Learning A Secret

The Joy of a Secret

Do you have a secret about how to do something well? Some little-known way to make a meal or a moment really special for other people? Something that is a winner every time? Not a bad secret. Not luscious gossip about another person. Not a way to get rid of people you don’t like. A delightful secret to getting a job done.

Recently I became aware of a secret to making grilled cheese ~ mayonnaise!!! Spreading a layer of mayo on the bread before grilling the sandwich makes it grill evenly, look delicious, and taste like you used butter. 🙂 I was overjoyed to learn this secret, I love knowing this secret, and well, ok, I guess I love passing it along … so it can hardly be called a “secret” anymore.

Learning A Secret Cure

But there is another huge secret that I would love to whisper in your ear. This secret is much more important than grilled cheese. This secret has to do with fighting depression and angst. It is a key to processing life, the downs, dark shadows and despair that come our way.

This secret did not originate with me, but instead with the One who created us and knows us better than we know ourselves. The Apostle Paul had a life and ministry that was hard on his body – hiking mountain passes, coping with his ship going down, and getting attacked by mobs. Sometimes, he received a financial gift; at other times he had to pay his own way. He wrote this from prison:

“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Philippians 4:11-13

Learning Paul’s Secret

Here is Paul’s secret: I have learned to be content.

The Oxford Dictionary defines “content” as an adjective meaning “in a state of peaceful happiness.” Someone has said that “contentment is wanting what you have, not having what you want.”

Whether I am going through a very discouraging time or whether I am riding high on the wind of accomplishment and joy, I can choose to be content and be th(i)nkful. That seems almost impossible. How can I be content, in a state of peaceful happiness, when I feel my life is falling apart? Feels bizarre.

The secret key is how you process the happenings in your life. What are you thinking about? Whose perspective are you choosing?

Fight for the Secret Key

Importantly, Paul says in Philippians 4:11-13 that he has learned the secret of being content. Learning typically means chosen and fought for. When you learn another language, you must choose to do so and then persistently fight to follow through. Paul learned contentment. I wonder how many times he failed while trying to learn.

Can I also learn this secret? Can I craft brain neural pathways of contentment? Of course I can. God gives the “how-to” in the last verse. “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Christ wants me to choose contentment, to fight for contentment, and when I fail, to choose contentment again. Call out to Him for His strength in order to be content with what He has allowed in my life.

The Outside and Inside

But contentment is about my view of things outside of me, my circumstances. My only discontentment should be about what inside of me is unlike Him. I must never be content with the extent of my fallenness, my fleshliness, or my rebel sighs against my circumstances and their Author.

You see, in God’s mind, our externals are about our internals. Our circumstances are meant to test and change our hearts and the hearts of those watching us. He does not waste pain or difficulty. God has designed my challenges and my successes, my wealth and my poverty, my health and my disabilities. He is behind everything in my life. In Isaiah 45:7, our God makes it very plain:

“I form light and create darkness;
I make well-being and create calamity;
I am the LORD, who does all these things.”

Isaiah 45:7

Part of the choosing and fighting for contentment is choosing to search for things for which you are thankful. Th(i)nkfulness produces contentment. I can be thankful for what is going well and talk about the “glass half full.” I can be thankful that I don’t need whatever seems to be lacking because God has promised to meet all of my needs.

I can be thankful for pain and loss and sorrow because I am learning, I am dying to my own will, I am becoming deep and not shallow, I am praying more than ever, I am more sympathetic to others suffering in the same way, I am receiving His grace to overcome, I have His presence and attention through this, I may get extra gospel opportunities, I have a hope that this too will pass, and if I die, it will be the best thing that ever happened to me.

Summing up, the secret to fighting depression and angst is to repeatedly express my thankfulness to the Author of my circumstances, and then to fight my way through many, many lessons, with His strength, to learn contentment. Now, go and share your secret with somebody else.

“Be content with what you have for He has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.'” Hebrews 13:5

The Cure of Anxiety

Looking for a Cure

Cure is an interesting word. Some define a “cure” as relief from the symptoms of a disease. Others define it as something that causes a recovery from a disease. And still other sources define a cure as a complete and permanent solution or remedy.

So, a cure can be defined on three levels … ending the symptoms, ending the disease in one person, or ending the disease in an area or globally.

What’s saddest is when the treatments or cures for a disease are out there, but people don’t know about them or have access to them. For instance, there are treatments and a cure for tuberculosis (TB), and yet South Africa has almost 60,000 deaths a year, about 7 deaths per hour, from TB, far worse than our Covid-19 deaths.

