Mastering Fear and Anxiety

fearThis is the third of the series of sermons I preached some years ago on: Mastering the Emotions.

“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”

John 14:27 KJV

Psychologists tell us we were born with only two fears: The fear of loud noises and the fear of falling! Therefore, if that is the case, all other fears are learned responses from environment or taught by parents and/or other authority figures. Now, there are cases in which fear is good! Fear is needed because it protects us from danger. It is part of our natural “fight or flight response” to our environment. The Bible says: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and the knowledge of the holy is understanding.” However, our fear of the Lord should not be a trembling fear of God’s punishment, but rather a reverence and respect for God’s character and nature. In other words, we shouldn’t fear God like a child fears the “boogie-man,” we should fear God in the same manner that a child respects his parents. The Lord desires for us to serve him, not out of fear but out of love! In fact, the Bible says that fear does not even come from God! 2 Timothy 1:7 says: “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” So these fears; the fear of falling, the fear of loud noises, the fear that alerts and protects us from danger and harm, and the fear of God are “good” fears that are natural or should be acquired.
In my research, I found over 518 phobias or fears that are officially recognized! There are even such fears as the fear of success, the fear of church, and the fear of preachers, on the list! Our world is so engulfed with fear, that most people think that fear and anxiety are the natural and normal responses to life! But, for the child of God, the one who claims Jesus as Lord and Savior, being controlled and dominate by fear is not normal! Paul said that we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. And if we are to be who God created and called us to be, then we must master fear and anxiety.
Yes! For the Child of God, for the one who knows the Lord, fear should have no dominion in their life! Over and over again, in the Biblical text, God encouraged people not to fear! He did and He does so because fear will keep us from doing what we could, should, and want to do! Fear will hinder us from being and doing all that God created and called us to be and do! Fear is the enemy of our dominion! The ancient Chinese writer, Sun Tze wrote in his treatise: “The Art of War”, that a primary military strategy is to know your enemy. Before you engage in battle, you should learn all you can about your opponent! Well, the emotions of fear and anxiety can be enemies of our potential, therefore we need to know all we can about them and how they operate!
There are several acronyms I found using the letters: F-E-A-R, that will help us to know what fear really is! Fear is False Evidence Appearing Real: Fear paints a picture not supported by reality. Fear is an incorrect response because fear is a reaction, not to evidence that is real, but to evidence that only looks real! We can master fear by understanding that many times things are not always as they appear!
Fear is Failure Expected and Received! There are spiritual laws that govern the universe that are just a real and powerful as the Law of Gravity! Two such laws are the Law of Attraction and the Law of Faith. The Law of Attraction says that we tend to attract the circumstances, people and situations into our lives that are in agreement with our dominant and consistent thoughts. The Law of Faith says that whatever we believe with conviction, whether it be good or bad, positive or negative, it will eventually come to pass and be manifested in our lives. That’s why Paul wrote: “Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” The things we constantly think about manifest themselves in our lives! Therefore, we should think good thoughts! That’s why we shouldn’t think about what we don’t want! We should only think about what we do want! The more we think about what we don’t want, the greater the possibility that what we don’t want will show up! In fact, we actually attract it because of the law of attraction! Some Bible scholars think the Law of Attraction may have been a factor in Job’s life because in the midst of his troubles Job said, “The thing I greatly feared has come upon me, and that which I was afraid is come unto me!”
In a sense, fear and faith are not really opposites, but in a very real way, they are two sides of the same coin! Fear is a type of faith because, like faith, fear is a conviction and an expectation. The difference is the conviction and expectation is in a negative and unwanted outcome. Fear is the substance of things not hoped for and the evidence of things not seen! Faith is belief directed toward what we want; fear is belief directed toward what we don’t want! We can master fear by simply not thinking about and not focusing our attention on what we don’t want! We can master fear by starving our fears and feeding our faith!
