Jesus' Response to His Anxiety
Did you know that 40 million Americans suffer from a condition of anxiety? When I say condition, I don't mean simply nerves or just a rough little time, but a condition that needs treatment of some sort. The National Institute of Mental Health says that 31.1% of all Americans will at some point in their life experience and anxiety disorder. It's almost one third of this room that will have some type of anxiety disorder in your lifetime.
I'm a part of that 31%. I don't share this to make the sermon about myself. Actually, a pet peeve of mine is when every preacher seems to have every lesson is about their life. But I'm a part of that 31% and I share it because I know there are some people in this room who are struggling with their mental health, who feel like no Christians understand or that they're absolutely alone.
When I was 18, I was in some sin. I had no idea what I was doing with my future. I had some family problems we were still dealing with and then an EF-5 tornado came through Moore, Oklahoma, and destroyed grandma's house and stopped high school in its tracks. And this perfect storm came through and I developed anxiety disorders.
I remember the first night I had a panic attack. I remember my heart pounding. I couldn't catch my breath. I remember sweating. I remember my mind racing. These "what if" questions were popping in my head and I didn't know how to answer them because I wasn't in the right state of mind. And it was the scariest thing for three nights in a row. It was just panic attack after panic attack. I remember thinking, if this is what adult life is going to be like, I don't want to go through this.
I have anxiety disorders. I dropped out of college before I began. I lost touch with a lot of my friends. I was miserable. I was alone at home all the time. I was anxious. Now, thankfully, through God, mostly through Christian counseling, through love of people, and through medication, I got better. I still struggle. I still have bad seasons, but I'm very surprised at where I am today compared to where I was ten years ago. I say that for those of you in this room who are dealing with your own struggle, just because there's times where you feels like you're drowning in anxiety, it won't always be that way. It doesn't always have to be that way.
In Matthew 6 Jesus says, "Do not worry." Don't you wish it was that simple? Years ago, I came forward one Sunday for my anxiety and I told everyone how I was so worried and a lady came up to me afterwards said, "Hey, don't worry about it." Thanks! I never thought of that.
Don't you wish it were that easy? But Jesus, speaking to a Jewish audience, to a group of people in the Sermon on the Mount, says do not worry but He gives them reasons they can put their faith in Him. He gives them illustrations or evidence that says if there is any place you could put your faith and put your worries and where to bring it, it should be in Me.
Did you notice some of the illustrations that Jesus gave there in that passage? He said, "do not worry about what you will eat, drink or wear." Aren't those necessities in life? We're pretty spoiled, aren't we compared to most of the world? What people worried about in their day is I have a family of five and I have to feed them dinner but where's the food going to come from? And while people struggle today, I think a lot of what we worry about isn't a basic necessity. Not all the time. But yeah, he says, "consider the birds of the air. They can't do much for themselves. Yet your Heavenly Father feeds them."
I don't know about you, but every time I go to Walmart, it never seems like we're short of birds in our community. They're everywhere. When I lived in Elk City, there was a sign that said, "this is a bird sanctuary" and it was next to the KFC. I kid you not. We have plenty of birds. He says, Are you not of more value? And they you are far more important to God. And yet God takes care of the birds. He mentions the lilies. They neither toil nor spin. The flowers that grow. They can't do much on their own. They rely on someone else to provide all of their needs. And yet we have plenty of flowers, don't we? Is the grass not always covered covering our earth at some point? He says one day, all of that will be thrown into the oven. In eternity, this earth will burn up. But yet I clothe the grass. How much more does your Heavenly Father, who knows you need them for you who are more valuable? Well, He not take care of you. Will He not provide for you?
He mentions the Gentiles, the Gentile people who at this time were not in his covenant, were not his covenant people. He says they have all these needs and I provide for them. How much more will your Father provide for you? For you parents out there? One of your biggest responsibilities with your kids is to provide, isn't it? And you love that child, and you will make sure they have everything they need. You go beyond the limits to make sure it happens. And how much more will God? Who is your Father provide for you? It can't add a single hour to your life span.