Worldwide Anxiety

One of the greatest “diseases” the world says we face now is the dis-ease of the mind – anxiety. Our present world is infected with anxiety disorders.

“The early years of the 21st century have witnessed a worldwide epidemic of poor mental health and related illnesses. But while depression is the condition most will associate with mental health issues, and is the leading cause of disability worldwide, it is not the number one mental health concern people face. That unwanted accolade goes to anxiety.

World Economic Forum

The very imprecise statistics regarding anxiety disorders worldwide are that 264 million people (4% of the population) struggle with anxiety disorders. Yet studies in places like the United States and South Africa consistently show almost 20% of the population struggles with some sort of anxiety disorder. Women make up roughly 63% of the total number.

Unpacking Anxiety

A simple definition of anxiety could be: distress or uneasiness of mind caused by fear of danger or misfortune. The world says there are a multitude of recognized anxiety disorders that cause worry and stress due to social interactions, personal health, safety, work, or a particular phobia.

There is generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, agoraphobia, specific phobias, social anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, selective mutism and separation anxiety disorder, to name the most common.

God Speaks About Anxiety

How I wish that there was a vaccine for anxiety! We could all have a shot and then be very unlikely to fall prey to the “disease” of anxiety. But alas, there is no such thing.

Some people seem to have a natural resistance to anxiety, an indomitable cheerfulness, a determination to see the bright side and to suppose that things will work out just fine. I love those people. I am not those people.

A grave mistake many strugglers make is simply taking meds to dull or mask the symptoms without those meds being part of a larger game plan to deal with root causes in the mind and heart. Anxiety takes root in our thinking.

There are quite a few verses on anxiety actually:

Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs it down,
But a good word makes it glad.

Proverbs 12:25

Casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.

1 Peter 5:7

Do not fear, for I am with you;
Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you, surely I will help you,
Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.

Isaiah 41:10

I sought the Lord, and He answered me,
And delivered me from all my fears.

Psalm 34:4

Peace I leave with you;
My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.
Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.

John 14:27

When I am afraid,
I will put my trust in You.

Psalm 56:3

Don’t be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplications
with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

Philippians 4:6

There are many more. This is just a small sampling.

Here is God’s cure. Our Creator, who made all our emotions and abilities to think and reason, gave us this prescription. He encourages us to run to Him with our anxious thoughts.

Does He know how pervasive and consuming those thoughts and fears are in our lives?

How Do I Heal From Anxiety?

Anxiety is a cruel and excruciating struggle. It elevates your heart rate and blood pressure, steals away your sleep, shortens your emotional fuse, robs your joy, mocks your hope, draws in your entire prayer time on one topic, and distracts your focus, even destroying your ability to read God’s Word and think about what it says.

To rewind, unpack and process through deep anxieties is a very engrossing, difficult task, especially if the anxiety has had time to grow long entwining roots. If you are experiencing anxiety, here are several things to ponder and consider doing:

A loving and sovereign God is sovereign of my circumstances, present and future. God is God and I am not. Much of my anxiety has to do with loss of control, a projection that the ambiguous future will turn out badly, which is not trusting in my God or believing that He is loving and will help.

I am not alone. I am not the first one to face trials like mine. Others have done so successfully. God will suit the trial to my capacities – He has checked that I can handle it with His help. God will bring me out in His time and way if I wait on Him and trust in Him. All of these ideas are in 1 Corinthians 10:13.

God created the Sabbath for human beings, and Jesus called us to give Him our burdens so that He could give us rest. Much of my anxiety might be over-busyness and a corresponding loss of perspective. Perhaps I need to retreat to a quiet place or speak with an objective voice, an advocate outside my world to regain peace and perspective.

God’s Word is alive and can help me battle temptations to worry and despair. I can write out scripture verses that deal with anxiety and put those cards in a place where my eyes will see them. Twice a day, and when I feel the coming crush of anxiety, I will read those verses out loud, and meditate on them.

Rather than using my negative creativity to imagine a horrible future, I choose to look at the good that God has surrounded me with. I will actively, consistently choose to be grateful and form brain neural pathways of thinking thanks. I will get in the habit of writing out at least five things daily that I am thankful for.

Anxiety doesn’t forbid me to say thank you … or does it????

20,000 Thankfuls

How It Started

“Get it on your thankful list,” he yelled as he left the rehab. She had just finished explaining to her counselor something that she really worked hard to complete. Part of the program at this drug recovery center was that every day each person had to make a list of five things they were thankful for. It was an assignment. It felt irritating at first. Actually felt impossible.

