Messianic Learning Feature Articles
Be Not Anxious
This article continues the series for Bet Yeshurun Assembly (BYA) on the commands of our lord and master, Adonai Yahushuah as written in Matthew's Gospel. After instructing His disciples (BYA) about what to treasure in life (see Shofar Vol. 620, "Teach Us About True Treasure"), He offers Wisdom on living without anxiety: "Therefore I say to you be not anxious ("take no thought") for your life, what you shall eat, or what you shall drink; nor yet for your body, what you shall put on. Is not the life more than food and the body than raiment?" (Matthew 6:25)
The King James Version (KJV) of the Bible translates "be not anxious" (or, "take no thought") from "merimnao" (G3309). Scripturally speaking, this Greek word means "to be anxious, to be troubled with cares, to care for, look out for (a thing), to seek to promote one's interests caring or providing for." ("A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament" by Joseph Henry Thayer)
"Anxiety" is "(1) a state of being uneasy, apprehensive, or worried about what may happen; concern about a possible future event; and (2) in Psychiatry an abnormal state characterized by a feeling of being powerless and unable to cope with threatening events, typically imaginary, and by physical tension as shown by sweating, trembling, etc." (Webster's Dictionary)
Scripture records Yahushuah speaking 11 times about anxiety. Did you ever suffer a panic attack before talking in public? Imagine compounding that dread in the presence of a hostile audience. Yet our role-model encourages us to not be troubled no matter how adversarial our situation as we go His Way: "Behold, I send you forth as sheep amidst wolves. Therefore, be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. But beware of men. For, they will deliver you to the councils and they will scourge you in their synagogues. And you will be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles. But, when they deliver you up, be not anxious ("troubled with") how or what you shall speak. For, it shall be given to you in that same hour what you shall speak. For, it is not you who speak, but the Spirit ("Ruach") of your Father which speaks in you." (Matthew 10:16-20)
Paul says if we give Yah all our worries in prayer, we will also have nothing to fear. "Merimnao for nothing, but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to Elohim. And the peace of Elohim, which surpasses all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Mashiach Yahushuah." (Philippians 4:6-7)
The many verses about anxiety are signs of an important teaching from Elohim. While many are intimately familiar with this condition, few are skilled at coping with worries. That's why so much is written on this subject. In his book "The End of Stress," Don Joseph Goewey explains that these adverse feelings can shorten life spans, "stress reactions produce stress hormones, and stress hormones disable the higher brain's executive functions that allow you to first make a plan and then manage it through to completion." Goewey also notes "These hormones lock you into fight, flight or freeze mode and switch your emotional set-point to negative, predisposing you to feeling anxiety, anger, paranoia and depression. They impair the immune system, wreak havoc on the cardiovascular system, damage chromosomes, kill brain cells, and, if left unchecked, will eventually kill you."
I began this scripture study thinking that anxiety and stress were the same. Webster's Dictionary clarified things: "Stress" is "a force exerted upon a body that tends to strain or deform its shape." Stress can be a good thing, if for example, Yah is doing the reshaping of our physical nature. Then the word of YAHUAH came to me, saying, "O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter?" says YAHUAH. "Behold, as the clay is in the potter's hand, so are you in mine hand, O house of Israel." (Jeremiah 18:5-6)
Webster also says "stress" means "mental or emotional tension or strain characterized by feelings of anxiety, fear, etc." Hmmm…isn't this what I'm told to avoid? "And I say to you my friends, be not afraid of them who kill the body and after that have no more that they can do. But I will forewarn you whom you shall fear. Fear Him, who after He has killed has power to cast into hell. Yes, I say to you, Fear Him. Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings and not one of them is forgotten before Elohim? But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore. You are of more value than many sparrows." (Luke 12:4-7)
Upon reflection, I concluded that certain concerns about the future are normal and necessary. These can warn me of potential problems, motivate me to take action to reduce my stress and can improve my life for the better. Without Yah stressing me, I'm unlikely to change, to take risks or to make decisions that will alter my life. Yah truly knows what's best for me and in His prescribed amounts stress actually is a good thing.
