Being anxious is a common human experience. Simply between trying to decide what to do with the rest of your life and just trying to balance what’s already on your plate, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. In this message, we talk about how to handle the feeling of anxiety and what The Bible has to say about it.
Hey, guys. How's it going? It's great to see you. It's good to be back in Texas. My name is Ben if we haven't met. I am the pastor of Passion City Church in Washington, DC. Okay, you've heard of it. Awesome. Come visit sometime. We're part of the bigger family of Passion led by my pastor Louie Giglio. It's awesome to be a part of Passion, awesome to be leading a church in Washington, DC.
A third of the people who live in DC are between the ages of 20 and 35, so if you feel like you're not meeting the right people in Dallas, there are a lot of single people running around in your age bracket in DC. You know, you live your life, but I'm just giving you options. I'll say this. I want to jump in to what God has for us, because I'm excited about it, but I do just want to say it's always fun to be back here.
The pastor of Watermark, Todd Wagner, has been an incredible friend to Louie and to myself and come up several times to encourage me in DC, which has been amazing. To see what David and his team are doing here is absolutely incredible. I think in Texas you can sometimes get used to things like this. "Oh yeah. Several thousand single people all get together and study and try to figure out what God is doing in our lives," like that's a normal thing. It's extremely not.
So just know that you're in the midst of something special and you're being led by some pretty remarkable people. That's a gift. It's awesome, and it's fun to be here with you. I'm thrilled to be here. Mike is here with me, and we just love being back in Texas. We haven't had barbecue yet, so that's kind of messed up, but it's great to see all of you.
Let me read to you a couple of verses. We're in this series about moods, and we're going to talk about one, and I believe God is going to help us navigate a real issue in our lives. I'm going to read you a couple of verses out of Philippians, chapter 4. If you have a copy of your Scriptures and want to read along, Philippians 4. If you don't, just listen. I'm going to read it, we'll pray, and then jump in. Philippians, chapter 4, beginning in verse 4:
"Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you." Now let me pray for us.
O Lord, I want to thank you for everybody in this room, whether they just love you and knew the words of every song and love singing them or whether they're really unsure if they can trust you and if this is worth their time. I think for a lot of us in here, God, anxiety is our reality and peace is distant and unattainable, but if the peace of God could land in our hearts, this would be a night that's truly special, and if the God of peace could sit with us, boy, the difference that could make.
So, Lord, rescue us from just attending a thing, but I pray even now you'd speak to us through your Word. I don't feel in any way powerful enough to communicate what I think you want in the lives of your people, so we're asking you to help.
I just want to invite you guys, if you're willing, to take a moment and talk to God and ask him… If you're up for this, say, "God, please teach me tonight." Then if you would, please pray for me, that the Lord would use me and I'd be helpful to you.
Father, we love you and we trust you. Use this time. We pray that in Jesus' name, amen.
Over and over again in the Scriptures we're told this one simple, beautiful truth: that you and I exist to know and enjoy God, that all things are made by him and for him, that in his right hand are pleasures forevermore, that nearness to him is our good. In this passage it says, "Rejoice in the Lord always. I say it again: rejoice." You and I exist to pursue our joy in God, to rest and delight in his love. We are meant to pursue intimacy with the Almighty. That's why you're here.
I would imagine many of you in here know that. You go, "I want to know God. That's why I'm in a place like this." But if I were to ask you, you would say, "Intimacy with God, enjoyment of him is something I struggle to experience in the regular day." Why? Well, if we have an Enemy spiritually (and the Bible says we do), I would say his goal for most of us is not to convince us that God is not real or God doesn't exist or pursuing him is not important. He's not trying to convince us of that.
He says, "If you want to chase after that, man, go for it. Just make sure you look good while you're doing it, and make sure you go to the right college and get the right major so you can get a good job and get the right internship so you can get on the right team and get a promotion so you can take over the world." But first you have to move to the big city, and cities are expensive. You have to get an apartment, and you need a roommate. You realize it's really expensive so you need a lot of roommates, and now you have roommate drama. All right. One just got married.
In the middle of all that drama you realize, "I have to let people know what's going on, that I look good, so I have to look good on Instagram, and I have to look good on Twitter, and I have to look good on Facebook and on Snapchat." Meanwhile, I'm going to be out here doing this, and then I meet somebody. We go on a date, and then we go on another date, and then we go on another date.
I meet their friends, and then I meet their family, and they have to meet my friends and my family, and then we're like, "Are we doing this? Let's get engaged. Are we going to get married?" Then we go, "Honeymoon? Where are we going to go? Where are we going to live? Are we going to live in the city? Are we going to live in the suburbs? Are we going to have kids? How many kids? Public school? Are we going to go to private school? How's this going to work?" And on and on it goes.