Trying to write down anything that she was thankful for felt like walking up a steep hill.

But since she would have to report on what she wrote down at the end of the day, she acquiesced. After a few weeks, the hill didn’t seem quite so steep. The practice of writing down what she was thankful for came easier. It had become a habit … a good habit.

Other people coming through the program soon got into the same required habit. She had started recording the required five things just on the paper she had available, but it wasn’t long before she ran out of paper.

The thankful lists made their way into inexpensive journals. The required list of five things at the end of the day often grew to eight, ten, or even twelve things. She had a nice collection of those journals now. Encouraging to behold.

In fact, Sarah was getting close to finishing three years at the rehab and her thankful list had a running tally of 20,034 to date.

Counselor’s Toolbox

As a counselor I have found that the practice of learning to think thanks and expressing that thanks to God and to others has a place in my “Counselor’s Toolbox.”

In whatever counseling situation that I find myself in, gratitude is a necessary part of finding solutions and remedies.

In Ephesians 5:1-4 there is a interesting contrast presented:

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.  And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.  But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among the saints.  Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving."

Choosing to think and express thanksgiving is the opposite of the sin that Paul is warning the Ephesian believers about in this passage. It is the correct behavior of a person walking worthy of the Lord, walking in love, pleasing the Lord.

How Long Is Your List?

Knowing that practicing gratitude is so helpful, does it alter your own behavior? Do you have a list of things that you are thankful for? I do not have an updated tally for mine. I have so many journals and papers filled up that I am sure it is in the thousands. I do know I kept track of the first 1000.

I encourage you to invest in a th(i)nkful or gratitude journal if you find yourself in a difficult season in your life. It is a well-documented tool of hope and solution. Our Creator God knows our frame and our challenges … and He ordered us to do it.

Virtually every sin that we commit is a result of a lack of thankfulness

Make-or-Break

Make-or-Break

Have you had a ‘Make-or-Break’ time in your life? It feels like the weight of your actions will have long term effects on your future.

Make-or-Break ~

used to describe a decisioneventor period of time that is very important because it can make something succeed or fail completely

Cambridge English Dictionary

The specifics of your ‘Make-or-Break” situation could be very different from the next person’s. Some people battle health challenges, family challenges, financial challenges or ‘fill in the blank’ challenges.

David and I are very interested with the specific challenges of moving into a new culture as much of our work involves those hurdles. Jumping into a new country with so many things that are completely different from what I have been used to is difficult indeed. Perhaps learning a new language, local taboos, event v. clock time, roles and responsibilities, and very different cultural traditions are part of that learning curve. In Colorado there is an organization that specializes in helping to prepare people for moving into another culture. I was fascinated to learn recently of the value that they put on gratitude.

“The president of MTI has been studying missionary resilience, and one of the main make-or-break characteristics is gratitude.”

Start Easy

“So what is easy for you to give thanks for and what is difficult for you to give thanks for?” The question lingered in the air for a moment. It was easy to quickly give thanks for some helpful things that had happened recently. But choosing to give thanks for the frustrations and ‘out-of-my-comfort-zone’ things were harder. He started with the easy stuff.

  • The sun was actually shining today and brightening things
  • Although my head still hurt, it was manageable
  • We were able to find a store in this new country and buy food
  • God’s Word was truth and helpful in all cultures
  • Our children are healthy so far

The list was just gaining momentum. Then the heavy thought of difficulties, frustrations and overwhelming challenges flooded his mind. Can I think thanks for that visa office, that septic smell, those empty grocery shelves, those staring eyes and people taking our pics with their phones? Give thanks for that yucky stuff???

When you have started a pattern to be looking for things to think thanks about, and expressing that thanks orally to God and to others, you are in a good rut. According to the president of MTI (Missionary Training International), you have begun to develop a ‘Make-or-Break’ habit that could make a huge, defining difference in your life. It could mean your growing success on the field, or concluding your ministry after less than one term.

Stress Exposes

Stress exposes what we are really trusting in. To go through a stressful time is not very pleasant, but it is revealing to discover where we go to cope. When we choose to invest in gratitude and deliberately develop and train ourselves towards th(i)nkfulness, we are building a good foundation that will hold when the blustery winds of adversity and struggle assail.

You could express your thanks orally to others or write it down, but in order for those beautiful fruits to be brought forth, you first have to cultivate that gratitude in your mind. It is a battle that takes place in your thinking. Will I choose to pursue and exercise gratitude, especially when I am overwhelmed and frustrated, and discouraged?

