I have just wrapped up a two week sermon series on how to manage anxiety, stress, and fear as Jesus followers. The reason I got into this series is because many studies show that we as Americans are more anxious and stressed than we used to be and many of us are buzzing with anxiety and fear. The causes are varied, numerous, complex, yet are all coming together in a tipping point that can lead us to feel like we are going over the edge.
We, like those long ago in scripture, deal with the unexpected, have to respond to sudden changes, need to overcome 180 degree shifts we did not anticipate, have to endure being let down by something or someone we thought we could count on, sometimes need to take a chance and go out on a limb with no guarantees, or have to live without knowing what lies ahead in our life or in the lives of those we love.
Angst, fear, and stress does not mean we don’t have faith. It means we are living out our faith during challenging times. But is also means that as people of faith there is a lot we can do to cope, overcome, and remain resilient during periods of understandable angst, stress, and fear.
A quick caveat. Stress, fear, anxiety are not always all bad as they can be great teachers. They can lead us to deal with things we need to confront. They can expose our doubts and questions. They can help us know how much we need God and other people in our lives. They can lead to vulnerability and humility leading to greater intimacy with others.
Angst and stress can lead us to realign our priorities and to make beneficial changes physically, relationally, and vocationally. They can help make us more empathetic with others. And as anger is more often than not an expression of underlying fear, dealing with such feelings can help us reduce being reactive and angry.
While the ways in which we can cope with the frailties of life are numerous, some of which I touched on in my series which is on our website, I’d like to invite us to think about just one thing, and that is courage.
Scripture is full of stories of courageous people like Esther who took major chances to do what was right. Take Ruth, who despite grief and fear took risks many women would not have considered. Take the woman who gave her last bit of food to the prophet Elijah, during a drought when there was nothing left. Take Hanna turing her son Samuel over to someone else to raise him with no real certainty. Take David stepping up to Goliath. Take Peter who gave up everything to follow a promise without proof at first.
It is worth taking the time to read and explore the stories of courage of these and other people in scripture. And I believe, with God’s help, we too can step out in the midst of our fears.
What if Dale Carengie was right when he said, “Most of us have more courage than we ever dreamed we possessed.” What if, as one person said, we have the courage in the midst of being afraid to go on anyhow. What if, as another wrote, we have the capacity to move ahead despite despair. What if Reinhold Niebuhr was right when he encouraged us to pray, “God grant me the courage to change the things I can.”
What if we are to take the following verses in scripture seriously. “Be strong and courageous for it is the Lord that goes with you. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Arise for it is your task. Be strong and do it.”
And what if when we are faced with something fear inducing that we too are like Esther, that we are made and equipped for the time right in front of us with all of the challenges. If courage was easy it would not be courage as courage is acting when filled with angst, not when experiencing its absence.
I invite us all when experiencing tough times to pray and ask that God will give us not only faith, but the courage to act upon it.