How I’m Overcoming My Panic Attacks With the Help of the Holy Spirit (Part 2)

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In this episode, we continue our 2-part series talking with Sheila Michael about her struggle with anxiety and panic attacks. (Check out Part 1 if you would like to hear the first part of Sheila’s testimony.) Sheila shares about what she has learned in her journey about tapping into the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome her panic attacks. We also discuss how many believers are afraid of the Holy Spirit or unaware of what the Holy Spirit does — and offer advice about how to live in the power of the Holy Spirit in our Christian walks to overcome not only anxiety, but any of life’s issues we encounter.

Related Resources:

Want to listen to co-hosts Carol Whitaker and Suzy Lolley talk through and explain the points in more of our latest posts? Subscribe on Soundcloud and receive all of our latest episodes!

Is anxiety a struggle for you? Check out the following resources: Overcoming Anxiety With One Simple Question and 2 Strategies for Fighting Against Anxiety.

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer, and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to love music and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

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How I’m Overcoming My Panic Attacks With the Help of the Holy Spirit

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Breathe, breathe, and breathe again! My heart raced like I was running a marathon, but I wasn’t. I was dying, gasping for air. Panic swallowed me in a deep dark cloud. There was no one to call out to! I was in a place of anxiousness and fear. My brain chemistry had set off a red alarm that put my body in panic mode.

The first panic attack I can remember occurred at the age of 10. My experience with panic attacks continued as I grew up. I would hyperventilate so much that once when driving on the interstate with my mother sitting in the passenger’s seat, I had to pull over and get a grip. And I was only 17. The old English origin of the word “worry” is wyrgan, which means “to strangle,” and anxiety was choking me with worry.

We all have our reasons to be anxious — family, job, health, and money are enough, but it does not stop there. We have threats of terrorists lurking to attack in both large and small communities. In fact, it appears we cannot hide our anxiety. According to WebMD,  75-90% of doctors’ visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints.

I began to be a frequent flyer to the emergency room at the age of 18. I was certain each time that I was breathing my last breath. The medical staff quickly determined the cause of my problem as anxiety and would hand me a paper bag and say, “Breathe, honey, and relax.” My shaking hands took the bag and began to breathe in and out trying to slow down my breathing. Good grief, it was embarrassing! My doctor just told me I didn’t need to take life so seriously, especially since I was so young. I found myself alone with my problem. I was literally standing outside the hospital with bag in hand.

Experiencing Anxiety as an Adult

Anxiety is a silent killer, because it robbed me of many blessings and kept me from living life the way God wanted me to live. It continued into my adulthood and impacted my body physically. During my stressful, anxious moments, I over-ate and would consume large bags of chips. Anxiety not only impacted my body with weight gain, but with racing heartbeat and trembling hands. My husband and parents stood by with helpful advice but really couldn’t understand what I was experiencing.

I hit rock bottom when I lost my first child. She was born premature and lived three days. I did like most and blamed myself. Grief sucked me up into a tornado of worry and fear. When would my attacks stop robbing me of peace? How was I going to ever live my life when I walked in fear? I was desperate to find relief. I believed in God but was not a devoted follower at the time, and church was not a part of my life. I was relying on just a smidgen of faith from my early childhood. However, when I lost my heart to a little girl, I was directed by her short existence to turn toward my Heavenly Father. Some run away with a broken heart from God, but I didn’t. I chose to turn toward him for comfort. When I turned to Him, my panic attacks became less dramatic and frequent. I wish I could say that those nasty panic attacks left completely, but no, they continued.

In looking back at this season after I lost my child, I realize I wasn’t the only young woman who struggled with panic attacks. In Neil T. Anderson and Rich Miller’s book Freedom From Fearthey state that about 75% of panic disorder sufferers (those who suffer from frequent panic attacks) are women. Most attacks are not caused by physical issues, but to make sure there is no physical cause it is important to see a doctor. I had no physical cause, and I realized that my worries focused around either my thoughts of yesterday’s failures or tomorrow’s expectations.

Some people find that they get panicked about their “today” because their schedule is packed and they can’t do it all. Others worry about tomorrow because tomorrow has a presentation due or deadline for a project, etc. Looking closely into my panic attacks helped me discover what was going on in my head. I realized there was a battle going on and those evil panic attacks were winning.

When those fearful anxious thoughts tried to push my anxiety button, I learned to looked to Scripture. Psalm 34:4-7 (MSG) says:

God met me more than halfway, he freed me from my anxious fears. Look at him; give him your warmest smile. Never hide your feelings from him. When I was desperate, I called out, and God got me out of a tight spot. God’s angel sets up a circle of protection around us while we pray.

As a young woman, and even now as a seasoned woman, I have realized that when I use the Scriptures, God’s knowledge is revealed so I can find the solutions to my daily problems. The words “fear not” (which are significant as I discovered fear is the root of my anxiety) are used 365 times in the Bible. God knew we would need to be told over and over again not to fear because His Word is full of reassurance. When we are under attack, He is the solution! I found that I was allowing the enemy to control my thoughts and my body’s response to those thoughts.

Learning About the Holy Spirit to Help My Anxiety

I didn’t understand that I had the power and authority through Christ to overcome those negative thoughts. Sure, I knew that Christ died on the cross to save me, and I had made a transaction at salvation to repent and turn away from my sins. But when I left the cross promising to live a life for Christ, I didn’t fully understand the power and authority through the Holy Spirit that Christ had given to me. I thought the Holy Spirit existed to prompt my conscience to make good choices so I could live a less sinful life or give me a warm feeling in church. And yes, He does do those things, but He does more. I began to want to know more about the gift of the Holy Spirit, so I prayed and read my Bible to find answers to my questions.

Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. And He said, ‘Yes, it was written long ago that the Messiah would suffer and die and rise from the dead on the third day. It was also written that this message would be proclaimed in the authority of His name to all the nations, beginning in Jerusalem: “There is forgiveness of sins for all who repent.” You are witnesses of all these things. ‘And now I will send the Holy Spirit, just as my Father promised. But stay here in the city until the Holy Spirit comes and fills you with power from heaven.’ (Luke 24:45-49, NLT)

In the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit directed men such as Abraham, Moses, Noah, and many more, but the Spirit was not with them all the time because Christ had not died on the cross. The presence of God came in the wind, clouds, fire, and dreams.

After Jesus died to redeem and restore us back into a healed relationship with God, He ascended to heaven but left behind a resource that dwells within us upon conversion and helps us stay connected to God: the Holy Spirit. Think of it this way — the Holy Spirit is like a cell tower that is always on. He assists us in praying to God and receiving His guidance. You stay connected 24/7 to your friends, family, and the world by the use of a technology (cell phones) that most of us don’t fully understand but we use.

