Craig Groeschel - Heal My Anxious Mind
So, I was a young pastor, probably 23 or 24 years of age, and my pastor had a back surgery and told me I had to preach Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and the following Sunday, and I felt incredibly unprepared, insecure, and I think for the first time in my life I felt this crushing, overwhelming sense of anxiety. I mean, I was terrified, I'm not good enough. And I remember feeling like this shortness of breath and it felt like my heart rate was racing, and so I went to talk to a much older, very wise spiritual leader. This guy was ancient, he was probably 38-39 years of age, but I was so young, he seemed like he'd been around forever. And he was a guy that I trusted and admired and looked up to spiritually and I said, "I am overwhelmed with anxiety, I don't know what to do". And the guy looked at me and he said, "Christians shouldn't have anxiety, especially pastors. You should just give it to God, just give it to God, just give it to God".
And then he quoted an amazing verse, a powerful verse, a verse that I love, but at the time I felt insulted by it. He said, almost in a condescending way, "Rejoice in the Lord always. I say it again, rejoice. Let your gentleness be evident to all, the Lord is near". And then he said, "Don't be anxious about anything". And I just thought, "Really? I mean, really"? I felt like deflated and hurt and a little bit angry. Like, don't be anxious about anything? Sometimes I kinda wanna say, "God, is that even possible"? Any of you ever feel that way? I don't know what's in your world but I can only imagine the financial pressure of this world today with bills to pay and kids to raise back in school and relational issues and health challenges and job stress and inflation. Has anyone seen the price of a gallon of milk? Right? Is it possible not to be anxious in this world that we live in? You open up a news app and the whole world is falling apart and nobody likes each other.
If you ever feel like you're battling with anxiety and you feel like there's plenty to be anxious about, you're not alone. In fact, according to a study done in 2019, in 2019, two out of three Americans said that they were anxious or extremely anxious. Two out of three, and that was in 2019. That was before the world got cray cray. Since the pandemic, the numbers have only gotten worse and the frequency and intensity of people dealing with anxiety is hitting record levels, especially for the younger generations. In fact, one study shows that 91%, those of you who have high school or college-age students or you are a high school student or a college student, 91% of this age group report consistent and significant levels of anxiety associated with stress.
Perhaps one of the most common and prolific mental health issues of the day, so we're gonna talk about it. And I wanna start by acknowledging this is an incredibly complex subject, and like I said last week I am not an expert and in many cases I would advise that you get expert help. I wanna talk to it from a spiritual standpoint and I wanna acknowledge this clearly is complex and many of us we all have different levels of anxiety, we're all on different points of the anxiety spectrum. For some of us, it would be some occasional, often kind of minor sense of uneasiness and discomfort, and stress may be around a test that's coming up or maybe around some kind of presentation you have to make or some social situation where you come in and you just kinda feel like you don't fit in and you feel kind of awkward. Or that one person that we all have, and we all have that one person, and if you don't have that one person, you are that one person, but that one person when you see their name on your phone when they're texting you, you go... What are they gonna say?
And then you finally get the courage to text them back and they start to text you and bubbles come up and the bubbles go away and there's no response and you just freak out, what are they gonna do? Okay, so maybe you don't have that person. I've got 73 of them. For some, anxiety is minor. Not always significant. But for others, it can be crushing, it can be debilitating, there can be this constant sense of dread or shortness of breath, you feel your heart rate rising, you feel like the walls are closing in, like you can't function in a normal capacity. Wherever you are on the spectrum, I wanna just tell you and I want you to feel that God cares about you. He cares about you and he wants to help. And that's why the title of today's message is "Heal My Anxious Mind". Would you pray with me?
Father, we ask that in your presence that you would do a healing work. That you'd renew our minds. Teach us your Word with your presence and by your power, God. We ask for healing. We ask for your goodness and we ask for peace of mind. We pray believing that you'll hear our prayers and change our minds and our hearts with your comfort, your presence, and your peace. We pray this in Jesus' name. And everybody said. Amen. Amen.
