
Whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely
Whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy –
Think about such things.”
Philippians 4:4-8

Today’s post includes a video from John. I (Pat) would encourage you to watch it and participate in the exercise that John leads us through. 

We read a lot about peace as Christ-followers.

We intellectually understand that we must trust God and cast our burdens on Him to experience true peace.

But how do we do this practically? How do we find the Lord’s peace when it feels like the world, as we know it, is crumbling beneath our feet? Where can we find God’s peace when many of our places of stability and security…like Camp… are unavailable or even absent?

How do we pragmatically lean into God? What does this look like in action in our daily lives?

Let me share a thought.

A few weeks ago at the beginning of this quarantine, my wife Eleanor invited me to join her on a Webinar for Healing Care Ministries (a ministry for which she is a leader). Healing Care’s founder, Terry Wardle, is an amazing teacher who also struggles with anxiety. During this particular Webinar, Terry was sharing some thoughts about how to find God’s peace.

Terry shared a familiar passage: Philippian 4:4-8. He shared a simple, yet profound 4-step reflection, that I have found very helpful, especially when I find my mind is drifting to those anxious places. It is my prayer that you will also find it helpful.

“Rejoice in the Lord always, I will say it again: Rejoice!
Let your gentleness be evident to all.
The Lord is near.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything,
By prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your request to God.
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding,
Will guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus.
Finally, children, whatever is true, whatever is noble
Whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely
Whatever is admirable – if anything in excellent or praiseworthy –
Think about such things.”
Philippians 4:4-8

1. Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! (vs 4)

  • When we begin to feel anxious, we need to pause and notice the blessings that exist around us. No matter how small they may be, we must notice and give thanks for them.
  • Thankfulness refocuses our minds on the wonderful, lifegiving elements around us, it also begins to shift our brain chemistry. Thankfulness stops the body from producing cortisol, our body’s fight or flight stress hormone that causes our heart rate and blood pressure to rise and our muscles to tighten. It also produces serotonin which is our body’s hormone associated with peace and pleasure.
  • God in his infinite wisdom designed our bodies to respond positively to rejoicing, thankful hearts. Further, when united with the Holy Spirit, this practice of rejoicing or giving thanks provides a physical and emotional peace.

2. Remember, the Lord is near. (vs 5)

  • Often when we begin to feel anxious, we feel we are alone and that nobody understands or is near enough to bring the comfort we require.
  • We need to remember that the Lord is near to us. He is not a distant, uncaring, god who is watching to criticize or find fault. He is a loving god who is near.
  • In fact, when Jesus taught the disciples to pray the Lord’s prayer (Matthew 6:9), He began by saying “our Father” – meaning Abba, or daddy. Jesus knew
  • God the Father as a loving, gentle Abba who wants to gather us into His arms when we feel anxious and bring His divine comfort to our bodies, minds, and emotions.
  • He wants to remind us that He is near to us and that He is not going anywhere.
  • The Psalmist in Psalm 139 further reminds us that our Abba “hems us in before and behind” and that there is “nowhere we can go” where He will not come and comfort us.
  • Take the time to invite the Holy Spirit into your anxious feelings and help you truly feel His nearness.

3. Pray! …but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (vs 6)

  • In Matthew 11:28 and 29, Jesus invites all those who are weary and burdened with any anxious feelings (including work, family, future, school, money, health…anything!) to come to Him and cast our burdens onto His shoulders so He may carry them.
  • We can practically do this by prayerfully speaking our concerns, cares, and worries to Him and inviting Him to take them from us.
  • The wonderful thing is that Jesus really wants to carry our anxieties for us so that we don’t have to!
  • Further, Psalm 42 (which also happens to be an old school camp song) states, “As the deer pants for the water so my soul longs after you”. When given some thought, we might ask ourselves, “but why does the deer pant?” More likely than not, the deer pants because it has been running. Why has it been running? Likely, it has been scared or is being chased.
  • The Psalmist goes on to say in vs 3 that “[the Psalmist’s] tears have been his food day and night” and in verse 5 asks “why are you downcast, O my soul? Why are you so disturbed within me?”
  • Clearly, he is anxious, stressed and worried. Yet he reminds himself in the very next line to “put your hope in the Lord.” In fact, three times throughout this Psalm the Psalmist reminds himself to “put his hope in the Lord.”
  • We can imitate the Psalmist by speaking out our burdens and worries, putting them on Jesus, and asking Him to fill us with hope.
  • When we do this, the most extraordinary thing begins: “The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, guards our heart and mind in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7)

