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Feeling anxious? God gets it. God meets us in our worries and assures us that He’s with us.
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Note: This transcription has been automatically generated from the sermon audio and may contain errors.
Well, we began a new series last week about the problems that we have. What are the things that we struggle with that can keep us from believing in God or cause us to feel distance from God? We started with doubt last week. Doubt is something that all of us experience at times, and we’re going to come into another subject that I think all of us experience at times. That’s the subject of anxiety.
Kind of ironic given the circumstance of the week here at Little Hills. We’d planned this series out a while ago. It wasn’t that we knew that this was going to be an anxious week, and yet it has been an anxious week. We’ve been trying to figure out what to do. We knew there was a possibility that after some of us have been exposed to COVID at service last week, that then there could be more people sick. We didn’t quite know how that was going to come out. I know a number of you were testing this week and watching for symptoms. That’s anxiety.
I know just thinking about that sort of thing, many of us were hoping, we’re not going to think about the pandemic anymore. It’s not going to be a subject that evil word COVID is not going to come up. Just hearing that word makes our blood pressure rise, and we think, oh, that makes me anxious. I thought we were past that.There are many things that make us anxious. It’s not just one thing, but many. It could be our jobs. We go to work and we start to wonder. Is our boss not as friendly as before? Are they thinking about letting us go? We go home and our family situation isn’t going as smoothly as we hoped. We wonder what will happen. We go to the doctor and receive bad news. We think, God, will you heal me? What will happen? There are so many things that bring us anxiety in our lives. It can be difficult to know how to come before God with our problems. We feel anxious and uncertain about how to be faithful. Maybe we’re not doubting God, but doubting our circumstances. We feel this anxiousness. A decade or two ago, there was a viral phenomenon, before there were viral phenomena, and not the COVID sort. It was the Big Mouth Billy Bass, a fish mounted on the wall that you could press a button or activate with a motion detector. It would turn its head and start singing for you. It sang a number of songs, but the one most of us remember is its rendition of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”
When I see it singing, especially when I’m not anxious, it makes me smile. A fish mounted on a plaque singing “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” isn’t that funny? Isn’t that amusing? But when I am anxious, when you’re anxious, if you see that, do you hear the words “Don’t Worry, Be Happy?” And do you think, oh, if someone had just told me that, I wouldn’t worry.
And you think, oh, well, if someone would have just told me, don’t worry, I wouldn’t worry. No problem. I don’t think that’s true for most of us. It doesn’t work. We have a lot to be anxious about, and when we’re anxious, something superficial like “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” maybe we get caught up in the song for a moment. Maybe we get caught up in the silliness of an animatronic fish singing for a minute, but it doesn’t really take away worry. It’s still there.
Sometimes we even read God’s Word, and we read about his care for us, and we see the different calls not to worry, not to be anxious, not to fear, and we see those things, but it doesn’t do a whole lot more than the fish does for us because we think, God, I know that’s what you say, but I’m anxious, and I don’t know what else to do about it other than to say that because I am anxious.
As we look at God’s Word tonight, though, what we’re going to see is that God meets us in those anxious places. It’s not that he just calls us out of them, but he dwells with us in them. Let’s come before God and ask for his help tonight that whatever might have you anxious right now, whatever keeps you up at night, whatever you wake up with a pit in your stomach in the morning, that we would all see that God is with us in those things right now. Let’s pray.
Father, we pray that you would be with us because we are people who grow anxious. There’re so many things that worry us, so many things that make us feel uncertain, and Lord, we don’t know what to do, but we know that you are the God who is faithful, and we ask that you would guide us even this night to understand your Word better, and through that to know that whatever leaves us anxious, that you are there with us. This is not a problem too big for you. This is not a problem that overcomes your grace. Lord, would you help us tonight? We pray in Jesus’ precious name. Amen.
Well, let’s go ahead and turn to Romans chapter 8. We’re going to look at verses 27 and 28 tonight. We’re going to start with verse 27. Paul writes, “And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”
We see something really, really important there, and you’ve probably heard a sermon on anxiety, and it wouldn’t surprise me if you’ve heard this passage cited in that sermon before, and you think, okay, I think I know where this is going to go. I’m not even sure why I’m continuing to listen, because yes, God’s in control of everything. Isn’t that nice? But I don’t feel that right now.