Some people excel in the use of it while others learn it at a slower pace. The understanding and the ministry of the Holy Spirit grows when we are willing to pursue God by spending time with Him and reading His Word. Doing these things and acting in obedience to Him produce a natural release of the Holy Spirit in our lives. My anxiety was getting to me even though I had asked God for help. I went back to the Scriptures and saw the same words which declared to me that once a believer I received the gift of the Holy Spirit. It truly takes some people longer to understand something, and I was one of those people. I came to comprehend that the Holy Spirit was a divine gift Christ gave to me in order to restore my life to the original design God created me for and help me live in the way Christ would want me to live.

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. (2 Corinthians 5:17, NASB)

It was like the lightbulb of truth came on! I was not made for panic attacks and brown bag breathing. Finally I understood it was as the Scriptures declared for my mind was opened to understand His power and authority. In Mike Riches’ book Living Free, he states, “As believing followers of Jesus Christ, we will discover that to be whom we are meant to be, to live the way we are meant to live, and to do what we are meant to do require God’s supernatural power in our lives.”

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere — in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. (Acts 1:8, NLT)

And He called the twelve together, and gave them power and authority over all the demons and to heal diseases. (Luke 9:1, NASB)

Controlling My Attacks With Holy Spirit Power

I discovered I could control my attacks. God didn’t create me to walk around with a paper bag in my hand and to have endless days of sleepless nights. My solution was so simple but complex at the same time. I had to believe it — really believe — that with the Holy Spirit I could win the war in my mind. I started by taking captive every thought (2 Corinthians 10:5). Each time an anxious thought would come, I asked myself, “Would this be a thought from my Heavenly Father or would Jesus say this?”

When I felt my heart racing, I would begin to sing the simple song, “Jesus Loves Me.” I turned my thoughts toward my Creator, and He would calm me down. Many of my attacks came at 3:00 a.m. while I was sleeping, causing me to wake up gasping for air. So I began to use the time to dial up my Heavenly Father in prayer and talk to Him. I would listen for his voice, and I would hear it reminding me how much He loved me. During the day when I would feel a wave of panic, I would sing a praise song or say the name of Jesus out loud, and peace would come. When I was tempted to check on my children after I had already looked in on them, I would pray and peace would come. When I stood before a crowd as a principal of a school, I would smile and pray as I moved forward to speak.

I allowed God to take control of my life instead of the enemy. Satan’s plan was simple — to keep me distracted by my thoughts of fear and worry. Ironically, when I look back to all those moments of anxiety, I cannot tell you the specifics of many of them, so the things in my mind that got my heartbeat and breathing racing were not important and they were aging me! Matthew 6:26-27 says this about worry, “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”

If you find yourself struggling with the demands of life’s distractions, don’t rush to grab the paper bag to breathe into but stop and breathe in the Holy Spirit that gives you the power and authority to overcome them.

What can you take away from my experience?

  1. First, believe in Jesus Christ as your Savior. He came to redeem and restore you to the life God created you for.
  2. Believe that Christ gave you a gift of the Holy Spirit — your lifeline to heaven, available 24/7.
  3. His Word is full of guidance and answers to all your life issues.
  4. He has given us the power and authority to stand against the enemy, who wants to make our life full of fear and anxiety.
  5. Taking captive every thought can set you free.

Related Resources:

Want to hear Sheila’s testimony? Tune in to the corresponding podcast on Soundcloud where we explore Sheila’s experience with panic attacks (in Part 1). You don’t want to miss next week where we continue with Sheila and talk about what she learned about tapping into the Holy Spirit’s power to overcome life’s challenges such as anxiety (in Part 2).

In Sheila’s article, she mentions Mike Riches’ book Living Free. Mike Riches is a pastor of a non-denominational church in Gig Harbor, Washington, and is head of the Sycamore Commission, a ministry committed to modeling Christian life and ministry after that of Jesus Christ. Living Free is one of several resources he has authored and is designed to help people know God’s original design when He created us, how Satan has attempted to thwart that design, and how to live “free” and healed — recovering areas of our lives (in terms of our emotions, health, relationships, etc.) that the enemy has stolen from us. If you are interested in learning more about how to live free of bondage and strongholds, click on the link to learn more!

Interested in salvation but want to read more? Check out our Know God page or contact us through the Contact page.

*Updated January 20, 2018.

 

Sheila Michael

Sheila Michael

Sheila is a retired elementary school principal and educator. She spent over thirty years in education and has a specialist degree in educational leadership. She is also a wife, mother of four grown children, and grandmother of 12 amazing kiddos. Sheila enjoys cooking and teaching her grandchildren how to cook. Family gatherings are essential to the Michael “herd,” as they gather to share life with each other. Residing in Georgia, Sheila calls herself a “Southern belle with a twist,” since her husband is from Iowa. Sheila’s personal journey with God has created in her a desire to write and share the “God moments” she has experienced in her life. She loves mentoring young women in their walk with Christ and encouraging families to serve and love the Lord and each other as they navigate through life’s challenges.

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2 Strategies for Fighting Against Anxiety

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People with anxiety have fear. They have worry. I think some people are born with anxiety. Like me. Stories of my childhood depict me as difficult, even as a baby. I even sort of felt disliked. Sometimes I still do.

Anxiety is also sometimes an inner conflict resulting from choice. When I make choices that go against the person I believe I should be and what I know is God’s best for me, the anxiety is a self-inflicted wound.

Anxiety crippled my decision-making ability in high school. How I wish I had known the Lord during that time, so that I might have lived a life that was a model to my friends. Instead, I am left to wonder if my friends made it safely into the Lord’s ways or if they were not able to turn away from the poor influence I provided. I can only hope that is giving myself too much credit.

Anxiety followed me into my marriage. It has hurt my boys. I was in my late 20s before I realized that I was living a life under constant condemnation. For me, with anxiety came suicidal thoughts. Even as a child, I didn’t have the will to truly live. Living, for me, was more like hiding.

I believe my anxiety was the root of my suicidal thoughts. Once when my oldest child was but a young child, maybe six or seven, he and my husband left our home for a simple visit to my in-laws. I remember being in the bathroom alone, running some water in the sink, and hearing, “Now is the perfect time. They have left you. They don’t need you, and they don’t want you.”

But that is one way anxiety consumes people when they are not suited up. It was a big moment for me.

Aloud, I said, “No!” It was my first real attempt at fighting evil and kneeling in surrender to God. I found my will to live in this endless moment, though it wasn’t really about me. It was about Him. Except that, to Him, it has always been about me. And about you.