In none of this at any point did we suddenly go, "Hey, God is dead. The Scriptures don't matter," but we lost him somewhere along the way. For many of us, you hear that and go, "Well, Ben, what are you trying to say? Like, 'The trick is you have to never have kids.' Is that what you're saying? What's the deal, man? Am I supposed to just move into the hills and wear all linen? What are you trying to say? I have a job. What do you want from me?"
Well, let me say this. For many of us, our problems are not our major problem. It's our anxieties about our problems that's the problem. Let me say that again, because it's important. For many of you in here, your problems are not the real problem; your anxiety about your problems is your problem. That's what Jesus' argument is. In Matthew, chapter 6, he said, "Don't be anxious about anything, saying, 'What am I going to eat? What am I going to drink? What am I going to wear?'"
He said, "The nations do that." Those are real things, but don't be anxious about them. He says, "But seek first the kingdom of God." Notice he makes those a contrast. He said you're either going to seek God or in your anxiety you're going to seek to handle a bunch of things. Jesus presents your anxiety as one of your greatest impediments to pursuing your God-given destiny. Don't miss that. There's more at stake here.
Your God-given destiny, who you're meant to be, is not going to be reached if you are tied down by anxiety. So one of the Enemy's greatest strategies to keep you from your God-given destiny is to fill you up with anxiety. For many of us, that's our reality. What scares me about that is what Jesus warned us about in Luke, chapter 8, as he was telling this beautiful story.
He was talking about the Word of God, and he says, "Let me tell you what I'm here to do. I want to take the words of God, and I want to plant them like a seed deep into the soil of your heart. When they go in there, they're not just words on a page; it is the word of life, and that seed is going to burst forth into life, and it's going to become a big plant that is teeming with life and bears fruit and blesses others. That's what I want to do in your life through my Word."
He says, "But there are going to be threats to the Word doing that in your life." One of the threats is when that little plant begins to grow, a weed is going to come up and choke it. His disciples asked him later, "What's the weed?" He says, "The weed is the worries of this life." Many of you, if you're honest, don't experience the power of God in your life. Your life really doesn't look that different from any of your coworkers.
The reality is you're not experiencing the power of God in your life because the Word of life is being choked out by the worries of this life. Anxiety is keeping you from your God-given destiny. That scares me for you, because God wants much for us, and this is a threat to us. We're an anxious generation.
Something about modern life is not conducive to human flourishing. We are relatively more safe than any generation that has existed, yet anxiety is killing us. That's what concerns me. It's not just missing out on what God has for us. Anxiety is a condition of the heart that brings forth many sinful states of mind.
That anxiety about grades can lead you to be dishonest. There was a study at Rutgers of 32 universities that found that 74 percent of business students and 68 percent of all other students admitted to some form of cheating. I don't know why business students were so much a higher percentage. I don't know if they were just more honest, if they were like, "Well, of course I cheat; that's how I get ahead," or what.
Anxiety about your schedule will lead you to break commitments. Anxiety about dating will get you to compromise. Anxiety about finances will lead you to make unethical decisions. Anxiety about being liked will lead you to embellish stories and act really weird at parties. Anxiety, for many of you, leads you to seek comfort and refuge in addictions, and those become a whole other set of problems in your life.
Then here's my fear: anxiety will literally kill you. I remember when I was in college. I was taking a shower one day, and suddenly I felt like there was this pain in my chest. It felt like someone was trying to cave in my chest, like I was having trouble breathing. I was like, "What is going on?" I thought I was dying there in the shower.
I remember thinking, "Oh my god! What is happening to me right now?" Then I was like, "Is this heartburn?" I'd never had heartburn before, and I was like, "Was it the barbecue?" Because I had been eating off the same plate of barbecue in the fridge for like a week and a half. I was like, "Oh my god! What a stupid way to die."
So I was praying. I was like, "God, I don't want to go like this. My roommate is going to find me in the shower, and then at my funeral they'll be like, 'How did he die?' and they'll be like, 'It was the barbecue, man. He just kept eating on it way past what was appropriate or safe.'" I was like, "I don't want to do that!" But I made it out of the shower. I made it to a doctor, and he ran a series of tests on my heart.
He was like, "Hey, man, do you drink?" I said, "No." He said, "Do you smoke?" I said, "No." He said, "Are you stressed?" I said, "Well, I don't know. I'm uncertain what I'm going to major in because I'm not sure what I'm going to do with my life, and I don't know where I'm going to go, where I'm going to live, what I'm going to do. I'm dating a girl, and I'm not sure if she's the one. I'm scared to stay with her, but I'm scared to break up with her because I don't want to be alone."
He's like, "Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa! Okay. Yeah, you're stressed." He's like, "Man, you need to calm down." Here's what's crazy about that: preoccupation with hypothetical situations was literally killing me. For many of you, your stress about hypothetical situations is actually killing you, and it's not meant to be like that. Particularly, for the people of Jesus it's not meant to be like that. We are meant to be different.
