1/7/2018 An Age of High Anxiety

HIGH ANXIETY  Matthew 6:25-34

 

In 1948 W.H. Auden penned his Pulitzer Prize Winning book, The Age of Anxiety. If the 1940’s and 1950’s were an age of anxiety, then today we live in an age of high anxiety: stress, anxiety and worry are at an all-time high.

 

There seems so much to fear: terrorism, global warming, mounting deficits, school shootings, and identity thefts. We see dramatic social and technological change that adds to our anxiety. 24-hour news comes to our phones and those with smart watches.

 

We feel a vibration every time the stock market declines, or news breaks of a terrible accident, an earthquake, a mass shooting, or a Bomb Cyclone affecting the east coast.

 

How can we not feel a level of anxiety? Most of us wrestle with some combination of fear, worry or anxiety from time to time.

 

One of my stresses in life relates to my job, as is the case with many of us. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t feel butter flies in my stomach thinking about the weekend’s sermon, church finances, or the people in the congregation who are struggling….

 

I wonder what you worry about? What makes you fearful? What gives you anxiety?

 

In this age of high anxiety, I want to make a confession. Along with the stress I have as it relates to my vocation I am like the 57 million Americans, more than one in six, who suffer from anxiety disorders. We have moments that feel like the world is coming down around us and our burdens are just too much to bear.  Our palms get sweaty, skin clammy, feelings of dread, the fight or flight mechanism kicks in full force.

 

This is the most common mental illness in America. What’s puzzling about the high level of anxiety and fear today is that by all outward measures, we have less to fear today than ever in the history of the human race. ……..

 

We’re living longer than any previous generation. Our standard of living is higher. We’ve defeated most of the terrible childhood diseases of the past. Crime rates are down dramatically in the last twenty years.

 

Daniel Gardner begins his fine book, “The Science of Fear” by noting, “We are the healthiest, wealthiest, and longest-lived people in history. And we are increasingly afraid. This is one of the great paradoxes of our time.”

 

Let me add this footnote. Fear is not all entirely bad.  Fear is there to protect us from entering threatening situations.

 

Much of our worry, anxiety and fear comes from two of our brain’s systems that are designed for our protection and self-preservation. One of these we know of as the “fight or flight mechanism.” It is the body’s smoke detector. When it detects a potential threat, before your conscious brain even processes the threat your early warning system has already sounded the alarm.

 

There’s a second mechanism built into your brain that is intended to anticipate future events, particularly needs like food or water or shelter but also threats. This system doesn’t respond to current threats, but it prepares you for things in the future.

 

Here is the problem. It is our imaginations and the truth is that they go wild.

 

Your imagination, coupled with the data you receive from others, from the news, from the old tapes that play in your head, can lead you to anticipate threats that are not real, or which are real but whose chance of affecting you are minimal. The imagination can inflate threats and lead you to catastrophize—to assume the worst possible things are going to happen…. And I believe it is through this un-bridled fear that the devil uses that keeps us paralyzed from living that life that God intends for us live.

 

I love this acronym about fear. Much fear is the result of

False * Events * Appearing * Real

 

Have you ever spent hours figuring out one or more ways of dealing with a disaster you anticipate might happen—only to realize that it never happened?

 

Is that how God wants us to live? ( On the count of three everyone say NO!)

 

The most often repeated refrain in Scripture is found on the lips of God, or an angel, or Jesus over 100 times. God says to his people, “DO NOT BE AFRAID.”

 

Isaiah Said: Don’t fear, because I am with you; don’t be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will surely help you; I will hold you with my righteous strong hand. (Isaiah 41:10)

 

When I read texts like this, I read them as though God were speaking directly to me. I may even respond to each line: “Thank you, Lord, that you are with me. Help me not to be afraid. You are my God. I trust that you will strengthen me and help me and hold me by your mighty hand.”

 

Instead of imagining that I’ll die of cancer, or that my future is grim, or that my enemies will defeat me, or that the world is on the verge of falling apart, in prayer and praise and singing I imagine and trust that God is with me, that he will strengthen me, help me and hold me by his mighty right hand….

 

Don’t give in to False Events Appearing Real. Try facing your fears. And put your trust in God, praying and even singing to him, imagining the very things he promises, and you will find a peace that passes understanding, that will guard your heart and mind.

 

I John 4:17-19

17In this way, love has been perfected among us, so that we may have confidence on the day of judgment; for in this world we are just like Him. 18Thereis no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear involves punishment.  The one who fears has not been perfected in love. 19We love because He first loved us.…