Fear is Forgetting Everything is All Right! The Disciples were fearful in the storm because they forgot Jesus was on board! And even when they remembered he was on board, they forgot who he was! They forgot he was the master of the sea! Yes! We fear because we forget that greater is He that is within us than he that is in the world! We fear because we forget that Jesus said, “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” It is because he has overcome the world that we can overcome the world! We fear because we forget that our Heavenly Father knows what we have need of and He has promised to supply our every need! Yes! My brothers and sisters, we can master fear by simply remembering that no matter how it looks, the Lord says; “Everything is all right!”
Yes! We need to know fear! But not only do we need to know fear, we also need to know how fear operates! We need to know that fear is contagious! Therefore, we need to inoculate ourselves from fear because fear can be passed on and we can be infected with fear from other people! Listen to the instructions the Lord gave Moses to give to the people concerning war in Deuteronomy 20:1-4, 8: “When thou goest out to battle against thine enemies, and seest horses, and chariots, and a people more than thou, be not afraid of them: for the LORD thy God is with thee, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt. And it shall be, when ye are come nigh unto the battle, that the priest shall approach and speak unto the people, And shall say unto them, Hear, O Israel, ye approach this day unto battle against your enemies: let not your hearts faint, fear not, and do not tremble, neither be ye terrified because of them; For the LORD your God is he that goeth with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you. . . . And the officers shall speak further unto the people, and they shall say, What man is there that is fearful and fainthearted? let him go and return unto his house, lest his brethren’s heart faint as well as his heart.” According to the NLT, the officers said to the people: “Is anyone here afraid or worried? If you are, you may go home before you frighten anyone else!” Contagious fear caused the Children of Israel to spend some 40 years wandering in the wilderness. The report of the ten spies was motivated by fear and it was their fear that infected the multitude, who in turn, rebelled against the expressed command of the Lord to occupy the land! Yes! Fear is like a bad cold! If you hang around fearful people; you will catch it! Therefore, one way we can master fear is by isolating and insulating ourselves from fearful people!
Now, you might have noticed that our subject is “Mastering Fear and Anxiety.” Some people don’t think so, but there is a difference between fear and anxiety. Fear is an emotional response to a known or definite threat, whereas, anxiety is often a response to an imprecise or unknown threat. It comes from the mind’s vision of possible danger. In other words, anxiety comes from our minds thinking of something that could happen! Anxiety is being worried about being fired from your job when there is no concrete evidence of it happening! Anxiety occurs because we focus, not on what is wrong, but on what could go wrong! The difference between fear and anxiety is that you have fear when you’re in a dark alley and you see a man headed in your direction with a knife! Anxiety is when you are in a dark alley and you see a man headed in your direction and you “think” he may have a knife! Fear is when you run a red light and you look in your rear-view mirror and the police is right behind you with his lights on! Anxiety is when you haven’t broken any laws and you are uneasy when you look in your rear-view mirror and the police is right behind you with his lights on! Fear may result from a real threat, but anxiety comes from just the possibility of a threat.
Well, I need to come to a close now! I don’t have to tell you the damage that fear and anxiety can cause. Fear and anxiety can elevate your blood pressure and body temperature. Fear and anxiety can cause fear and panic attacks during which there is severe shortness of breath, causing even further panic, which in turn could lead to strokes and heart attacks! In other words, besides preventing us from doing what we could, should and want to do, uncontrolled fear and anxiety is unhealthy and lethal! But, we can master fear and anxiety! The Bible says that we are to be anxious for nothing! When we’re fearful and anxious, we’re really saying we don’t trust God and that God is a liar! In the text Jesus said: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” The peace Jesus gives is not the absence of conflict, but rather the calmness in the midst of conflict! Peace in the midst of the storm! He said: “Don’t let you heart be trouble, neither let it be afraid!” If we are anxious for nothing, but by prayer and supplication, make our request known to God, the peace that passes all understanding will guard our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus! It is the peace that comes from the Prince of Peace that gives us the power to master fear and anxiety!

