Anxious for Nothing
We’re beginning a new series today called “Anxious for Nothing”. If you ever have battled anxiety, are battling anxiety now, or will battle anxiety in the future, this series is for you. I think that pretty much includes all of us! 😊
This is a message series that gets to the heart of where we all live from time to time. Who hasn’t struggled with some form of anxiety, with is often rooted in worry and fear?
For instance, haven’t we all worried about a health concern somewhere along the way…especially in the past couple of years? Worry is what we do when we incessantly speculate about what “might” happen. Worry is based on speculation, which means…worry is often based on fiction. Concern, on the other hand, is a calculated consideration and assessment of actual danger. That is why we would say concern is based on fact. Worrying anticipates possible problems while concern is more fact-based and geared toward problem-solving. Whether you are talking about worry, fear, or concern, all of them can lead to anxiety.
The foundational passage for this series is found in Philippians 4. This is the go-to verse for people battling anxiety. I referenced it last week, but before we get to the verse, I want to give you a little context. The apostle Paul went to Rome to preach the gospel. At the time he is writing this letter to the church in Philippi, he is there, not as a preacher, but as a prisoner. He was locked up, 24 hours a day to a Roman guard. It is easy to see how a situation like this could generate a significant amount of anxiety.
Paul’s future is uncertain. He doesn’t know how long he will be there. He doesn’t know if or when he will be released. In fact, in these circumstances, he can’t be sure whether he will live or die. It is in these circumstances, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he penned these powerful words.
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.” – Philippians 4:4-5 (NIV)
Today, I want to focus our attention on the last part of verse 5. “The Lord is near.” Stop and think about that. Do you believe that The Lord is near? Even when you don’t feel like He is near, are you able to still hold to that truth?
Paul continues…“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV)
I am so thankful that the Lord is near today and always. We need to be reminded of this profound and powerful truth. That is especially true when you are battling crushing anxiety. It is true when you are struggling to catch your breath. And it is certainly true when you feel like the walls are closing in.
Anxiety can be a very scary place. And yet, Paul said, “Be anxious for nothing.” Is that even possible? Is it possible to be anxious for nothing in 2022? Is that even an option in the world we’re living in? With all that is going on in the world today, how am I supposed to be anxious for nothing? Mass shootings…a global pandemic…economic uncertainty…racial tension…a job that is in jeopardy…supply shortages…your business might not make it…and Paul says, “be anxious for nothing.” How can I be anxious for nothing?
This may be the most stressed-out generation in human history. People are worried about everything. Just think about high school and college students today. They are asking, “Should I go to college? If I go to college, should I take out a student loan? IF I graduate, will I get a job, and will it pay enough to pay off my student loans? Will I be able to pay all my other bills? Will I get married? And if I get married, how do I know that I am marrying the right person. And what if I marry someone and find out they are some kind of psycho?”
And then there are people, who are already married, sitting there saying, “I did marry a psycho and now they are making me a psycho! I am facing the possibility of losing my job. My car needs to go back to the shop. What is wrong with it now? How much will it cost to get it fixed? Can it be fixed? My teenagers are driving me crazy, and my parents are aging, and there’s so much uncertainty in the world.” Again, I ask, is it even possible to be anxious for nothing?
Today we are going to meet an Old Testament prophet, who struggled with some anxiety of his own. He really loved God, and yet, even though he had seen the faithfulness, the power, and the provision of God, he still struggled with some big-time anxiety issues. His name is Elijah.
Elijah confronted a very wicked king named Ahab. Elijah boldly called out wicked King Ahab for his sin. Elijah had prophesied that there would be a drought that would significantly impact Ahab’s entire kingdom. Not only did the King dislike Elijah’s prophecy, he also hated Elijah. The king went after the prophet. He wanted Elijah dead.
The King sent his army to destroy Elijah. So, for three years, Elijah was on the run. He was hiding out moving from one cave to another, constantly looking over his shoulder, knowing that he was a marked man. But God faithfully protected and provided for Elijah. He gave him bread and meat to eat every morning and he gave him bread and meat to eat every evening. God used ravens to bring food to Elijah. And I am not talking about the Baltimore type of Ravens, we are talking big, black, spooky looking, Albert Hitchcock kind of birds. God also provided a consistent source of clean water for Elijah to drink.