Let me say this. The world is not impressed when we sing about the Prince of Peace but live a reality of stress. It's meant to look different. That's what Jesus was saying in Luke, chapter 12, when he told his disciples, "Don't be anxious about anything." He says, "The pagans do that." He says, "My disciples should be characterized by a lack of anxiety."
In the book The Cities and Bishoprics of Phrygia, which I know you've read, but by way of review… As it's talking about inscriptions in the ancient city of Phrygia, there's one where there is a guy's name who worked in Phrygia, and his name was Titedios Amerimnos. Scholars all agree that Amerimnos was not a normal name in that culture in that time. They say that was his baptismal name.
That was very common in those days. When you got baptized… "I'm associating with Jesus. I'm buried with him in the grave, and when he rose I rise into a new life." When you were baptized they'd give you a new name that was a mark of "I now belong to Jesus." In the book of Acts, Barnabas… That wasn't his real name. That's the name they gave him later. It meant son of encouragement, because that's what he was like.
They say Titedios Amerimnos… A is a negative, like a-theist is someone who doesn't believe in Theos, in God. A means doesn't and merimnos means worry about stuff. So, literally, when he came to know Jesus, they said, "Your name is Titedios Amerimnos: takes no thought of the morrow." "I'm not worried about stuff."
Jesus came not just to rescue you from sin and condemnation but from your anxiety too. Did you know that? There's some complexity in anxiety medically. I know that, so I'm not going to cover every issue all of us are dealing with tonight, but I want to show you a path God has given us that's going to help us live the life God built us to live. You got it in this text.
That's why in verse 6 it says, "Don't be anxious about anything" or "Be anxious for nothing." I love that, because there's permission in that. There is no thing you're supposed to be anxious about. Can that just settle on somebody tonight? There is never a thing you are obligated to get stressed about.
By saying that, I don't mean you don't care about stuff. I'm not saying there aren't things you're supposed to carry that are meaningful and matter. You're supposed to, but that shoulder-tensing, scalp-drying, chest-compressing anxiety that you think you're supposed to just soldier through life with… God doesn't want you to carry what he gives you like that. You're not meant to carry it that way.
The root of the word anxiety is the word to be drawn in different directions, to distract, that I can't focus on one thing because I'm caught up in many things. Many of us live there, and you're not meant to live there, because that preoccupation impedes good decision-making. We're not moving forward in a healthy way because we're too caught up with anxiety about so many other things. We're not meant to be anxious about anything. There's no thing we're obligated to lie up at night stressing about.
"…but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God." Do you see the parallel there? Be anxious about no thing, but pray about every thing. So, anytime there's a thing in your life, you go, "Should I worry about this? No. Nothing goes there. I need to pray about this." That's what we're meant to do.
Now, before I unpack the specifics of that, let me just say… Because I know there are people in here who are like, "Oh, okay. So I shouldn't worry at all. I should just pray more? Thanks, man. I have real-world problems. 'Hey, pray more' just doesn't really feel like that's going to solve it for me."
Let me tell you something. Before you knock this theory, let me ask you how yours is working for you. Before you slam on this one, if we were reading your text, what would it say? "Be anxious about nothing, but in everything just pound a lot of carbs for comfort." Is that it? Let me tell you something. I'm not knocking on you, because I get it.
When I first moved to DC, a new place, a new town, somebody was having a conversation with my wife and me about health, and they asked us, "What are you eating?" My wife without hesitation was like, "Our feelings." We were like, "Yeah, that sounds about right." Yeah, I get that. You're nervous about something. You're not even thinking about it, but you're realizing, "Yeah, anytime something comes up, I don't take it to prayer; I just take it to the pantry, and that's what I do." That's not solving things for you.
Or others of you, when you have a decision you're stressed about, something that's uncomfortable you don't know how to deal with, you just go for your phone and start flipping through social media and feed more of that insecurity and create a whole different set of problems. Or for some of us, to numb the pain or escape into a refuge we launch into all manner of addictions.
It's interesting. I've read so many recent studies about how to cope with anxiety, because it's the issue of our day. Here's the fascinating thing: so many of these scholarly academic studies are saying, "Do you know the secret to dealing with your anxiety?" They're saying things like meditation and practicing gratitude. Modern-day scholars are stumbling upon an ancient path that has been ours for centuries if you understand it.
I want to show you the path God gave us. Before I give you the specifics, again, let me just say this. I love the tense of the verb. It says, "But in everything by prayer and supplication let your requests be made known to God." I love that it's in the passive voice. It's not an active command: "Make your requests known." It's passive: "Let your requests be made known." It carries the idea that they want to get out; you just need to let them.