Mastering the Emotion of Anger

angry man

Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath:
Ephesians 4:26 KJV

And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.” Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry,
Ephesians 4:26 NLT
Of all of the emotions we experience, anger is perhaps the most volatile and dangerous! Someone has said that anger is like a wild horse that must be tamed! Yes! I’m sure all of us can testify of people who have gone to an early grave because of uncontrolled anger! We all know of someone in prison because of uncontrolled anger! Over and over again, we have heard of people who have said things they shouldn’t have said and done things they shouldn’t have done because of uncontrolled anger! It was uncontrolled anger that caused the first murder! Cain killed Abel because he did not control his anger! Yes! Of all the emotions, anger has the potential of causing the most harm! And so, my brothers and sisters, it is imperative that we learn how to master the emotion of anger!
Now before we learn how to master the emotion of anger, we must understand that anger is natural part of our humanity. In other words, anger is not an abnormal or an aberrant emotion. However, Christianity has traditionally discounted anger, describing it as part of our “carnal nature” and representative of human depravity. By the Middle Ages, anger had become one of the Seven Deadly Sins. Sermons have traced anger back to the Fall and many preachers have suggested that were it not for original sin, human beings would not be plagued by anger at all! Therefore, many Christians believe that anger is rooted in our sinful nature and has no place in the life of a mature Christian. But if anger is sin, then God is a sinner! The OT is full of statements that refer to God’s anger. In Exodus 4:14, the Lord became angry with Moses. Numbers 11:1 tell us that the Lord’s anger was kindled against the Children of Israel in the wilderness. Psalm 7:11 tells us that God is angry with the wicked everyday! If anger is a sin, then Jesus was a sinner! Mark 3:5 says that Jesus was angry because of the hardness of the religious leaders’ hearts when he healed the man with the withered hand on the Sabbath day. Jesus was angry when he whipped the money-changers out of the Temple! No! Anger is not sin: Anger is a universal emotion that all of us experience! Even God experiences anger!
Therefore the emotion of anger is not in itself sinful; it is our response to the emotion of anger that is often sin. No! It is not so much the anger that is sin; it is what is done in response to the anger! Anger becomes sin when anger is in control. Let me show you what I’m talking about: The first instance of anger recorded in the Bible is in the story of Cain and Abel. The Bible says that in the process of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground. Abel also brought an offering of the firstborn of his flock and the fat portions thereof. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering, he had no regard. In other words, the Lord accepted Abel and his offering, but He rejected Cain and his offering. Because of this, the Bible says that Cain was very angry and depressed. And the Lord said to Cain: “Why are you angry and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it!” Now, we don’t have time now, so I’m not going to get into the particulars as to why Abel and his offering was accepted while Cain and his offering was rejected. What I want to point out is that the Lord told Cain his anger would lead him into sin, but it didn’t have to be that way! If Cain had just gained the mastery over his anger and done the right thing, everything would have been all right! Of course, we know the story! Cain did not exercise dominion over his anger and he killed his brother!
I brought us to this text because it presents an interesting possibility that has been traditionally overlooked by most Biblical scholars, commentators, and the Church! Notice that this incident is after the Fall but before Pentecost! Yet according to the text, Cain had the capacity to control and master his anger! In other words, although Cain had a depraved nature and did not have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the Lord said that he still could have controlled and mastered his anger! Cain killed Abel because he refused to exercise control and master his anger. He allowed anger to master and gain control over him! There is no neutral ground, whether it’s anger or any other emotion; you either control your emotions or your emotions will control you!
The KJV rendition of our text says: “Be angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down on your wrath.” Some have interpreted this as a command to be angry. But a careful analysis of the syntax of the Greek text suggests that Paul was saying: “If you become angry.” Or “Even if you are angry.” Or “In your anger.” “Do not sin!” And don’t let your anger roll over into the next day! Deal with your anger appropriately and in a timely manner. Therefore, I favor the New Living Translation which says: “Don’t sin by letting anger control you.” Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry.” The sin is not in getting angry; the sin is in letting your anger control you!
