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A Righteousness by Faith #13: The Spirit and the loss of anxiety.

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. John 16:33

It is failure at the simple things that catches up with us. Why is it that many people do not simply eat healthily and exercise regularly? Or why do people forget to write down directions and end up lost? Or fail to check the calendar daily and miss appointments?

And why do we focus on anxiety? When we do, we end up living under the tyranny of our damaged emotions. Mark Twain wrote towards the end of his life, “I’m an old man now. I’ve lived a long and difficult life filled with so many misfortunes, most of which never happened.” His observation nailed the lives of the anxious. The simple step for overcoming is to focus on what is true. Instead, I watch people I love living difficult lives because they trust emotional lies that project a future that never happens, crippling them in their ability to live out their daily life.

Again, why do we focus on anxiety? The reason is that emotions are powerful. They are like an electromagnetic force that pulls every metallic object to itself. And then locks them in so they cannot pull away until the force is turned off. This is what I mean when I talk about damaged emotions. They have pull. They lock our attention on them so that we cannot wrench our focus free. The ‘simple’ solution of changing our focus seems out of our reach. We need help.

If you worry, you already know how hard it is to change your focus. Worry is about focusing on the wrong thing, keeping you stuck in the anxiety of life. You cannot just stop even with good counseling or daily accountability. I have become convinced that people remain stuck in anxiety because they are giving their best shot at trying to stop.

As he wraps up his before-the-cross instruction in this intimate conversation held in the upper room, Jesus concludes with his reason for the talk. “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.” These guys are about to have their world upended. To react with worry and anxiety concerning what looked like a fear-filled future.

So what had Jesus told them that mattered? Over and over again he informs them that he is sending them the Spirit. The significance of this promise is, without the Spirit, they had no chance of a life of peace, much less fulfilling their calling in life.

The power to change your focus lies in the presence of the Spirit in you. It is the Spirit’s power that sets us free. He is, so to speak, the one who switches off the electromagnetic force of our damaged emotions so that you and I can turn our focus onto God, who is our healer.

Paul underlines this as he walks his readers through what life in the new covenant is all about. “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’” Belonging to God does not mean terror of Him or anything else in this world. It means being family with Him, and trusting Him to do in us what we cannot do for ourselves.

I recognize that there is a buzz going on about developing a healthy mindfulness. But I know from my own journey that no one can stop anxiety by being mindful without being given the power to change. This power does not come from within us. It is given to us by the Spirit—a power so much more powerful than the pull of damaged emotions.

In this world, all of us are going to have trouble. But since we belong to the one who overcomes the world, we do not have to focus on that trouble and be overcome by worry. By the Spirit, we have the power to live at peace.

-Dr. Steve Smith