Study Notes

Sleeping Through the Storm

Julie / February 27, 2015

One thing I have wrestled with a lot over the past few years is how does a Christian consider anxiety?

On one hand, our experience tells us that it is utterly impossible not be anxious, and so for many of us, our instinctive interpretation of “be anxious for nothing” is something along the lines of “that can’t possibly actually mean that.”  Or “anxiety isn’t a sin, it’s what you do with it that’s a sin.”  And so on.  And we have to categorize the idea of anxiety disorders and panic attacks, as well, which just don’t seem to fit into the biblical prohibition of anxiety as a sin.

I too find myself swayed by these arguments, and by the passionate testimony of my many friends with anxiety issues.

And yet.  Scripture actually doesn’t leave a whole lot of wiggle room.

Consider:

  • Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. (Isaiah 41:10)
  • Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. (Philippians 4:6)
  • Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on… therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow… (Matthew 6:25-34)
  • Cast all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7)
  • There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. (1 John 4:18)
  • Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous.  Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9)
  • Let not your hears be troubled, neither let them be afraid. (John 14:27)
  • The Lord is my light, and my salvation; whom shall I fear? (Psalm 27:1)
  • Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. (Psalm 23:4)
  • The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me? (Psalm 118:6)

Does any of this, any of this at all, leave room for “it depends on what you do with your anxiety” or “don’t sin in your anxiousness”?

Does God ask the impossible?

Last week, there was a terrible windstorm at our house—our house which has more trees within falling distance than I can count!   Trees which sway horrifyingly in the nighttime gloom and it is so easy to lie in bed listening to the wind howl and the sides of the house quake from the force of the wind, and imagine a tree falling on the house.  It’s easy to imagine our lovely children coming to harm in their beds from such a tree, and I was duly lying there imagining it!

But I had been thinking about this question of anxiety that night, and especially thinking about Jesus in Matthew 8:23-26:

As He got into the boat, His disciples followed Him.  Suddenly, a violent storm arose on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves. But He was sleeping.  So the disciples came and woke Him up, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to die!”

But He said to them, “Why are you fearful, you of little faith?” Then He got up and rebuked the winds and the sea. And there was a great calm.

Imagine: such a violent storm—an unexpected and sudden storm!—that the boat was actually being swamped.  This isn’t just a scary situation, it’s a lethal one.

We might think holiness would be to pray fervently for mercy and try to discipline our hearts to accept God’s will.

But Jesus, the very picture of holiness, was… asleep.

I love the way Michael Card tells the story in his lullaby for children:

Were You simply fearless, a sleeper so sound,
that You could find rest with the storm all around?
Was it simple trust in Your Father that made
the dangers seem like a charade?

Sweet Jesus, You slept through the storm in the bow;
through lightening, through thunder, You slumbered, but how?
You totally trusted your Father, that’s how
You slept through the storm in the bow.

[Michael Card, from “Come to the Cradle”]

Jesus also teaches us that there’s a time to pray fervently, of course; Gethsemane comes to mind.  But still there’s something to be said for the fact that He was asleep in the middle of a tremendously terrifying event.  In Gethsemane, I think, He was not anxious; rather, He knew something dreadful was surely coming, something to endure.  One can dread something without being fearful of it.

So I considered the trees, and the wind, and my fear.  Is God a good God?  Does not He care even more for my children that I ever could?  Does a tree fall without His willing it?  Was there, in short, any justification at all for my even being distracted by the howling wind?  My heavenly Father is the One who holds each tree upright even in the calm!

Why should I even be anxious?  Our God is sovereign, and He is good!  What could we possibly be afraid of, in light of that?  In Christ I may sleep peacefully even through the loudest, most dangerous storms!  And I can also recognize all my little excuses for anxiety—that it’s “realistic” or “impossible” or “natural”—for what they are.  I am not called to be anxious about worldly things, rather to fear nothing but God.  I am not called to worry, when He knows every hair on my head and every sparrow that falls and every flower that needs adornment.

We are so blessed to be able to rest in His marvelous and perfect provision, and there is never a reason to doubt it.

~

Because I do have dear friends who struggle with (medicated) anxiety, I want to clarify that “anxiety,” as the Bible uses the term, is worrying about things instead of trusting God.  It doesn’t mean shortness of breath or mental cloudiness or any of the other things which are beyond our consciousness and (hopefully) helped by medication.  It is unhelpful that our language conflates the theological concept with the physiological functions of our fallen bodies.  Stephen Altrogge writes helpfully about this.  I’m not talking about “anxiety disorders” here, but the sin of anxiety.

Study Notes, Womanhood, Women in the Bible

A Woman with Initiative

Julie / February 24, 2015

On the one hand, I am staunchly complementarian.  I don’t believe women should teach or have authority over men, or even speak in church.  I believe women should consider themselves positionally beneath (i.e. “submissive”) to their husbands.  I believe those four things are very clear in Scripture.

But I also think there are some nuances in Scripture that get confused with our cultural traditions of patriarchy—in short, that the patriarchy of 16th century France and the patriarchy of Scripture may not be the same thing, but it can be hard for us to sort out.

In particular, I find it hard to understand Deborah being a judge, and hard to understand Abigail blatantly going against what she knew would have been the wishes of her husband, if he had had the chance to contradict her.  But she knew he would be displeased.

Today I read and noticed another such story, one I had read but not really thought about: 2 Samuel 20.  This man named Sheba has decided to rebel against David, and Joab is sent to quench the rebellion and destroy, apparently, the entire town of Abel.