Elijah is a colorful character. You should see his resume. God performed many miracles through Elijah. He even raised a dead person back to life. First King 18 provides an amazing description of an incredible true story that explains how Elijah confronted 450 false prophets of Baal and how he ultimately called fire down from heaven to destroy them. Whether you like drama, action, comedy, or suspense, you should read your Bible. It is all in there! But even after witnessing the incredible power of God in so many tangible ways, following one miracle after another, one nasty woman got under Elijah’s skin. Her threats caused Elijah to fall apart.
If you don’t know the story, allow me to explain. Ahab was a bad dude. He was a wicked king. But he had a wife that made him look look like Mother Teresa. Ahab’s wife was Jezebel. There is a reason nobody names their baby girl Jezebel. She is the epitome of nasty. And Jezebel hated Elijah even more than her husband did. She basically said honey, if you can’t get rid of this thorn in my flesh named Elijah, just step aside, and let me handle it. I will put an end to this problem called Elijah. When Elijah found out that Jezebel was out to kill him, he completely fell apart. He spiraled into a deep, dark depression. Anxiety consumed him. Some of you can relate.
I want to tell you his story, then look at four mistakes that Elijah made when the pressure was on. Here is where his problems really began. Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets of Baal. This is her response. “Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, ‘May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.’” – 1 Kings 19:2 (NIV)
Ahab has been trying to run down Elijah for 3 years. Jezebel comes on the job and says, “I will have this done and over with by tomorrow night.” Sorry guys. I owe it to the women to be true to the text. 😊 Keep in mind the fact that Elijah just single handedly confronted 450 false prophets. Jezebel then announces her intentions toward Elijah. “Elijah was afraid and ran for his life.” – 1 Kings 19:3a (NIV)
Do you think Elijah is experiencing any kind of anxiety? You bet! Elijah was afraid. He was freaking out. He ran for his life! I want you to watch for the mistakes that Elijah made when he was on the run. “When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the desert. He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. ‘I have had enough, LORD,’ he said. ‘Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.’” – 1 Kings 19:3b-4 (NIV)
Notice how irrational Elijah is here. His biggest fear is that Jezebel is going to kill him. He is running for his life, but he wants to die. I just want to say, “Elijah! If dying is your objective, just get together with Jezebel. She can help you reach your goal.” Poor Elijah is someplace we have all been, isn’t he? He is on the struggle bus. Riding on the struggle bus he said some of the same things we might have said. He said, I’ve had enough. I can’t take it anymore.
Elijah is at the end of his rope. He says, Lord, take my life. I have had enough. I am finished. I am done. I can’t take it anymore. Some of you might be there right now. You feel like you can’t take it anymore. You’ve done everything you can. You are trying to pay the bills, and one more thing just broke. You can’t take it anymore.
For others, it is a relationship, you’re trying. You are doing your part. And they just lied to you again. You may feel like you can’t take it anymore. For somebody else, it’s your schedule. It seems like all you do is work. You’re trying to keep all the plates spinning and stay on top of everything. But the harder you work the further you feel behind, and you just don’t know how much longer you can take it. It could be something as simple as making dinner a thousand times. And a thousand time, no one even said thank you. And a thousand times…you cleaned up the kitchen…by yourself. No wonder you would say, I can’t take it anymore.
Elijah couldn’t take it. He was at the end of his rope. Four Mistakes Elijah made: These are a potential hazard for all of us.
Mistake #1 – Elijah ran himself into the GROUND.
Elijah was pushing too hard for too long. He simply overdid it. So often we get to the end of our rope in a day or a week, but it was the days, and the weeks, and the months leading up to that moment that got us there.
Elijah had been involved in some emotionally draining events. He was already spent physically and emotionally when he found out he was the target of the queen. He was at the end of his rope. The text says he was afraid, and he ran for his life. He ran to Beersheba, which was about 100 miles. He ran the equivalent of four marathons. He was completely exhausted. He was physically worn out. Some of you may be there right now. You have been going way too hard for way too long. Mistake #1 – Elijah ran himself into the ground.