By now you might be saying: “Well preacher, we know how anger can and often does gain control over us, now tell us how we can gain control over our anger.” The first step in mastering the emotion of anger is to recognize and acknowledge it for what it is! You must first recognize the fact that you are angry! Sometimes anger can disguise itself behind other feelings. Most people don’t recognize them as such, but jealousy and resentment are really forms of anger! When you are jealous of what someone else has; you are really just angry that you don’t have what they have! And then, we need to acknowledge we are angry when we are angry. Many times, because of embarrassment and guilt, we try to deny our anger by calling it something else. I’ve heard religious people say: “I’m not angry! I’m just filled with righteousness indignation!” Shakespeare said: “A rose by any other name is just as sweet.” So, no matter how you try to dress it up, anger by any other name is still anger! Unless you recognize and acknowledge your anger; you will never deal with anger appropriately.
The second step is to take responsibility for your anger. Don’t try to shift the responsibility for your anger to someone or something else. I’ve heard people say it, and I have even said it myself: “He or she made me mad!” Or “That made me mad!” But the truth of the matter is: Nobody and nothing can “make” us mad! We have a choice! If we become angry, our anger is really not because of the actions of the other person or the situation; it is because of how we perceived and chose to respond. Mark Cosgrove, author of “Counseling for Anger,” says: “Nothing makes people angry. . . People make themselves angry. . . At their most fundamental level, they have chosen to be angry.” Andrew Lester, author of “The Angry Christian” says: “Because we can normally choose which narratives threaten us and which do not, we have a significant amount of freedom to decide not only what we do with our anger, but also what we allow to trigger our anger in the first place. The freedom to choose makes it inappropriate to place responsibility for experiences and expressions of anger on anyone or anything beyond ourselves.” One definition of anger is: “An emotion related to one’s psychological interpretation of having been offended, wronged or denied and a tendency to undo that by retaliation.” Notice, the definition says that anger is an emotion related to one’s psychological interpretation of having been offended, wronged or denied.” In other words, our anger is a reaction, not necessarily to what is, but more so to what we perceive in our mind to be! That’s why often we get angry over things and situations that often turn out to be things and situations in which our anger is not justified. So in taking responsibility for our anger, we must understand and acknowledge that when we get angry it is because we choose to do so! And we must understand and acknowledge that sometimes we choose to get angry, not because of what really is, but more so because of our perception of what is!
The third step in mastering anger is to figure out the why. OK, so we acknowledge that we are angry. We take responsibility for our anger: It’s not somebody else fault, we decided to become angry! But the question is why? Why are we angry? Find out whether feeling threaten and thereby feeling angry is necessary and appropriate. Sometimes we get angry over something that is really not worth getting angry about! And once we discover that our response is indeed inappropriate and unjustified, we must learn how to interrupt and change our response. We can do this by just taking the time to stop and think! Most of the time, our anger is really just a habitual reaction! We get angry, not because it’s appropriate and justified, but we get angry because, in similar circumstances we have always gotten angry! Our anger response has become a habit!
Well there is whole lot more I could say about mastering the emotion of anger, but let me just close by saying that it is imperative that we do so! Uncontrolled and unresolved anger is a cancer to the soul and the body! Not only does it affect our walk with the Lord and our relationships with one another, it also affects the health of the body! Chronic internal unresolved anger will cause headaches, high blood pressure, nervous stomach and irritable bowel syndrome!
Remember, the spirit controls the mind. The mind controls the emotions. And the emotions control the body! We can master the emotion of anger when we let the Spirit of God have His way in our lives! We can master the emotion of anger when our minds are renewed by the Word of God and we think the thoughts that God would have us to think! We must master the emotion of anger because if we don’t, it not only will master us, it will destroy us as well!