For many of you, if you're honest, if your soul is like a tank of water… I don't know how you wake up in the morning, but I doubt for many of us it's a calm, placid lake. I mean, some of you are maybe like that. When you wake up in the morning you're like, "A chance to worship my Savior. Fantastic," and off you go into the world.
For many of us, there's this whole world of stress, of loneliness and finances and conflict and dating somebody and not dating somebody and "Will I date somebody?" and status and all of these things that are just waiting for us in our souls as soon as we wake up. For many of you, they're there, and you go, "What do I do with these?"
What many of us do is rather than dealing with them we go, "Hey, man. I have to get to work, so what my secret is is I just stuff them down deep inside. I just bury them down deep. Then when I get around people and they ask me how I'm doing, I'm like, 'Great, man. Fantastic. It's awesome. No, it's good.'" You show up in places like this and they ask, "How are you doing?" "I'm doing great, man. God is good all the time. Blessed. Not today, Satan." That's us.
Meanwhile, just under the surface, we're wondering if we're going to make it or if we're going to break. What I love about this text is it's telling you it's not heroic to pretend like you don't have problems. It's not heroic to pretend you're not concerned, and you're certainly not meant to stuff them down deep inside. What you're supposed to do is let them rise. Let them come up.
I love that it says, "…by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God." That word prayer is to create space with God. It's just a generic term for creating space with God. Many of you think, "Well, Ben, I'm too busy for that." Let me tell you something. If we're honest, I think for many of us, we're not too busy; we're inefficient.
There's a statement in military culture, sharpshooters, that slow is smooth and smooth is fast. If you're trying to rush in shooting, you'll drop a clip. You won't aim, you'll miss your target, and you'll end up being less efficient at your goal. Many of you, when you get up in the mornings, go, "Oh, I don't have time to pray and offer these to God," so you just carry them into your day. What happens? You're inefficient in the way you treat people.
These things become the default mechanism by which you speak to your roommate, talk to your people, make decisions. It's all being driven by this because you didn't deal with it. So, you're good at being busy, but you're not good at being effective. You're like an octopus on roller skates…a lot of movement, but hopelessness is setting in because you're not moving forward.
There's a better way than that. We're meant to slow down. Make it an appointment. For me, first thing in the morning helps with that. I have an appointment with God. If someone asks me to meet then, I say, "I'm sorry; I can't. I have an appointment." I don't tell them "with the Almighty." They don't need to know, but I'm not going to break it for them. I'm going to sit with the Lord and give myself that space to be with him.
It says "by prayer and supplication." That word supplication is more specific. It's specific requests. I create space with God, and then what I do is I pull out a piece of paper and write at the top of it "How do you feel?" You ask, "Why do you write that?" Because I don't often know how I feel. I know that's confusing to some people in the room, maybe a lot of ladies who are very in touch with your emotions.
You're like, "What do you mean you don't know how you feel?" What I mean is I don't know. So I have to write it. "How do you feel?" I'm like, "Uh…sad, confused, scared, alone." It's often a lot of negative feelings. In that moment, I'll do what the psalmist taught us to do. "Why are you downcast, O my soul?" I'll start asking that. What's behind that?
Before I walk out the door and start operating out of all of those insecurities, I start letting them come up and go, "Why do I feel that way? I'm insecure about this meeting. Why? Because I want that person to like me. Why? Because I want them to give me what I want. Why? So I can get to the place I want. Why? So that I'll feel important." Whoa. Business meetings aren't about making you feel like you're somebody. That's a spiritual issue. You don't need to carry that into that.
There was a movie I watched in high school in social studies or something called Madness, and it was all about different mental disorders. I remember there was one where this guy… It was way back in the day in America. He was building the railroads, and there was an explosion, and it drove a railroad spike through the front of his head. Yeah. Severed his brain, but he didn't die. But it severed his frontal lobe, the part that conditions what you say or don't say.
So then they're reenacting his life of, like, him going to get his job back. He's like, "I want my job back," and they're like, "Sorry, man. You had a spike go through your head." He's like, "That makes me so sad. I'm going to kill you! Hey, you're attractive. What's your name? Wait. Hold on. I'm going to kill you!" This guy is all over the place. That's how I pray now. I've just given myself permission in that journal.
I'm not writing a memoir. So many people in DC do that. They're like, "A lot of challenges today, yet I will overcome, because that's what I do." You're like, "Oh, stop. No one is going to read it." Write it to God and say, "I'm scared about that. I'm concerned about that. I don't know how to feel about that. I'm happy about that. I'm worried about that. I'm angry about this. I'm insecure about that." Just let it rise to him.