Let’s pause a little bit before we get into the control aspect and think about what God says in verse 27. He who searches hearts knows what is in the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
So when we think of the Holy Spirit, the very Spirit of God, not someone separate from God, but the very Spirit of God, the third person of the Trinity, when we think about the Spirit, the Spirit intercedes with the things that are burdening us, the things that we’re struggling with. What does that tell us? Well, it tells us that the Holy Spirit isn’t just distantly looking down and saying, “Why are those people still anxious?”
The Holy Spirit isn’t looking down at us and saying, “I’m with them, what’s the problem?” The Holy Spirit is right there knowing the things that we struggle with, knowing the things that keep us anxious, knowing the things that are eating at us right at this very moment, and bringing them before the Heavenly Father. God speaking to God.
It’s a divine mystery, but what a wonderful mystery it is, because we’re told that the Spirit dwells in us. And so the first thing that we need to hear, the thing that God’s Word is saying clearly here, it’s not just that God calls us out of anxiousness. It’s not just that God’s in control. It’s that God is with us in anxiousness.And when we’re anxious, we haven’t put up a wall that means God’s not going to be there until we drop that anxiousness, and we have to do that on our own. That’s the work that we have to do. That’s the work that we have to do.
When we put up that wall of anxiousness and God feels distant, God the Holy Spirit is right there on our side of the wall with us. It doesn’t necessarily take away the anxiousness, but it should remind us that he understands. And that mounting anxiousness that comes then when we start to feel that distance from God, that we don’t need to accept that as a reality because God is with us. That it isn’t true that somehow we’ve cast him away because we’re anxious.
Notice in John chapter 20 what Jesus does when he encounters his disciples after the resurrection. It says on the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors were being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews. Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hand and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them. If you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
Well, this is sort of a pre-Pentecost here, and we can get into that on another Sunday, maybe next Pentecost Sunday or during Sunday school when we talk about the Holy Spirit. I don’t want to focus too much on the details of that receiving of the Holy Spirit, but to say this, the disciples are there. They’re locked in the upper room. This is one of the encounters we see with Jesus in the Gospel of John after the resurrection. And they’re in there because they’re afraid.Now, sometimes in Christian circles, we’ll hear, “Well, you shouldn’t be afraid. We just need to have more trust.” We just need to have more trust. We’re not really having faith in Jesus if we’re afraid, but Jesus doesn’t condemn them for being afraid here.
Sometimes, sometimes fear is legitimate. Sometimes it’s not, but sometimes it is. And Jesus meets them there. In this case, it is a legitimate fear because of what? Because they know there are people out there that just helped to make sure that Jesus was crucified. Jesus has died, and they don’t want to die, too.
Do you ever feel like that? In those times of anxiousness and fear, you think, I know I shouldn’t be anxious. I know I shouldn’t have fear. God is in control, but the fear that I have, the thing that’s eating at me is real. It’s that terrible health diagnosis. It’s that uncertainty in the job, and you know that you have to support your family, and you don’t know how you’re going to do it. It’s that failing grade at school, and you know you have to pass that course to graduate.
It’s where we are right now here, and it’s not saying that we’re running in undue fear from illness, but we certainly have fear. We have people in our church that have lessened immune systems and various obligations that require them to stay healthy, and certainly, as disease spreads, that can cause legitimate fear in addition to excessive fear. They’re both there, yes, but they’re both there.And in this moment, as Jesus meets with his disciples, they’re facing a legitimate fear, and maybe some illegitimate fear. They’re sent by Jesus. Maybe they should say, well, I don’t need to fear the Jews. Maybe they should say, well, I don’t need to fear the Jews. God is going to protect me in this moment. We’re not told that, though. In fact, we know later on they are going to die, so they weren’t completely wrong. At some point, God was going to allow most of the disciples to die at the hands of their enemies, not natural deaths. He wasn’t going to just take them up in a chariot of fire like Elijah. So their fear wasn’t unwarranted.
But what does Jesus do? He appears to them, and he offers them God’s peace. He doesn’t say, how dare you be such doubters that you have fear. He doesn’t say, I’m going to go find some brave people to be my disciples. What does he do? He furthers the commissioning of those fearful disciples in that upper room. He’s going to send them out into the world at times, and they’re going to face some of the things, the very things they feared. But Jesus is going to come to those people, those fearful people, and he’s going to send them. He gives his spirit to them. Why? Because he wants them to know that he is with them in that. Whatever fear you’re holding on to tonight, whatever is keeping you anxious at night, the things that are legitimate and genuine, the things that you’re just trying to overcome that you know aren’t, whatever it might be in those regions of our heart that are fearful, whatever it may be, God offers his spirit to you as well.