If you're ready for the Word, say I'm ready. Are you ready? Ready. Type it in the comments section. If you're ready, I'm ready. We're gonna look at a powerful example today of a very godly leader that was dealing with anxiety. If you wanna follow along in your YouVersion Bible app or on your paper Bibles, we're gonna be in 2 Chronicles 20, and we're gonna look at one of the best kings. There were some good ones and some not so good ones. This is one of the good ones. We're gonna look at Jehoshaphat, who was the fourth king of Judah in the Southern Kingdom of Israel. Now Judah had some enemies that were on the attack. If you can imagine, this is a godly king leading a good kingdom, and all of a sudden the Moabites are attacking. But not only the Moabites, but the Ammonites are attacking, and the Meunites are attacking, and worst of all, the mosquito bites are attacking. Just a joke to see if you're paying attention.
The mosquitoes are always attacking and I do have a theological question for God. Why did you create mosquitoes? I didn't study that one in seminar, I don't know the answer to that, but it's a very complicated question, we'll save it for another day. But the reality is there were three different enemy groups at one time who joined forces to attack King Jehoshaphat and the people of his kingdom. And this illustrates the very reason why many of us are battling with anxiety today. We can handle one enemy force attacking. We can handle one difficult boss. But when you add to a difficult boss a car that breaks down, on top of financial issues, which creates more stress in your stressful marriage, and you started a diet and you went to work and they brought donuts the very day you came to work and started the diet, that's just way, way too much to handle.
And we referenced earlier the younger generation of whom I love deeply and spend a lot of time with and did some research into. What's fascinating is this is the most anxious generation, and one of the reasons is, one article said, that they're the most educated of all with the least clear path to what they would call success. So you've got an over-educated, under-employed group of people that feel like they're falling behind with inflation going crazy. They can't buy a home so they postpone a home. They feel like they can't get married so they postpone marriage. And they're feeling further and further behind, how in the world are they ever gonna catch up? And even our children are overwhelmed with anxiety. And to make matters worse, there are well-meaning Christians who will tell us, "You shouldn't feel anxious. Once you give your life to Jesus, you should be full of peace and joy. What are you doing, feeling"?
And you feel even more guilty for your anxiety and you feel like you must be doing something wrong and don't feel like you have a safe place to talk about it, and that compounds your anxiety and you don't even know what to do and how to handle it. What I wanna do today is I wanna show you, first of all, that anxiety isn't a sin. Anxiety isn't a sin. In fact, if you even look at Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, before he was gonna give his life on the cross, he knelt down and begged God, "God, is there any other way"? He knew the suffering that was coming and said, "If there's any other way, may this cross of suffering, may this cup of suffering be removed from me"? And he cried out, "I am in agony". Deep, a deep, anguishing agony. He sweat literal drops of blood in agony as he submitted to the will of God. "Not my will. I don't want this, I don't want this, I don't want this. But may your will be done".
Anxiety isn't a sin, it's actually a symptom. Or we might say it's a signal. For example, if you're ever driving your car and a little red light warning thing comes on. Your car didn't do something wrong. The signal is indicating that there's something about the car, it's a symptom of an issue that needs to be discovered and fixed. So what do you do? You don't throw the car out for having a problem, you take the car to the mechanic so the mechanic can fix the car. In the same way, if you find yourself battling with anxiety, this isn't a sin, it's a signal alerting you to three things. What is it? Anxiety, from a spiritual perspective, is a signal alerting you, number one, it's time to pray. It's time to go before God, to seek God, to take our cares to God.
And this is exactly what Jehoshaphat did in verse three. He was terrified. Another version says he was alarmed, he was anxious by this news. We're being attacked on three sides. And so he took his burden to God, he prayed to God, and he begged the Lord for guidance. "Show me what to do". And he ordered everyone else in Judah to begin fasting. Anxiety isn't a sin, it's a signal telling you turn to God, it's time to pray. Let me show you his prayer. It's a powerful prayer. He prayed this in verse six, he said, "Lord, the God of our ancestors, are you not the God who is in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. Power and might are in your hand, no one can withstand you". Watch his faith. "If calamity comes upon us, whether the sword of judgment, or plague or famine, we will stand in your presence before this temple that bears your Name and we will cry out to you in distress, and you will hear us and save us".
