We’re more overwhelmed than ever, and our anxiety sabotages our spiritual peace.
Google searches for “overwhelmed” since 2004
That anxiety creates all kinds of different bottlenecks and idols in our lives – things that hold us back from experiencing the fullness of God.
Knowledge is usually mine.
When I’m anxious, discontent, not at peace, unsatisfied – I tend to look for books and articles that will give me insight and clarity. I look for peace in knowledge.
Sometimes I think, “oh, if I can just read an entire A.W. Tozer book that will give me peace”. Or, “maybe if I study some systematic theology volume I’ll be spiritually mature enough to be at peace more often”.
Or if I do a study of Romans. Or a study of this, or that…
My idolatry of knowledge can be so engulfing that I spent a good deal of time this week just researching how to learn faster – looking into book summary subscriptions, quote sites, and more.
So many Christians are in the same hamster wheel – reading more and doing more, but feeling more empty. We scour books and blog articles and research papers, just to satisfy our craving for some insight that will quell our anxiety.
Some of us do these things out of religious obligation – what Pete Scazzero calls “doing for God instead of being with God”. We commit to churchy responsibilities because that makes us feel accepted. It makes us feel a little less anxious.
But I think many of us have the right heart about these things. We truly want to read and do things because we really want God.
“I want the presence of God Himself, or I don’t want anything at all to do with religion… I want all that God has or I don’t want any.” ― A.W. Tozer
We’re in a world full of striving, doing and pushing. So we think that we have to strive and push to get to God.
Don’t get me wrong – we need to strive for God. Or maybe desire God – or crave Him – is a better way to say it. We need to desire Him.
But we make it too hard.
Yes, study can
absolutely help us become more spiritually mature – no doubt about it. It’s an essential part of our pursuit of God. Small groups and church community can be a powerful way to stay close to God.
But when we begin any study from a place of anxiety or stress, it can ruin how effective that study is. We rush our reading, looking frantically for an insight that will put us at peace. We do churchy things out of anxiety and obligation, not out of Godly peace.
It’s important to do a bit of self-reflection in that kind of situation:
Why am I craving knowledge and wisdom so much right now? Do I feel anxious about this? Do I have a sense of emptiness that I’m trying to fill with books? Do I think that some insightful piece of knowledge is going to give me peace? Why am I really doing all these churchy, Christiany things?
But peace is here – ready and available, any time we want. How? Where?
At the source, with God. Not in the acceptance of others and not just in reading.
“A little knowledge of God is worth more than a great deal of knowledge about him.” – J.I. Packer, Knowing God
“We must recognize how much we lack knowledge of God. We must learn to measure ourselves, not by our knowledge about God, not by our gifts and responsibilities in the church, but by how we pray and what goes on in our hearts.” – J.I. Packer, Knowing God
“For it is not knowing much, but realising and relishing things interiorly, that contents and satisfies the soul.” ― Ignatius of Loyola
He is always ready to receive us with open arms – to welcome us back into His presence. He is always ready to transcend our cares, our anxieties and worries, our insecurities, our uncertainty, our pain, our jealousy and envy, and yes – our sin.
It doesn’t take much – just a simple pause, a break, silence, solitude, a rest from all the doings. We must simply remember what many of us already know – that He is a loving, powerful God, above all things, able to carry our burdens, and jealous for simple relationship with us.
Therein lies the rub for many of us – that whole bit about pausing, resting, and taking a break.
“But I have so much to do! I have to memorize scripture and disciple and evangelize and go to my church’s small group and be a church member and, and, and…”
Ok let’s stop, collaborate and listen (sorry, had to throw in a Vanilla Ice reference).
“Detachment is the great secret of interior peace.” – Pete Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality
“Action, then passivity; striving, then letting go, doing all one can do and then being carried . . . only in this rhythm is the spirit realized.” – Pete Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality
“There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence . . . activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence. . . . It kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful .” – Thomas Merton
Are those things, those doings, those strivings, actually pointing us to a stronger, peaceful, more joyful relationship with God? Are they making us kinder, gentler, more loving? Are they making us more effective and full, or spreading us too thin?
Many times those doings make us
less like Jesus – less loving, less compassionate, less empathetic, less patient and kind, less joyful, less able to notice where God wants to transform us, less able to listen to His voice.
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. – 1 Corinthians 13:1-3
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. – Galatians 5:22-23
Yes, we need to
do things. We need to give of ourselves and show others the love and truth of Jesus (faith without works is dead, you know someone by their fruits, God wants to increase us in every good work).
But our relationship with God is at the foundation of all that. Without Him we can do nothing.
We feel the need to do all the things, but not rest in the Source of all the things.
What I’m trying to say is: We don’t necessarily need to learn something new about God to attain His peace and joy. We don’t necessarily need to
do more. We probably know and do plenty.
We must simply remember what we already know:
“He works all things together for good for those who love Him.” – Romans 8:28
“His peace surpasses all understanding.” – Philippians 4:7
“Abide in Me, for without Me you can do nothing.” – John 15
“Let he who boasts, boast that he understands and knows me.” – Jeremiah 9:24 Ok, let’s get practical.
Many of us know scripture, so all it takes is remembering what we’ve already studied in the Word. Give it a sec. God will give you scripture that reminds you of His goodness.
I keep a running list of favorite scripture for me to meditate on. It’s a helpful way to rekindle your fire for God very quickly. Sometimes certain scripture resonates with me, sometimes not. That’s ok.
In that case you can Google “best bible scripture” or “best scripture about faith”, or joy, or peace, etc. The internet contains all of humanity’s knowledge – including Godly knowledge. Use it to quickly find scripture that will point you back to peace in God.
Goodreads and other quote websites are also great resources. Google “aw tozer quotes” or “ji packer quotes” or whatever author you resonate with.
Journaling is extremely helpful too. Write about your thoughts, feelings and recent life experiences. There might be more stressors and emotional baggage in your life than you might’ve thought. Give those things to God – He can handle it!
Worship music is powerful, too. I love spending my morning commute listening to worship music, and talking to God. I used to spend my morning drive listening to podcasts that help me in my marketing career, but it just made me more distant from God. So worship music has become an essential part of my daily routine.
Whatever works for you, but take the time to seek God fully. Be patient, and you will find Him, I promise! Simmer in His presence. Things will pop into your head – things you’ll want to think about, things you need to do, etc. Make a note of them, and let ‘em go. Stay focused on God’s presence and enjoy Him. He is the source of all good things and all wisdom.
“You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” – Jeremiah 29:13
“Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” – James 4:10
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30