“The more we express our gratitude to God for our blessings, the more He will bring to our mind other blessings. The more we are aware of hidden gifts to be grateful for, the happier we become.”

Ezra Taft Benson

Why not start today in developing gratitude? Set a goal of expressing something you are thankful for in the presence of another person and see how it affects them? See how it affects you. 🙂

The Season of Faith’s Perfection

Ian and Freda

“The paper is lying on the kitchen table,” Ian told his dear wife Freda. “Just jot down something that you’re thankful for as you pass by.” And so, they each began to compile a list.

Freda had struggled with cancer for 20 years. Slowly it was winning, and now it was invading the neural pathways in her brain. Ian and Freda were both Afrikaners living in South Africa and loved the Lord. They were walking this difficult season together. As Ian moved through his day, he often found opportunity to stop by the kitchen table and jot something down that he was thankful for. Not so easy for Freda. She tried and a few things made their way to the list, but it was hard.

David and I had the privilege of meeting Ian Murray recently and he shared this story with us. His Freda has been gone for 12 years now, but by God’s grace, he “landed on his feet.” He continues to serve the Lord and to find purpose in God’s sovereign plan for his life. We were amazed at his kind and gentle ways of trusting in our God. He reinforced in our minds the strength that comes from focusing on thinking thanks, even in your darkest times.

Living with Hope

Facing struggles almost always makes us initially doubt God’s love for us. That’s a big and persistent flaw in our thinking – when our circumstances turn dark, we think God’s attitude toward us is also dark. When our wind is contrary, God is angry with us. When I am hit with one setback after another, God is really irritated with me and feels it is payback time. And we believe the inverse as well – that when there is good health and wealth and smooth sailing, God really loves me. This is such a wrong view of God and of the usefulness of the circumstances He has chosen for us.

“We must see our circumstances through God’s love instead of, as we are prone to do, seeing God’s love through our circumstances.”

Jerry Bridges, Trusting God Even When Life Hurts

We need to remember that God is committed to re-forming and con-forming us to the character of His Son. Romans 8:28-29 promises that all the things in our lives – the wonderful, average and horrific – work together for our good. That ‘good’ is our being made like Jesus … Jesus, who was loved by the Father using every superlative, but who went through suffering, loneliness, misunderstanding, hostility, injustice and a slow murder. Do you see the problem of connecting my circumstances with God’s emotions toward me? It robs me of the hope – the steady confidence I have in His love for me and commitment to my good.

God will accomplish His work in us and His mission through us until we finish the days He has numbered for us. He won’t miss one detail. Psalm 139:16 tells us that all of us have an allotted number of days to live. The tally of Freda’s days were determined before there was yet one of them. When we rest in the sovereignty of the Lord, we can look past the challenges that confront us presently. We can look to the Orchestrator of my circumstance for help and hope. He gives grace. A little at a time. We can make it holding tightly to Him because the Orchestrator is also the Sustainer.

What Happens When We Are Thinkful?

There is an interesting phenomena that happens when we choose to think thanks. The brain neural pathways we develop start searching for other similar things to travel those pathways. The mind begins to sluff off the discomforts and irritations we face, and although those hardships may still be very much present, the focus has been moved to find grateful things. Emotions may not applaud at first, but they are fickle and soon trail along.

Another thing that happens is that we become a testimony to others. Just like when David and I sat around Ian’s table and he shared with us about his wife and the journey they had together. David and I were edified by their example. We were strengthened to also follow in that kind of pattern. Struggles we will always have. The Lord Jesus promised us that. It is how we process the struggles and move through them that makes the difference.

It was the discipline of listing thanks in a trying time that was the key for Ian and Freda. Yes, it didn’t change that Freda passed on to glory, but it made a difference in how those preceding days were spent. Thankfulness brought them through the season of faith’s perfection as she swung out into eternity on the promises of God and faith fell away because it was replaced by sight.

What About You?

So if it was your story, how would you pass the time? Now Freda’s faith has been made perfect, but what about that season that we, on earth, are still going through as our faith is being perfected?

How Can I Stop Being Anxious?

She cornered me in the hallway. “Ok, so I agree with you that being anxious should not be part of my identity, but I am so lost. Could you possibly give some basic help – some tools to get me on the right track on dealing with my anxieties?”

Knowing what we should do … and actually doing it … are two very different things. I think, for the most part, we usually know what we should do, but putting feet to that knowledge and becoming a ‘doer of the Word’ is a bit more challenging.

