Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Would You Calm Down?

panic attack: an intense attack of anxiety characterized by feelings of impending doom and trembling, sweating, pounding heart, and other physical symptoms. Also called anxiety attack.--Dictionary.com

A panic attack sounds a lot like these verses: "My heart is sore pained within me: and the terrors of death are fallen upon me. Fearfulness and trembling are come upon me, and horror hath overwhelmed me." (Psa. 55:4-5) It also sounds like a horrible way to live.

Anxiety is real, and has also been linked to secondary health problems, but it does not have to become a ruler in anyone's life. We are missing some very clear instructions when we allow ourselves to be caught in a continuous loop of fear-panic-despair: "Be careful (anxious) for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God." (Phil. 4:6) Now if you've been a Christian for a year or more, you've heard this, read this, and maybe even memorized the verse. That's the problem. We know too much and do too little with it!

When we're anxious, it's disturbing enough to keep us from getting anything else accomplished. Since God knew that we would have a weakness in this area, He patiently wrote the prescription found in Phil. 4:6 that we can use anytime this malady overtakes us. Let's examine this prescription more closely:

Be careful for nothing... The word "careful" in the Greek translates into being "anxious or troubled with cares." God has instructed us not to resort to this because He knew that being consumed with anxiety would harm us, so when we allow ourselves to pound our panic buttons anyway, we should expect to suffer. The dictionary describes being anxious as being "greatly concerned regarding something future or unknown." In other words, we're worrying in advance over something that may never happen. Being anxious is also described as "being in painful suspense."

If you battle with anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia due to fear, or other related conditions, you are very familiar with "painful suspense" as you wonder and worry about the monster under the bed called "What If." We even have a sister in Scripture who had her own version of anxiety! Her name was Martha, and Jesus gently reproved her for being "careful and troubled about many things." (Luke 10:41) To paraphrase this passage: "Martha, would you calm down?"

But in everything by prayer and supplication... We have "default modes" as women, and sadly, one of them is often not prayer. Is prayer the first thing you think of before you panic? Usually not! It takes little effort to panic, but much more thought and determination to pray. This is a personal training issue. I will do what I tell myself to do, so if I want to pray more than panic, I'm going to have to boss myself around and make it mandatory! You have seen this verse before, but here it comes again: "He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls." (Prov. 25:28) The Holy Spirit dwelling in us gives us the ability to have dominion over our anxiety-prone minds, if we'll employ it. Ask the Lord to help you master the ability to rule over your own spirit.

Let your requests be made known to God. When we're in a state of intense fear or prolonged high stress, we tend not to be too analytical about why. We just know that our insides are operating at warp speed and we can't seem to stop them! But why are we troubled? What's at the bottom of our distress? Unless we figure this out, we're not going to be able to talk with the Lord about our "requests." Too many times, we simply allow ourselves to flee to panic, when we need to run instead to the Lord and let Him know our deepest concerns.

What is your fear? Is it a fear that you'll lose a loved one? Is it fear of job loss? Is it anxiety due to the misbehavior of a child (of any age)? Is it related to marital problems? Until we figure out the answer, we can't make our requests. Getting to the bottom of things requires time and quiet. When was the last time you sat still, closed your eyes and asked the Lord to "search you" so that you could comprehend your own heart? If you can't remember when, it's been to long.

"And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." (Phil. 4:7) Only after we follow the directions in verse six will we be able to arrive at the peaceful spot found in verse seven. Have you been missing out on peace just by failing to follow God's directions? In fact, have you been tormenting yourself through your own thought life?

It's interesting to note that several articles linked negative thoughts to panic attacks, mentioning that "these thoughts add fuel to the fire and create more fear and anxiety, worsening the panic attack further." No surprise there!  When our thoughts become a mental torture chamber, we need a change of thought life, pronto. God did us a favor by giving us a list: "Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things." (Phil. 4:8)

Tightness in the chest, churning insides, feelings of panic, rapid pulse, runaway thoughts, unnamed fears, an urge to scream...I've had all of these at some point in life. Often it was because I had worked myself up into a foamy lather over something temporal. I have learned how to talk myself down out of my imaginary tree by quoting one or more of my favorite "calm down" verses, like this one: "What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee." (Psa. 56:3) And then I follow it with five words: "Francie, would you calm down?"

Maybe it's time for you to make a list of some favorite "calm down" verses, too. Add some verses about "peace" and "trust" and you'll be armed for the next time you feel that thunderstorm approaching in your soul.