"…by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God." You go, "Why with thanksgiving?" Because you have the opportunity to let this stuff be made known to God. That's why. What's amazing about that is when he commands us to do that… First Peter 5:7 says, "Cast all your anxieties upon him…" That's a command. If you have an anxiety, cast it on him. Then you're told why: "…because he cares for you."
Then Psalm 55:22 says, "Cast your cares upon the Lord…" Why? "…and he will sustain you; he will not let the righteous fall." I love it…the same command but for two very different motivations. Cast your anxiety onto him. Why? Because he loves you. Cast your anxiety onto him. Why? Because he'll stabilize you. Cast your anxieties onto him. Why? Because he's loving enough to want to hear them and strong enough to do something about it. He's the best person to take them to.
You have permission to sit with the King. You have a Father who knows what you need before you ask him. It's a stabilizing thing to know that. I remember when my daughter came to me one night. It was time to go upstairs, and I just picked her up to carry her upstairs. She went, "No, I'm too heavy, Daddy." I was like, "Uh, okay. First, who told you that? And then, secondly, you're not too heavy for Daddy, baby." Then I did a couple of presses with her just so she could see, like, "Do you see what I'm saying?"
Whatever somebody told her, she believed that whatever she was dealing with was too heavy. It's not too heavy for me. Some of you are carrying some stuff right now, and let's be honest, it's killing you. Your digestion is not working right. You're socially bound up. You're not thriving in life. The reality is you're trying to carry it all. There are some things you need to carry, but you need to keep in mind he wants to carry you. You have a Father who wants to carry you.
He says, "Don't be anxious, little flock. I want to take care of you and shepherd you. You just have to let me." Create the space. Be still. Sit before your God, because he's loving enough to hear your problems and strong enough to do something about them, and he's offering you, "Come, sit with your Dad." When you do, you get a promise in verse 7: "And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."
Abraham Lincoln. There was a day during the Civil War where 76,000 troops were marched into Pennsylvania, and panic took hold of Washington. As these troops marched that close, led by General Lee, historians report Abraham Lincoln had an eerie calm about him and was able to make clearheaded decisions.
A general he visited in the hospital who was wounded in Gettysburg asked him later, "How were you able to function in the middle of all that stress?" and here's essentially what Abraham Lincoln said: "When everyone was panic-stricken, I went to my room, got down on my knees before almighty God, and I prayed. Soon a sweet comfort crept into my soul that God Almighty had taken the whole business into his own hands."
Now, did that free him up from having to make decisions? No. He was a leader, but it freed him up to make good decisions. Do you see that? For some of you, anxiety is making you make really unwise choices. You're supposed to cast that anxiety onto him and be liberated to make wise decisions even in the midst of the stress. That's a gift he has given you.
"My peace will come guard you. It will stand guard over your heart and your mind so you can access your heart in a healthy way and think rightly. You're still going to use these things. I'm just going to protect them from the anxiety that's going to send you running in the wrong direction." That's the gift you're given if you'll create the space to sit with him.
Jeremiah Burroughs, the old Puritan, said you don't pour wine into a shaky bottle. I just love that imagery, because you can imagine that. It's like, "Would you like a glass of wine?" "Sure." You're like, "Mm…" He said you still the glass first, and then wine gets poured in. He said God has blessings he wants to pour in your life, but you have to be still. Some of us need to get this part right.
He said it's like a child. When a child comes to you asking for something, it may be a thing you want to give them, but what are you going to do first? You want them to calm down. When they come running in, "Can I have a snack? Can I have a snack? Can I have a snack…?" "Stop. Stop." You're like, "Hey, man. Are you going to starve? Have you ever starved yet? Did I decide not to feed you at some point? You got some drama? No. I'm going to look out for you. Just calm down. Your stress about this dishonors me, that you think I'm not going to take care of you."
So be still. Ask calmly, because know your Father's heart delights to take care of you. Be still. Cast your anxieties onto him, because he cares. Do you see it? For me, what I do in the morning is I have this little monitor I attach to my ear that measures not just your heart rate but the distance between your heartbeats. It's to show (they call it coherence) just how calm you are.
When I start in the morning, it has this little reader on the phone, and it always starts red, which is bad, and you know it's bad because of the noise it makes. It just goes Dong! Which is kind of inevitable, like, "Too much stress. You're dying." You're like, "Oh man." So then I just sit there and breathe, let my anxieties be made known to God.
As I do that, it's the most interesting thing. It's like Dong! It turns blue. Dong! It turns green. I'm like, "Oh. Okay. I have a clear mind." What's crazy about it is that's where most mindfulness practices stop: "Just empty your mind." That's only part one of a three-part move. You're not supposed to just sweep the house empty and leave it empty; you're supposed to put something in.
That's why he says, "Cast your anxieties onto him." I release my anxiety to him, but then there's something else I embrace. That's verse 8. "…brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."