4. Lastly, we need to keep our minds centred or focused on Christ (vs 8)

  • How do you do this you ask? Well, verse 8 tells us to think about whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy! What list!
  • Often times the battleground for our mental health begins in our mind. It begins with the things we think about and dwell on!
  • My mother used to have a sign on our fridge that said: “you mind is like a garden, what you plant is what you harvest.” What are you planting? What are the words of the music you listen to? The movies you watch? The books and articles that you read?
  • Further, how do you get those worrisome anxious thoughts out of your mind? We cannot just unthink something, we have to replace the thought!
  • Imagine your mind is like a room. You are happily sitting in this room when you hear a knock at the door. What do you do? You go and open the door! There is an unwanted, anxious thought staring you in the face! They could be “what if” thoughts or “Could you imagine” thoughts. Whatever they may be, they want to come into your mind, sit down on the couch, and make themselves at home! Like an unwanted guest, we can feel stuck with them! You might say, “Well just slam the door then! Don’t let them in.” Sure. But then what would such thoughts do? They would ring the doorbell, go to the back door, look in the window, or blow up your phone. Try as we might, it is not easy to get rid of unwanted, anxious thoughts.
  • So what do we do? We must begin to do something else to replace that negative thought – so ultimately it can get squeezed out by new, adaptive thoughts. Again, imagine our mind like a room and we have that nasty negative though sitting on our couch talking our ear off. We must invite some new thoughts – noble, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy thoughts – in to make that negative though feel uncomfortable, ignored, and unwanted so that it leaves.
  • If you are struggling with anxious thoughts, I encourage you to perhaps consider the music, movies, literature, that you are planting in your mind and try…maybe for a week or two… to listen to worship music instead, be mindful of the movies you watch, find some more godly reflections to read and see if it calms your mind. Worth a shot! 😉

5. Let’s practice!

  • Pause…“Rejoice in the Lord. I say it again: Rejoice!” Close your eyes, take a deep breath (…in…out…in…out) and invite the Holy Spirit to bring to mind all the things that you are blessed with. Rejoice with me and speak the things that come to mind out to the Lord…food, home, family, friends, a kind text, a phone call of encouragement from…just speak those things out before the Lord for a minute or so.
  • Continue breathing…“Remember the Lord is near.” Continue to breathe…Now invite Abba to settle in beside you and make His presence & His nearness felt. Envision Him sitting down beside you and wrapping His arm or arms around you and making you feel safe. Imagine yourself just leaning into Him, with your head on His chest, resting peacefully, knowing that He is guarding you and protecting you.
  • Continue to breathe. As you keep your eyes closed and begin to “make your requests known to Him” petition Him: cast your burdens on Him, share those fears, worries, concerns and ask Him to carry them for you. Let’s just speak those fears and concern out to the Lord. Express them with emotion if necessary. If a few tears come, don’t worry. Share them audibly with the Lord and let Him carry the weight of them for you.
  • Lastly, begin to think of those things that are lovely, noble, admirable, excellent praiseworthy. Ask the Holy Spirit to bring to mind encouraging words, scripture, verse, servanthood actions, stories of noble people who care for the poor or marginalized, parables like the good Samaritan, etc. – and ask the Lord who you could encourage, write a note to, say thank you to, or buy a coffee. Remember the South Camp view, a walkover camp property in the early morning sunrise, watching the mist on the lake, or watching the sunset and be thankful for friends, staff, campers leaders who have enriched your life over the years and made you feel loved and important. Rest in these lovely, noble thoughts and let them wash over you.
  • Now take one final deep breath… let the peace of Jesus fill you up, and open your eyes.

***If you would like to be guided in this exercise: the video above includes John leading this prayer exercise step by step***

6. In closing, my dear friend, keep these practices near, try to practice them, daily if you like, or whenever those anxious thoughts try to invade your mind.

  • Rejoice in the Lord
  • Remember He is near
  • Pray
  • Think about good, lovely noble and pure things often.

May the Lord bless you and keep you and cause His face to shine upon you!

Thank you for your service and love for camp. We cannot do this without you!

It is my prayer that this will be of value to you as you lean into Jesus.

Many Blessings,

John

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A Digital Refresh is a regular series for the staff at Mini-Yo-We.
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