Root Check

Although you may dislike the word repentance, that is what is necessary to pull up the weeds of anxiety from the roots and to replace them with trust in God.

“Critical to your complete change is your agreement with God that anxious thoughts are sinful! You must see them as a cancerous toxin fully enveloping and choking out all your profitable thoughts and relationships.”

John and Janie Street, The Biblical Counseling Guide for Women

There are two basic root systems that spawn the weeds of anxious thoughts. The first is UNBELIEF; put inversely, the belief that God is not faithful – He is not here, He does not care, He is busy elsewhere, He is not in control, or He is in control and taking my situation the way I do not like. I don’t trust that He is really going to take care of the problem or give me the grace to get through it. I will be hurt needlessly.

The second root is a love of CONTROL. Here in Africa, most people are used to things being delayed or not working or being closed or cancelled. It builds a resignation into your soul – life is beyond my control, so I will not get stressed about these things but will wait and keep trying.

Others puff and flutter and ask for a supervisor and demand explanations because they have places to be. They whirl about in disbelief because they love control and are being denied that control … because the power is out … again. They have a very keen and precise sense of order, and neither God nor man seem to live up to that standard. They feel that they know better.

These are the two roots of anxiety. When we take responsibility for sin and seek God’s forgiveness, there is a clean slate to begin to build correct thought patterns. If we become convinced of God’s faithfulness to us and His meticulous control over our circumstances, we are spraying Round-Up on those weeds.

Here are 10 Bible verses to look up on God’s faithfulness:

  • I Corinthians 10:13
  • I John 1:9
  • 2 Thessalonians 3:3
  • 2 Timothy 2:13
  • Hebrews 10:23
  • I Peter 4:19
  • Psalm 9:12
  • Psalm 86:5, 15
  • Ephesians 2:4-9
  • I Thessalonians 5:23-24

God is God, and God is Good, and God is Good at being God.

When the Weeds Sprout

To begin with, ask yourself if you really want to get rid of your anxiety? Is there a small chance that you don’t? I know it sounds ridiculous to say that you enjoy your sin, but be brutally honest and answer it. Do you love control? Do you love the attention of others that you get by complaining about your difficulties?

That is not ok. It is not excusable.

So… learn to read yourself when you are beginning to fall into the anxiety trap. Think of an alarm going off.

1, 2, 3 Plan

  • 1st Time: The first time you see the anxiety sprout, look for a new verse on anxiety in the Scripture and write it out on a card.
  • 2nd Time: The second time you sense you see anxiety popping up, sing a chorus of thankful worship to the Lord. If you can’t sing, play it out loudly for you to hear.
  • 3rd Time: The third time you catch yourself watching the weeds, pray about a person that you know who is going through a hard time and send them a text or note.

If you get to a 4th time, start the first one over again. This will break the anxiety habit faster than you think. You will begin to grow in knowledge of Scripture verses on anxiety, in singing worship choruses to the Lord and in compassion for others. Selfish anxiety will have to move out of the way; you are overcoming evil with good. It may take a while, but slowly anxiety has to go.

Cast It

Some situations cause us serious concern. Paul, who wrote “don’t be anxious about anything” also confessed that he daily felt anxiety for the churches (same Greek word). So what do we do if any objective person would have concern, or if one of those stress-free easy-going people would even be concerned?

King David wrote, “Cast your burden on the Lord and He will sustain you” (Ps. 55:22). In I Peter 5:7, Peter exhorts us to cast our anxieties on the Lord because He cares for us. Have you ever thought about the concept that in order for you to cast something, you have to RELEASE it? The word means to hurl, or throw, of if it is very heavy, to roll.

Those who are "casters" - whether fishermen casting a line or athletes throwing a javelin - must train themselves.  "Train yourself for godliness" (I Timothy 4:7b).  

Learn to fight the anxious tendencies by believing in God's faithful character, yielding to His control, replacing anxious thoughts with righteous activity, throwing your problems on God's lap, and thinking thanks about everything from small to great.

“Worrying is carrying tomorrow’s load with today’s strength – carrying two days at once. It is moving into tomorrow ahead of time. Worrying doesn’t empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.” ― Corrie Ten Boom

I Just AM Anxious

Identity

I have red hair.  I used to hate it when I was growing up, but I got used to it … and now because my husband loves it, I actually like it. 🙂  I couldn’t really change that I was born a redhead.