He mentions a cubit in some versions. That's from your elbow to the top of your middle finger, He says. You're not adding that much to your life by worrying sufficient for today's it's own trouble. Don't think about tomorrow. Don't you wish it was that easy?
Can you imagine being Jesus for a moment? Your entire life you know what your purpose is? Your entire life. You know you're going to die. We all know that in this room. But yet He knows how, He knows when and every day He takes a step closer to His purpose, to His hour. Every day He knows He's getting closer to the most excruciating 24 hours of His life, the most painful part of His life. Would you not be crippled with anxiety? I can't help but imagine how stressful it already was to be Jesus, surrounded by people having all of this pressure, all of these expectations, the stress of eternity weighs upon your life to know what is coming. I would be frozen, but yet Jesus handles His anxiety incredibly.
When I say anxiety, I don't mean sinful anxiety. There are times our anxiety might be a lack of faith that we don't put our trust in Jesus. He says, "so you have little faith." God wants us when we have this worry in our life and to hand it to Him to do all that we can, but then give it to Him and let Him have it. But sometimes we struggle and hold on to it for dear life. Sometimes our worry comes from spur of the moment, incredibly overwhelming events in our life that just hit us like waves in the ocean. Sometimes it's a chemical imbalance in the brain, but yet worry comes because it's a natural human emotion. And Jesus being God, but also being man knows what worry is like.
Practical Tips for Anxiety
What I would like to do in this lesson is look at a passage where I think we see Jesus and the overwhelming feeling of anxiety that happens in His life. And I want to look at four responses He has to His anxiety for little practical tips we can use in our life.
When anxiety hits that we see in this passage, but also in the Gospels at large, that God is powerful and He is in control. Anxiety is is a struggle to have control. Don't we wish we had control over life in its situations? But control in our life is an illusion because we have so little. And to be honest, I don't know if we want control of our lives. I think we'd mess it up a lot more than an omnipotent, all powerful God. But yet we see Jesus dealing with this rush of human emotions, and I want to look at how he responded to it.
36Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, "Sit here, while I go over there and pray." 37And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38Then he said to them, "My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me." 39And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, "My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will." 40And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, "So, could you not watch with me one hour? 41Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." 42Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, "My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done." 43And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. 44So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. 45Then he came to the disciples and said to them, "Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand."
- Matthew 26:36-46
Before we get into the tips, one thing to note is that in Luke's account of this scene, it tells us that Jesus is sweating drops of blood. It's a medical condition called Hematohidrosis. It's caused by severe or excessive mental or physical anguish. And what happens is you have such a rush of adrenaline in your body, it signals up this "fight or flight" sensor in your brain. And it's such an extreme amount that it hemorrhages the blood vessels and it causes your sweat drops to look like you're bleeding. He's not enduring at this moment any physical pain. So why does he have that condition? Because he's going through the human emotion that we experience of anxiety. But notice some of the tips or the way he responds.
Tip #1 – Jesus didn't run from His anxiety
Our anxiety triggers our "fight or flight" sensor. It's this rush of adrenaline that comes in your brain like a highway. And there are two exits: I can fight or I can flee. Think about when your wife finds a spider. She typically responds with flight. You hear the scream and then husband what are you called to do? It's my job to respond with fight. Let me kill it. That might be most. If you're the male who is afraid of the spider, you don't have to admit that at this time. No one's going to make you come forward and say that. Think of elementary school when a bully picked on you or someone maybe wanted to fight you. There's that rush of adrenaline. And I can do what I can fight back. I can square up or I can run away. Go to a teacher, just run for dear life as fast as I can.
What's remarkable about Jesus is that He knows what's coming very quickly, and He does neither. He doesn't run from it, but He also doesn't physically fight back. The Bible tells us He has the power and ability to do both.
