Posts

God Met Me In the Midst Of My Anxieties

Written By Calvin Woo, Malaysia

What should I do after graduating? What job should I look for? Should I start something of my own? Should I pursue a higher level of education? Is this the right time for a relationship?

These are normal questions that all of us have asked at some point in our lives. But for reasons unknown to me, these questions troubled me so badly that they affected my mental, physical, and emotional well-being.

I was at the crossroads and trying to make a life decision. I was so worried and anxious about my future that my heart was overcome with a wave of unrest. I felt helpless that I could not control all aspects of my life, and began to question myself and my abilities.

I was so overwhelmed that I couldn’t eat well or sleep well at night, since I was constantly trying to find answers to my questions. I consulted my friends and family members for answers and validation, hoping to give my heart some rest and assurance. But my questions continued to come and go like the tide, crippling my productivity and my life as I lost focus of myself, my loved ones, and God. I tried really hard to resist and fight the questions—by distracting myself with other things, binge-watching movies and drama series, and going on a beach holiday. I tried to escape my thoughts, but somehow they always crept back in.

One night, I was alone in my room battling my thoughts, and I decided to cry out to the Lord.

“Lord, I’m worn out! Please take me out from this storm. Speak to me and show me Your way.”

Tears rolled down my face as I cried out. I was lost and did not know what to do, but yearned for direction.

 

Be still

A few weeks later I was traveling in California. My heart still burdened, I suddenly felt a prompting to go hiking in a forest of redwood and giant sequoia. My mind quickly drew up the perfect plan to get to the woods early in the morning.

When I walked through the entrance of the forest trail, it was as if I had entered another dimension. The towering redwoods and giant sequoias left me in awe, and I was at a loss for words. The beautiful sunlight cutting through the canopy hit my face. I closed my eyes, listening to the creek flow. And for the first time in months, I took a truly deep breath.

I continued to walk deeper into the belly of the forest and came across a quiet grove with a creek, and the giant sequoia and redwood as a backdrop.

I sat alone by the creek and closed my eyes as I took in the beauty of God’s creation. As I moved away from the noises of my usual surroundings. . .

I heard a whisper, rebuking my heart.

“Quiet! Be Still!” (Mark 4:39)

At that moment, tears from my still-closed eyes started to roll down my cheeks. I felt great peace and deliverance from the bondage of anxiety and worry. The liberation and freedom I felt were beyond words, and could only be expressed with tears of gratefulness and joy.

In the quiet grove, I prayed and thanked God for His great love for me. His purpose in bringing me to this redwood forest was to remind me through His creation of His greatness and power. It felt like I was being embraced by the surrounding trees, and I could feel God’s love flowing in my heart.

I had spent the past few months looking everywhere for answers to my questions, and my efforts only stirred the storm of unrest in my heart. But in that solitude in the forest, I could finally hear God in the midst of the storm.

As I continued walking along the forest trail, I reflected on my wonderful experience, and immediately penned down the moment to serve as a reminder of God’s great love and goodness. As I looked up to the redwood trees, with sunlight cutting between the leaves, I was reminded of God’s almighty hands at work in His creation—and in my life.

 

God is in control of all things

As followers of Christ, we are not guaranteed a problem-free life, but we know that our trials are a process that strengthens our faith in Him (James 1:2-4). Challenges and difficulties in our walk with God will only strengthen our faith and help us learn to lean on Him in times of trouble. Simply put, challenges are sometimes necessary to keep us grounded in Him. And when challenges do come, we know that we have a refuge in God.

When troubles, anxiety, worries, and trials loom over our heads, it is easy to let our emotions and feelings dictate our reaction, but we need to know that we can be still and know that He is our God (Psalms 46:10). For He is the Lord that waves and oceans obey, and whatever may come, He has already overcome it. But we can’t hear His words of comfort if we are rushing or trying to solve our problems on our own—just like I hadn’t been able to for the past few months. It is only when we are still and quiet that we can truly listen to God and hear what He has to say.

I am in no way implying that you should drop everything and go to a redwood forest. But we can all take time and find a quiet place to reverence God and reconnect with Him. Instead of trying to take control of everything in our lives, we need to slow down.

Try dedicating the first 15-20 minutes of the day to reading the Word of God and praying (and yes, put your phones away!). This is a good starting point for reconnecting with God. Slowly, as you try this or other methods, you will find what works for you in making time to be alone with God.