I also couldn’t change who my parents were. Emil and Asta were my parents and that was out of my control. Another thing I couldn’t change was that I was born a sinner with different propensities.

I struggle with anxiety.

There it is. It is ugly and not right, but I am tempted in that way.

When the Lord redeemed my soul, some beautiful, hope-filled things happened.

I received a new identity.

  • I am a child of God – John 1:12
  • I am an adopted child – Ephesians 1:5
  • I am accepted – Romans 15:7
  • I am full in Christ – Colossians 2:9-10
  • I am no longer a slave to sin – Romans 6:6
  • I am created in the image of God – Genesis 1:27
  • I am known before birth – Jeremiah 1:5
  • I am part of the body of Christ – I Corinthians 12:27
  • I am part of a chosen people, God’s special possession – I Peter 2:9
  • I am part of a diverse oneness in Christ – Galatians 3:27-28
  • I am bought by God – I Corinthians 6:19-20
  • I am hidden with Christ in God – Colossians 3:1-3

Arrest!

When the covid restrictions first started here in South Africa, President Ramaphosa deployed 73,180 soldiers to help enforce the lockdown. The soldiers would arrest, apprehend, seize, and take people into custody who were defying the covid restrictions laid down by law. It was frightening to see the law enforced, but in another way it was refreshing to see that people couldn’t just do what they wanted without consequences.

When the Lord tells me in Philippians 4:6 to not be anxious, it is not merely a little suggestion for me to consider. He forbids it. He says to arrest it! This is something that hits me between the eyes because of my tendency to worry.

Identity

Because I am redeemed, and my sin is something that I am trying to combat and minimize in my life, I certainly will not identify myself by my sin or argue with those who refuse to see me that way.

My identity is not in my anxiety. “Hi, I’m Karin and I’m anxious.” No, I mustn’t identify myself by my sin struggles, and certainly mustn’t say that I can’t help it, that this is just the way God made me. Confessing my faults is one thing, but wrapping my identity around something I am fleeing is quite another.

I must instead identify as a blood-bought and beloved daughter of the King who is no longer a slave to sin. My identity is determined by redemption, not by fallenness. By the future and not the past. “Hi, I’m Karin and I’m a believer in Jesus.” The Lord has promised to slowly and surely conform me to His image in Romans 8:28-29, so why would I keep referencing my old-self image that i am trying to put off?

Jesus wants me to identify as a member of His kingdom, to reflect His values and character, and to identify with a hopeful future with Him. I try to remember this, but wow, sometimes I fail miserably.

Hope

I love how hope is described in Romans:

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit, you may abound in hope.”

Romans 15:13

You can be free. You are able through the power of the Holy Spirit to obey the Lord when He says, “Don’t be anxious.” What is super cool is that He tells us how in Philippians 4:6.

Steps from anxiety to hope:

  1. Bring all your concerns to the Lord. Lay them out before Him.
  2. Connect your concerns with thankfulness. Think thanks about the challenges that you face.

If we do those two things, Philippians 4:7 promises that the Lord will give us His supernatural peace to guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. That is a pretty nice trade-off. 🙂

Now I know that it is not easy, simple or quick to change life patterns. It is a process. Sometimes a life-long process. The fight is happening in your thoughts. You can choose to ask God to help you think His thoughts. It may take a long time. He patiently walks with us and gives grace.

New Identity

So yes, I have had a struggle with anxious thoughts, but my identity is not in my struggle. My identity is that I am a daughter of the King. He has purchased me and provided me with hope to be renewed in my mind and to obey and follow Him. (Check out a link on this topic).

“Either you will be getting your identity vertically, from who you are in Christ, or you will be shopping for it horizontally in the situations, experiences, and relationships of your daily life.”

Paul David Tripp

Put a Log in the Way

Create an Obstacle

How do you stop movement along a well worn pathway? You put a log in the way. You create an obstacle.

a blog about obstacles

When driving down this road, all of a sudden there is no way that I can continue driving when I reach this log. I am going to have to do something different. I have to carve a new pathway around the obstacle.

The best way to stop doing something is to replace it with something else. 

At first this new pathway feels so hard and unfamiliar. It has not been worn down and made smooth by people walking on it repeatedly. It is new and a bit bumpy. The way is not obvious. I may have to improvise as I go along.

a blog about obstacles 3

This new path has to be developed and that takes time and effort. Step by step you begin. Baby steps, that is.  In time and through repeated efforts, you mat down the grass and smooth out the path. You may need to get a shovel and dig out a big stone or cut back a root that is sticking out. It begins to change, little by little. One day you could even run that new path with no problem.