He comes into the upper rooms of our hearts. He says, “Peace be with you,” and he gives his spirit. And in that, Jesus is directing them. He’s not saying, “Go out and go into the most riotous crowd and get yourself killed.” What does he do? He says, “I’m going to send you on a mission to forgive sins, to proclaim the gospel.” And he’s going to lead them at different times.
And we see that in the acts of the apostles as we turn there in our Bibles. What do we see? We see at times the disciples, clearly by the power of the Holy Spirit, they go out boldly in places that should get them killed, and they survive because God has sent them to do that. At other times, they sneak out the back door because God hasn’t called them to put themselves at risk in that moment.
And in the anxiousness of our lives, we have to be wise and discerning. We seek guidance from God’s word and from God’s people, and we seek to encourage each other. Sometimes we need to challenge each other. Is this really an important fear that you should be holding on to, that I should be holding on to? And sometimes we need to say, “Yes, it is,” and let’s try to see how God is going to use that anxiousness and our precautions to reach more people and to do his work.The key thing in both cases, and that’s what we see over and over again in Scripture, is that God meets us in those places as we’re fearful, as we’re uncertain. We know that he’ll continue to do that. As he does that, he calls us to this, to turn to him, to actually look to him and accept his peace.
And that’s a challenge in itself, but the key thing is that we know that he’s there, right there, meeting with us in that moment. Too often we go try to meet with something else. We go and meet with our anxiousness and just embrace it. We go and meet with our anxiousness and just embrace it. And I do that a lot. This is a challenge for me. I can get myself very anxious, and so what do I do? I think, well, I’m going to meet with my anxiousness. I’m going to wrestle with it. I’m going to go over and over and over with it. And it feels like God’s distant in those moments.
That’s exactly what the devil wants us to think, that God isn’t with us in those moments. But what is God saying? I’m with you in those moments. As you’re wrestling, that dragon of anxiousness is just looking like it’s going to utterly consume you. I’m with you. I’m with you in the legitimate anxiousness. I’m with you in the wrongful anxiousness. I’m with you. And isn’t that important for us to hear?Because the last thing that we need to hear when we’re anxious, well, just stop being anxious so you can be with God. It’s like Big Mouth Billy Bass. I know you’re saying, “Don’t worry, be happy,” but I don’t feel happy. I feel worried. I feel worried. God’s with us.
There’s been a lot of reason to feel anxious the last few weeks, looking at the geopolitical situation, all the wars going on. And I’ve had conversations with many of you. Many of us are anxious at the moment, wondering what’s going to happen. As we look at the tensions continue to rise in Israel and then the surrounding countries, we wonder if it’s going to turn into a huge war. Are we going to get dragged? And are there going to be terrorist attacks in the United States? Could someone that I know and love personally get hurt by this? And we feel a lot of anxiousness.
I was reading about a woman named Dina, who is trapped in Gaza right now. She’s an American citizen, and her family lives in Gaza, and she went to visit them. She’s an elderly woman of not great health, and she went to visit her family right before the war broke out. And now she’s stuck in Gaza. And in that, we know there are stories like that. We know there are hostages that have been taken. We also know there are people that were there to visit loved ones or to help in humanitarian aid or whatever it may be. They’re now stuck. And I can’t even begin to imagine the anxiousness someone like that feels.However, as I read her story, it struck me because it speaks of how we can run to the wrong places in our anxiousness. Because what has she done? Because what has she done? Well, as tragic as her situation is, and as heartbreaking as it is, and as much as I hope that she gets out, because I genuinely do, her solution, because the U.S. government hasn’t been able to figure out a way to extricate her, because of the hostilities, because of the closed borders, they haven’t been able to get her out, is that she’s filed a lawsuit against the American government.
And even when lawsuits are justified, I have to say, if I’m in a situation like that, I don’t think my inclination is, I’m going to sue the government for not getting me out of this impossible situation they don’t know how to get people out of. I’m not really sure what good that will do. I don’t think that she can demonstrate how the U.S. can somehow extricate her from her situation, and yet she’s spending her time in Gaza suing the U.S. government.
Now, I think for most of us we hear that and think, well, that sounds absurd, but that’s the sort of thing that we do in our anxiousness too. We sue the powers that be, metaphorically speaking, or sometimes literally speaking, and what we really need to do is commune more with our God. It doesn’t mean that the anxiousness immediately goes away, any more than if Dina were focused on what I would think were more constructive efforts to get out, that she’d immediately get extricated from Gaza. But what it would mean is she wasn’t wasting her time, we’re not wasting our time on things that just feed our anxiousness and just seem to make things worse all around.
