I have a test. I’m going to tell you a joke. Then I will tell you something about your personality by how you respond to the joke. No pressure. Here goes: Two poodles were chatting. “I can’t figure it out,” said the first dog. “I’m in perfect physical shape, but I’m constantly anxious.” The second dog says, “Why don’t you go to a psychiatrist?”
To this the first dog remarks, “How can I? I’m not allowed on the couch!”
Now here’s the answer to the test: If you thought this was funny, then you’re not like that poodle—you’re not an anxious person. If you thought it made perfect sense, then you probably have some anxiety, and perhaps go see a psychiatrist who will let you on the couch.
Maybe it’s easier than that—you don’t have my sense of humor.
We’re alone a lot in our lives. But I don’t mean lonely as in without company. We’re alone in our thoughts, our actions, our strength. We don’t trust others very well. We rely only on ourselves. We alone can do it.
But this isn’t true, and what’s tougher: it’s not working for many people. We end up just being afraid and anxious.
Scriptures says, “When I’m afraid, I put my trust in you.” That’s a move away from being lonely that we should follow.
When we think we’re on our own, when we don’t really count on things working out with others, we tend to get anxious and impatient. It’s so easy to be overcome and feel overwhelmed when everything depends on you alone. There just too many moving pieces, too many expectations to solve all problems and satisfy others’ needs. This isn’t what the Lord wants for you.
Psalm 42:5 points us in the right direction: “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why are you so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.”
The truth is it’s natural to gear ourselves in a certain, negative, worried, anxious direction. It’s because our brains have a bias. We’re hardwired to think the worst in a situation for our own survival. If you’re a caveman confronted with a saber toothed tiger, you might as well think the worst!
But most of the things we have panicked about were far from life or death situations, even if they felt like it. This is because our brains are organs devoted to solving problems, just like our stomachs are organs devoted to
digesting food. When we direct them to solve a problem, like adding up numbers or reading a paragraph, brains generally do a good job.
But here’s the catch: There’s no “off switch” to the brain. It’s always looking for problems, just as our stomachs are always waiting for food. When our brains lack problems to solve, they often make some up. Our brains are just as capable of producing a bunch of noisy nonsense as they are of solving a complex equation, or writing a beautiful sonata.
We so admire our intellect that we tend to think of our thoughts as always representing some powerful, truthful expression of reality. But many times they’re just on anxiety overdrive.
Something that happened to me recently shows how quickly this type of thing can occur. I have a feeling you’ve experienced also. So say you’re driving along and you look up far enough to see the straight ahead lights turn green. Now you know that means the left turning lane lights, which are already green, are going to turn red very soon. You want to go left. So you start wondering, or should I say, worrying about whether or not you’re going to make the soon to change left turn lane lights.
You start to speed up, knowing if you don’t make it you will have to wait up to two whole minutes. Then you slow down because you know you really can’t make it, but then again it’s still green, and you really want to make it through because you really don’t want to wait.
Then it turns red. But by then you’ve worried about something and been anxious about something, and panicked slightly about something that really didn’t matter. The extra minute and a half wasn’t really, truly an issue or a problem.
Anxious people make these problems up—constantly. A non-anxious person doesn’t do this often. Anxious people might do this fifteen times an hour, fifty or more times a day, every day, for their whole lives.
Take a look at your own thoughts. Try to keep track and see how often you’ve let yourself get inundated with worry. Hold on to better thoughts. Realize your worry isn’t truth. Take a longer view of what’s happening now. Things are working out. God is making good things happen. Let your little moment by moment fears go.
Too many people however instead live with an almost constant feeling of anxiety and worry. They know all about that panicky feeling in their stomach and chest. They react to it with a compulsivity that makes them do
something or say something because they have to control the next moments or actions or words or something bad is going to happen.
That drive causes anxious folks to disregard courtesy, kindness, hope, peace, and trust that things will be ok. We need to find a different way.
Proverbs 12:25 “Anxiety weighs down the heart but a cheerful word lifts it up.” It’s so tough for the Lord to bless someone whose heart is heavy.
But we often think this cheerful word must come from someone else. If someone bumps into you and they tell you something happy or positive then you’ll start to feel better. But that means we’re dependent on someone else.