What would happen very shortly after this passage, when Judas comes to betray Him with the kiss and the guards are there and they go to arrest Jesus? Do you remember what Peter does? He pulls out the sword. He chooses to cut Malchus' ear. Do you remember how Jesus responded?
52Then Jesus said to him, "Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. 53Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? 54But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?"
- Matthew 26:52-54
Jesus had the power to fight back. We sing that old classic church hymn He could have called 10,000 angels. He had the power to fight, yet He chose not to. He chose restraint. He could have ran away. He could have took flight. Maybe literally. I mean, we have a God who is miraculous in power. He's walked on water. He's done many great signs and wonders. He could have gotten away. Yet he chose to sit in His anxiety. He chose to sit in an uncomfortable situation.
Jesus did not run from His anxiety because He knew the only way to fulfill God's plan was to endure what is coming. The only way that you and I can be saved from sin to save mankind is to sit and endure this moment. I think there is a principle for us in our anxiety to never run from our anxiety. Running away from anxiety doesn't fix it. There's biblical precedents for getting out of a confrontation or from removing yourself from a situation. I know that. But in most cases in our life, running away from our problems doesn't actually solve the problem.
Have you ever ran away from a worry in your life only for it to find you again? Maybe you're in conflict in your home, with your spouse, with a child, with a parent. However it may be, and you say, "I don't want to deal with this" or "I don't want to handle this." It's causing you all these emotions so you get away. But what happens eventually when you come back? You have to handle the situation because it cannot be avoided at all costs. Eventually, at some point you have to deal with it.
Have you ever been caught up in sin and you just try to run away from it only for that same habit to find you again? Think about a teenager and your homework. Have you ever had so much homework teenagers that you're absolutely stressed to your eyeballs? How am I going to get all this done? And then what do we do as smart people? We procrastinate. But what happens when I'm done playing my video game or I'm done watching a movie and I come back? I am anxious all over again.
We sometimes try to run from our problems or run from our anxiety and yet that's not how Jesus responded, because He knew sometimes the best way is to sit in it and to deal with what's coming. He moved forward step by step, facing His purpose. And for us, when we choose to sit in our anxiety, to sit in that uncomfortable, we can deal with the problems that might be causing our anxiety.
I know our worry doesn't always come from specific causes we know. But how often in life are we anxious? Because of issues we know of and we are just not wanting to deal with them? Don't run away from the things that cause you anxiety and face them and grow from them.
The Christian life is uncomfortable
Why this might be important is that the Christian life is uncomfortable. It is uncomfortable. Losing your life for Jesus' sake is not comfortable. Think of all the actions God calls for us to be a part of that are uncomfortable rebuking a brother, comfortable? Telling a hard truth to a lost soul. Is that comfortable? I think about our brothers who've led singing for the first time the last couple of weeks. Hasn't that been awesome but isn't that uncomfortable to sing for the first time in front of people? God calls us to do so many uncomfortable actions, but when we get in the habit of running from everything that makes us uncomfortable, we train our minds to avoid situations that God might want us to go through and to act in.
Jesus never ran from His anxiety. He dealt with what was coming. He didn't choose to flee it at all costs. And for us, I think there's truth for that in our lives, when there are issues that are causing our anxiety instead of fleeing from it all the time, maybe we should turn and face it. He chose to sit in his anxiety and deal with it.
Tip #2 – Jesus stayed active
he worst game that I ever played on a playground growing up was freeze tag. Have you ever played it? There is one child, who's "it" and he runs around tagging people. When he tags you, you're frozen and you just stand there. I hated that game because there's never a winner. Parents, that's a great game to teach your children when you need them to waste time. But there's never a winner. You play forever because someone comes around, they untag the frozen kids and now they're unfrozen. And I hated to be "it." But if there's any winner of freeze tag, it's anxiety because it's going around hitting people and it cripples us, doesn't it? You get touched by it and it just stops you in your tracks. When it comes to Jesus, what's remarkable is that despite knowing everything He knew in His ministry and in His life, does He ever seem frozen to you?