So I cast out of my mind my anxieties and put into my mind holy thoughts. I release my anxious thoughts and embrace his holy thoughts. That's what I do. I pour out my anxieties on that page, and then I open the Word of God. Sometimes I write it out on that page and let Ben's anxious thoughts bend around his eternal Word. I put something in me. What I've noticed is as I think about these things that are true… What is really true?
Let me not take God out of the equation when I'm thinking about where my career path is going to go. Let me stop suddenly pretending like God is not real when I process who I should date and who I should marry. Let me start thinking about what is accurate about the situation I'm in. What is an honorable way to act? What is just? Start thinking about those things. As I turn my mind there, it liberates me to function.
Jeff Struecker is one of my heroes. Jeff Struecker was an Army Ranger in 1993, tasked to drive the lead Humvee in the Battle of Mogadishu. The Battle of Mogadishu was famously portrayed in the movie Black Hawk Down, where a small group of Special Forces was sent into the Somalian town of Mogadishu to pull out two high-value targets.
It was meant to be a mission that was well under an hour, but in that mission two Black Hawk helicopters were downed. The mission descended into chaos, and it lasted not just through the day but through the night into the next day. Sergeant Struecker was in charge of driving the lead Humvee, which was their exfil vehicle. As he was driving it, they sustained their first casualty in the battle: his friend who was sitting next to him.
As the bullets riddled the side of his Humvee, he was able to make it out of the city alive and make it back to his base. He said he got out and was just so thankful to be alive. As he was there like, "Oh my God! I can't believe I made it. There were literally thousands of soldiers surrounding us, shooting, and I survived…" As he's processing that, his commanding officer came to him and said, "Hey, there are still men trapped in that city. I need you to get in your Humvee and drive back in there." He's like, "You've got to be kidding me."
Then one of the other Special Forces men said, "Hey, before you do that, you need to wash all this blood out of your truck. It'll traumatize those men if they have to sit in the blood of their fallen comrade. You have to clean this blood out of this truck and then drive it back in there." So he went to clean his friend's blood out of his truck, and he tells the story that he just freaked out.
He said, "Panic began to strike me, and I just thought, 'I'm going to die. I'm going to die.'" He said, "It just kept going over and over in my head, 'This is going to be my blood. This is going to be my blood. This is going to be my blood.'" He said he was completely wracked with anxiety. Then in that moment, he started to pray. He started to unload onto God his terror about losing his life.
As he unloaded that onto God, the thoughts started entering his mind of what's true. "God determines my story, not my enemy. God writes history, not my enemy. If God wants me to live today, I'm going to live. If God wants me to die today, I'm going to die." He said, "If God lets me survive today, I'll get to go home and see my wife and kids. If God has me die today, then I will go home to meet my Savior," because he had faith in Jesus.
He said, "But either way, I'm going home." The more he focused on that… He said he calmed down. He was able to function. He got back in that Humvee, drove into danger, rescued men and drove out, and then drove back again and again and again and rescued his fallen brothers. Why? Because he was practicing, "I'm going to release anxiety, and I'm going to take up what is true, what is accurate about who God is."
What is honorable? What is the best way I could act in this work environment? What is just? What's the thing I could do in my office that fulfills all obligations to God and men? What is pure? What is the thing I could say that's not duplicitous, has no false motives? What is lovely? What's a way to act that would be beautiful to people in the room? What is commendable?
What's the kind of way I could make decisions that people would write books about, saying, "That's the way to live life"? That I don't condescend to the least common denominator of my culture but I rise into the status of heroes in the way I conduct my story. How could I live like that? If there's anything excellent or worthy of praise, I'm going to think about those things.
That's why I read a lot of biographies, because I don't want to just react to my culture. I want to read the stories of men and women who lived great lives and approximate my life to them. I want to dwell on beautiful, commendable things, because I want to be like them. I cast my anxiety onto him, and I take his thoughts into me. I release anxiety, and I embrace the Word of God, and I let it change me, because every good decision is first preceded by a good thought, bolstered by a courageous heart.
As good thoughts are plugged in and a courageous heart feeds them, good decisions are made. What I'm talking about here is the way you live a good life, a heroic life, a worthy life. It starts here in this lab. So I want to do this. Not only do I want to read his Word. Verse 9 says, "What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you."
I love that. He says, "I don't want you to just read about it. I want you to walk in it. I want you to release anxiety. I want you to embrace my thoughts, and then I want you to excel at the revealed things." So often we want to know God's unrevealed will, and he says, "I'm not going to tell you." Then we stress about his job. He's like, "Let me do my job. I've given you yours. I've shown you, O man, what is good and what the Lord requires of you. Love justice. Walk humbly with your God." He has told us, so I'm going to get great at the revealed things.