God, we trust you, our faith is in you, we call on you, God, and believe that you will save us. You can pray like that. When you feel anxious, when you feel overwhelmed, when you don't know what to do, you can cry out to God like that, you can be fancy just like that. "Oh God, the Lord of our ancestors". You can do that. Or you can do what I do and you just say, "Help! Help! I don't know what to do"! You can get brutally honest. Why is this happening, God? I don't understand it. I don't know how to deal with it. I don't know where it's taking, I feel alone. I feel desperate. I can't get out, God. Why won't you do, you can cry out to God. And have faith that he'll hear the cries of your heart and he will save you.
I have a really good friend, Dr. Caroline Leaf, she's an author of the book "Switch on Your Brain". She's a really good friend. What that means is she's my Instagram friend and we DMed twice. That makes us really good friends, right? We've DMed twice so we're really good friends. And she's unbelievably brilliant, I learn from her all the time. I wanna tell you about my really good friend. According to her website, this is what she is. You ready for this? She is a communication pathologist and cognitive neuroscientist with a Master and PhD in Communication Pathology and a BSc in Logopaedics, specializing in cognitive and metacognitive neurology. So I'm gonna shoot straight with you, I don't know what that means. I don't have a clue but it's impressive, she's smart. So my website says this. He's a dad, he's a husband, and he's a pastor. Clear, but there's not much more to it than that, right?
So she's really, really smart. And in her research, here's what she discovered. She discovered that "it's been found that in 12 minutes of daily focused prayer over an eight-week period can change the brain to such an extent that it can be measured on a brain scan". 12 minutes a day done consistently over time can actually change your brain. Here's the power. "Not only does prayer touch the heart of God, but prayer changes the chemistry of your brain". And this is incredibly exciting, because our brain is not fixed, which is really good news, because sometimes my brain goes to the wrong places and likes to stay there. We live in an era where science has shown us that the brain can change and we can actually direct and we can change our brain, and the fancy term is neuroplasticity, as we talked about last week.
That the more you think a thought, the more often you can think that thought, and the more you think the thought, the easier it is to think that thought because you're creating millions and millions and billions of neural pathways through your brain that God designed, and he can renew and change your brain with his Word as you focus on it, and literally prayer can not only just touch the heart of God but change the chemistry of your brain. God is fascinating in the way he made the brain. He gave us the amygdala, the little almond-shaped thing that is there for our good. When something goes wrong, it says, "Alarm, alarm, alarm". If you're walking through the woods and you hear something in the woods, a little rustling, you don't think, "It must be a bunny rabbit". What do you think? "It's a tiger, a lion, a bear, a wild boar. It's Bigfoot coming to get me".
That is the amygdala doing its job that God created it to do, but the problem is when we start to dwell on the alarm. In fact, the word in scripture most often translated as anxiety is the word merimnao. And this word literally means dwelling or pondering on fearful or anxious thoughts. It literally is an image of meditating on the negative. In other words, some of us, we are training our brains to be anxious. That's what we're doing. We're ruminating, we're rehearsing. And this could go wrong and there's this. And we're training the neural pathways in our brain to focus on the negative. And it may be natural to think about what could go wrong, but prayer is not natural. Prayer is supernatural. And while it may be natural to think about what could go wrong, supernatural prayer breaks the cycle. It breaks the cycle. It takes our mind off of what we are afraid of, for God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and, come on, somebody, and of a sound mind.
Prayer breaks the cycle. It doesn't just touch the heart of God. It changes your brain. It's not a sin. You're normal if you feel anxious. It's a signal. Take it to God, take it to God, take it to God, take it to God, take it to God, take it to God, take it to God, take it to God, take it to God. And this is what Jehoshaphat did. "Oh Lord, God of heaven, are you not with us? So hear the cries of our heart and you will save us". Now watch how honest he is, I love this. I wanna be this honest. He says next in verse 12, he says, "For we have no power to face this vast army that's attacking us". Do you ever feel like that? There's just too much for me. I can't handle it all. I can't get it all done. I don't have what it takes. And I don't know if I can go on. And then he says, "We don't know what to do".
