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John 14. 1-14

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TITLE:  Dealing with Anxiety SCRIPTURE:  John 14:1-14

"Don't let your hearts be troubled."  You've got to be kidding, Jesus!  Don't you know how the elections are going!  Haven't you heard about the war in Iraq!  How about the sub-prime lending mess and falling house prices! 

"Don't let your hearts be troubled."  That's easy for you to say, Jesus -- sitting where you're sitting.  The world looks beautiful from there, doesn't it --like a blue and white jewel on black velvet.  But the world looks different from here.  I see garbage in the street and the pain in my neighbor's eye.

"Don't let your hearts be troubled."  If I were sitting where you're sitting, Jesus, my heart wouldn't be troubled.  But I'm sitting at my desk trying to figure out how to stretch twenty-days worth of money to cover thirty-days worth of bills.

"Don't let your hearts be troubled."  That's easy to say for you, Jesus.  But I'm here alone, and it's lonely. 

"Don't let your hearts be troubled."  Easy to say, but hard to do!

But when Jesus says, "Don't let your hearts be troubled," it pays to remember his life.  While he was still a baby, Herod tried to kill him.  As a man, he died on a cross.

As a matter of fact, when he said, "Don't let your hearts be troubled," he was in Jerusalem, just days from death.  He knew what was coming, and he knew it would be terrible -- but he told his disciples, "Don't let your hearts be troubled."

So Jesus was no ivory tower Messiah.  He was in the midst of the greatest crisis of his life, but he trusted God -- and he calls us to trust God too.

I believe that Jesus said, "Don't let your hearts be troubled," for two reasons.  The first is that it doesn't work. Troubled hearts don't do us any good.  Troubled hearts are unhealthy.

"Don't let your hearts be troubled."  As you are probably aware, the New Testament was written originally in Greek.  The Greek word translated "troubled" is tarasso.  Tarasso means disturbed or anxious.  When Jesus said, "Don't let your hearts be troubled," he was saying, "Don't be anxious."

Anxiety is different from fear.  I think of fear as a reaction to immediate danger.  If I am walking through the woods and see a snake, I am likely to be afraid.  In that case, my fear can serve a good purpose.  My fear will cause me to step back from the snake.  In other words, my fear will motivate me to move away from danger -- to save myself.  After I escape the danger, my fear is likely to go away.  It might recur now and then when I remember the snake, but when the danger disappears, my fear pretty well disappears too.

But anxiety is different.  Anxiety is the kind of fear that won't let go.  We become anxious when we feel threatened by danger over which we have no control.  If I see a snake in the woods, I might be afraid and my fear might cause me to step back from the snake.  But if I were locked in a cage with a snake, my fear would turn to anxiety.  Locked in that cage, I would have no way to cope the danger.  I couldn't run away, so I would become anxious -- and I would remain anxious until I escaped that danger.

So one of the big differences between fear and anxiety is that fear comes and goes depending on the circumstances, but anxiety just hangs in there.  An anxious person might be slightly anxious in one moment and very anxious in another, but there is always that underlying layer of anxiety.

Another difference between fear and anxiety is that fear saves, but anxiety harms.  Fear can save us by motivating us to move away from danger -- but anxiety makes it difficult to sleep.  Anxiety contributes to all sorts of health problems.  Anxious people are likely to suffer from depression or panic-disorder. 

Anxiety also stifles progress.  Anxious people spend huge amounts of energy running from danger that they never manage to escape.  Being anxious is like running inside a cage.  You can run all day and all night but you never get anywhere.  When you live your life that way, you spend most of your energy running and very little making progress.

Are there legitimate reasons to be anxious?  Of course!  We become anxious when we fear danger over which we have no control. 

Frankly, danger over which we have no control pretty well describes the human condition.  The people in the World Trade Center buildings had no control over the planes that flew into those buildings.  Who knows if the terrorists will strike us next?  Who knows whether we will be at Ground Zero?  Who knows what the price of oil will be next year?  Who knows if we will be able to heat our houses or drive our cars?  Who knows whether our jobs or our pensions will be at risk?  Who knows whether we will be alive at this time next year?