Anxiety as a Christian

It is hard for those who suffer with anxiety to properly perceive how others react to them. At times, their thoughts are turned inward, and they don’t care about others. In certain scenarios, they can be paranoid with fear and worry, turning small things into rejections. If you have anxiety, your struggles may look like mine. They may not. But there is a common thread to anxiety and Satan’s other chief ploys and that is to keep us from God.

If anxiety is a reality for you, then it is time to enlist. You must train, and you must fight, not only for yourself but for those you love (and who love you whether you believe it or not).

For me and for many people I have worked with as a therapist, this battle with anxiety is a life-long one. Luckily, the armor of God is available to us all. These powerful verses are long, but stay with me. It is a part of God’s battle plan for believers. Ephesians 6:10-18 states:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

One morning at church a year or so ago, I must’ve looked bothered while I was waiting on my family to meet me. A man I have seen frequently greeting other people came up to check on me. He talked about worry. I was impacted by his concern, though nothing he said was new to me, until he said, “Well, you know what Bob Marley said.” I had not. He quoted Marley: “Worrying is worshipping the devil. “

I can’t say I have ever confirmed that Marley actually said that. Whether or not he said those words, even if they sound drastic, I see truth in the statement. God tells us not to worry. Therefore, worrying can’t really be worshipping Him, can it? I think of that saying often, and it propels me to fight back. To fight for the Lord instead.

How to Treat Anxiety

We can treat anxiety through teaching ourselves to think differently by the way we choose to perceive thoughts and events. This means we meditate not on anxious thoughts or what might happen, but instead focus on what is good and positive in the moment.

While the word “meditate” is often associated with Buddhist or New Age practices, it simply means to contemplate something or clear one’s mind, and is a spiritual discipline found in Scripture.

Psalm 19:14 (ESV) states, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my rock and my Redeemer” (emphasis mine). At my previous church, we said these lines at the conclusion of every service.

In focusing on what is good, we overcome our negative thoughts. Jesus redeems us, and His redeeming power extends to our thoughts about ourselves, our problems, and our world.

For instance, I could choose to remember that I was made fun of as an awkward 4th grade child with the wrong clothes. I was unpopular and shy. One day when my socks didn’t match my outfit, multiple peers laughed at me; it felt like the entire school was laughing. However, in meditating on the good from this experience, I can instead recall the kindness of Mrs. McSwain, a teacher that made me feel loved and unique in spite of my wardrobe inadequacies. It still hurt to be laughed at. But it also taught me how it feels to be ridiculed, so that I can now protect others from feeling that pain.

Again, in this situation and others — even reflecting back as an adult — I get to choose my attitude. An attitude focused on this world leads to anxiety. An attitude focused on God leads to peace.

Clearing your mind from negativity and focusing on what is real and good cannot be credited to Buddhism or any other false religion. A healthy attitude comes from God; it always has and that won’t change. Philippians 4:8 (NASB) says, “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.”

Another way to combat anxiety is to focus on others. Anxiety can stem from internalizing your thoughts, even to the point of making everything about you. When I am focused on helping others, there is no place for anxiety because I am not thinking about myself, going over the long script in my head of everything I said and did that was wrong.

Conclusion: Being Free From Anxiety

In writing this, I am not trying to say that I don’t still have anxiety. I do. There are occasions when it is even quite severe. I have worked with some people who cannot leave their homes because of anxiety. They are too afraid. I can relate to an extent. Meditating on good rather than bad and focusing on others are two therapeutic avenues that can help.

The difference between myself now when I experience anxiety and the person I used to be is that I am aware of and utilize the armor provided by God. I fight to live the life God created me to live. Though I may fail me, He never will.

If you have anxiety, decide to fight. This might mean making an appointment with a pastor or counselor or setting aside time each day to give it to God and rest in His peace. It might mean getting out of the house, even if the first step is simply onto the front porch. You simply have to be a willing vessel God can use to gain the victory.

2 Timothy 1:7 (NKJV) says, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” You don’t have to lose the battle to anxiety and fear. With God’s help, you can overcome.

Rebecca Lindsey

Rebecca Lindsey

After “retiring” from teaching in 2013, Rebecca is currently back at it as a high school Teacher on Assignment where she is able to help students identified as at-risk for not graduating on time. The in-between years, she worked as a therapist in private and public practice. Her interests are in helping others, hiking, kayaking, gardening, dancing, and reading. She loves exercise, nutrition, and natural healing. After completing her doctorate in organizational psychology, she plans to lead others to improve leadership, career, and personal life-skills and maybe even author a few works. In every role, she feels there is an opportunity to model the grace and redemption given to us by Jesus. Rebecca lives in Dallas, Georgia, with her husband and three boys (the middle child is a Weimeraner).

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Learning to Depend on God

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“I can do it myself!” my daughter announced as she raced ahead of me down the sidewalk. My heart did a little sideways flip-flop as I watched her neon shoes hit the pavement, causing her Lalaloopsy backpack to bounce against her narrow frame.

It was the second day of kindergarten. At my oldest daughter’s pleading, I had allowed her to ride the bus home from school. As the bus rumbled to a stop and the kids filed out, I did not catch sight of her. Worried that she had been placed on the wrong bus, I peered in to ask the driver and found my daughter giggling with two new friends on the front seat.

Looking surprised to see me, she jumped out of her seat and bounced down the stairs onto the sidewalk. Her feet had barely hit the pavement before she whirled around and insisted, “I can do it myself!”

Obviously, she had no idea where to exit because this was her first time riding the bus home, but rather than admit her need for my help, she declared that she would have been just fine had I not leaned in and collected her.

Watching that determined little girl skip away down the sidewalk, I felt a rustle in my spirit. Isn’t this what I do to God on a regular basis? How often does He fetch me off the “bus” only to see me claim that it was all my own doing?

Perhaps that heart flutter I felt was because I am often the little girl in this interchange. I am the one telling God, “I can do it myself.”

Independence as a Coping Mechanism

A can-do spirit has always been stitched into my DNA. My parents would most likely corroborate, but in looking back, I also developed self-reliance as a weapon I used to fight back against circumstances I couldn’t control.

Unfortunately, I had some situations in my childhood where I tried to voice my needs, and I was answered with irritation, anger or silence. I soon discovered that it was easier not to assert myself in some situations. Easier not to create a problem.

I became self-sufficient so that I wouldn’t impose on anyone. I built a fortress of one to protect myself. I didn’t realize that whether or not people always have good reactions to me, I need to share my needs. God doesn’t want me to cover up who I am in an unhealthy way to please others. I am not a problem if I speak up or express how I feel.