I don't have what it takes. I'm not strong enough. And I don't know what to do. "But my eyes are on you". My eyes are on you. I'm always looking to you. I'm desperate for you. I need you. I'm training my mind to think about you. I'm not believing the lies of the enemy but I'm renewing my mind for truth. I'm looking at your character, I'm looking at your nature, I'm looking at your goodness, I'm looking at your righteousness, I'm looking at your power, I'm believing that you're forming, I'm choosing to believe that you're with me, I'm believing by faith that you're working in all things, the very things that I do not want, that you're bringing about good, because I love you and I know I'm called according to your purpose. I don't know what to do, there's too much, I can't handle it all, I'm freaking out. I can't hold it together. I don't know where to turn. No human being can handle this. Right. You weren't designed to handle it on your own.
It's not a sin, it's a symptom, it's a signal. You need God. And I don't know what to do and I don't know where to turn, so I'm just hanging on to you. 1 Peter 5:7 says this, that we are to cast all of our anxiety on God because he cares for us. The word cast is a fishing term, it's like cast, like here it is, God, like I don't understand it, God, I'm hurting, God, I'm desperate. I feel alone, my heart rate is rising, I'm sweating, I'm freaking out about my kids. Freaking out about money. I can't handle all the tension in the world. I don't know what I'm gonna do with my future, I don't know, I don't know, I don't know. Should I stay with this person, should I not? Should I stay in this job I hate, it's under me, what am I gonna do? Here it is, God. I don't know what to do but my eyes are on you. And by faith you just take it to him. You take it to him again and you just take it to him. And you take it to him. God cares, you cast your cares because he cares for you.
In other words, if it's on your mind, it's on his heart. If it's big enough for you to worry about, it's big enough to pray about. Anxiety, it's not a sin, it's a signal. It's alerting you you're not designed to do it on your own. It's time to take it to God in prayer. So, you pray. And then what do you do? Then you jump in and take control. And you start using your spiritual gift of manipulation. All for the glory, right? That's what I do. Like, here you go, God, you're taking too long. Ha! Right? Anxiety is a signal alerting you it's time to pray and it's time to pause. And it's time to pause. Jehoshaphat did this after the prayer. He said, "We don't know what to do, but our eyes are on you. And all the men of Judah, with their wives and children and little ones, stood there before the Lord".
Now I don't wanna be critical, but I'm an activator. How many of you are activators? I wanna say don't just stand there, do something. But sometimes God says don't just do something, stand there. Stand there. There are times when God will tell you to be still. I don't know what to do. I don't have the power. My eyes are on you. Be still and know that he cares. And he's with you. And that he is God. Okay, so, Craig, we're praying and we're doing nothing. And God heals us of the anxiety? Sometimes. Sometimes he does. And sometimes it's more of a process. Sometimes he directs you and takes you to a Bible verse that starts to renew your mind, or helps you change your diet so the full chemistry of your body works better, or helps you find a doctor that looks at things and recognizes that prescription can normalize the chemicals in your brain, or you do deep therapy with someone who looks into some of the trauma that you've experienced in life and helps you name it and face it and forgive it and heal from it.
Sometimes you do the hard work of retraining your brain through cognitive behavior therapy, whatever it is. Sometimes it's instant and sometimes it's a process, but it always starts with God, is directed by God, and it's a result of God. You take it to God. And so while they waited the Spirit of the Lord came on Jahaziel and said this. He said, "Don't be afraid or discouraged". And for someone right now that you don't know what to do, don't know where to go and you feel like it's too much, maybe this is God's word for you. "Don't be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God's. Go out and face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you".
Don't be afraid, listen. Don't be afraid. The battle is the Lord's. Face it, he's with you, he's for you, he loves you, he cares about you, his power is real, he will never leave you, he will never forsake you. Anxiety is not a sin, it's a signal. It's alerting you it's time to pray. It's time to pause. It's also time to praise. It's a time to thank him for who he is. Jehoshaphat, he prayed, "God, we believe you. Even if we face calamity, you will deliver us, because you're always faithful". He paused, he stood there. And then he did something really weird.
In my limited knowledge of warfare, I wouldn't have run this play. But what he did is he sent the worship team out on the frontlines, and their weapons were instruments. Tambourine lady, acoustic guitar. My economy, I'm sending John Cena, Dwayne The Rock Johnson and Vin Diesel. Okay. He'd pick Matt Redman, Chris Tomlin, and Kari Jobe. Go get them, Kari, tell them they're blessed. They're blessed, okay? And the worshipers went out and started praising God before there was a victory, and by some miracle the enemy forces that came to attack the people of Judah turned on each other and destroyed themselves. God did a miracle. This isn't a story in the Bible, it is just a miracle upon miracle. There were dead bodies everywhere, there was so much pillage it took them three days to get it. They didn't praise just after the victory but they praised before the victory. There were dead bodies.