When I left college, it was a jarring experience. I know many of you have had that. Education keeps you on some rails, and then it's like the rails end and your little train goes off a cliff and free-floats, and you're like, "This feels bad." You're like, "Where is my life going?" For me, I became a youth pastor. I'd never had a youth pastor, didn't know what one did. I remember I showed up there, and I was like, "What do you do?" Someone said, "Well, you have to go ask good youth pastors."
So I went and met with great youth pastors all around Texas, and all of them had youth ministries about this size, and they were saying things to me like, "Well, when you hire your seventh middle school videographer," and stuff like that, and I'm like, "Wait. What?" I had a ministry of six kids that after a few months I had grown to one kid, and I was like, "Man! What?" They were talking about how to build an empire like this, and it was overwhelming.
Now, granted, I wasn't doing much, but the thought of trying to take my little and make it big was too much. I couldn't handle it. I freaked out and quit like a month in. I felt really badly about that, so I un-quit two days later. I was like, "I literally don't know what I'm doing with my life. I don't even know what I'm doing here. I don't even know if I want to be a youth pastor. Somebody help me."
I remember a mentor telling me, "Ben, you have to figure out why you exist, why Ben is on the planet." I just came back to the simple truth that all things are made by him and for him. I'm made for him. What's the greatest commandment? To love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind and love your neighbor as yourself. So I would put that on my calendar. If my first reason Ben exists is to know and love God, then I'm going to do that every day. That's the first thing that lands on my calendar.
For me, the screens in my life were a distraction, so I got rid of my TV, because I realized my God has talked to me and I had never read most of what he had to say. I'm going to change that. I just wanted to get near him. Then I wanted to make him known. What's that going to look like? Well, for me, it was pretty easy at first. It was one kid. I'm like, "Austin, how are you doing, man?" and I'd talk to him.
Then we grew it back to five or six kids, and I had this little youth ministry full of punks, in a technical sense. They wore all black and safety pins and whatnot. We would sit at Taco Bell and talk. It wasn't stuff like this. I didn't need a microphone. It was just, "All right, guys. Can you scooch? All right. Gather in." I was like, "I'm going to make God known to these six kids." I would just do that.
I didn't really know how to build. I just wanted to be faithful at what he gave me to do. As I was faithful with the little things, he taught me more things, and as I was faithful with those things, he gave me more things. Over the course of my life, I haven't known so much of what's coming, but I feel like I'm living a pretty great story, because I don't know a lot, but I know him and I trust him.
I'm not going to let anxiety wreck me, but I'm going to let his Word dwell richly in me, and then I'm going to let my feet walk wherever he leads. I want to be excellent at what is good, and I want to be innocent of evil. When I do that, not only is the peace of God with me; the God of peace is with me. Isn't that great? I love that parallel at the end. It's not just that he wants to put his peace in your heart to guard you.
The very God of peace steps into your story and says, "I'm going to be with you. I'm going to stand with you. I'm here with you in Dallas. I'm here with you in that apartment. No, your family is not here anymore, but I'm here. That person is out of your life, but the Maker of the stars knows your name, and he hasn't lost sight of you." There's purpose in your life. Live into that. Walk with him. There's a beautiful peace there.
John Paton is another one of my heroes. John Paton was a missionary in the 1800s who sailed to the New Hebrides, a little island that was filled with cannibals. People warned him when he left Scotland to go there. They were like, "Cannibals, John! You're going to be eaten by cannibals." His response was, "Well, sir, you're advanced in age, soon to be eaten by worms. So whether I'm eaten by worms or cannibals doesn't really matter for me. I just want to be faithful." That's a pretty cool answer.
When he got there, his new adventure in life was pretty stressful. I mean, you read his biography and it's like an action movie. They should make it a movie. Literally, people are trying to kill him, like, always. He's literally out there like, "Hey, I was thinking the other day…" Like, dodging axes and people coming at him. There was one point where they had surrounded his little hut and were about to murder him, and he realized, "I can't escape."
He was like, "I don't even know what to do." So he prayed and trusted God, opened the door, walked out, and rebuked them for inhospitality. He was like, "You know what, guys? Frankly, all this murder is rude. Okay? Not cool!" He said they were kind of like, "What?" It messed with them. They were like, "Yeah. Sorry, man. That's weird. He's right. Dude." Then they told him, "From now on we're going to kill for you." He was like, "Well, no, that's not… You know what? Okay. That's a step. Let's start there." He just lived a crazy story.
By the end of his story, an entire island that had been held captive by fear of animism, was terrified of angry and capricious demons that were cruel to children and would murder women… He said he got to a situation where they realized, "The heavens aren't angry with you. There's a God who loves you. The gods aren't making you sacrifice your women and children to them. Your God gave his Son for you.