Mistake #2 – Elijah ISOLATED HIMSELF from others.
Sometimes, we all tend to shut people out. Unfortunately, we often shut people out right when we need them the most. You will recall that Elijah left his servant behind at Beersheba. He basically told his trusted friend, I don’t need you anymore, and he went off on his own. Your tendency might be to keep it to yourself when you are hurting. Your mindset is to just push through things on your own. You don’t let anyone in. You decide to go it alone. And that is such a bad idea.
We were created for community. God made us that way on purpose. We really do need each other. This is one of the reasons I am so thankful for our small group ministry. Another ROOTED group launches this afternoon! Small group involvement has the potential to be a turning point in your life. Life is better together. God did not create us to operate independently. We were created for community. Trust me, you don’t want to do what Elijah did by isolating himself and shutting out the most trusted people in his life.
Mistake #3 – Elijah focused on the NEGATIVE.
In times of difficulty, we tend to focus on all the negative things that are going on in our lives, don’t we? My life is so hard. I can’t get it all done. There’s just too much to do. I can’t stand these people. I don’t like my job. I don’t like where I’m going. I’m always going to suffer. I’m always going to struggle. I’ll always be broke. I’ll never be happy. I am always going to hurt. We focus on the negative. We feel like nobody understands. We have all been there at some point and to some degree.
Mistake #4 – Elijah forgot about GOD.
Every step of the way through Elijah’s life God had been faithful. Every moment, God was present. God’s power was so real. God’s powerful provision was visible every morning and every night. But even though God had been faithful in the past, in the moment of crisis, Elijah did what so many of us do – While facing his problems he was forgetting his God.
Elijah knew that God was near, and yet, he fell apart. Rather than condemn him in that moment, God comes along and meets Elijah right where he is. He met Elijah’s need and He revealed himself in Elijah’s life. Imagine you are there in the cave with Elijah when the LORD said…Elijah…“‘Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.’ Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’” – 1 Kings 19:11-13 (NIV)
The earth shook, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. The wind howled, but the Lord was not in the wind. The fire raged, but the Lord was not in the fire. But the Lord showed up in a gentle whisper. God did not show up in the remarkable, he came in the ordinary.
Why does God whisper when we’re hurting? Why doesn’t He shout when we’re afraid? Why so soft spoken when we’re so overwhelmed? Why doesn’t God speak up? Why does He whisper? He can whisper because He is so close. When someone whispers, you have to pay attention. I believe God wants us to get past all the noise and listen to what He has to say. Perhaps He whispers to draw us close.
The devil, on the other hand, has a big mouth. He shouts his lies at us. His voice is loud as he shouts condemnation. His accusations seem to cut through all the noise in our lives telling us we’ll never be enough. We will never measure up. We’ll never make it. You’ll always be alone. The devil shouts – But God whispers.
God can WHISPER because He is so CLOSE. He says, “I will never leave you. I will never forsake you.” He says, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” He is always working all things together for our good. Nothing shall separate us from His love, absolutely nothing. Neither height, nor depth, nor darkness, there is nothing that will separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
God whispers because He is near. My experience plus the realization of God’s presence, knowing that He is with me, He is near me, is enough. The Lord is very near.
Here’s a funny footnote on Elijah’s life. Elijah ran for his life. He was afraid to die at the hands of Jezebel. At the end of his story, he’s walking along with his protegee, Elisha, and God swept Elijah off the face of the earth. Elijah is one of just two people who never died, with the exception of those of us who are still alive today. 😊 The one thing he feared the most never happened. In a roundabout way, I guess we could say that Elijah was anxious for nothing. I don’t think that is how Paul meant it. 😊
The vast majority of what we worry about typically doesn’t happen anyway. Isn’t that true? And even when it does happen, it usually isn’t as bad as we thought. We might say we were anxious for nothing. But even if it does happen, and it really is bad, maybe even worse than we thought, the goodness of God always there to carry us through. He’s always faithful, He never leaves us, He’ll never forsake us, because He is our strength, He is our source, and that’s why the apostle Paul, chained up to a Roman guard not knowing his future, was able to say…“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV)