"Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, 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" (Phil 4:6-7).
I've known the words by heart for a long time. I cannot remember when I first learned them, but in this newest season of my life, they've never held the weight they do now. And yet, when I most need the truth these words hold, the circumstance that demands I turn to them renders me nearly incapable of resting in them.
One translation says, "Be anxious for nothing." For nothing.
That's what I can't figure out. It's the nothing part. When I'm awake at 3 am with a full-blown panic attack, awash in anxiety, feeling my heart race (at least, it's what I perceive), and I cannot talk, pray or recite my way out of it, I start asking, "What is this about? What's going on?" And all I can come up with is nothing. I'm all worked up for nothing.
Here two things must be noted, especially for the sake of those who battle with anxiety attacks: 1) Anxiety is a real thing with which many people deal, and I do not make light of its grip, its tenacity or its potential causes; and 2) While others may be able to determine their triggers, all my mental math still leads me to nothing.
My experience with this malady is relatively recent -- the last couple of years, in fact -- and it is consistently both frustrating and faith-challenging. Frustrating because panic attacks are completely out of my control, an agonizing issue with which every human grapples, especially those who are seeking to live life guided by the Holy Spirit, to whom we are to yield all control and surrender to God's leading. Faith-challenging because, as I seek to place my trust and life in God's hands, this feels like an issue of weak faith, though I know it is not.
When attacks like these come on -- and indeed, I believe they are attacks from the enemy of my soul -- I am not anxious, at least from the respect that I was engage in active worry about something. Actually, I've been living in a place of deeper peace than I have in much of my life, only attributable to the abiding presence of God. For this reason, and likely many more I have yet to identify, this whole thing baffles me at my core. I am anxious for nothing, so why am I panicking?
The physical manifestations of panic attacks differ for many: racing heart rate, clammy palms, difficulty breathing, fixation on a thought or idea that only perpetuates the other symptoms. Altogether, these make the perfect storm. The mind plays tricks which cannot be understood, and in moments, complete incapacitation results. Seriously. Not. OK.
I return, then, to the Word from before, written by the apostle Paul to the church at Ephesus. "But in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God." In the throes of these attacks, there is no coherent response, let alone a request laced with thanksgiving. I can hardly find the words to say "Help!" let alone an expression of appreciation for God and His generous goodness.
In an effort to be totally transparent, perhaps it is because I am not thankful to be having an anxiety attack. Nor am I willing to lay everything on the table, especially when I'm with someone -- my husband or a friend -- while the panic begins. Who wants to admit they're falling apart and not be able to explain why? It's not even that I don't want to admit it to God; He already knows. His Word tells me that He will offer His peace in return for my petition. And believe me when I say in the middle of anxious moments, I'm dying for -- or at least feel like I might be -- peace.
Yet it's all this... for nothing? At least something should come from this, I think. Until I realize it has.
In the midst of these semi-paralyzing moments of complete physical confusion and chaos, there is one thing that brings peace, though not always seen through immediate physical transformation. External symptoms may persist for awhile, but somewhere in the deepest recesses of my mind and heart, I seize hold of a peace that allows the waves to continue to toss my boat while I let go of the oars. The one thing is one word. One name.
When I cannot pray or petition the Father, thankful or otherwise, I just say Jesus. In itself, it is my prayer, my petition, my thanksgiving, my joy, my salvation, my comfort, my refuge, my only response. Jesus.
In that name is a cry for help, a confession of hope. In that name is a salve for my spirit, a peace for my panic. Maybe the modern lyric from 7eventh Time Down says it best: "When you don't know what to say, just say Jesus. There is power in the name, the name of Jesus. If the words won't come... just say Jesus."
I can't help but wonder, when these moments come (thankfully, so very few and far between), if God isn't saying to me as to Peter, "Oh you of little faith." If these moments are brought on by a weak, immature, not-so-sure-about-all-this-one-thing kind of faith.
Instead, I choose to believe that as I speak the Living Word that gives life, the name of Jesus, instead the Father says to me "I Am, here." At once, the sum of all the promises of Scripture come to life: Cast your cares on Me, for I won't forsake you or let you fall. I Am your Refuge and Strength. I Am your always present help when you face trouble. I will give you strength and uphold you with my righteous right hand. Be strong and courageous; do not be terrified or discouraged. I Am with you wherever you go. I am your Light and Salvation; you have nothing to fear. I have redeemed you and called you by name. You are mine. Leave your worries with Me, because I care for you, and I will lift you up. My peace I leave with you, so do not be afraid (Ps 55:22; Ps 46:1; Isa 41:10; Josh 1:9; Ps 27:1; Isa 43:1; 1 Pet 5:6-7; John 14:27).
Could it be, in these moments, I experience a richer understanding of God's peace. All this peace, available to me for nothing, because He is God and He loves that much.
Maybe it's not anxious for nothing after all.
'Twas the Day Before Advent
'Twas the day before Advent
and all through the land,
the shopping and football
got quite out of hand.
Thanksgiving behind us,
the New Year to come.
With Christmas now looming
too much to be done.
Unpacking the lights
and trimming the tree
are the next things to do:
When all of a sudden
we realize it's missing --
of our reason for giving.
The twinkle and sparkle,
the commerce and trade
cannot hold a candle
to the gift that God gave.
We've traded our joy
and all of our wonder
for a few simple hours
of Black Friday plunder.
But what if our
wandering eyes paused to see
the promise of Hope
in our blind reverie?
With breathless excitement
and curious searching,
we discovered a Peace
that's worth our unearthing?
Among infighting, prejudice,
warring and pain,
this beckoning Advent
gives our deep need a name:
It's Jesus. He came,
and His coming again
has been promised to us --
this great love without end.
Yes the angels declared,
though now gone from our sight,
"Your salvation has come
on the most Holy Night."
So instead of our planning,
our busyness doing,
let's be still and wait
for the glory that's brewing.
Yes! The once infant Savior
who became all-time King,
He is coming again
and His praises we'll sing.
First He came sent from Heav'n
in a woman-child's womb.
Second Advent is nearing:
how will we make Him room?
Empty hearts, minds and hands.
Give Him space all around,
so we'll truly receive
this Great Love that's come down.
Yes, it's time to start watching
like a young child, wide-eyed,
and experience Advent,
with its mystery abide.
on Advent Eve
for those looking for Hope
Joy L. Sherman
Someone forgot to remind the weather it's November in Ohio. High of 70 degrees yesterday and 75 degrees today with the meteorologists' promises (We know how that goes!) of more to come throughout the week.
While blissful in its deferring of cold temperatures and bone-chilling winds, the uncharacteristic warm air creates havoc with plans to dress a fifth grader. Early morning cold gives way to unnatural heat quickly, so long sleeves, gloves and coats can seem right at 6:30 am and ridiculous at 2 pm.
Nonetheless, I'm grateful for the blessing. This morning it even made national news; the ticker tape across the bottom of the screen identified "unseasonably warm" weather and its impending effects on the rest of the month. That phrase captured my attention: unseasonably warm. It had already been on my mind before I saw the news, but when the television screen started replaying my own thoughts, I stopped and gave pause. Why does that speak so loudly to me?
The only connection I could make at the time -- and still am -- is the familiar rhythm of that phrase with another "warm front" I read about in Scripture: "They began telling each other how their hearts had felt strangely warm as He [Jesus] talked with them and explained the Scriptures during the walk down the road" (Luke 24:32, The Living Bible). When the weather is warm outside, and it shouldn't be, based on the season of the year and typical weather patterns, any deviation from the norm is "strange." This is the same word that two of Jesus' followers used to describe how they felt when Jesus was walking with them on the road to Emmaus, yet they did not recognize who He was.
I don't remember the first time I read or heard this story in Luke's gospel; it was many years ago in my childhood, I'm sure. However, in my adult years, I've always come away from the Emmaus story with a particular prayer on my heart, one that I pray regularly. It goes something like this: Lord, help me know you "on the road" to wherever I'm going, and not just when I get there.
I cannot imagine what it must have been like to walk and talk with Jesus, to literally follow Him as He went about preaching and teaching and healing and turning the Kingdom of God upside down for people. But even as I try to imagine that, I can't fathom what it was to have known Him before His death, and not to know Him after. These followers were intimately familiar with Jesus, the same one who they thought was the Messiah, and yet not able to recognize Him when He was with them again.
They're not the only ones. Mary didn't know Him in the garden, at least not immediately. She thought He was a gardener until He spoke to her. Luke tells us these men were even "prevented" from realizing it was Jesus. At least until the breaking of the bread. Now that's what I call "holy hindsight."