We’re not going to wait like that anymore. You tell yourself a cheerful word. You pop the balloon of your worry and fretting. Look up and say a prayer. Keep your thoughts on the blessed side of life. Don’t wait for someone else to pop into your life and bring the sun or a dozen roses or an encouraging word. You can do that immediately.
When you’re anxious and you’re weighed down, the cheerful word the Bible talks about should come from you.
God needs us to change our mindset. We can be our own worst enemy. Realize you’re the one who’s weighing yourself down. Instead of doing that again to yourself, identify that whatever you just thought of is not necessarily right, nor will it come to pass, and you have gotten yourself more than half way there.
Realize as often as possible your fears for what they are: anxious thoughts that have weighed you down long enough. In fact, some have called this training to think NOT. 1. Notice you have a thought. 2. Observe and review the thought. 3. Then take whatever action that would be beneficial, such as deep breathing or letting the thought go. You could even laugh at your silliness, and be happy you’re free. Do anything but let anxiety weigh you down and run your life.
There’s no doubt we’re under a lot of pressure today. It certainly appears that way to lots of people.
Jesus, pressured Jesus’ life had pressure coming from two streams: From the repeated collisions with authorities, and from the popularity he enjoyed among the ordinary people. I believe the greater of the two pressures came from trying to bring the kingdom of heaven to the people.
Mark 3, verse 10 says, “for he had cured many, so that all who had diseases pressed upon him to touch him.” We think we have pressure.
Imagine hoards of people trying to get your attention, grab your clothes, heal their child.
The word “pressed” here can also be translated “rushed.” It literally means “to fall upon” or “to jostle.” So the picture here is of many diseased, leprous, afflicted, ill folk rushing Jesus, wanting to be healed.
You can’t overestimate the strain he would have experienced in these situations. At this moment, he was under so much physical pressure Jesus had to get into a boat so he could go out from shore a little and the crowd would not knock him into the water.
The more care Jesus took care of others the more demanding they got. People’s lives were in his hands. The pressure must have been enormous.
Scripture tells us after this Jesus went up to a mountain because he wasn’t just under physical pressure, he experienced great emotional and spiritual strain as well.
Now, Mark doesn’t deal with what Jesus did in too much detail, but we know from Luke’s account he went away to that mountain in order to pray, which he continued all night.
If you think that’s so obvious, perhaps it is for you. But when a lot of people start getting pressured, when a lot of people start feeling anxious, they don’t stop and pray. They get up and get moving, faster, as if they can outrun what feels like what’s going to run them over.
We don’t stop at all. We try to take control. But scripture says, “Humble yourselves … under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”
So often we see prayer as an extra pressure, an extra strain, when it would be so much better to view it as a pressure release. But we have to be willing to let go of that ten minutes, or thirty minutes, or whatever time is best for you, and choose something better than managing what is God’s to oversee.
Stop trying to control what can’t be controlled. Release yourself from the burden of making sure everything and everyone is in order—you can’t.
Instead of thinking “what if that goes wrong”, start thinking “what if that goes right,” “what if I can do it,” “what if I enjoy it….” It’s amazing how wonderful life is when anxiety is no longer running it.
There’s another way our passage is trying to show us what Jesus did when enough was enough, when life was too much for him. Verse 15 says
Jesus gave authority to his disciples to cast our demons. Jesus delegated power and responsibility to others to do what he was doing, what in fact he couldn’t do.
Jesus needed to spread the load. He couldn’t do it all. And the truth is, it wasn’t all his to do. Not even Christ took on responsibility for everything and everyone in his path. Not even he could do that. Nor should you.
Anxious people take on too much. They want to help and create good things around them, but it’s too much. Stop trying so hard. Stop taking control of others’ things. Let stuff go. It’s going to be alright.
Let go and let them step up, or not. Let go and let God do what can be done by the Lord for him or her. Of course this doesn’t mean you don’t care or aren’t willing to do your part. But anxiousness doesn’t help anyone. Overreaching extends us, and interferes with others.
Pray for those who need it. Love them as much as you can. Let them go if it can’t be. Make sure you find your joy and keep it. Be strengthened by all the positives in your life. Hold onto God’s blessings and walk forward believing and trusting in the Lord’s hand is upon you for good things. Because that’s what’s true.
Can the church say Amen?