However, if daily stress makes me feel sick and fatigued, something is seriously wrong. A life filled with anxiety is a sure path to an early death. Goeway notes "If you add up all the deaths, caused by stress-related illnesses – heart disease, strokes, cancer, immunodeficiency, diabetes, and premature aging, to name a few – you have the number one cause of death in America today." These ailments sound like a scriptural list of curses. (Deut. 28:15-68)
While anxiety is known to harm the human body (e.g. reduce hormone function; damage organs; weaken immune system; increase risks of cancer; cause memory loss and concentration issues; lead to mental health disorders, negative thinking and expectations of future troubles), some apprehension is natural and prudent. For example, concern for our own welfare can alert us to danger and cause appropriate behavior. Otherwise, we might take foolish risks (e.g. drive at high speeds in residential areas). Merimnao can keep us alive and safe. Nonetheless, Yahushuah instructs us to not be overly concerned about basic necessities, like food. "Behold the fowls of the air for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much better than they? (Matthew 6:26)
Ever notice how birds live under all kinds of extreme conditions? While some migrate for food, roadrunners can thrive year-round in arid deserts. In the other extreme, penguins reside in Antarctica's frozen tundra, spending half their life on land and half in water. (Source: Wikipedia) If Yah so designed His fowls to survive under all sorts of environmental conditions and knowing our basic human needs, will not our Creator provide for us likewise?
Now, let's examine an abnormal state of anxiety, "feeling of being powerless and unable to cope with threatening events." Sadly, some suffer this chronic, persistent condition even if no immediate danger is present. Called "Generalized Anxiety Disorder ("GAD"), people with it tend to worry all the time and think of disastrous scenarios. They focus on and obsess over these worries every day. Whether big or small problems, real or imaginary ones, their constant feelings of stress and tension make addressing real problems a challenge, and can create problems when none exist. GAD symptoms include: restlessness (edginess), fatigue, concentration problems, absentmindedness, irritability, muscle tension (cramps), difficulty sleeping, inability to relax, no focus and trouble functioning. A research study reports about 5% of Americans suffer from GAD, which increases with age and afflicts women twice as much as men. (Wittchen & Hoyer: "Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Nature and Course," Ph.D. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry)
The pharmaceutical industry responded to this huge health problem with a wide variety of drugs (e.g. Buspar, Prozac, Paxil, Effexor, Vanatrip, etc). These drugs not only have serious mental health risks, they can actually hinder the ability to cope with anxiety. As a body adapts to drugs, its brain depends on it. If abruptly stopped, intense side effects can occur. So users must be weaned off the drugs. Furthermore, these drugs don't cure GAD. While they may temporarily relieve GAD symptoms, the anxieties can return when the drugs stop. Becoming psychologically dependent on drugs, they neglect to cure the cause of stress and can't cope with any anxiety, so they go back on the drugs.
The $ Millions spent on anxiety attacks, bipolar disease, schizophrenia, etc., isn't "healing" the disease, it's "treating" the symptoms. As man's curses reach epidemic proportions, there'll be no magical elixir. The cure is in turning toward Yah: "I sought YAHUAH. He heard me and delivered me from all my fears. They looked to Him and were lightened. Their faces were not ashamed. This poor man cried. YAHUAH heard him and saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of YAHUAH encamps round about them who fear him, and delivers them. O taste and see that YAHUAH is good. Blessed is the man who trusts in Him. O fear YAHUAH, you his saints. For, there is no want to them who fear Him. The young lions do lack, and suffer hunger: but they who seek YAHUAH shall not want any good thing." (Psalm 34:4-10)
GAD can arise from chronic stress due to unresolved pressures at work; family-relationship troubles; financial difficulties; unreasonable social expectations; bad coping skills; weak health and fitness levels; poor nutrition; low emotional well-being; sleep deprivation; and lack of exercise (activity). To "manage" this stress, many resort to alcohol and marijuana. These so-called "legal" drugs again numb distress without addressing its cause. Those relying on these "quick fixes" may lose their ability to cope with anxiety. These self-medications prevent people from dealing with stressful situations naturally, i.e. learn to manage stress, overcome it, or avoid the situations causing it.
Rather than self-medicating for anxiety, health coaches have a few tips:
(1) Exercise! Stay active. Physical workouts can help reduce stress, burn away stress hormones and improve mood. Keep moving (those who don't are more prone to stress). Listen to what mama often said, "Get outdoors!"
(2) Do Things! Stay busy. Create happy memories. Look forward to positive experiences and activities; and...