Giving up Self-Sufficiency for God-Dependency

Self-sufficiency wasn’t the only way that I tried to manage those people around me and make them like me; I also made the decision to be really useful. Not only would I never inconvenience the people in my life by expressing what I wanted, but I would also display how productive I could be — how successful. I would prove to everyone I was worth it.

Particularly in college and the first few years of teaching, I became extremely performance-driven. Although I didn’t recognize it as such, I was relying on my own fleshly attitudes to make it through my life. I believed in God, but I didn’t really know that He could help me with all the finite details of my emotions. I didn’t think He cared about that. My “It’s all up to me. I have to make this happen” attitude in college took a toll on my body.

I developed a nervous stomach and paralyzing fear and anxiety. While other people agonized over the extra pounds they were gaining, I fit easily in size zero jeans. All of my worrying whittled me down to very thin. One particular Sunday, I went forward at church for prayer when stress had brought me to the point of near collapse — and the preacher happened to say something about the cause of anxiety during the prayer time: fear.

A light bulb went off in my head, and I began to see how my terror that I wouldn’t measure up or succeed was paralyzing me and causing me to over-work myself in an effort to succeed. When I realized that the antidote to fear is trust, and I could hand over my worry to God and rest, my schoolwork became a lot more manageable. Because at the bottom of all of my self-reliance was a huge fear: that I would fail. I would fail in relationships. I would fail at being successful.

And when I failed, I had an even bigger fear — I would be rejected.

Acting Out of the Flesh

What I didn’t realize a few years ago is that by trying to change myself to please people, I was attempting to manufacture acceptance from the people around me with my actions. The desire to do things without God is something every person attempts to do whether he or she recognizes it or not. Even Christians can operate in the flesh.

According to a By Divine Design conference I attended, living in the flesh is when we attempt to meet our own needs for love, acceptance, worth and security apart from God. This desire to be independent came into the world when Adam and Eve sinned (Genesis 3:1-21). Our flesh wants control, but we cannot experience abundant life when we live out of our flesh rather than His Spirit (John 6:63).

I’d grown up in church and had only heard flesh defined as our sinful nature that leads us to lie, cheat, steal, lust, etc. However, I didn’t realize that flesh is a little more encompassing. Certainly, we may be tempted in those areas that I just listed, but acting out of our flesh also includes the ways we try to do life in our own strength and the coping skills we use to get what we want out of our environment —  even those skills considered socially acceptable (By Design). I tried to do this with my independence and performance; however, there are other coping strategies that exist as well: criticism of others, workaholism, stoicism, escapism, perfectionism, and the list goes on.

The more I tried to cope by using my own flesh patterns, the more tied up in knots I became. It’s not wrong to have needs or express them, as I learned, or let the people in our lives help us feel loved and cherished; however, it’s a problem when we lean the entire weight of our identity on others’ reactions and our own achievements. God never intended us to generate our own devices to get through our circumstances. Consider what God says about how we are to approach life in Proverbs 3:5,6:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all of your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.

The New Living Translation actually says that this means “do not depend on your own understanding.” Therefore, the Bible teaches a dependence on God — not on our own flesh. In practical terms, this means seeking out the advice and will of God in our choices, relationships, and actions. In fact, The NIV Application Commentary suggests that not leaning on our own understanding goes beyond just asking for help in daily decisions; depending on God means “not being wise in [our] own eyes” (Prov. 3:7).

We shouldn’t necessarily feel guilty if we go somewhere for lunch before consulting Him; however, this does mean that our attitude is one of acknowledging God’s wisdom as surpassing our own. Trying to bull-doze through life on our own strength is being wise in our own eyes. Being dependent doesn’t mean we don’t have a personality or a brain. Being dependent means giving up our self-made strategies and learning God’s better ones. Being dependent means trusting so that we don’t have to fall for the lie that “it’s all up to me.”

Because the other part of Proverbs 3:5-8 is this: When we choose to depend on God’s ways over our own, He “makes [our] paths straight.” The Hebrew word for “straight” indicates “travel made safe by clearing and leveling the road” (The NIV Application Commentary). That means when we choose to lean on God instead of ourselves, He literally clears the way. It doesn’t mean we won’t be met with obstacles, because we will, but we will be traveling a way leveled in advance for us by the Almighty God.

We can rest because He’s got our back. And I don’t know about you, but that way sounds a whole lot better than trying to “do it myself”!

*Revised from a post originally published February 5, 2015.

Editor’s Note:

Please note that in the articles “Set Apart for God’s Special Purpose” and “Having the Faith to Get Through Your Storm,” changes were made to account for sources that were not included in original draft and/or bring clarification to key concepts. While we make every effort to correctly identify sources in original, at times corrections do have to be made after publication. We apologize for not including those in original draft. Please check out our new publication policy on our About page.

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Want to listen to co-hosts Carol Whitaker and Suzy Lolley talk through and explain the points in our latest posts? Check out the brand new Beulah Girl podcast on Soundcloud. Subscribe on Soundcloud and receive all of our latest episodes!

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer, and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to love music and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

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Overcoming Fear in Doing the Will of God

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As believers, we’re called to serve God and offer ourselves as “living sacrifices for His glory” (Romans 12:1). However, there are real obstacles that threaten us in the midst of being faithful in living out His will for us. One of the major obstacles Christians face is fear.

As I explained in a previous post, Matthew 14:28-32 gives us a good illustration of what it looks like to falter in our walk of faith. In the passage we see that Peter goes on a faith walk towards Jesus but then begins to sink when he looks at the obstacles around him — the wind and the waves — and becomes afraid. Jesus pulls him up and chastises him for his lack of faith, but Jesus does not leave him in his failure. He tells him why he was sinking, and the two are able to climb back in the boat together and get to their destination.

However, Peter had to get past his very real unbelief and fear he felt in the moment, and Jesus addresses it. Similarly, many of us are desiring to be obedient to God, but we are dealing with crushing fear or another obstacle. How do we get past our fear when we are attempting to follow the will of God?

Not too long ago, I asked God this very question as I had been dealing with my own fear. Sometimes God answers me right away, and other times He waits for a season to respond. This time His answer came just a day or so after I had posed the query. I was looking for a calendar in a desk drawer, and a sheet of notes I had taken on Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life caught my eye. I’ve read this book from cover to cover on a few different occasions, but I have no recollection of taking these notes and can’t remember why I wrote down these ideas.

However, when I glanced over the scribbled words, God gave me an answer. Yet, as He often does, God didn’t respond in the way I thought He would. He gave me an entirely different response that I want to share with you.