If I were her, the last thing I want the U.S. government and the State Department to be doing is being busy lawyering up, figuring out how to deal with this lawsuit. I don’t want them to be figuring out how to get me out of there. And we’re not going to tie God up by misdirecting our anxiousness, but we’re tying up our ability to enjoy him and to feel his presence in that anxiousness. Say, God, this is too much for me. I really need to experience your peace right now.
And I think sometimes even when we come to prayer and our anxiousness, we’re so focused on informing God as if he doesn’t already know what we’re facing, we forget to just dwell in his presence, to experience him. I’m guilty of this. How often when I’m praying, when I’m anxious about something, even though I know I don’t need to repeat things, I don’t need to somehow convince God that there’s a problem here, I just find myself stuck in a loop wanting to say the same thing over and over, and I really don’t spend very much time listening. I don’t spend very much time just in peace in God’s presence.I think sometimes it’s because we think, sort of like, I imagine Dina thinks that somehow this lawsuit is going to be the thing that gets her out of there, that if the U.S. government just faces enough lawyers, they’ll think, “Oh, now we’re going to rescue her.” A lot of times we think, if I can just get the words right, if I can say an incantation, so to speak, if I order the grammar just right and I say it in just enough of a pleasing way, God is going to fix the situation. It’s not what we find in God’s word.
It’s about having the relationship with him, experiencing him. When Jesus appears to the disciples, he doesn’t say, “I’m going to take away all your fear now. I’m going to take away the people that want to kill you now.” He doesn’t even say, “Immediately step outside to where there are people waiting to kill you. Go there right now.” He doesn’t say that. He dwells with them and he gives them peace. And we know that there are times that those disciples stay secluded, and we’ve seen that throughout the history of the church. We just had Reformation Day this week. What did Martin Luther do at times? In spite of his own desire sometimes to put himself at risk, his friends would push him into seclusion so he wouldn’t be killed because he had work still to do. And sometimes in that seclusion, he felt very anxious.But all of us are called to come into God’s presence in that time when we’re feeling that anxiousness. And it’s okay to wrestle. It’s okay to say, “God, I’m not feeling the peace right now,” but let’s come before him and ask for his peace.
And that’s when we get to the point that we normally hear in this passage, verse 28. And we know that for those who love God, all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
What do we see in verse 27? The Spirit intercedes. The Spirit intercedes. And commentators have argued, I think this is very convincing, that then when we hear about things being worked to the good, what we’re actually hearing here, what we’re actually reading here, is that the Spirit is working things to the good. That the Spirit dwelling in us is going to bring about good as he intercedes for us. Because God’s Spirit is an active Spirit. He does things. He’s with us and he cares for us.
And in that, we see that God is, in fact, in control. Even when it doesn’t feel like it, even when we don’t know what to do, even when the anxiousness is really that, I don’t know what to do. I want to act in faith, but I don’t know, God, where you’re leading me right now. Well, we know that God’s in control and we know that he’s with us. That doesn’t solve that immediately, but it does allow us to say, God, I just want to be with you until I figure this out. I don’t know how to figure it out. I’m praying that you’ll help me figure it out. I want to be with you in that.
We just wrapped up a series on Monday nights from 2 Peter chapter 3, talking about how we anticipate the coming of Jesus and how that isn’t meant to focus us on charts and predictions and prophecies about exactly how the end times happen. What it’s meant to do is to focus us on going and doing God’s work in living, knowing that God is going to make everything right, even when it isn’t in this moment. And that’s exactly what we’re talking about here.We can lose sight when things aren’t working in the moment because we say, well, I’m anticipating and I believe that the Spirit’s with me, but I’ve still got this problem. I’m still in this moment in anxiety and fear and uncertainty.
What do we see when we look at the disciples? What do we see when we look at Jesus? It wasn’t easy. The very Son of God dwelt here on earth. And what did he face? Well, he faced an incredible anxiety as he looked to the cross. We see that in the garden as he prays to the Father to take away this cup. He felt the sort of thing that we fear, that we experience, only so much greater.
And yet, what also happens? Well, he goes to the cross. The disciples feared for their lives. The disciples feared the opinions of other people. What happened? Many people turned against them, and many of those disciples died.
