Biblical Keys to Staying Calm – (Or Maybe Stop Worrying About TV News!)
Sermon by Neil Earle
For years one of my favorite scriptures was 2 Timothy 1:7: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (KJV).
That was back in 1965 when I first absorbed these words, two years after President Kennedy’s death and three years after the harum-scarum Cuban Missile Crisis. There have been plenty of fears and scares since then but today’s steady drum-beat of disturbing news has a context – things are probably not as bad as they seem. At least not as bad as the extremist-tinged rant-obsessed media consistently portrays.
I speak with some experience. Not so long ago my wife, Susan, and I drove thru 7 states and 1700 miles and found – pockets of trouble yet – but most people getting on with life, most people good at their jobs and wanting to excel. Our realtors – in California and Tennessee – both women – were top notch and as honest and professional as they come. They both interacted to make this major transition as smooth as possible.
Of course, we all have troubles. There are daily, more personal financial and family issues to worry about – aging parents, out-of-work children, danger running amok in schools. Yes, lots to worry about even as we face our daily commutes but – be encouraged – there is plenty of help and counsel available from God’s word.
Mental Health is Contagious
Good mental health is contagious. As one who has lost both parents in the past four years and uprooted the family ¾ of the way across the country with new doctors, dentists and health care concerns to meet I can say it fairly confidently: We can stay sane in this world of confusion. Life is worth living and living well. Jesus even promised his people a more abundant life (John 10:10).
But…we need sound psycho-spiritual strategies to cope with this world's steady drip-drip-drip of frustrations, even when digested second-hand (and often inaccurately) from the TV news. Negative thoughts stress the body. Depending on the intensity of these emotions the physical reaction can result in everything from a lump in the throat to something far more severe.
But…we can still live sanely and confidently. St. Paul said in Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” This from a man who was beaten with rods three times, faced a cat-o-nine tails five times, stoned with rocks three times, ship-wrecked three times.
How did he do it?
He tells us more in 2 Timothy 1:6-7: “Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”
Getting it Together
St. Paul and his primary mentor, the Living Jesus Christ, showed him how to handle life’s pressures even to the point of death. The Holy Spirit can help us capitalize on and intensify inside us what doctors and counselors see as essential traits of mentally healthy people. Here they are:
- Mentally healthy people have a workable realistic perspective on life. With their minds fixed in a balanced way on heavenly things (Colossians 3:1) they are able to rise above all the tumults and seeming emergencies going on around them. “Jesus said, I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd gives His life for the sheep.”
Mature people know this: Most fears don’t happen! The worst is not always the reality not by a long shot. Maturity means facing our trials and keeping on with the calling we have for the days ahead. Paul himself radiated a sense of purpose and what General Bernard Montgomery called “infectious optimism.” This is why Paul the Prisoner told King Agrippa who was supposed to be judging him: “I would to God that not only you, but also all who hear me today, might become both almost and altogether such as I am, except for these chains (Acts 26:29).'”
- The mentally healthy person feels worthwhile. He respects himself while knowing his strengths and weaknesses. He loves himself but not too little and not too much. He accepts what he is and feels significant to his loved ones and to other important people in his life. It matters that he is alive and that people are depending on him. The wise rabbis said, “If I am not for myself, who will be? But if I am for myself only, what am I?” That’s balance and not easy to hold onto permanently.
A sense of outgoing, outflowing mission in life every day offers potential for good feelings of accomplishment and achievement. “Desire accomplished,” says Proverbs 13:9, “is sweet to the soul.” Again, St. Paul sets an example of healthy realism. He says in 1 Corinthians 15:9-10,” But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.”
Paul knew his life mattered and that his life was going somewhere this mundane, mortal existence, somewhere truly stupendous. To live for him was Christ and to die was a way to gain the best reward of all. This is conquering Christian hope and it can be built inside us through a lifetime of striving, overcoming obstacles, and following the lead of God’s Spirit.
- A mentally healthy person faces life's demands squarely and is not too big to ask for help. Remember, even Jesus wanted friends around him when he faced his darkest hour:
Luke 22:39-46: “Coming out, He went to the Mount of Olives, as He was accustomed, and His disciples also followed Him. When He came to the place, He said to them, 'Pray that you may not enter into temptation.' And He was withdrawn from them about a stone's throw, and He knelt down and prayed, saying, 'Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.' Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him…. When He rose up from prayer, and had come to His disciples, He found them sleeping from sorrow. Then He said to them, 'Why do you sleep? Rise and pray, lest you enter into temptation.'”
Jesus felt anxiety but he placed it in perspective. Knowing his friends were there made a difference.
- Mentally healthy people handle their feelings effectively. They are honest about their feelings but don’t let them dominate. They know that quite often feelings follow actions. They don’t let fear and doubt push them around. They have learned that great life lesson that there is usually a way around troubles no matter how intimidating they seem at the time.
After all, feelings, emotions, are often as temporary as a gust of wind. “This too shall pass,” we can say when we are up against some real or emotionally manufactured crisis.
Notice 1 Corinthians 10:13: “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.”
Thus Biblical examples and Biblical strategies can help and stabilize the Christian as she goes through this thing called life with all its twists and turns. Here’s Paul’s legacy to us who try to follow his example of living life with Faith, Hope and Courage. It’s found in Philippians 2:12-15: “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure…that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.”
That’s a good motto to face the day with, every day. With God’s help we can do it; we can stay calm and carry on.