Lessons from Rick Warren that we can apply to overcome our fear:

1. We have to understand what it means to rely on God and operate in His power.

While we may think of relying on God as a passive endeavor — one where we do absolutely nothing and He does everything — that is not the case. As Warren stresses, reliance on God doesn’t mean we don’t do anything. Trust in God means that we are co-workers with God. A few of the ideas I jotted down from Warren’s book:

  • Christ-likeness is not produced by imitation, but by inhabitation. We allow Christ to live through us.
  • We choose to do the right thing and trust God’s Spirit to give us His power, love, faith, and wisdom to do that.
  • The Holy Spirit releases His power the moment you take a step of faith.
  • Obedience unlocks God’s power.
  • God wants you to act first — move ahead in your weakness, doing the right thing in spite of your fears. That’s how you cooperate with the Holy Spirit.
  • Effort has nothing to do with your salvation, but it has much to do with your spiritual growth. At least eight times in the New Testament we are told to “make every effort” in our growth toward becoming like Jesus.

We need to pause for just a minute and let these wise words sink in. When we follow in God’s way, we won’t necessarily feel an absence of fear. However, God’s power meets us when we act in obedience. Psalm 63:8 says, “I cling to you; your right hand upholds me.” The King James 2000 Bible version says, “My soul follows hard after you: your right hand upholds me.” Some of us are waiting to not feel fear before we act or waiting for our feelings to line up with what God would have us to do. However, it is in taking the steps ordained for us by God that we are met by the Holy Spirit’s power.

Similarly, another place in Scripture where this concept of walking in trust and God’s power is illustrated is John 6:28, 29. In this passage, a crowd asks Jesus what they should do to do the work of God. Jesus responds by saying, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent” (v. 29). The word “believe” that is used can be translated in the Greek as “pisteuó,” which means to “believe, entrust.” According to Helps Word-Studies, this means “not only to be persuaded of something, but means to be persuaded by the Lord: it is belief that leads to/proceeds from God’s inbirthing of faith.”

The word “pisteuó” is a verb. So, not only does it mean what we believe in our thoughts — it refers to a giving up of oneself to God. This kind of entrusting leads to action in our lives as we follow His lead. According to the Encyclopedia of the Bible, faith is “that which responds to and is sustained by God’s faithfulness.”

A few years ago, I went through a hard season where God had me go back to my previous place of employment. He was walking me through healing from an addiction to others’ approval, and one of the hard tasks He had me do in walking out of my people-pleasing behavior was do the thing I fear the most: face people and reveal the ways that I had fallen short.

I had been a former high school teacher, and I had spent years cultivating the worship of my students. As a young teacher, I was flirtatious and had a male fan club in every class. Though my actions were not those that constituted an inappropriate relationship or illegal activity, I knew that I had not been a Christian role model for my students. God nudged me to make some hard contacts with my former classes and administration and apologize for not being a Godly role model and state that I was making a turn in my Christian walk.

This was difficult for me in many ways. You might think that I had great courage that enabled me to do this, but that isn’t the case. I knew I had no choice. I was terribly afraid, and it was not an easy task. I knew that that was the way God was pointing and for me to continue to walk with Him, I was going to have to obey Him. I did those actions in fear — but God enabled me in the process as I did what He asked, and He gave me grace as I was speaking to people.

2. Spiritual transformation is a process.

Saying spiritual growth doesn’t happen instantly is not a cop-out. Certainly, it says nowhere in the Bible that we should sin because it really does not matter. In fact, the Bible tells us the opposite. It tells us that if we know the right thing to do and don’t do it, for us it is sin (James 4:17). However, we need to know that spiritual maturity is a process that does take time. God gives us opportunities to learn and grow and become more like Him.

Warren emphasizes that God uses His Word, people, and circumstances to shape us. Therefore, our transformation away from fearfulness to courage — the kind Christ had — is not automatic. It will be gradual. In fact, God puts us in particular situations so that we can practice Christlikeness (Warren).

If we are having an issue with fear, He is going to put us in circumstances where we can practice breaking through this barrier to do His will. We may literally be shaking as we type up the email to send, tell our testimony to someone, or step away from a safe comfort zone (perhaps a stable job or living situation) to answer God’s call on our life. However, as we encounter more and more situations like this, we will become less fearful and more like Christ.

Salvation is worked out in each of our lives with the help of the Holy Spirit. In other words, God is always working in us to know and do His will (Philippians 2:12, 13). Warren explains a few things about this:

  • There are two parts to spiritual growth: work out and work in.
  • “Work out” is your responsibility. You don’t work for your salvation because you can’t add anything to Jesus’ work. You work out to develop the body, not get the body. We should make every effort to grow spiritually.
  • “Work in” is God’s role — as we make efforts to grow spiritually, God makes us more like His Son.

Again, we have here the idea, just as we discussed in the previous point, that overcoming our fear is a collaborative effort with God. It doesn’t happen right away. Whatever obstacles are hindering us from answering His call are those that we can overcome with His help when we believe that His power is enough. But He gives us lots of opportunities to work on making gains against whatever is holding us back.

Conclusion:

Fear will often prevent us from doing what we know to do in the moment of following God. However, we are not left alone in our fear. God promises us in His Word that when we step out in obedience into what feels like thin air, we will feel a solid rock under our feet. He will uphold those who put their trust in Him and follow Him when it feels hard, it feels scary, and we don’t know what to do.

The more we adopt this philosophy of believing that God will meet us in our weakness and stepping out even when our own strength is small, the more victory we will have in breaking past the obstacles that prevent us from being obedient and following Him. This isn’t a willpower thing — this is “I can do all things through Christ” kind of thing (Philippians 4:13).

Let’s pray: Dear God, help us in those times when we want to follow you but are afraid. Help us believe in your promises in the Bible and trust in Your power that You have made available to us as Christ followers. Forgive us for the times we have fallen short of Your perfect will. Help us be more bold in the future as we follow You. Amen.

How about you? Do you struggle with fear? Share with us in the comments!

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer, and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to love music and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

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Using the Word of God to Combat Anxiety: Learning From John Piper

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We welcomed a darling baby girl into our family this past May. All the cliché things about babies you could possibly say are true about this little girl: she has completely captured our hearts, and we can’t imagine life without her.

However, though we are enamored with this little chubby-cheeked cherub, I am going to be real with you: three kids is uber-tough to handle on some days. Afternoons and evenings are particularly stressful when my oldest two get home from school, and I am chasing after a mobile, squealing infant; helping my oldest two with homework; getting dinner on the table; and ensuring all three of my kids get into bed with bodies bathed and teeth brushed. Because my husband is a head coach of two sports, most of my evenings are spent doing this alone.

