This is the fourth in a series of messages on fretting and worry.
What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry, everything to God in prayer.
(Joseph Scriven, 1855)
Be pleased, O God, to deliver me.
O Lord, make haste to help me!
I heard a radio talk show host ask a business consultant,”What is the most important thing a person in business can do to achieve success?”
She answered, “Set aside your ego and ask for help.”
That rings a bell with me. In 29 years as a business attorney, I have counseled many clients who were in trouble because they stubbornly tried to go it alone, ignoring the advice of their bankers, accountants, sales staff, attorneys, colleagues, and often their spouses, thinking that they were the only ones who understood their business and the market. It’s as if Frank Sinatra is on a continuous loop in their elevators, singing, “I did it my way.” They take on the added debt, buy the extra equipment, hire more employees, lease the bigger office, develop the new product line, only to realize too late that they didn’t ask if anyone wanted to buy what they were making. There are few times lonelier than the convergence of too much inventory, too few customers, and a loan coming due.
It is quite possible to get to the lonely spot by working yourself there, taking on more and more obligation, fretting that no one else can do what has to be done, do as much of it or do it as well.
As they say, “I’ve been there and done that” with regards to the latter choice. Work is my addiction, my drug of choice. There are people that spurn such ideas as the self-justifications of the lazy. They should talk to my wife and son. What other word but “addiction” describes a tolerance for wanting and needing more to do, the stress reaction and backlash when there isn’t enough to do to feed that tolerance, the self-deception and rationalization that I’m doing good work, necessary work, and one can never get too much of good and essential things, the loss of willpower to stop thinking of work even in bed, at worship or in prayer, the attachment to my tasks that diverts my attention from the God and the people who love me most, the anxiety that I will be worthless if I have nothing to do.
Elijah stood on Mount Carmel, alone, but for an unseen God. He took the plunge of faith, poured out all the water over the altar and into drought-dusty ditches and prayed. God sent fire, burned up his sacrifice, steamed away the water, melted the stones of the altar to glass shards and poured out the rain in blessing on the land.
What does one do for an encore when that on which one has focused all thought, effort, and desire is fulfilled, not by labor but by grace? One can accept with gratitude, the gift of a loving God, or, one can run farther, work harder, worry more about the future, all to prove worthiness to receive the gift. The conflict rages between the “head” knowledge that one’s significance rises from the creative spirit of God and the heart’s dread that one has not done enough and must do more to achieve self-sufficiency.
Victory is often the most dangerous time for us. Weariness and pride are a volatile mix. Though it wasn’t necessary, Elijah, fueled by success, still ran hard to stay in front all the way. Then the threats of an enemy– an enemy that just hours before proved powerless before God–broke through Elijah’s exhausted spiritual and emotional defenses. Elijah, tired and afraid, ran faster and harder as if his life depended on it.
What God had done for Elijah and his people was now forgotten in the anxious drive for self-preservation. Elijah ran out of the sweet rain of grace into arid country where his only shelter was a scraggly bush shadowing an unforgiving landscape of rock. He ignored the graciousness of angels who fed and watered him. “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you” (1 Kings 19:7), was the tender invitation of the angel of the Lord. Elijah took the strength God offered him, but he still ran over 200 miles into ever rougher country.
Elijah was a man on task, a man driven to do good for God; having convinced himself that no one else believed as strongly in the work or was willing to make the sacrifices necessary for the goal. Yes, he had seen the victory of God over his enemies back on the mountain. He had put those enemies to death himself at the direction of God. However, there were still threats, maybe more enemies, and if he didn’t deal with them, who would?
Elijah had reached the dangerous point when all of the skills and reactions one learns to survive, protect one’s self, even to zealously pursue a mission, become our enemies, not our friends. These conditioned responses refuse unemployment. They call us back again and again to a battle that is over, but we refuse the blessings of peace.
Like soldiers out in the jungle that didn’t get the news of surrender, we decline to leave the cramped, but well-defended bunkers of mere survival for the open spaces of love and freedom where the techniques that have come to define us are no longer necessary. We choose the meager living we know in all its limitations and meanness over the unlimited possibilities of heaven and its gracious host. This is the mind-set of the elder brother of the prodigal who preferred a grinding, everyday existence that he could control over the unconditional generosity of his loving father (Lk. 15:25-32).
We race on into the wilderness of our desolation looking for an answer that justifies our anxiety and suffering, but we never seem to find it. We lose our bearings of love and freedom in our frenzied search.
When we are lost in that wilderness, God pleads with us to think, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:9). We reply, “It is worse than you could possibly know, Lord. I am looking out for your interests because no one else is. I’m all you have and I’m preserving myself to serve you.”