Often, we worry and are anxious when we lack the ability to control our own circumstances. When this storm of anxiety hits, we need to slow down, take a deep breath and pray. We need to humble ourselves and seek God by recommitting our lives to Him and putting Him first in all areas of our lives. God is in control of all things, and He is right there with us every step of the way. When we let God be the captain who steers our lives, we know that whatever direction He takes us in, we will be safe.

When God rebuked my heart in the redwood forest, I learned to let go of the wheel and let God be the captain. This process is not an easy one. But even though I am still waiting for answers on the next steps of my life, I know that God is ever faithful and will lead me on the right path for my life. This knowledge keeps my heart at rest.

Faith, Trust & Hope

Title: Faith, Trust & Hope
Artwork by: Kristen Stansell (@crafted.by)

 

Faith is knowing that God exists and we can follow Him.

“And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6)

Growing up in a Christian environment, I had a lot of knowledge about God. But there came a time when I wanted to seek God out for myself.

Who is He? Does He really love me as He says in His Word?

For a time, I chose to live my life according to my whims and fancies rather than God’s truth. And my life eventually hit rock bottom. In my despair and hopelessness, I cried out to God for help. He met me where I was and has turned my life around since then.

Don’t be afraid to cry out to God and ask Him to reveal Himself to you.

 

Trust is knowing that God is sovereign and His ways are higher than ours.

When we know who Jesus is, we can trust in His Word and His plans for our lives.

Sometimes, we may ask God for the same thing over and over again. We may demand for it immediately, refusing to wait any longer. But God might say:

“Not today. Trust Me. I know things that you don’t. It’s not time for you to have this.”

It is hard for us to comprehend why He withholds certain things from us, especially when others are enjoying those very things we have asked for. At times, we may think that He is punishing us when He says “no” or “not now”.

But as it says in Isaiah 55:8-9:

“‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’”

Let’s strive to be faithful and trust Him to order each step of our lives. He knows what’s best for us. 

 

 

Hope is knowing that God is faithful and His promises are true.

“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful.” (Hebrews 10:23)

God doesn’t want us to be overwhelmed by our anxieties. When circumstances begin to weigh us down, He wants us to remember that we can always place our hope in Him and His promises.

Let us bring our requests to Him with thanksgiving and praise. As we praise God for who He is and what He has done on the cross, we can trust that His faithfulness will see us through our circumstances and our every need.

 

When God’s Promises Don’t Mean Very Much

I was standing at the precipice of a new season, nervously anticipating the last day of my salaried job and the dreaded world of freelancing that awaited me after. It wasn’t a career move that I’d chosen. But the company wasn’t doing well, so I’d been retrenched.

As I prayed and looked for another job, I encountered something familiar: all the doors to the work that I wanted were firmly closed, but the door to the sort of job I didn’t want—freelancing—was flung wide open.

In the week leading up to that last day, friends coincidentally sent me links to sermons and articles, all related to the same verse, “So do not fear, for I am with you” (Isaiah 41:10). None of them knew each other or knew about my job transition. Receiving the promise “I am with you” in several different forms happened enough times for me to know that God was trying to get through to me.

So, I sat down one evening and said to God, “I’ve got to be honest. I know being told that You are with me is supposed to be something very precious, but it doesn’t give me the comfort that I think I’m supposed to feel.”

I braced myself for what was surely going to be (at the very least) gentle chastising. What a sacrilegious thing to say, after all. But as I waited on God, a surprising question came to my mind:

When have I felt assured simply because of someone’s presence with me?

Thinking back over my experiences, I remembered two people who had a remarkably reassuring effect on me.

Mr. and Mrs. B. were teachers I had in high school when I was in New Zealand. They would often organize hikes in the New Zealand wilderness during the summer weekends. They were absolute experts, and knew all the beautiful and formidable things about the outdoors, as well as how to navigate through them.

There were always any number of things that could go wrong in the bush: the way the unpredictable New Zealand storms could transform the safest looking path into a deathtrap, or how an unusually hot summer could dry up a stream at a campsite and leave you stranded for fresh water. Someone stepped on an innocent-looking tree root once, some 10 minutes after Mr. B. warned the team not to (tree roots are always deceptively slippery). She had to be helicoptered out of the bush because of how terribly she’d sprained her ankle.

Yet, amidst all the potential for chaos, I was never once anxious about how dangerous tramping could be. I was so assured of Mr. and Mrs. B.’s competence that I knew, when the worst happened, they’d manage it perfectly. I was also certain that they cared about their students and would use their expertise if we needed help. There isn’t much point having experts at hand if they’re indifferent to your situation. This combination of what they could do and who they were made their presence indispensable.