It's easy to praise God, praise God from whom all the dead bodies flow, that's easy to praise God, right? When all the anxiety is gone. But it takes faith, it takes faith in this moment when you're hurting now. When you're feeling anxiety now, when you don't know what to do now and you don't see a way out, it takes faith to praise before the blessing, before the anxiety is gone. Pastor Stephen Cole, I'm gonna need your help, because I can't sing. I can, but you don't wanna hear me sing, so I'm gonna ask Pastor Stephen to come out and in a moment I'm gonna let him sing over us as we do battle with God's help. And I wanna read to you what happened after Jehoshaphat prayed and after he paused and waited, and after he praised, before he saw anything. And God worked and God fought the battle and scripture says, "The fear of God". The fear of God.
Wouldn't it be great if we had the fear of God in our culture today? The fear of a holy and a righteous God. "And the fear of God came on all the surrounding kingdoms when they hard how the Lord had fought against the enemies of Israel". How the Lord had been faithful, how he was the one who was glorified, how he showed up and he did battle. "And the fear of God came across the land and the kingdom of Jehoshaphat was at peace, for his God had given him rest on every side". The Lord fought the battle and God had given them rest.
So, I told you last week about how good, normal, healthy pastor guy had a massive breakdown about three years ago. And it wasn't visible to anyone else. Amy knew, I knew. On the outside I was able to function, on the inside I was terrified. A deep sense of inadequacy, I pushed my body way, way, way too much, and my mind was breaking down. And so I sought help, called a counselor, and he worked with me. He said, "We're gonna pray, pastor". Like, "We're gonna pray, pastor". Right? And I pressed in to my prayer life. And then he said, "We're gonna do some breathing". Like, I don't know about you but, I mean, I know breathing's important but I don't have time to just sit around and just do it, I gotta do other things while I'm doing it. And we're gonna, we're gonna, we're gonna breathe and give our burdens to God. We're gonna normalize our mind and our stress and we're gonna give our burdens to God and we're gonna start thanking him before we see the victory.
And so breathe, memorize some scripture, and let God start renewing my mind. And what I did was I started doing battle. God fought with me and God fought for me and I feel stronger with God in this moment than I have in my whole life in ministry, I feel stronger with God. Here's what happened, he's given me rest on every side. I don't know if you can see it or not or feel it, but I'm just... He just gave me rest. He's real, he's always there. I didn't what to do, I didn't where to turn, I felt like it was over for me. But he was there. And it didn't happen instantly. Two years before I started saying, "I'm doing better," and then I wouldn't say it out loud 'cause, like, am I really doing better or am I gonna fall back into it?
So what I wanna tell you is this is how I fight my battles. This is how I fight my battles. I pray. I take it to God. When I don't know what to do, I press into God, I keep my eyes on him. This is how I fight my battles. By nature, I'm tempted to act, but sometimes I wait. I pause and I sit in his presence. And I let him do what only he can do. And then I thank him, I worship him, I give him great praise, I pray. It may look like I'm surrounded, but I'm surrounded by God, this is what I do.
This is how I fight my battles. I fight my battles with God and sometimes he fights my battles for me because I know that our struggle, our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against rulers and powers and principalities and authorities of this dark world. I know that I should never be afraid or discouraged because the battle is not mine, it's the Lord's. You should not be discouraged, the battle is not yours, the Lord will be with you. What do you do? You pray. You pause and you praise him.
And let me quote the verse the way it should be. Don't be anxious about anything, but in every situation, whatever you're facing, when you don't know what to do, by prayer take it to God and petition with thanksgiving, present your request, cast your cares on God. And scripture says, "And the peace of God, the rest of God, the rest, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds". This is how we fight our battles. This is how we fight our battles. This is how we fight our battles. We may look like we're surrounded, but God is all around us.
So Father, we pray today that for so many who are facing significant battles with anxiety, or even those with momentary and light afflictions, we come before you. We ask for your help, we ask for you to fight for us and to fight with us.