(3) Set Goals! Establish achievable personal objectives that will take time to accomplish. Focusing on the future alleviates our normal tendency to place too much focus on the present, which can lead to anxieties. Can our life really have less anxiety? Indeed. Scripture records a way, quit worrying needlessly. As we just read it can harm us, and in Yahushuah's wise words, it does us no good physically. "Which of you by anxious care can add one cubit to his stature?" (Matthew 6:27)
Besides, food, He then elaborates on the fruitlessness of being troubled over another basic human need, clothing. "And why are you anxious for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field how they grow? They toil not, neither do they spin. And yet I say to you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if Elohim so clothes the grass of the field, which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? (Matthew 6:28-30)
The importance of not worrying over basic necessities like food, water and clothing is clear as His message is repeated: "Therefore be not anxious, saying, What shall we eat? Or, what shall we drink? Or, with what shall we be clothed? (For, after all these things do the Gentiles seek.) For, your heavenly Father knows that you have need of all these things." (Matthew 6:31-32)
In short, if I focus my mind on the wrong values, wants and hopes, I lose focus on Elohim's provisions. Yah nurture me through His spiritual resources and power. I'm to take no thought of my life; what I shall eat or drink; nor yet for my body in what I shall put on. Rather than focusing on physical matters, I'm to place my concerns on important spiritual matters, i.e. the Bread of Life (my food), the Counsel from Elohim (my water) and the righteous standards of Yah (my clothing). "But seek first the kingdom of Elohim and His righteousness and all these things shall be added to you." (Matthew 6:33)
As I remember that Yah is in charge of everything that occurs in my life, I'm comforted to know that what must happen does happen. So, I trust that Yah brings all to fruition in good time. "For, you are my hope, O Sovereign YAHUAH. You are my trust from my youth." (Psalm 71:5)
Can you lean on Elohim for your strength? Upon whom will you depend? The fixes fabricated by men? Or, the Elohim who has cared for you from your moment of conception? "By you, I have been held up from the womb. You are He who took me out of my mother's bowels. My praise shall be continually of you." (Psalm 71:6)
It's ok to have feelings of anxiety and to acknowledge our shortcomings. Be honest, yet be courageous. Keep the faith and recognize Yah's immense love. When life's challenges confuse and cause anxiety, know that our help will come from Adonai. "Behold, the eye of YAHUAH is upon them who fear Him, upon them who hope in His mercy to deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine. Our soul waits for YAHUAH. He is our help and our shield." (Psalm 33:18-20)
Instead of wasting my energy and worrying about physical necessities, I'm learning to direct my concern toward Elohim's Kingdom. I know it is very near, even right at my door step: When He was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, He answered and said, "The kingdom of Elohim comes not with observation. Neither shall they say, Lo here! Or, lo there! For, behold, the kingdom of Elohim is within you." (Luke 17:20-21)
Unlike food, water and clothing which Yah provides to all of creation, only but a few will be granted entry into His Kingdom: Yahushuah answered and said to him, "Verily, verily, I say to you, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of Elohim." (John 3:3) "Confirming the souls of the disciples and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of Elohim." (Acts 14:22) "For, the kingdom of Elohim is not in word, but in power." (1 Corinthians 4:20)
Yah grants this special provision only to those who put on His righteous character: "Know you not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of Elohim? Be not deceived! Neither fornicators, or idolaters, or adulterers, or effeminate, or abusers of themselves with mankind, or thieves, or covetous, or drunkards, or revilers, or extortionists, shall inherit the kingdom of Elohim." (1 Corinthians 6:9-10) "And now, little children, abide in Him; that, when He shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before Him at His coming. If you know that He is righteous, you know that every one who does righteousness is born of Him." (1 John 2:28-29)
Yahushuah closes His teaching with an instruction to focus on the matters of today. In other words, do not worry about tomorrow's problems. These will be there whether you worry about them, or not. "Therefore, be not anxious for the morrow. For, the morrow will be solicitous ("troubled, full of anxiety or apprehension") for the things of itself. Sufficient to the day is its own evil." (Matthew 6:34)
While I was doing this scripture study on anxiety my mind drifted back to a recording from 1988, "Don't Worry Be Happy" (by Bobby McFerrin). My co-workers and I would whistle and sing this little song when the boss left the office. We especially liked this verse, "Every life we have some trouble. When you worry you make it double."
Back then, we knew we had no real control over our problems with the boss at work. So, we learned to roll with the punches and not compound our troubles by fighting back. It took me many years, however, to learn that I couldn't navigate life's storms on my own. Much like Kepha (Peter) I thought I could. But after sinking many times and after accepting that my efforts kept falling short, I began turning in the right direction. I learned to reach out and call for YAH in my times of distress to ease my troubles. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, "Adonai (Lord), save me!" And immediately Yahushuah stretched forth His hand, and caught him, and said to him, "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?" (Matthew 14:30-31)
May BYA come to trust in Elohim for all that we need. May Yah's mercy and grace take away all our anxieties as I close with this prayer, "Adonai, as I release all my fears, worries, anxieties and regrets into your hands, may you replace these with confidence and trust that I am in your continuous care and provision." Shalom, Elder Curt