Now—first of all, David is clearly in the right here.  Sheba was evil and wicked and it was entirely correct to destroy him.  Secondly, there’s a whole town involved, with plenty of elders and men to step up and do the right thing.  The “leadership,” apparently, made the executive decision to twiddle their thumbs.

But, enter this unnamed woman, who we only know as “a wise woman.” (v. 16).  While Joab is trying to break down the walls of the city, she—and she alone—calls out.  “Listen! Listen! Please tell Joab to come here and let me speak with him.”

And Joab listened.  And she made an argument, a very neat, concise, persuasive argument.  She let him know that there were faithful people in the city, and reminded him of the importance of the city, both presently and historically, and theologically.  Her words are rebuking and even harsh: “Why would you devour YHWH’s inheritance?”

She got Joab’s attention, and he protested: “Never! I do not want to destroy!”  And he offers her a solution—deliver Sheba, and the city will be spared.

This is a woman he’s bargaining with.  A woman who responds by promising him Sheba’s head.

So what does she do?  Does she go to her husband and say, hey, tell the elders about this, get them to make a decision so we can abide by it?

Nope.  This woman, who the Bible declares to be wise, goes straight to “all the people” and offers “her wise counsel” (v. 22).  They listen to her, cut off Sheba’s head, and throw it over the wall to Joab, who promptly retreats and goes back to David.  Disaster averted.

There are many things here that are both encouraging and perplexing.  Scripture seems quite clear that the woman was wise and correct, both in her character and in her actions here.  And yet she is very avidly arguing with men: first Joab, then the men of her city.  She is contradicting authority, both Joab (in his authority to destroy the city), and the city rulers (by not waiting on them to approach Joab, and not going to them first to ask them to give up Sheba).  She makes arguments and gives counsel—to men!—not suggestions and obeisance.  She is single-handedly responsible for pushing them to cut off Sheba’s head.

Now, what she doesn’t do is try to usurp authority.  She doesn’t remind one of Jezebel.  Like Abigail, and Deborah, when the men are willing to do what ought to be done, she fades into the background and we never hear tell of her again.  She works by persuasion and arguments, not force or unjust threats.

She’s an excellent example of bold biblical womanhood, womanhood that takes initiative, makes persuasive arguments, is not daunted, and whose wisdom is not hidden under a bushel, but ably helps all those around her, even a whole town and a king, for the glory of God.

Study Notes

Gentleness: Christian speech.

Julie / February 18, 2015

The book of James is a hard read for anyone who is in possession of a tongue.

And the tongue is a fire. The tongue, a world of unrighteousness, is placed among the parts of our bodies. It pollutes the whole body, sets the course of life on fire, and is set on fire by hell… no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

[James 3:6,8, hcsb]

The passage is bleak.  He doesn’t present tongues as a neutral thing, useful for blessing and cursing, he presents it as an evil thing, an untamable, impossible thing.  Like our flesh, like Paul complains about in Romans 7:15.  If only we could rip out our tongues!  If anyone doesn’t stumble in what they say, James says, they’re a perfect man (James 3:2).  The tongue is the final frontier of sanctification, the last chip to fall.

Honestly, I found this one of the most depressing chapters of Scripture I’ve studied lately, and it wasn’t until rereading it this morning that a little ray of hopefulness—of purpose—started to seep in.

The hopefulness, I think, is in verses 13 and 17-18:

Who is wise and has understanding among you? He should show his works by good conduct with wisdom’s gentleness. … the wisdom from above is first pure, then peace-loving, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without favoritism and hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who cultivate peace.

My Bible helpfully cross-referenced 1 Peter 3:15, which tells us to make our defense (for the Gospel) “yet do it with gentleness and respect,” as well as 2 Timothy 2:25 which tells elders to correct their opponents—in the context of teaching sound doctrine!—to correct their opponents “with gentleness.”   And that when we are correcting a sinning brother, we should restore them “in a spirit of gentleness” (Galatians 6:1).

And, of course, verses like Proverbs 15:1 (“a soft answer turns away wrath”) and Titus 3:2 (“avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people”), 1 Corinthians 13 (love is patient, kind, not provoked, not selfish, doesn’t keep a record of wrongs, bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things, never ends!), Ephesians 4:2 (“walk… with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”), James 1:19-20 (“be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God”).

Gentleness is all over Scripture.  Soft words.  Patience.  Long-suffering.  Gentleness is the way we respond to even our opponents and enemies.  Gentleness is the heart of the yoke Jesus tells us to take upon ourselves (Matthew 11:29).  Your gentleness made me great,” David praises in Psalm 18.

And here, in James 3, gentleness is the proof of wisdom, of maturity.  Gentleness that loves and leads to peace.  Wise people “cultivate peace.”  Beautiful phrase.  Gentleness that is compliant (interesting word, that!) and merciful.

The tongue works great evil.  And James is really honest about that, and it’s really… disturbing, the power that one little part can wield over the whole.  But then he spells out the alternative—the wise man is the gentle man, the one who seeks peace and pursues it (Psalm 34:14).  The wise man isn’t the one who is full of great insights and always quick to correctly exegete a passage, or even the one everyone regards as giving reliable advice… the wise man is the one who is speaking gently and kindly and selflessly and actively working to cultivate peace.  And while the anger of man doesn’t produce the righteousness of God, the gentleness—a gift and hallmark of God, a fruit of the Spirit—that is indeed how “the fruit of righteousness is sown, in peace, by those who cultivate peace” (James 3:18).  The wisdom from above—which leads to the fruit of the righteousness—is gentle.