If I'm honest, I have holy hindsight a lot. I can look back on a journey often and see the signposts that show evidence of the Lord's presence. I can often reflect on a challenging season I've been through and see where God was working for my good. But I believe there are times when I may miss Him in the midst of my circumstances, and I so desperately want to see Him then too.
I can feel the disappointment of these men as the bread is broken and they finally see it's Jesus, only for Him to disappear in the same moment. They're looking at each other in astonishment -- Did you see what I saw? -- and then wracking their brains trying to figure out how they missed it: :“Weren’t our hearts ablaze within us while He was talking with us on the road...?" (HCSB). I know I've felt the same things -- a stirring, a wondering, an unseasonably warm moment in my heart -- and still failed to see Jesus on the road.
So I'm praying more fervently these days. Lord, help me know you "on the road" to wherever I'm going. Don't let me miss the warm front when it comes. (Maybe, at my age, I could start calling them "holy hot flashes"?) I understand that sometimes the revelation comes at the end of the journey because God chooses it to be so, but oftentimes my oblivion is driven by my own ignorance and self-centeredness. I don't want to be so focused on myself that I miss the Messiah moment.
Don't get me wrong. Any time I get a glimpse of the holy in the mundane, I'm thankful. If anything, not thankful enough, but I'm exceedingly grateful to acknowledge that God is with me, whether I sense Him with me or not. Still, my prayer is that I'm not so wrapped up in my situation that I miss the times He is literally as close as my next breath and speaking to me. I welcome the "strange warmth" and hope I'll relish it as much as I am right now.
I've always been convinced that when things occur repeatedly in my life, I should pay attention. Whether it be small things, or grand events, repeated themes are usually an invitation to reflect on what I might/should be learning.
This recently happened with tags. An odd theme, to be sure, but still, the multiple recurrences of all things "tagged" demanded my focus like a redundant child begging for treats in a grocery store.
First, it was luggage tags. Simple enough. A sweet gift from my husband, purchased to help make my bags more identifiable when traveling, with my favorite decor yet to boot: leaves. Beautiful, colorful shades of autumn. I used them on a trip about two weeks after receiving them, only to feel the Spirit's nudge to give them away... so I did.
Upon my return, God showed His intentions for that brief journey with the luggage tags. It became the topic of a talk on recognizing the opportunity to show God's grace to others in tangible ways, no matter how small. That talk was given recently on a retreat weekend in which the theme was from Isaiah 43:1-2 with emphasis on God calling us by name and belonging to Him. To reinforce the theme, a "prop" of sorts was used: name tags.
Hello, my name is... tags. Everyone who served at this retreat possessed one. "Hello, my name is HIS," they said. A reminder to ourselves and those we were serving that we'd been given a new name in Christ. We are no longer the names we and others have called ourselves -- unworthy, loser, insignificant -- but as children of the Most High God, we are called "son" and "daughter" and we belong to Him. (Make sure to watch Matthew West's "Hello, My Name Is" video for a refresher on this idea!)
The weekend was fulfilling and those who served were blessed to be a blessing to others, no doubt. My husband and I returned home, exhausted and thankful. We retired quickly that evening, and awoke to the stuff of life the next day. And then it happened again: a tag. Only this time, not the good kind. Our aluminum garage door (along with our whole neighborhood, save for one home!) had been "tagged" with graffiti. What's more saddening, some of the graffiti on two of our neighbor's homes included racial slurs and hateful speech.
While our family was able to keep the incident in perspective -- the vandalism could have been worse, more extensive; no one was physically hurt; we have insurance -- we are grieving more for our neighbors for whom this act is much more personal. My husband went out with our pressure washer and worked for a time to try to undo what was physically done, but nothing can change what has been done emotionally.
So I had to ask, What's up with the tags, Lord? What are you trying to tell me? And what I came away with was this: God has given us a NEW name. No matter what people call us based on our heritage, our skin color, our accents, our attire, our preferences -- we are divinely designed and each possess a tag that is irreplaceable. Not Made in the USA. Not One size fits all. Simply this: Created in the image of God.
The same God made each of us. For this, we wear the same "tag." This is not meant to blur our distinctives; even though we're made in His image, we're very different in innumerable ways. And that diversity is beautiful. But in One set of eyes, we are equal. The ground becomes even at the foot of the Cross; Jesus levels the playing field. "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for [we] are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal 3:28-29). No more labels. No more name-calling. Just His.