Our brains are very similar. To break behavior that is not pleasing to the Lord, we call on Him to help us reset our minds and carve a new path of thinking.

Carving a New Path

When stopping a sinful habit of complaining and grumbling, it will normally take something big, like a log across my familiar path, to stop it.  Sometimes a family member will mention your negative attitude – they are throwing some branches across the path to get you to change. But you don’t.

Then the Spirit convicts you strongly about your complaining spirit during your pastor’s message, or you are dismissed from a ministry, or passed over for a promotion at work, because you are so negative – and that’s when the tree falls across the path.  You disregarded branches, so God sent you a log.  Now, you deliberately resolve to do things differently.aaa log post

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Romans 12:2

As we continually present ourselves as a living sacrifice to the Lord, He will enable us to change. We desire to be conformed to His will (I Thessalonians 5:18), but it is not easy to leave the broad and easy road of complaining to follow God’s ways through the woods.

So, when forging a new pathway, it is profitable to have a basic plan in hand. How would you lay out a plan for creating a new neural pathway in your brain? Does God really expect me to do this? What are the benefits? How hard will it be?

a blog about obstacles 4

Setting Alarms

You could set up an alarm system for yourself. What little alarm could go off when I begin to go down that old blocked dead-end road?

  • Maybe I could cut out a little red stop sign that would be a visual reminder throughout my day that I need to stop my normal pattern of grumbling and complaining.
  • Maybe I need an accountability partner (your kids would be glad to help!) to give a funny sign when I begin my old pattern of complaining – the slash of a hand across the throat, or dotting fake tears down the face with an index finger.

Reprograming by Recounting

Psalm 9 has some great advice for us. The psalmist says, “I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.” He had discovered the worth of the gratitude neural pathway. Learning to recognize and recount God’s work in our lives brings glory to God, but also helps our brain change as we turn an action into a habit. It gets our perspective on who God is, His character and His sovereignty. It fosters our ability to trust in Him.

Set up a routine of saying three things you are choosing to think thanks about at a certain time and place each day.  When you wake up, try to think of those three things before you even get about of bed. If you’re not a morning person, you could wait until after coffee.  Maybe it can be at dinner time; if you do it then, you may inspire other family members to follow.  The routine is strongest if you see your hand write the words. Get a basic journal and begin recording these three things right before bed; you may have added more by then. 🙂

At first it will not feel natural to do this – it’s a brand new pathway through the woods! But I can promise you that after keeping this pattern for a month, it will begin to be so natural that it barely takes a minute or two to complete this.  The reset of your mind is taking shape. You are becoming more focused on the Lord God. The pathway in your brain is developing.

The blocked mental path has now made way for a different one ~

A  mental path that will become easier and easier to go down as we obey the Lord in calling out to Him for grace.

aaaa blog

Not Just Thankful For

“Just Be Thankful,” She Said

“Whoah, I’d rather not write down a list of things I’m thankful for.”  The counselor’s eyebrows went up in disbelief.  Was this newer believer that bitter?  “Can you explain why?” the counselor asked slowly.

It turns out that, as a life-coach a few years ago, she was very much into these practices of making gratitude lists.  She was well indoctrinated with self actualization methods and had taught people about harnessing energy by expressing thankfulness.  Now, as a believer in Christ, she had a different goal of serving Christ instead of channeling internal energies.  She wanted to forget that life.

a blog on thanking God

Being thankful, and expressing thankfulness, has become an important mantra in multiple self-help fields around the world.  Believer or non-believer, it doesn’t matter. Being grateful, forging new neural pathways of thanks in the brain, is now being strongly promoted as part of well being. Who you direct your thanks to is not important, many would say.  All that matters is that you are thankful.

To Whom Are You Thankful?

Does that matter?

Yeah, it does. A LOT!  Being th(i)nkful is not just learning to think thanks in every circumstance in your life; there are two additional components involving God, one coming and one going:

  • It first involves downloading grace from the Lord to stop, think and recall things to be thankful for;
  • It secondly involves uploading thanks directed at Him from whom all blessings flow and who is Sovereign over even the negatives in your life.

We are to be thankful FOR.  But even more, thankful TO!  To thank is to throw credit to someone else; to return a favor with words.  Acknowledging who is responsible for everything that you are thankful for is KEY in thinking thanks.

a blog on thankful to 1

“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it

is like wrapping a present and not giving it to someone.” 