Usually, the day ends with me standing in the shower escaping for a few moments of alone time to ease the tension that never has really left my upper shoulders since we had a third one. My stress exists because of the number of things I have to do during the day in taking care of three young kids — but in the midst of this kid chaos, I have been attempting to work on a project that I fear will not get done. And that low-grade fear is permeating my days and causing me anxiety.

I read an article recently by John Piper of Desiringgod.org that stated that anxiety is a state of unbelief. I’ve written about how anxiety is caused by fear, but I believe Piper was able to zoom out the lens even further and accurately assess not only the role of fear but the role of unbelief in anxiety.

What is unbelief? Unbelief is essentially not believing in or trusting God and what He says. Fear is unbelief. Behind the fear I am experiencing lies unbelief in the promises God has in His Word concerning the work He has given me. Most of us would say we believe in God and want to follow His ways, but we have trouble trusting His sovereignty and ability to help us in the midst of trying situations where the demands on us are great and our strength feels small.

What Does the Word of God Say About Combatting Anxiety?

To combat the turbulence of this season, I have felt led to turn to Isaiah 26:3. The passage says this: “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on you. Because he trusts in you.” Certainly, we find a measure of comfort in the reading of the words. But if we dig into this passage a little, we discover further help for fretful thoughts and unbelief.

The verse points out that the mind that is “stayed” on Christ will be in perfect peace. It’s important to look at what a mind “stayed” on Christ looks like. I thought before I did any research on the wording in this passage that a mind “stayed” on Christ was fixed on Him. Certainly, that seems logical doesn’t it? If we’re always thinking about God and “stayed” on Him then we won’t succumb to our anxious thoughts, right?

Well, that is not exactly what I found. Certainly, God wants us to think about Him, pray to Him, and meditate on Him. All of those things are good and will help us when we feel anxious. However, when it says here that the mind is stayed on God, the word “stayed” in the Hebrew means “supported by God.” The Hebrew word is “sāmūḵ” and means “upheld” or “established.”

To have a mind that is stayed on God isn’t just to think about God. To have a mind stayed on God is to be supported, established in God’s truth to the point that my mind is literally held up by God. In other words, just as a house sits firmly on a foundation, so my mind needs to be rooted in the things of God. And the verse makes an important connection between the mind at peace and the person that trusts. As the Keil and Delitszch Commentary on the Old Testament says, “Such a mind is thus kept by Jehovah, because its trust is placed in Jehovah.”

What we can conclude is that when we cling to God and what His Word says and ground ourselves in Him, this secures stability and peace in our minds.

Piper advocates this same idea in his article (although he uses different Scripture references). Instead of fixing to that which produces anxious thoughts, we can hang onto God’s truth. For instance, in my current scenario, I can switch out thoughts like, “I can’t take this. The kids are driving me crazy. I’ll never get my work done!” In their place, I can say, “I can do all this through Christ who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13). God will help me get this impossible workload done (Philippians 1:6). God has equipped me with all I need to do His work (Hebrews 13:21).” We stabilize our runaway thoughts with truth much like an ancient sagging floor is stabilized by a hefty crossbeam.

An Offensive Strategy to Fight Against Anxiety

So, what if we have spoken all of the right verses and we still have anxiety? We keep speaking them, and we keep seeking the Lord. As Piper explains beautifully in his article, we overcome our struggles not just by speaking truth but by the help of the Spirit who lives inside us. Additionally, he points out that just because we have anxiety doesn’t mean that we should quit the race or think we don’t have the faith of other Christians. It means that Satan has targeted us and thrown “mud on our windshield.” We need to fight back with our “windshield wipers.” We need to fight back with the Word of God and the help of His Spirit. Note what Piper says:

When anxiety strikes and blurs our vision of God’s glory and the greatness of the future that he plans for us, this does not mean that we are faithless, or that we will not make it to heaven. It means our faith is being attacked. At first blow our belief in God’s promises may sputter and swerve. But whether we stay on track and make it to the finish line depends on whether we set in motion a process of resistance. Will we turn on the windshield wipers and will we use our windshield washer? … You deal with anxieties by battling unbelief. And you battle unbelief by meditating on God’s Word and asking for the help of his Spirit. The windshield wipers are the promises of God that clear away the mud of unbelief. And the windshield washer fluid is the help of the Holy Spirit.

Christians are not exempt from anxiety. We will feel anxious, fearful, panicked in reaction to certain scenarios. However, when we feel anxiety, we have prescription in the Word of God to begin speaking that Word over us and our situation. But simply speaking verses over ourselves won’t necessarily make our anxiety go away.

There are times when we won’t be sure what specific verse speaks to our situation because we are not in touch with the lies getting us off track. Whenever we feel fear that won’t subside, then, we need to pray and ask God for His help and wisdom (James 1:5).

Truly, we don’t need to fixate on feeling bad about ourselves when we feel anxiety. We need to attach ourselves to truth that we can speak to the lies and doubts coming against us. And the more we are in the truth, the more we will be able to discern the lies that show up on our doorstep.

Conclusion:

I wish that I never had to feel anxiety again. I have been freed from certain bouts of anxiety at particular intervals for long periods of time, but it often finds its way back. There have been moments when I’ve wondered: Is this anxiety ever going to stop coming around?

Well, probably not as long as I am living on this planet. However, God has given us an offensive strategy, so when fear comes, we can stabilize unhealthy thoughts with God’s truth. My anxiety has evaporated in this season as I have replaced my worries with His assurances found in Scripture. And — I have let go of my timetable for the project and instead embraced the idea that God’s timing for its completion may be different than I originally envisioned.

What about you? Do you struggle with anxiety? Has there been a time when God gave you a particular verse to cling to that helped you? Share with us in the comments!

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer, and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to love music and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

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A Love Note: How God Shows His Love for Me

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“Are you the coach’s wife?” A woman standing next to me asked.

“Yes, I am,” I replied with a smile. As the wife of a high school basketball coach, I was often approached at games.

Parents frequently came up to me to compliment my husband or “ooh” and “ahh” over our small children. But this time was different. The woman proceeded to tell me how sorry she felt for me. She said that my husband’s players had no respect for him and that she feared that he had completely lost the team.

Though I think she meant to be sympathetic, I felt like someone had punched me in the stomach.

I felt so vulnerable, so exposed. There I stood with my three-old-year and five-month-old watching my husband (10 pounds thinner than he should have been from the stress of a tough season) coach his heart out — only to be verbally berated by a woman whose name I didn’t even know.

