By: Logan Douglas
There I was, just driving and minding my own business. I hadn’t said anything of much substance, mainly just your run of the mill superficial conversation starters and fillers. But a good friend of mine, a non-believing Icelander, asked me, “Is everything okay?”
I was a bit taken aback by this question. At the present moment I was more focused on where he and I were going to have lunch, but according to him, something was “off”.
In fact, something was off. I am trying to plant an international church in Iceland during a global pandemic. The previous sentence includes three large stressors: planting a church, living in a foreign context, and navigating life in the midst of a pandemic.
So why was I taken aback by his question? I think it is because oftentimes we don’t admit that we are stressed and/or anxious.
Typically, ministry leaders are the ones who are sought out for pastoral guidance and counselling by those who are stressed and anxious. But if you are a ministry leader, where do you turn if you are stressed? What do you do if you are anxious?
Admit That You Are Human
In the busyness and grind that is a life in ministry, there is this temptation to “go go go” as if you are the Energizer bunny with an unlimited supply of energy.
You skip out on the healthy patterns you know you should have in your life and instead you fill your calendar with task after task, meeting after meeting, event after event, and then you crash only to repeat it the next day.
I do this just as much as you do. We’re ignoring our humanity to our own detriment. One primary way this negatively affects us is that we do not acknowledge our stress and anxiety. Or maybe we acknowledge it, but we don’t address it in any meaningful way.
We might say a quick prayer to God, seeking peace and strength. We might tell a friend or our spouse that we are stressed. Yet we offer up little more than half-hearted confessions.
A full acknowledgement of your humanity will humble you and drive you further into the rest given to you through Jesus Christ. If you do not admit to yourself that you are human, and therefore finite and susceptible to things like anxiety & stress, then you will ignore Jesus’ loving call to come to Him for rest.
“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.” (Matthew 11:28-29)
These are stressful times we are living through, but I do not think we are the only Christians who have lived through stressful times. As a matter of fact, I believe that every day since the fall of Adam and Eve has been stressful and full of trouble (Gen 3:15-19; Mt 6:34).
Yet we are called to have hope and joy which are both secured in and through Jesus. So how do we fight for these two things in the midst of a stressful and anxious age? I want to recommend that we shift our focus and differentiate between what we can control and what we trust to God.
Shift Your Focus
If you turn on any 24/7 news channel or open up social media, you will be assaulted by images, videos, and words that are all aimed at getting you to freak out about almost everything that is going on everywhere to everyone.
It is just too much. Richard Caldwell recently tweeted, “Could it be that God didn’t wire us to carry every event, taking place in every part of the world, as if it were ours? Could it be that technology has produced a faux omniscience and omnipresence that is hurting mankind not helping it? Just a thought.”
You and I cannot stop the apocalypse. Read the Book of Revelation. This story has a happy ending! Christ returns!
While this does not mean that we should not care about the environment, politics, racial injustice, terrorism, and many other issues that are worthy of concern, it does mean that many of these things are much bigger than we are and some of them do not affect us directly.
So what should we do to try and reduce the stress and anxiety we feel because of them?
I once had the opportunity to ask Matt Chandler a question after he received some heavy criticism from people online. I asked him how he dealt with it, and his response was, “I have to make my world real small.”
He spoke about his practice of thinking about his own life and faithfulness, his marriage, his role as a father, and his position as a local church pastor. He had to focus on what he could control.
Let me encourage you to shift your focus away from the chaos that is out there and instead focus on your daily faithfulness in the little things and the important relationships God has given you.
Focus on your prayer life. Focus on your time spent in God’s Word. Focus on your family, your church community, and your friends and neighbors. Focus on being active and healthy. Focus on having rest, boundaries, and margin in your life.
With everything else, focus on God’s protection, provision, and promises.
Anxiety is a fallen human condition. It must have been common in the 1st century because Paul suffered from it and Jesus preached on it. Anxiety and stress both stem from a fear of the unknown, an unknown that we cannot control.
Yet we know that we are known by the God in control. We know that God is sovereign and rules and reigns over all of creation. We know that Jesus is with us until the end of the age (Mt 28:20). So let us meditate on the words of Jesus from His most famous sermon.
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest?…Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.” (Luke 12: 22-26, 31).
Logan Douglas is a missionary church planter in Iceland working with The Iceland Project.
Check out this week’s podcast from In The Trenches as Jared and Logan talk with Matt Hess about how COVID-19 has helped to remind us of what really matters in church planting.