So if we are inclined to be anxious, there is no shortage of things to be anxious about.  So what can we do?

If you are anxious, there are a number of things that might help.  A physician might prescribe an anti-anxiety drug.  Cognitive therapy might help.  If anxiety is a problem for you, you might want to consider seeing a physician or a counselor. 

But Jesus has another answer for us, and I want to be sure that you hear it.  Don't rule out the physician or the counselor, because God often uses such people to help us.  A physician or counselor might be helpful, but what Jesus advises will be helpful if we take it seriously.  Jesus said:

      "Don't let your hearts be troubled.

      Believe in God,

      believe also in me."

That might seem too simple to be of any practical value. "Believe in God, believe also in me."  How can faith in God cause anxiety to release its tentacles? How can faith in Jesus force anxiety to release its stranglehold?

To answer that question, I would like to relate a story about a renowned psychiatrist -- a man who helped thousands of people in his personal practice and millions of people through his writings.  His name was Karl Menninger -- Dr. Karl Menninger -- the founder of the Menninger's Clinic, a psychiatric facility in Topeka, Kansas to which people from all over the world came for treatment. 

Dr. Menninger often spoke at mental health conferences.  At a question-answer session, someone asked Dr. Menninger what a person should do if he feels a "nervous breakdown" coming on.  That was what they called it in those days -- a "nervous breakdown."  Listen to Dr. Menninger's answer.  He said that if we feel a nervous breakdown coming on, we should:

      "Lock up (our) house,

      go across the railroad tracks,

      and find someone in need

      and do something for him."

Isn't that interesting!  This great healer, who helped so many people, was able to summarize an important part of his healing philosophy in just a few words -- words that anyone can understand.  If we feel anxious or depressed or fearful or disturbed, Dr. Menninger offers us this simple prescription:

      "Lock up your house,

      go across the railroad tracks,

      and find someone in need

      and do something for him."

Now let me go back to what Jesus said.  He said:

      "Do not let your hearts be troubled.

      Believe in God,

      believe also in me."

Then let me make this observation.  If we believe in Jesus, we will already be looking for people in need and doing something for them -- because Jesus told us to do that.  If you don't believe that, read the last half of Matthew 25. 

So if we really believe in Jesus, we'll already be helping people in need -- just as Jesus commanded -- just as Dr. Menninger advised.  And the more people we're helping, the less anxious we'll be.  Jesus said:

      "Do not let your hearts be troubled.

      Believe in God,

      believe also in me."

There's more to it -- lots more.  The Apostle Paul said, "If God is for us, who is against us?" (Romans 8:31).  Here's what Paul meant.  He meant that God is stronger than anyone.  If God is for us, we don't have to worry about who is against us.

But the subject of anxiety is so big that I can't deal with it exhaustively in one sermon.  I would like to re-emphasize that doctors and mental health professionals have a legitimate role to play in dealing with anxiety.   If you are really troubled by anxiety, you should consider asking a health-care professional for help.

But I also want to re-emphasize what Jesus said:

      "Do not let your hearts be troubled.

      Believe in God,

      believe also in me."

If you truly believe that God loves you and has a plan for your life, it will make a difference in the way that you see the world.  It will help you.

And, finally, let me close with a poem -- one that you have probably heard before, but one that became popular because lots of people found it helpful.  Listen to these words:

      God hath not promised

      Skies always blue,

      Flower-strewn pathways

      All our lives through;

      God hath not promised

      Sun without rain,

      Joy without sorrow,

      Peace without pain.

      But God hath promised

      Strength for the day,

      Rest for the labor,

      Light for the way,

      Grace for the trials,

      Help from above,

      Unfailing sympathy,

      Undying love.

All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name UMH #154-155

Jesus is All the World to Me  UMH #469

Softly and Tenderly UMH #348

Trust and Obey  UMH #467

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