I thought about why I loved my luggage tags so much; they were attractive and carried my favorite emblem. In the end, though, they were about ownership and being known. I owned the luggage to which they were attached. I was known by the information they contained. God's tag on me says I belong to Him, I am known as His.
So despite our vandal's best efforts, they may have tagged my garage, and my neighbor's property, but they'll never tag my spirit. My neighbors belong to the Lord; I belong to the Lord. You do too. (You just might not know that yet.)
Wanna talk about it? Tag... you're it! #nomorelabels #ChildoftheOneTrueKing
Coming back down the mountain
I just returned home from a wonderful conference and worship celebration this past weekend in St. Charles, Missouri. Gathering together with the National Association of the Church of God's women's and men's groups was an encouragement and a blessing. Perhaps it was more significant to me because I was two days fresh from a piece of news that stirred up a massive storm in my life. Perhaps it was so important because my teaching assignment was about locating our faith in the midst of the storms of life. Perhaps it was because I'd pushed my storm aside to more clearly hear from and experience the presence of God. Regardless, I was reliving moments on a mountaintop and reveling in the best of a tremendous event.
Do you, like me, find that following opportunities or events where you are uplifted and challenged, you return home to challenges of a different kind? That's my story. Enter storm, stage right.
Yet I shouldn't be surprised. Just because I'd left the environment of where the storm started didn't mean it wouldn't be here when I returned. In fact, I carried the story of my storm with me, and was ministered to in the midst of it. I think it's because of life's storms that moments like this weekend are both treasured and sometimes even heralded too highly. Why can't things just stay good? Why do I have to return to the storm?
I can't help but think of Peter's reaction to his own mountaintop experience. In Matthew's gospel (chapter 17), we read the story of Peter, James and John accompanying Jesus to a "high mountain" where, before their eyes, Jesus was transfigured, and Moses and Elijah showed up to share in the conversation. In response to what he saw, Peter says, "Let's just pitch a tent up here and move in, Lord!" He wanted to stay on the mountain and live in that moment. But this story ends with all of them journeying back down the mountain, and returning to the stuff of life.
Don't miss this though -- preceding this account, Peter went through a very difficult storm. I'm not even referring to the literal storm of Matthew 8 when Peter and the other disciples weathered (not so smoothly) a storm on Galilee's sea and wound up waking up Jesus from a sound sleep to smooth the waters. (Ironically, this was a parallel passage to my teaching this weekend from Luke 8!) I'm talking about the moment Jesus utters words likely permanently ingrained in Peter's brain: "Get behind me, Satan!" In a split second, Peter moved from a powerful declaration of Jesus as Messiah to a pitiful disgrace of human frailty.
Keep in mind, Peter was watching as Jesus taught massive crowds, performed miracles never before seen, cast out demons with a word, and preached an upside-down message to His listeners. In fact, just prior to Peter's admonishment from Jesus, Peter saw Jesus take on His own critics who demanded a sign as proof of who He was. Storms were brewing everywhere. Even in the middle of the Messiah's message.
So it's hard to imagine Peter didn't carry all these things in his heart up the mountain with Jesus and his friends. In fact, I'm sure that he did. And removed from the environment of testing, the mountaintop was a good place to rest and recover from a storm. Yes, Peter thought, let's just stay here. But the mountain isn't a place to stay and hide from storms.
Because Jesus commissioned His disciples for ministry and service (Matthew 10:1). And with those things come some storms. Some because of ministry, and some outside of it, but storms nonetheless. The mountaintop moment Peter witnessed wasn't intended to be a parking lot for storm-weary sailors who wanted out of the boat; it was a roadside rest and a glimpse of grace that compels us to get back in.
Peter had to go back down the mountain. He had a Kingdom assignment. And even if it means wading back into waters that are soon to toss and throw the boat around, he needed to go. To get back to the task of serving and following Jesus even in uncertain waters.
I. Get. Peter.
I wanted to stay on the mountain, to soak up His presence, to set up house and bask in the glory of the radiance of His beauty. But I had to come back down, because there's more to do. Jesus is sending me back down. Waves are high, weather is nasty. But I've seen and tasted enough on the mountaintop to know what I'm laboring for in the valley is TOTALLY worth weathering this storm. Any storm. Besides, this storm need not cause me such great concern. Jesus is in my boat (Luke 8:22-25).
Know how I know He is? Easy.
Jesus came back down that mountain too.
Jesus follower. Wife. Mom. Daughter. Friend. Pastor. Learner.