William Arthur Ward

Thankful TO

Directing our thanks to God is what sets a believer apart from an unbeliever. Anyone can be thankful and it reaps wonderful benefits in our minds and even bodies. But directing our thanks to God is what the Lord has asked of us.

When the scriptures exhort us to be thankful in all circumstances (I Thessalonians 5:18) or to give thanks always and for everything (Ephesians 5:20) that gratitude needs to be directed to Him. Because I can trust His sovereignty and His ways, I can then, in response, think thanks and express it to Him in trusting obedience.

a blog on thankful to 4

Lilac Breasted Rollers happen to be my favorite bird. I love to see them in the savannah. When I think and express thanks for that precious bird, I must direct that thanks to the creative God who created it using almost every color on His pallet.

He is the One I give my thanks to.

When I realize that I am choosing to give thanks to God, the worldly exercise of making gratitude lists to produce positive energy loses its power. I am not just thankful FOR, but more importantly thankful TO.

I thank You, my God and my Father.

a blog on hope 4

Anxiety v. Hope

Beyond Hope?

If another person would look at his situation, they would not see much hope. He was, like, ancient.  She was decades beyond fertility.  It looked impossible, hopeless.  BUT…Abraham did not give in to anxiety. He had been given a promise by God.

Romans 4:18, 20-21

In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.”

No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what He had promised.

The Weight of Hope on Your See-Saw

Have you ever pictured your emotions on a see-saw as life goes by?  On the one side you have the weight of anxieties and on the other is the weight of your hope.  How heavy is your hope?

aaa see-saw-faith

Compare these two definitions:

HOPE: a confident expectation

VS

ANXIETY: a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome

Which side is winning in your thoughts?  How heavy is your hope?  When anxiety sits down, does your cardboard hope launch into the air and waft down to a useless place nearby?

You may ask, “how can I possibly add weight to my hope?”  It feels so light and flimsy.

Turning the Weight of Difficulty into the Weight of Hope

Romans 5:3-5 gives us steps to build hope in our lives.

“More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope and hope does not put us to shame [will not disappoint], because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

We begin with thankfulness for the weight of difficulty.  All of our suffering is structured and purposeful; God is behind it, with His inimitable smile and His eagerness for us to succeed.  So, we start by rejoicing, thinking thanks, about our sufferings (difficulties, weights and pains in life).  God’s Word says that suffering builds our endurance, which is hanging on and doing what’s right even though we are thinking about how tough this is.

But over time, endurance builds character, which is doing right without really thinking much about how tough things are.  When you have learned character, this gives you hope, a confident expectation that God is pleased and will one day reward you for sticking with it through difficulties.  You won’t be disappointed!

Through this process, you turn the weight of difficulty into the weight of HOPE!  Heavyweight hope defeats anxiety in the boxing ring almost every time.

Some of you were very anxious about the coronavirus in March, but as the months roll by, things have actually gotten worse but you are more used to bearing the weight of that difficulty, and are trusting in the Lord more steadily.  Your endurance is becoming character, and as you please the Lord by trusting in His promises and sovereign plan, you take things in stride. Your hope is in Him, not in your country, not in the politicians, and not in the medical experts.

Confident Despite the Odds

Abraham lived about 4000 years ago. He chose to trust in God’s promises to him. He suffered for decades without a son. He learned endurance. After a while, his character took it in stride and he built a heavyweight hope in God.aaa seesaw 1

His confident expectation in God’s promises was greater than his confident expectation that he would never have biological children.  Because Abraham counted God able to do what He had promised, God says that it was counted to him as righteousness (Rom. 4:22).

God kept His promise to Abraham.  He is going to keep His promises to you, too.

Our Father is unable to break His promises to us. When He promises that He will send His Son back for us, it can be trusted. When He promises that all things work together for our good of being conformed to the image of His Son, we can rest in that. When He promises that He will give us wisdom when we ask, we can count on that.

“For in hope we have been saved … if we hope for [confidently expect] what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it” Romans 8:24-25.

Th(i)nkful Boost

What suffering could you rejoice in today? How could you give thanks for challenges in your life that threaten to weigh you down and steal your hope?

It starts with one step. Think of one difficult thing today that you could rejoice about and give thanks for.  Write it down or share it orally with another person.  Get in the habit of sharing every day one thing that you are thankful for.  It will boost your hope.

Abraham felt like it was impossible, but his emotions were wrong.  He chose to believe. With God all things are possible and He keeps His promises.aaa seesaw

God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind.  Has he said, and will he not do it?  Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?  Numbers 23:17