It doesn’t mean, as we hear that God’s in control, that everything in the moment works out exactly how we would like it to. But what do we see in the lives of the disciples? Well, God used them. And we see in the overarching ebb and flow of history that God is using all of us.And sometimes it doesn’t make sense in the moment, and sometimes those fears are redirecting us to where God wants us. Sometimes those fears are things he’s going to call us to face head-on. But the key thing we need to remember, and I think this is something that maybe we’ve lost a little bit over the last few years, is that we need to encourage each other in the fear that God is with us.
We are going to feel fear. We are going to feel fear. And if you’re feeling fear tonight, that doesn’t mean you lack faith. It doesn’t mean that God isn’t with you. On the contrary, God is with you in that fear. What does it mean when we feel fear? We need to turn to the one who rescues us, and ask him for all the more comfort, all the more experience of his presence.
Psalm 55:22. Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you. He will never permit the righteous to be moved. That’s the promise we have, friends. That’s the promise. We can cast our burden on him. It doesn’t mean everything goes easily. It doesn’t mean everything goes well. The psalmists know that as well as anyone. But it means that we’re turning to the right source, the one who’s ultimately going to take the overall trajectory of all of our lives and use it for good.And that if we trust in him, if we ask for the salvation that comes from our Savior Jesus, and if you haven’t, make tonight the night that you do. That we’re turning to the only one who can genuinely rescue us. You don’t want to turn and ask for rescue from things that can’t.
And yet so often, that’s what we do. Sometimes that’s in our fear, and sometimes that’s even in our attempts to help other people out of fear, because we think, well, I’m just going to make them will themselves out of fear. Sometimes that’s in our fear, and sometimes that’s even in our attempts to help other people out of fear, because we think, well, I’m just going to make them will themselves out of fear. Well, just don’t be fearful. That doesn’t work. We need our God’s rescue.
Have you ever noticed at the Olympic Games, the lifeguards sitting on the side of the swimming pools? And back a few years ago, there was a particularly bored lifeguard sitting there on the edge of the swimming pool, and someone took a picture and it started going around the internet. And it went around because it seems kind of absurd.
You have world champion swimmers, the best of the best, the people who more than anyone else can actually deal with swimming through the water, in controlled water, with all kinds of divided lanes that they could grab onto if they had a problem. You have all of this going on, and you have lifeguards that are not world champion swimmers. They might be good at it. They might be better than I am at it, but they’re certainly not as good as the people in the pool, or they’d be the people in the pool sitting there ready to rescue them.
I read in an article that was addressing this. It said, certainly no swimmer has died at the Olympics, but it’s less clear if a competitor has ever required lifeguard rescue. Still, lifeguards are a common, if overlooked, sight at world-class swimming events.
And I think about that. If I’m a swimmer in the pool and I ran into any trouble, I would hope that someone else, someone else who’s already in the pool, someone who’s a champion swimmer, that person would come and rescue me. I’m not looking for the person who didn’t make it to be qualified to go really fast and really efficiently in the water to rescue me. And no offense to them, and maybe someday it will actually save someone’s life. But it strikes me a little bit, if I’m that lifeguard, I’m not really all that qualified to rescue. And if I’m the person in the water, I really want those other people with greater qualification to rescue.Here’s the problem in life. Too often we look to the lifeguard on the side of the championship Olympic swimming pool, and we might not be qualified. Somehow we got in there by accident, but then we’re surrounded by the one who is qualified, the only one who is genuinely qualified for the choppy waters that we find ourselves in.
We have a lot that makes us anxious, a lot that makes those waters choppy. We have a God who knows what we’re going through, who has experienced, in fact, that anxiousness himself, because he came to this world, and he lived in this world, and he suffered and died in this world for us. But he was victorious over death. He calls us to turn to his victory.
We’re going to experience fear, we’re going to experience the choppiness of the water, but let’s look to him, the only one who can truly rescue us, because he does have the victory, and he calls us into his presence this very day.
Father, we come before you as those who don’t necessarily know what to do so often. We don’t know where to turn, and yet your word tells us over and over again that we should turn to you.
And Lord, as we are called to turn to you, would you help us that we’d have peace, that we’d have confidence in you, the only one who can rescue us. Lord, whether it’s for the first time tonight, we’ve turned to you every day of our lives, and yet we are frightened tonight.
Whatever it is that makes us anxious, would you help us to turn to you, and to know that you don’t just turn to us and say, “Don’t worry, be happy.” You come and you dwell with us, and you comfort us, and ultimately you lead us into your salvation, your victory, that we all might experience it.
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