After the game (one his team lost by 30 points), disgruntled parents swarmed the floor waiting for the team to come out of the locker room. A cold wave of fear washed all over me as I watched the angry crowd, not sure if a confrontation would happen. It didn’t, but I had never felt that hostile of an atmosphere after a game before.

Shaken, I went home and couldn’t sleep that night. The next evening was a big one for me: the second night of our choir’s church musical. I had earned a small duet and was thrilled because I had been hoping for several years to get an opportunity to become more involved in music again. The moment had finally presented itself.

Friday night’s performance had been flawless. No nerves. No problems. And then the next night, the incident at the game. It took away all of my want-to. Sunday night, I didn’t feel like singing and fell flat in my delivery. Though I managed to get through it, I was disappointed in myself and discouraged that all of my joy in the part had drained away.

As my husband’s season wound to an end, he stepped down from the head coaching position and stayed on as an assistant coach in a different sport. Within the next year, he moved on to a varsity coaching position in lacrosse at another school.

As excited as I was for him to secure the job, I found myself tied up in knots at the start of the new season. Would he be successful in his role? Would he win games? Would the parents like him? Would his administration look upon him with favor? As much as I wanted to let go of my anxiety, the woman’s words kept replaying in my head; I kept seeing my husband wading through livid bystanders — and me, observing from a few rows up the bleachers, helpless.

Just a few weeks into the season, I went to my mom group and shared my fears. We had recently finished a segment of Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts and had been talking about trust in God. As much as I wanted to summon up some, I felt only worry. The ladies at my table prayed for me and encouraged me with kind words, but I couldn’t shake the tension seeping into every muscle in my body.

I left mom group with a long to-do list. We had been invited to attend a Fellowship of Christian Athletes banquet that evening where college football coach Mark Richt was going to be the keynote speaker.

I had a full afternoon in front of me to get myself and the house prepared: a 40 minute drive home; lunch to make for my son; a daughter to pick up from preshool; a bedroom to prepare for their grandpa (who was coming to watch the kids and stay the night); and a pizza to pick up for the kids’ dinner.

As I squealed out of the driveway at 6:05 (barely enough time to make it to a 6:30 banquet), negative thoughts filled my head: Why am I going to this banquet? We have too much going on right now to do this tonight. I should have told Keith to go alone. There are going to be a whole lot of athletic-y and coach-y people there. I am going to be so out of place. There couldn’t possibly be anything that I get out of this night.

But something quiet inside kept pushing me to go.

Meeting my husband in the parking lot of the conference center, I burst into laughter when I caught sight of him. He had had a similarly hectic day chaperoning a field trip and running a lacrosse practice, only to battle traffic and arrive in mud-spattered athletic pants with barely a minute to spare. Whipping off his coaching clothes in his car and zipping up his khakis, he sprinted with me in hand to catch the last golf cart bringing guests into the banquet.

But we made it.

After dinner and opening remarks, Mark Richt was introduced and ushered to the platform. As he gave his introductory statements, I imagined he would most likely talk about his salvation story, the work of FCA at the high school level, or some stories about how some of his players were getting saved and the work he was doing to insure that. Although he did mention some of those details within the body of his talk, I almost fell out of my chair when he introduced the topic of his speech: Trust in the Hot Seat.

He then proceeded to tell in-depth stories about games that he had expected to easily win and then didn’t; times when his mother called him crying (almost every season) because she had read articles predicting his termination; websites that placed his name near the top of their “Top 10 Coaches Most Likely to Be Fired” lists. Although he gave a lot of stories about individual football games and situations with players, his message was simply this: He gets through the stress of his job by putting His trust in the Lord.

The very topic we had been discussing in small group that morning.

I sat there letting his words sink in. And it shouldn’t amaze me, but it always does — that even when I’m going to a coaches’ function that is really aimed more at my husband, a highly influential college coach gets up to speak and his words are those that have already been all around me for the last few weeks.

And though God can use anybody, and often does, He used someone I never expected to speak to me. Somehow, he inserted the very words I needed to hear into the brain of a stranger. Mark Richt isn’t just another coach from nowhere. He is in movies and commercials, makes millions of dollars every year. He could have easily turned down a little FCA engagement. He could have declined the drive up north to instead lounge in his leather recliner in his custom house. No one would have blamed him.

But there he was, on the stage in front of me, weaving in the fabric of his football stories a message intended for me. In Spiritual Whitespace: Awakening Your Soul to Rest, Bonnie Gray relates:

Jesus has a way of slipping his love notes to reach that little girl in me. Just this morning, as I listened to piano music streaming from Pandora, the words he shared with his disciples those last hours floated their way to me.

Don’t be troubled. You trust God, now trust in me. There are many rooms in my Father’s home, and I am going to prepare a place for you … so that you will always be with me where I am. (John 14:1-3 NLT 1996)

I realized that the entire event was God’s way of reaching out to me, reassuring me, ministering to me. I have started to discover how subtle God is, how quiet at times. I can easily miss Him. If my heart hadn’t been open and listening for Him, I may never have recognized his words of encouragement for me, his provision for my anxious heart.

Consider what Charles H. Spurgeon says in a Streams in the Desert devotion (based on Habakkuk 2:1):

Without watchful expectation on our part, what is the sense in waiting on God for help? There will be no help without it. If we ever fail to receive strength and protection from Him, it is because we have not been looking for it. Heavenly help is often offered but goes right past us. We miss it because we are not standing in the tower, carefully watching the horizon for evidence of its approach, and then are unready to throw open the gates of our heart open so it may enter. The person who has no expectations and therefore fails to be on the alert will receive little help. Watch for God in the events of your life.

Jesus pens His letters to me into the fiber of my everyday doings. His voice wafts over to me through a speaker’s words, through the devotion I’m reading, through the song on the radio. He is everywhere. All around me. I need only open up His letter and read the contents, drink my fill.

In my darkest hour, scariest circumstance, He whispers His words, sends them my way —

In a love note to me.

 

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer, and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to love music and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

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Overcoming Anxiety With One Simple Question

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At the beginning of the summer, we put our house on the market.

To get the house ready, we painted, scraped, re-grouted, and deep-cleaned. I was a little tense and snappy with my family during those weeks as I struggled to work on the house and care for my small children at the same time. I felt a little stressed at a few intervals; however, we finished the work to the best of our ability and got the house listed.

After that, I felt some of that tension go away. Of course, the pressure didn’t completely subside. My perfectionistic tendencies were tough to keep at bay as I worked to keep the house looking picture-perfect for the stream of would-be buyers coming through.

About two months into our house listing, we got the promise of an offer. Not only did we get news of one offer coming in, we found out shortly after that that we had a second more generous offer coming in. We were ecstatic. However, our feelings of elation soon tanked after the potential buyers retracted their offer after the inspection and our other interested buyer decided that he no longer wanted the house.