God is patient with our thick-headed, obsessed selves. “Okay, Elijah, step to the entrance of the dark hole you’re living in and watch a process of elimination. You think you’re something and saving yourself for the big deal for me: try a force 5 tornado splitting the very rocks of your existence; or the upheaval of an 8.0 earthquake; or a firestorm? Do you really think you are equal to a God who can do all that (1 Kings 19:11-12)?” In our delusion we try to contend with and for a God we think is worthy of our significance, whether positive or negative.
It isn’t the big deal of the twister, the quake, or the heat that pulls the incipient Elijah in us out of the dark cul-de-sacs where we have driven our lives by work and fretting. It is “a sound of sheer silence” (v. 12), the soul-melting furnace of solitude, that stirs us to change. The quiet brings our adrenaline-addicted souls to crisis. Compulsive, alienated, fearful Elijahs can’t stand to be all alone. We take our first tentative steps towards God in repentance, but conflicted to the end, we attempt to cover our faces in what’s left of our defensive wrappings even as we come outside for a look.
God whispers,again “What are you doing here, Elijah? He asks rather than tells us because he really wants us to “get it.”
It is so very hard for us to get it. We babble our response, “I’m out here worrying about God-stuff, good versus evil, cause I think everyone else forgot, and your enemies are going to wipe me out too, and then you’ll have nothing to work with, God.” After we have run as far as we can, stretched as far as we can reach, hidden ourselves in deep darkness, and still the wind had broken the rocks, the earth has shifted under us, and the fire has burned up everything around us, our assertion of self-importance seems so pathetic bouncing off the hard walls of our hollow cave.
The God of all-grace wastes no time on salving and bandaging our bruised egos. “Go back to community,” he tells us in the quiet. “I have other men and women back there who can lead and get the job done. Look for them. You help them and they’ll help you. And by the way, there are a lot of people out there devoted to me, faithful to my purpose. They have never conceded to evil. You are not a special case or a martyr or the last signal flare in the survival kit of God. What you are is a wanted, loved child in my family” (1 King 19:15-18, my par.).
I am Kent Hansen, recovering workaholic, prone to relapse when I forget to set aside my ego and ask for help. It is then that I live badly, grasping, clawing and gasping for the dwindling resources of a self-made existence. Years into the journey, I have found no “silver-bullet,” no fail-safe formula or quick cure that brings me to permanent health and peace without another anxious thought. What I have found is Jesus Christ who is the source and fulfillment of my life in God. He “became for us wisdom for God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30). “He is our peace” (Eph. 2:14). If he isn’t enough for us, no one and nothing ever will be.
Sometimes, in worship, I play and sing one of the earliest songs that I remember learning.
Into my heart, into my heart,
Come into my heart, Lord Jesus;
Come in today, come in to stay;
Come into my heart, Lord Jesus.
(Harry Clarke, 1922)
Inviting Christ into my heart, not once, but daily, by the hour and minute, and following the lead of his Spirit is the only reliable path to peace that I know.
I’ve looked for other possibilities in vain. Inviting my Lord Jesus into my heart to stay is the only way I’ve found to live well without indulging my inflamed, “sophisticated” adult obsession that it all depends on me. It all depends on him. I take this prayer from Isaiah 26:12 as a safety line to keep me tied to the gracious reality of the sufficiency of Christ as my peace and provider: “O Lord, you will ordain peace for us, for indeed, all that we have done, you have done for us.”
You may be weary from your worrying, struggling with the concept of a real God who loves you and longs to bring peace to the disordered turmoil of your soul. Don’t despair. If you long for peace and healing of the conflicts that rage within your mind and heart, just tell him: “Lord Jesus Christ, I would like to know you as Kent has described you. I am tired of the struggle and the stress. I long to trust you. I need to rest in your strength. I am asking you to carry the load of my concerns, to forgive the wrongs I have done and give me the perfect peace of your indwelling presence. I want to know and rely on your love for me. Create a new heart within me and make your home there forever. Yes!”
“O taste and see that the Lord is good. Happy are those who take refuge in him” (Ps. 34:8).
Next week we will discuss the blessing of solitude to restore us to a right relationship with God and heal the ravages of our fretting and worry.
Under the mercy of Christ,
Kent Hansen is a Christian attorney, author and speaker. He practices corporate law and is the managing attorney of the firm of Clayson, Mann, Yaeger & Hansen in Corona, California. Kent also serves as the general counsel of Loma Linda University and Medical Center in Loma Linda, California.
Kent and his beloved Patricia are enjoying their 31st year of marriage. They are the proud parents of Andrew, a college student.