Life Preservers: Part 2
As I turned the page in my calendar to a new month, my stomach twisted into a knot. There it was. The day I had been dreading since I wrote it down. It wasn’t a dentist appointment or jury duty. It actually wasn’t anything bad at all. But this particular event pushed my panic button. I knew that I would be anxious when this day came, so I was anxious about being anxious, which is absolutely as ridiculous as it sounds.
When I looked at the calendar, my mind immediately traveled to a place I visited often, too often to be honest. This is a place that a friend told me he called “What If Land”. I bet you’ve been there before too, but the anxious person is a VIP member in What If Land. We bought the fast pass to be the first in line for the horrors that await.
What If Land is the place where all your worst fears come true. Anything that you can imagine might happen, happens in What If Land. It starts with a simple thought: “What if _________?” That’s your ticket on the roller coaster. Then each successive “what if” comes with a new twist and turn, a scarier hill to climb and fall. By the time the ride is over, you’ve managed to concoct the worst possible scenario, and you’re entirely convinced it’s going to happen.
What If Land is not a place that God wants us to go. Taking a journey there does not honor or glorify Him. It’s sinful fear, plain and simple. But it took me a long time to grasp this. It wasn’t until I was drowning in the ocean of anxiety that I finally started to analyze myself. I finally began looking inward and seeing the habits and choices that were driving my fear and anxiety.
And for the first time in my life, I stopped trying to swim on my own, and I reached out for help. Once I did, I found some life preservers that have kept me afloat on a daily basis. I shared the first one in my last post, which you can read here. Today I want to share with you the second.
The second life preserver I found in the ocean of anxiety is a habit and a discipline. I learned to think about what I think about.
That might sound strange. It did at first to me as well. But I was amazed at how simple and novel it was and is. I went through so much of my life never thinking about my thoughts. I just let my thoughts come and go and have their way.
But I had no idea how devastating my thinking was to all of my life. Author and pastor Brad Bigney was the first to open my eyes to this. In his book Gospel Treason, which has been really helpful to me, he talks about how our thoughts determine our feelings which determine our actions which over time make us into who we are. Our thoughts are the root of the problem.
I used to think that talking to yourself is for crazy people. But I discovered that everyone talks to themselves, which may just mean that we are all crazy. You talk to yourself constantly, all day long. So the question is, what are you saying? That’s what I asked myself. (See? More talking to myself.)
What I discovered is that I was thinking fears and anxiety into existence. I was allowing my mind to venture into What If Land every day. I was living so much of my life in the future that I was totally destroying my present. I needed to learn to glorify God in the present by trusting him with the future.
The Bible talks about this very thing. I first discovered this idea in a book by Ed Welch called When I Am Afraid: A Step-by-Step Guide Away from Fear and Anxiety. In his book, Welch introduced me to what he calls the Manna Principle. In Exodus, as the Israelites traveled through the desert to the Promised Land, God gave them manna each morning to eat and sustain them.
But God gave the Israelites an important and somewhat strange condition to the gift of manna. They could only gather what they needed for that particular day. If they gathered too much, it would rot overnight.
Why? Why did God do this? What’s the big deal about saving a little manna for the next day? Or why not just give the Israelites enough manna for a week so they only have to gather on Monday morning?
God was teaching them to glorify Him in the present by trusting him with the future. He was teaching them to trust him every single day. If he gave them manna once a week, then they would only need to trust him once a week. But he gave them what they needed each day, no more and no less.
The Israelites struggled with this, as do we. They thought just like we do, “But what about tomorrow? What if the manna doesn’t come again?” Turns out that What If Land has been around for thousands of years.
Jesus also talked about this very idea when he said in Matthew 6:33-34, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” There it is, glorify God in the present by trusting him with the future.
Do you see how this all connects? God gives you the grace, or manna, you need for the day you need it. He’s not going to give you the grace you need for a future situation because you’re not there yet. If you already had that grace, you wouldn’t depend on him when the time came.
So when you allow your thoughts to journey into the future and you imagine yourself in that fearful situation, you are attempting to manage that situation totally on your own, without the grace of God. Of course you’re panicked. You don’t have God’s grace for that moment yet. So you doubt his future grace which, as a result, destroys your present.
We see this same idea about the importance of our thoughts in other places in scripture too. Romans 12:2 tells us to be transformed by renewing our minds. 1 Corinthians 2:16 says we should have the mind of Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:5 tells us to take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. And Philippians 4:8 commands us to think about things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy. Our thoughts are the key to glorifying God in the present.
Here’s how this became a life preserver for me. As I learned to think about what I think about, I discovered these messages of worry and fear that I was telling myself on a daily basis. So I began to fight back by preaching to myself instead of just listening to myself.
When my mind would wander off to panic and fear, I would discipline myself to stop the thought. Then I would say, “I don’t need to worry about that. That’s in the future. God will give me the grace for that moment when I need it. I’m not there yet. So I’m going to trust him right now in this moment and let my future rest with him.”
Does that always work? No, it doesn’t. It’s a battle. And it’s really stinking hard. It feels like every part of my being wants to worry and fear. But I keep fighting. Some days I win, and some days I lose. Some days the wave goes right over my head, and I come up gasping for air, wiping the salt water out of my eyes, bracing for the next one. But some days I ride right over it.
On those days of victory, I look down and see my life preservers holding me up. I see these important truths that God gave us in scripture keeping me afloat: I think about what I think about. I refuse to enter What If Land. And I preach the truth to myself so I glorify God in the present by trusting him with the future.
In my next post, I’ll tell you exactly the message I preach to myself in my weakest moments.