He knew what was coming multiple times in the Gospel of John. You hear about this phrase called "My hour."
"Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour'? But for this purpose I have come to this hour.
- John 12:27
Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
- John 13:1
When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, "Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you,
- John 17:1
He knew what was coming, and yet He never seemed frozen by it. One principle we might find in His life, in the Gospels, and even as He goes further away multiple times, is that He stayed active. We find a God who seems to be going from place to place, serving in ways that He could during His life. He takes time to rest. That's important. I'm not discounting rest. He takes time to get away and decompress. We find Jesus going to mountaintops and solitude. We find Jesus in solitude, walking on water, spending time with His father in prayer. But what we never find with God is that He stayed in one place, being inactive for too long.
What do we do when we're overwhelmed with anxiety? I like to stay in my bed and I sit in a room and I see the same four walls forever. Anyone else like that? It's actually not very helpful. While rest is important, while getting away is important. When you stay in one spot and you are inactive, what you're actually doing is causing your anxiety to almost be like a snowball going down the top of a mountain. It just growing in speed and size. You must stay active.
I think there are certain ways we need to be moving when we're anxious. We need to move to solve the problem causing our anxiety. If there is a specific thing in our life, causing anxiety, we should move towards it to address it. If it's a sin, instead of running from our sin, let's confess it. Let's address it. Let's try to get a handle on it. Let's talk to someone else about it, not run from it. If it is confrontation, we should move to resolve the confrontation as best we can. We should be moving.
There's even a principle here of being physically active. It's harder for you to be overwhelmed with anxiety and panic when you've spent energy physically working. It's true in medicine. It's harder for me if I've ran miles, if I've walked miles, if I've lifted weights, if I've played a sport, if I've been working around the house, it's harder when anxiety hits for it to overload my system because I've already exerted the physical energy doing something that day.
We need to be staying active. Jesus kept moving and I wonder if part of that was not only to serve His purpose and work for God, but it helped Him not always be thinking about what was coming 24/7 and to not be overwhelmed and look at it like we might. So tip #2 is we find a Jesus who goes further and further away yet He stayed active and kept moving.
Tip #3 – Jesus used His support system
We find that He takes three of his disciples with them, the sons of Zebedee and you see Peter there. He has a support system that He uses as people. We tend to be filled with pride. I don't want anyone to know that I have a struggle. I don't want people to know I have sin. I don't want them to know my problems. I'd rather have a fake smile, put on a strong face, spend an hour and here faking it than have anybody know that I have problems. Yet the most powerful being to ever walk the planet, the strongest person to ever exist wasn't too big to say, "hey, can you come be with me?" If Jesus needed people in his life, don't we?
He takes them to come pray with them and I wonder, what did Jesus want from His disciples in this moment? What did He expect from them? First, I think He wanted their presence. "Would you just come be with me?" He says. He wanted people near him. In our overwhelming seasons of life. Don't we want the same? We should.
But secondly, I think He wanted their attention. In our social media world, where we're always on screens. I don't want to tell you my screen time this week. But we have a problem with not being mentally present. Jesus wanted their attention, He wanted their comfort. And that comes in a variety of possible ways. Would you pray with me? Would you provide comfort to me in this situation?
It might be that you don't struggle with anxiety or you have worries, but they're not overwhelming in your life. Maybe for you, the lesson is about being a better support system for the people in your life. Are you present? Are you mentally present? Do you provide a comfort in that situation?
I remember being in college and missing school son because of panic attacks and I had a classmate who became my teacher who became an instructor at Bear Valley. He was really good. That's how that happens. But he came to my apartment, he sat in my living room and he said, I have no idea what to say to you. I can't fix it. I wish I could, he said. So I don't know what to say, but I love you and I'll listen to whatever you want to tell me. And can I pray with you? That's being a support system. That meant the world to me. That's the kind of people we need to be for one another. If God says we should bear one another one another's burdens, we says we should encourage one another as the day draws near that we should be comforting to one another. Then we need to be the right kind of support system, and we need to be involved in each other's lives.