It occurred to me to apply this reflection to my current circumstance, so I thought about the sort of expert I’d ideally like to have during this season of freelancing.

My answer rolled right off: someone excellent at finding jobs for me, the ones I like and can do well, the ones that open doors to meaningful projects where I can make a difference. It wouldn’t hurt if they paid well too, of course, the bills and all that. . .

And then, almost immediately, another question dropped in my heart, “Is there anyone more of an expert and more willing than God is to provide all those things for you?”

It felt like such an obvious question, with such an obvious answer. But I was shocked to realize just how ineffectual I’d thought God was. A source of comfort, sure, insofar as one is comforted by having their hand patted and told that everything will be fine. But that’s not what relieves fear, no.

Fears arise from an acute realization that what one has at hand is insufficient to thrive in a situation. I feared freelancing because I wasn’t sure that the irregularity of the work could always keep me financially afloat. The only thing that would dissipate my fear was knowing I had a tangible way through the quagmire, something I clearly didn’t think God was capable of doing!

My fears revealed my insufficiencies of which I was most aware. And they also revealed the aspects of God of which I was most unaware. My inaccurate impression of who God could be made me ascribe His promise with the value and power of a fridge magnet.

After all, whether the words, “Don’t worry, I’ll be with you wherever you go; I won’t ever leave you,” mean anything to us really depends on the person who says it. (Stalkers say these things too, and that’s what restraining orders are for.) In the same way that I valued Mr. and Mrs. B. because I knew what they could do and who they were, I needed to learn who God is before I could cherish His promise.

In the face of my limitations, God promises Himself to me—with all His expertise and His willingness—so that I will have what He has to meet my circumstances. His expertise is in keeping unstable situations stable (Psalm 18:2), in making something come out of nothing (Isaiah 48:21), in knowing how to give us exactly what we need (Matthew 6:8). How He’ll do it, He’ll never say, but that He’ll keep His word is a given.

I realized it’s a little like how it was with Mr. and Mrs. B. I never questioned the routes they took us on, even through some of the most mundane  landscapes or those perilous cliff edge trails on the side of a mountain. They had my complete trust, so whatever paths we were taking became irrelevant. I knew they would always lead us to some of the most spectacular campsites or mountaintop views that New Zealand has to offer. They always led us somewhere good.

When I question God’s instructions, or if I fear the path He’s taking me down, it’s because I’ve lost sight of how much of an expert He is in that area of my life. He knows the ins and outs of the land and all the tricks of the trade and is the most qualified to navigate me through it competently. He’s the very best at healing broken hearts, in building secure inner worlds, in redeeming failures, in sustaining human relationships, in overcoming the impossible. . . an endless list of specialties for a God with infinite capacities.

I don’t know why being a freelancer is so necessary for me just yet, and I don’t know where it’ll lead. But I trust that He has excellent reasons for it. It’s been three months into this new season, and He’s already given me more work than I know what to do with. Expert, indeed.

The Day God Convicted Me of My Pride

A few summers ago, I woke up one morning greatly burdened. I opened my Bible and read it as I normally did each day. Though God’s Word often brings me peace, that day my mind was spinning. For some reason, there was a real sense of uneasiness in my heart. I was frustrated and angry, and I wanted to simply drop everything I was doing in ministry and move on to something else.

The initial discouragement grew over time and spiraled into despair, and the despair eventually turned into disdain. I started losing sleep and fell sick easily. I no longer knew what to expect at church or from life in general. This instability and insecurity eventually numbed me to the point where I just couldn’t feel emotions anymore. I was absolutely burned out. Finally, I realized that I needed to start seeing a counselor.

I was sitting in the counselor’s office one session when God suddenly convicted me of my pride. He opened my eyes to see that I was not off the hook simply because I didn’t have money or lust issues. I realized that there was something way bigger that I had to deal with—my pride.

Because of my pride, I trusted in my own abilities to accomplish works in ministry. When things didn’t go my way, however, I responded in anger because I felt like I was robbed of my rightful due. I was tired of the constant waves of threatening questions and the promises of leadership responsibility which seemed to have been forgotten. Over time, my pride led me to become a bitter Christian, husband, father, and pastor. Eventually, that resulted in a season of depression.

It took a year and a half of counseling before I slowly began to taste again the freedom we have in Christ. Pride, I believe, is a deadly sin we often neglect. Through the hard lesson of my depression, God showed me how to counter the pride that so often leads to anger and bitterness. I still haven’t mastered it perfectly, but here are some things that have helped whenever I felt tempted to succumb to pride.