Mastering Your Emotions

A few years ago, I preached a series of sermons on “Mastering the Emotions.” The gist of the series was to highlight just how much our emotions affect our lives and to highlight the fact that if we don’t master our emotions, our emotions will master us!
The following is the text of the introductory sermon of that series and I will post the rest of the sermons of that series in the next posts:
“Mastering the Emotions”

“Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.”
Proverbs 16:32 ESV
“He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls.”
Proverbs 25:28 KJV

In Genesis 1:26-28, the record states: “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” This passage has been labeled as the Dominion Mandate because from it we learn God’s original intent was for humanity to have dominion over the earth! In addition to the broken fellowship and the lost relationship with the Creator, another consequence of man’s rebellion was the loss of dominion! For you see, Adam did not lose Heaven in Garden of Eden; he lost dominion! But thank God today! The Last Adam was sent restore everything the first Adam lost! We often preach and teach that Jesus came to restore man’s relationship with God and that is true, but he also came to restore man’s dominion. However, this relationship can’t be restored and the dominion cannot be realized except through faith in Jesus! One of the things that so distresses me about the modern church today, is that we really don’t know how blessed we are! We don’t know how great our salvation really is! We settle for a ticket to Heaven when we die, but our salvation is so much greater than that! Now, just like anybody else, I want to go to Heaven when I die! But I discovered that eternal life is a present possession of the believer and that eternal life provides power for victory in this life as well as an eternal dwelling in the next! Through Jesus, in addition to going to Heaven when we die, we also regain the dominion that Adam lost while we live!
Now this dominion, this power, this authority and ability to master and rule is needed in every aspect of our lives! But nowhere is it more needed than in our personal development. Of the many things that seek to hinder us from being all that God created us to be, the greatest threat to personal growth and maturity is the person in the mirror! We try to put the blame on other people, on things and even on the devil, but our main problem is our self! Most of the pain and misery we experienced in life is self-inflicted because we fail to exercise self-control.
Our text words say that the one who rules his spirit (that is his emotions) is better or greater than the one who captures a city! On the other hand, the one who has no rule over his spirit is like a city with broken walls! Taken together, these proverbs illustrate our need to master the emotions! We must master our emotions because if we don’t control our emotions, our emotions will control us!
Now before you take issue with that statement, permit me to show you just how much our lives are influenced by our emotions. First of all, we must understand that emotions are a natural part of our make-up! The LORD GOD did not create us as machines with no feelings or emotions. And our feelings or emotions work like a closed-circuit. Our emotions dictate our actions, while at the same time our actions influence our emotions. There are some people who like to think that their actions are dictated directly and only by their reasoning or their will. But that is not how the human psyche works! It is our emotions or feelings that directly dictate our actions! Let me show you what I’m talking about! Our nation, yes, even the world is facing an epidemic of alcohol and substance abuse. But why do people take drugs and drink alcohol? They do it to make themselves “feel” a certain way! Why does a person buy a luxury automobile or a sports car? They do it because owning and driving those vehicles make them feel a certain way! Some people get depressed about their bills. So, to make themselves feel better, they eat or go shopping! They don’t eat because they are hungry; they eat because eating makes them feel better! They go shopping, often buying clothes or items they really don’t need and in many cases, can’t afford, but they do it to make themselves feel better! Some people even come to church, not to find solutions for their issues, but merely for an emotional experience to make them feel better! These people come to church with what I call, “a night-club mentality!” They don’t come to gain strength or to find answers to their problems; they come just to have a “good time!” All of these actions are dictated, not directly by the reason or the will, but rather, by the emotions! Our emotions cannot and should not be denied, however they should be dealt with in the appropriate manner! The emotions will make you or they will break you! If you don’t master and control your emotions; your emotions will surely master and control you!
So how does one master and control the emotions? The first key is in learning how our emotions work in the dynamics of the human experience. As I said earlier, our actions are not directly dictated by our reason or our will, but rather by our emotions. In other words, we do what we do because of what and how we feel. Our actions are either in response to emotions or we act to stimulate or evoke emotions. In other words, we do what we do because we feel a certain way or we do what we do to feel a certain way! In either case, the direct dictating factor is the emotions! But the Bible says that we shouldn’t live at the mercy of our emotions! The Bible says we should rule our spirit! We should master our emotions! But the question remains: How? How do emotions work and how and where do they fit in the human equation? Well, if we are to believe the Bible, we were created as spiritual beings wrapped in human flesh. Therefore our essential core is spirit! It is through our spirit that we commune with God because God is Spirit. It is the spirit that governs our mind and it is our mind that governs our emotions. It is our emotions that govern our actions and it is our actions that produce the results or the circumstances in our lives. Therefore, if we want to change the circumstances or the results we get in our lives, we must start with our spirit and our mind. Now, without the help of the Holy Spirit, the human spirit does not have the capacity to access the power and wisdom needed to successfully master the emotions! The only way for man to successfully “rule over” or have dominion is to first submit to the authority and dominion of God. Once we are in right relationship with God, the human spirit is energized by the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit empowers and teaches Divine Wisdom. It is through the power of the Holy Spirit and the wisdom of the Word of God that our spirits are made alive and our minds are renewed. Now, our minds need to be renewed because it is the mind that governs our emotions and it is our emotions that govern our actions and it is our actions that create the circumstances of our lives. The Bible has always said it, but now psychologists, physicians and clinicians of many disciplines, all testify that how and what we think has a direct bearing on how and what we feel. Thinking “happy thoughts” produces happy feelings. Thinking sad or depressing thoughts produce feelings of sadness and depression. The key to the equation is that we have absolute control over our thoughts. However, most people don’t exercise this control and thereby allow their minds to be easily influence to think counter-productive thoughts, which in turn produce counter-productive emotions, which in turn produce counter-productive actions, which in turn produces counter-productive circumstances in their lives! Now remember, it is our thoughts that govern our emotions! Therefore if we are feeling a certain way, we can change the way we feel by simply changing our thoughts! That’s why the Bible says we should only think on certain things! Paul said: “Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”
Yes! When our spirit is correctly aligned with the Spirit of God, in Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God, we can master our emotions! We can exercise the dominion that God created us to have! We can master the emotions! It can be done! That’s why it’s repeated over and over again in the Bible: “Fear not!” We can master the emotion of fear! Jesus said: “Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid!” By implications he was saying: You are in control! Jesus also said: “Don’t be anxious! Don’t be angry at your brother without a cause! We can master anger, anxiety, depression and fear! God wouldn’t command us to do something if it was not possible for us to do it! We can master our emotions! And master them we must, because if we don’t, we will be mastered by them! And if we live, mastered by our emotions, then we are living under the dominion of the flesh! And the Bible says that those who are living in the flesh cannot please God! It is within the dominion of the flesh that the devil operates and exercises dominion over our lives! Therefore, we must master our emotions by living in the Spirit! Yes! We can master the emotions and master them we must if we are to achieve the victory and dominion our salvation provides!