Are you using the people God has blessed you with as a support for your problems? Or are you trying to fight them all by yourself? Or are you being a support system that someone else needs you to be to lift their burden from being theirs alone?
Tip #4 – Jesus practiced personal prayer
Have you ever heard those sermons where the answer to everything is, read your Bible and pray and just pray about it. Sometimes reading your Bible praying is absolutely good in every situation of your life, but sometimes it's, "well, how do I pray and what am I supposed to read and how do we do this?" Notice how Jesus prayed in this passage. Do you see it? It's not very long. I had a grandma who used to say "a prayer doesn't have to last forever for it to be everlasting." There is a lot of application there, but yet here He prays. And if God, in the most overwhelming moment of his human life prays, that says something about the power of prayer in our life.
First, He prayed purposefully. Jesus didn't say, "Dear God, thank you for the food I today and thank you for the card Sister Susie sent me in the mail and the weather is beautiful right now." No he said, "Father, I have an urgent issue on my heart, and that's what I'm speaking to you about." Notice He prayed personally. "Father, let this be cut from me." What Jesus is essentially saying is "I do not want to go through what I'm about to go through. If there is any other way besides a cross and nails and my body being flogged, having my flesh ripped apart a crown of thorns upon my head. Can we have that option? But if it's the only way, God for you and for them, I will do it." Is that not personal? Is that not brutally honest? God wants to hear how we feel. Yes, it is God a Holy God. He deserves our respect. But God wants us to hear our emotions. He wants to know how we're really feeling.
Jesus prays personally this time but notice He also prays persistently. Three times He goes and prays. And maybe the part of our life that we struggle with the most is I'm dealing with something, I pray and then I stop. Well, then getting better. But yet consistently He goes over and over again to God telling Him what's going on in His life over and over again, asking and giving His request to God.
Prayer, when done consistently and even spur of the moment has a great physical benefit for you. It's a relief, but even more so it'll grow you spiritually. I used to wonder why I prayed when I had panic attacks, but what would happen is when my anxiety ceased and I felt better, I look back on the fact that I prayed and thought, God hears and answers. And it actually grew my faith and made me want to pray more, even when it makes no sense to you. Pray it will grow your faith. Jesus practices, purposeful, personal, prayer and we should do the same. When the overwhelming moments of life happen, go to your Father. He wants to hear it. You are valuable to Him.
Those are four practical tips that we can see from Jesus' life multiple times in the Gospels of how He dealt with the overwhelming moments that came to him. I hope that one of these resonates with you. They're not every piece of advice. They're not every tip you can use, but I wanted to give you something practical this morning that might help you. I want to close with this verse that we didn't really comment on. At the end of the section on anxiety is this verse we quote all the time, and I wonder if we understand the context of it, he says,
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
- Matthew 6:33
You're so worried about everything in your life. But He says, how about you just worry about being right with God, being righteous about seeking His kingdom, being His kingdom people and let Me worry about the rest. There's a lot of things I've tried to help with my anxiety, but there is one part of my life that no medication, no counselor, no therapy could ever help and that is the problem of sin. There is only one Person that can take your anxiety away from your sin, and it's Jesus. There is only one place you can go to and be in that removes the worry from your life, and that's in Christ. And if we're walking around, not in Christ, if we're walking around living in sin, there's nothing I believe we can say to really help except for what's addressed that sin.
If you have never made yourself right with God, it's understandable that you're anxious, and anxiety in that way is a good thing because it's warning you that you need to do something. We would love to help you get right with God so we can take that fear away. But it might be that you are in Christ, but you are absolutely overwhelmed in your life, frozen and crippled by anxiety. We don't have all the answers, but we love you and you're not alone.