At all of our churches today as you're reflecting in prayer in wonder how many of you, I'll just say it this way. Anxiety is in your home. Maybe you, maybe your spouse, maybe one of your children, it's in your home. And you want God to help bring healing, will you lift up your hands right now? Lift up your hands. Almost every hand's going up. Online you can just type it in the chat, "anxiety is in my home and I want healing, I want help". Just type that in the chat.
Father, thank you for being a God that cares, who cares about everything that burdens us. And God, we know there's tremendous spiritual opposition in this world today, we recognize that. God, I pray that you would help our church family, I pray you'd help those watching online, I pray that you would help them know you care and they can take their cares and burdens to you. We just pray.
And you can just pray right now where you are, just pray:
God, help, just help. I don't understand, God. Show me, direct me.
Just whatever it is, just pray help.
And then, God, we're gonna wait on you. Believe that you're gonna direct us. We know sometimes you heal us instantly and sometimes, like me, you take us on a little journey. But it starts with you, it's empowered by you, and it's all for your glory. Direct us, God. And then, God, we're gonna take a moment just to tell you thank you. Just everybody say thank you right now, just say thank you. Thank you, just thank you, type it into the comments section, thank you, God, just thank you, Lord. Say I praise you, God, I worship you, God. I don't see the victory yet but I'm thanking you before the victory. I believe you're so good, God, I believe that on the other side of this pain there's victory. God, thank you. Just say it, thank you, God. I worship you, God. I believe by that that you're here. I believe, God, that you're gonna bring the deliverance, and Father I pray that we come to see, experience your rest, your peace on every side. We pray. We pause. And we praise. That's how we fight our battles. That's how we fight our battles.
As you keep praying today, some of you, I just want you to know this right now, there is a battle going on for you, for your heart. There's a battle going on for you. It's a spiritual battle. There's the kingdom of God, the kingdom of light, and there's the forces of darkness, and the forces of darkness hate what matters to God, and you know what matters to God? You matter to God. You matter to God. You matter to God. So much so that when we are broken, dead in our sins, that God became one of us in the person of Jesus, God became flesh and dwelt among us. Jesus, the Son of God, was perfect in every way and shed innocent blood, he surrendered to the will of God, "Not my will, but your will be done". And he became the innocent sacrifice, he gave his life so our sins could be forgiven.
There are many of you right now, if you just took a moment to slow down, you recognize there's a weight, there's a heaviness, there's a guilt, there's a shame, there's a battle for you. There's a battle being fought for you. The kingdom of darkness against the kingdom of light. And right now you might be being drawn to the things of God, what is it? That's the Holy Spirit of God. You're here, you're watching because he loves you and because he wants you. What do you do? You just surrender to it and say I just want your love, I want your grace. We recognize all of us we've all sinned. It's a biblical word, we've done wrong, we've sinned against our Holy God. And because of the grace of Jesus our sins can be forgiven, but it's not just a transaction and we're now forgiven, but we experience God's presence, his goodness, his life, his healing, he becomes our God and he fights for us.
Wherever you're watching from today, those of you who say, "I need that, I want his forgiveness, I want his presence. I recognize that I've sinned, I need a Savior". When you call on the name of Jesus, God hears your prayers. He forgives every sin, completely gone, you become new. Wherever you're watching from today, those of you who say, "Yes, I need it, I'm ready. I want his peace, I want his rest, I acknowledge my sin, I step away from it, I give my life to Jesus today, I surrender to Jesus, I give my life to you".
If that's your prayer, lift your hand high now, all of the places and say yes, lift them up. Right here, come on, somebody. Lift, all places. Praise God for you. Others today saying yes to Jesus, online, just type that in the comments section. I'm surrendering my life to Jesus, just type that in the comments section, I'm surrendering my life to Jesus. And what we're gonna do in a moment is we're gonna praise God, because we're about to see some battles won. Wherever you're watching from, would you pray this aloud? Pray:
Heavenly Father. I surrender all of my life to you. Jesus, save me, forgive my sins, make me new, fill me with your Spirit so I can know you and show your love. Now fight for me. Let's fight some battles. Let's show your love. Thank you for a new life. I give you mine. In Jesus' name I pray.