"From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I." (Psa. 61:2)

Friday, May 4, 2012

Random Acts of Soul Winning

I am not a bold soul winner, so I pray for more boldness, swallow my imaginations (fears are healthy imaginations) and then I keep my eyes open. The Lord put a soul directly in my path when I was in California recently for the Royal Ladies' Retreat at Liberty Baptist Church in Newport Beach. The Pastor's wife, Mrs. Gayle Tomlinson, took me to Sprouts Farmers Market. Stretching my legs in a natural foods store after a long flight is one of my favorite things to do, and I have visited them all over the country. This one was love at first sight, but before we got inside, we walked by a young man who was sitting at a picnic table in front of the store. "Would you ladies like to give some money to the homeless?" he asked as we walked by.

"Sorry, I don't have any cash," Gayle said as she continued walking briskly, and it was true, because she only had cards on her. I hurried along beside her, but my heart stayed back at that picnic table. I couldn't help but wonder: How did a young man who looked like he was in his twenties end up begging in front of an upscale grocery store? What went wrong to land him there? That could have been me, you, my son, or yours. Do you ever wonder how people end up so broken down in life? This young man was asking for money, but I was sure that he needed something greater: "...Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee..." (Acts 3:6).

We finished our shopping and as we walked by that picnic table, I was expecting the young man to start in on his sales pitch for helping the homeless again, but instead he simply said this: "You ladies have a nice day." And that was it.

No wheedling, no needling. Just "have a nice day."

That did it.

The Holy Spirit couldn't have been clearer if He had stood in my way holding a sign that said, "Talk to him."

Now I was the one walking briskly...to the car for a local tract (I always have Minnesota tracts, but when I'm out of town, I use tracts from the local church). Gayle became my "silent partner," praying as she waited for me to complete my assignment. You know how we sometimes think we're just going to hand over the tract and say "here's something for you to read" in a hit-and-run fashion? Not this time...

I had a $5 bill and the tract in hand when I walked over to that picnic table using my best "I'm the Mom" stride (you know the walk; like we're in charge of things). "Young man," I said with my best Mom tone of voice, "I don't know your story, but I'd like to invite you to our church." I handed him the tract with the "tip," and he said something that kept me from walking away: "I'm not on good terms with God."

When I heard his words, I walked back to that picnic table and sat on the other side. The sigh that escaped my body was not my own. "Young man, I'm from Minnesota and we're in California. Only God could have arranged for our paths to cross, so I have a question for you. If your heart stopped beating tonight, do you know where you'd go?"

His next five words were spoken with enormous conviction: "I'd go straight to hell."

He then went on to briefly sum up his reasons, describing in just a few paragraphs a life that was filled with self-inflicted misery. "I know I'd go straight to hell," he concluded after giving me a five-minute summary of his life. I asked him his name and his age. "My name is DeShawn and I'm 30 years old."

Our oldest son Austen is almost 26, so this young man was only four years older than our son, but he had the eyes of a 90-year-old man. Drugs and a street life had aged this young man rapidly.

"Well DeShawn, wouldn't you like to swap that for heaven?" I asked, now sure that this was God's appointment for the day. "Well yeah!" he said, looking at me with a bit of surprise and a lot of interest. From there, I went into Scripture-quoting mode, as I didn't even have my New Testament with me. With the tract and God's Word that has been hidden in my heart over the years, we walked through the Gospel one verse at a time.

No one had ever told DeShawn about what Christ had done for him. When I shared "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God," (Rom. 3:23) this was news to DeShawn! As I went further and shared how God proved His love for us, DeShawn's eyes opened wider: "But God commendeth his love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." (Rom. 5:8) As we continued the journey through several verses of Scripture, we landed on my favorite: "For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved." (Rom. 10:13) I told DeShawn, "I'm a 'whosoever,' and so are you."
That afternoon, a young man's destination was changed from hell to heaven. 30-year-old DeShawn bowed his head, prayed and trusted Christ as his Saviour at that picnic table right in front of the store. The sun was shining, but it seemed to be shining brighter after that.

Do you want to be a soul winner, but you're not sure where to start? Try alertness. The next encounter with a stranger may be your next assignment from the Lord. Be on the lookout, and be prepared. You may get to commit one of the greatest "random acts of kindness" possible: the act of soul winning.

Do You Know What You Have?

Someone out there may be struggling with this holiday called Valentine's Day, and I can relate.  This is my third Valentine's...