Your God wants to do something beautiful in your life. Not to hold you captive by fear but to set you free to walk in the liberty of the sons and daughters of God. That's why his Son came: to live the perfect life you can't, to be the sacrifice for you that you need so you can be welcomed home, not trying to earn the favor of your God but resting in the fact that you haven't."
There was one night on his journey, when it was still very uncertain, that he found out again people were coming to kill him. A group of men he didn't particularly trust told him about it and told him he had to flee, and they pointed out a tree for him to climb. He wrote in his autobiography, "Being entirely at the mercy of such doubtful and vacillating friends, I, though perplexed, felt it best to obey. I climbed into the tree and was left there alone in the bush. The hours I spent there live all before me as if it were but of yesterday.
I heard the frequent discharging of muskets, and the yells of the savages. Yet I sat there among the branches, as safe as in the arms of Jesus. Never, in all my sorrows, did my Lord draw nearer to me, and speak more soothingly in my soul, than when the moonlight flickered among those chestnut leaves, and the night air played on my throbbing brow, as I told all my heart to Jesus. Alone, yet not alone! If it be to glorify my God, I will not grudge to spend many nights alone in such a tree, to feel again my Savior's spiritual presence, to enjoy his consoling fellowship."
Then he asks us a question. "If thus thrown back upon your own soul, alone, all alone, in the midnight, in the [wild], in the very embrace of death itself, have you a Friend that will not fail you then?" The answer is…you do. Jesus said, "Don't be anxious. The world does that. Your Father knows what you need. So don't worry, my little flock. God delights to give you the kingdom."
You have a rescuer who has come for you. You're not alone. You have a God who sees you. You're not alone. There's an invitation before us today to put the anxiety down and to rest in an inexhaustible and unfailing love of a God who knows you and cares and is strong enough to carry you if you'll let him.
Father, I want to thank you that you don't lie to us about the fact that life is hard. "In this world you will have trouble." But we take heart because you've overcome the world. God, I believe there are some people in this room whose whole life has been about "I have to carry my own self, pull myself up by my own bootstraps, carry my own weight. I have broad shoulders. I can handle it. I can do it. My parents weren't there for me, but I'm there for me. Nobody is looking out for me, but I'm looking out for me."
You've done that, but how long? You know in the stillness of the night that's not how you were meant to live. There's something better. Yes, you were meant to carry great things, but you were meant to be carried by the Great One. That's why Jesus came: to be the perfection you're not, by his death to take away your guilt and shame, to draw you home so you can walk in his kingdom for his glory.
I believe there are some people here tonight that tonight is your night. You need to put your faith in that God for the first time, to say, "If Jesus is in the business of healing, I want you to heal me. If the offer on the table is to know God as a Father, a loving Father…not an imperfect one like my earthly one but a perfect one…then I want God to be a Dad like that." If you're feeling him call you, I just want you to say, "Yes." I just want you to put your faith in him, to tell him, "Yes."
Even now, while you're sitting there, if that's you, say, "Yes, God, I want in. Bring me into your family by your grace." I can't see most of you, but I wonder if while every head is down and eye is closed, if that's you and you're saying, "I want to come home; I want to put my faith in Jesus," would you put a hand up for me? Some of you I'll be able to see, some I won't, but it's more about you and God. Okay. I see a lot of them. All right. Amazing. It's incredible. Praise God.
Anybody want to tell him, "Me, God. You see me and I see you and I'm coming home"? If that's you and you put a hand up, you just tell him, "Thank you. Thank you for sending your Son to come get me. I believe it and I receive it." Then for those of us who know him, and even if you don't, the invitation is on the table tonight.
Here's the thing. I don't want you to leave here and maybe at some point get around to casting your cares upon him. We have a moment here. We're about to leave, but if you can hang in, I don't want to leave this space and miss out on a moment right now. Do not say, "I'll cast my cares on him someday," but even now, you have some space here. You have some quiet.
I wonder if across this room we'd be willing to open up empty hands and say, "This is it for me, God. I know you know what it is, but it's helpful for me to just say it. I'm anxious about this, I'm scared about that, I'm uncertain about this, and I don't want that anxiety to drive me, so I'm trusting you. I'm believing you. I'm going to do it tonight. I'm going to get one thing right today if nothing else. I'm going to do what your Word says, and I'm just going to cast this on you and believe that you're there and you care."
The band is going to lead us in a minute, and they're going to sing. For some of you, right away you're going to want to rise up, because what they're singing is going to be the cry of your heart. You sing it out, brother, and you cry out, sister. Others of you are going to need a minute to just sit and keep pouring out your heart, and you just do that. When you're ready to sing, you sing along, but let's just have a moment here where we meet with God. Don't let it pass us by. All across this room, let us cast our cares on him and then pray by his grace that we would believe that he cares and is big enough to carry us, so much bigger than we thought he was.