In the week following the broken contract, I started having difficulty sleeping at night. My heart was racing uncontrollably during the day, and I was struggling to control my runaway thoughts. Recognizing the symptoms that had plagued me at other key points of my life, I knew I was suffering from an anxiety attack.

I tried prayer. Quiet time meditating on Scripture. Calming thoughts. But the anxiety just seemed to worsen.

A History of Anxiety

Because I’ve experienced anxiety at other intervals of my life, I know anxiety tends to hit when I am faced with one of the following scenarios: I’m in a season of new when I am faced with a lot of change; I am given a task that I don’t feel adequate to meet; or I sense that someone else doesn’t like me and I perceive (rightly or wrongly) purposeful rejection.

What I learned a long time ago about my anxiety is that it is caused by fear. I generally get anxious when I feel ill-prepared, inadequate or unworthy. These feelings tap into my biggest fears as a person. Therefore, getting a handle on my anxiety in the past has meant being able to identify the underlying fear I am experiencing and asking Jesus to help me with that fear.

For instance, the first anxiety episode I can recall occurred in my college days. My anxiety affected not only my emotional well-being but my physical well-being. I was rail thin. I had digestive problems that had never been diagnosed, but I believe would have been diagnosed as irritable bowel syndrome. I felt jumpy and nervous all the time — and, if you have ever had IBS, you know that it makes your stomach emit weird grumbling sounds at extremely inopportune times. I found this problem could be helped with exercise, but it still made it very awkward for me to sit in quiet lecture halls and classrooms.

In one pivotal spiritual moment one day at church, God told me why I was having the problems with anxiety that I was: I had a fear of failure. When I got this revelation, I knew at the core of me that I was really afraid that I wouldn’t pass my college courses. I didn’t think I was smart enough. I had a high grade point average, but that wasn’t enough to convince me that I wasn’t going to miserably fail at some point.

And I realized something else: I could trust Jesus with my college courses. I could stop worrying about failure and just do my best. And for whatever reason just knowing what fear I was dealing with and the cause of my anxiety in that scenario helped it go away. Once I addressed the anxiety, the digestive problems went away as well.

Anxiety cropped up in small ways again when I moved on into a career in teaching, but I could usually identify the fear behind my emotions and get calm again. And when I later left teaching and had a major episode of anxiety that included a panic attack on a stage — the answer explaining that became fairly clear right after the fact.

However, this particular time, in the case of my house sale, I didn’t know why I was anxious. I didn’t know why I couldn’t sleep and why it felt like I was running a marathon each day even though I wasn’t even jogging.

The Solution to My Problem

And, just like I have so many times before, because I didn’t know how to make the anxiety stop in this case, I took my question to Jesus, and I asked Him: “God, what am I afraid of?” (Oh, and by the way, Lord, can you make my anxiety stop?)

I didn’t get an answer after that prayer session or even the day after. In fact, a few days went by and then I did receive an answer in a way that I wasn’t really expecting.

My mom had been in frequent communication with me about the house since we had put it on the market. When we lost our buyers, and I told her I was having a tough time, she sent me a text a few days later with a Bible verse she had received from the Lord for me:

For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry. (Habbakuk 2:3 –KJV)

After she sent me the verse, I had to meditate on those words. I even went so far as to read some commentary on the verse to help me shed light on its meaning for my circumstance. And it wasn’t until a few days later that what had been an extremely fuzzy situation began to clarify, and I realized something: I did have an underlying fear, and here’s what it was: I was afraid that what God had told me about moving wasn’t going to come true.

And if it didn’t come true, that was very bad for me because I had announced to everyone that this move was God-orchestrated. I had written an entire blog post about how God had directed this move as a deliverance for me out of my situation.

You see, if you look at the Habbakuk verse in context, the verse is written by the prophet Habbakuk for the nation of Israel to trust that God would bring down the powerful Chaldeans and not allow them to destroy Israel. He instructed them not to give up just because it hadn’t happened yet and to wait for God’s appointed time (Matthew Henry Commentary). And not only that, the words indicate a waiting not only for deliverance but God’s counsel, God’s direction.

I was feeling a little like the nation of Israel. I had been given a word of what was to come, but the circumstances with my house not selling speedily were making me doubt that it was going to happen.

Over and over, the phrase from the Habakkuk verse “though it tarry, wait for it” just became one that I began repeating over and over because the truth was, I hadn’t heard a single thing from God since the botched offers. I was worrying that maybe I had missed something. Maybe there was something I hadn’t done right. Worry just consumed me.

This simple phrase from Scripture helped me to stop and reassure myself that God had told us to move. He would have to worry about our house selling and every other detail. And for that moment — I wasn’t to worry or to fear — only wait.

Getting Rid of Anxiety With One Question

Everyone is different. Not everyone suffers anxiety for the same reasons as me. I get that. It may seem a little silly to have a “formula” of sorts for beating anxiety. But I believe that anxiety will be a problem for certain people like me again and again. We may get through one bout but another will come. And, although every time is unique, this situation with my house reminded me of what I had done at other key points when I was experiencing anxiety — the solution I had turned to again this time.

The moment I feel anxiety coming on, I need to do the following: Ask one question of one Person.

The question I need to ask is “What am I afraid of?” and the Person I need to ask it of is Jesus. You see, I couldn’t detect the reason for my anxiety in this most current instance just by asking the question alone. I am not saying that we can’t ever identify our fears or seek help from another wise person or counselor, but for me, I needed to just ask the question of the One who already knew.

I didn’t know initially because I didn’t ask God right away. I was asking the question, but I didn’t ask Him the question until a few days went by. I tried to figure it out by myself.

One passage of Scripture that has taken on new meaning for me this year is the Samaritan woman at the well passage. She said of her encounter with Jesus: “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did” (John 4:29).

I believe that not only did Jesus look into her soul and know her deeds without anyone telling him, I believe that He told her the why. That is why she got so excited. He gave Himself as her solution to her deepest soul problems.

The same is true for me and you. Christianity isn’t a dead, has-been religion with a god made by human hands. The Jesus of the Bible is as real and true today as He was for the Samaritan woman at the well. He is the only One who can look into me and see why I do the things I do.

Beulah girl dec jan (1)

And that why may be the key to overcoming problems in my life I don’t know how to deal with on my own.

Yes, even those making sleep leave my eyes and a tremble invade my heart.

Do you struggle with anxiety? What are some ways that you have been able to cope with fear in your life? Share in the comments below.

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer, and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to love music and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

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