Be Humble and Repent

As a pastor, there have been times when I couldn’t admit to others or myself that I was actually really angry. Instead, when I felt like my right to call the shots or take on leadership tasks was challenged, I would say things like, “I’m irritated by this. I’m frustrated by this. I’m discouraged by this.”

At the root of it all, I was saying, “I didn’t get it my way.” This is the pride that leads to anger. It is not righteous anger. It is sinful, selfish anger. And there is only one way to put to an end to sinful anger: humility.

It felt like God had smacked me with a big spiritual stick and said, “Jonathan, this life is not about you. Humble yourself and repent and turn away from that sin.” I’m not the center of the world. My life is about God’s glory (1 Corinthians 10:31). Instead of covering up my sins, I needed to repent. I needed to admit that I have wronged God, and ask for His forgiveness.

C. S. Lewis put it this way in Mere Christianity, “Fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement: he is a rebel who must lay down his arms. . . . This process of surrender…is what Christians call repentance. Now repentance is no fun at all. It is something much harder than merely eating humble pie. . . . It means killing part of yourself, undergoing a kind of death.”

Repentance isn’t easy, but it is necessary if we are to find true freedom from our pride and anger. To do so, we must first expose our pseudo-righteous anger. This requires repenting not only of the anger itself, but also of our false justification of it in the name of “righteous” anger.

1 Peter 5:6 says, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time”. My advancement in ministry and in this world is really not up to me. My pride demands instant gratification. “This is what I deserve,” it says.

If we allow ourselves to become disappointed when things don’t go our way, Satan invites us to curse God and die (Job 2:9). But when we look to God and trust in Him, He will exalt us in due time.

Trust and Rest in the Sovereignty of God

It is hard to fight sinful pride and anger. I realize too, that the older I get, the more I am prone to justify my own anger problems. As John Piper said so well in an article posted on his website, “One of the most difficult battles of the Christian life is not to be angry when you’re not supposed to be angry.”

In the past, I did not want to rely on God. I often turned away from Him and tried to handle the situation myself. But there’s no rest in that. Refusing to surrender our anger to Him, refusing to trust God, is a form of pride called self-reliance. By not trusting God, I welcomed the devil to wreak havoc in my heart and relationships.

This is a battle we cannot win on our own. As much as we try, we simply cannot overcome our own sin. But our struggles can point us to the Creator who sustains all things. God’s grace causes us to grow in humility as God strips away our pride.

We know that Christ is sovereign over the whole world and everything that happens in it (Psalm 135:6). He is never helpless, never frustrated, never at a loss. And there are no limits to God’s rule. This is part of what it means to be God. This reality should give us hope, for it declares to us that God is bigger than our temporary problems. There is no reason to be upset over not getting our way, because we know, ultimately, that God is still in control of this world and every aspect of our lives.

Bring Your Struggles to God in Prayer

A very practical method to combat anxiety and anger is to pray. At any time, under any circumstance, we can have a little talk with Jesus. Let Him know how we’re feeling. He is not surprised by our request. He already knows what we’re going through. In acknowledging this, I place my trust in the sovereignty of God. This helps ease and rest my mind.

I would not have been able to say this at the beginning of my struggle with depression. I simply wanted to get rid of my anger. I wanted to feel happy and have a temporary peace of mind, and I was desperate to do anything that would save me from dealing with the hardship of suffering.

But God had other plans. He used my anger to show me that my heart was too close to the world and too far from God. He showed me that I was thinking all about myself. Ultimately, God helped me to see that I could look to Christ and trust in Him alone, and not my own ability to overcome my sin.

Just several weeks ago, my four-year-old nephew had a stroke and the left side of his body went absolutely numb. This was a life and death situation. There was a lot of uncertainty. Nobody told me how hard it was going to be. I wasn’t even sure that I had enough compassion to continue holding up his mother. It would have been easy to slip into my old habit of self-reliance. Instead I was reminded by my past experiences that we can overcome worry by not giving into it but coming to the Lord in prayer.

How do you respond to anger? Do you rail against the person you’re angry at? Do you ignore or withdraw from the issue? Or do you allow God to search your heart and show you areas of weaknesses in your own life? Do you remind yourself to be humble and place your trust in God’s sovereignty?

Take heart, brothers and sisters. Be encouraged, my friend. God is able to walk with us in the struggles we face. In the midst of the storm, place your faith in the One who is Creator of all things and who sustains us by His irresistible grace.