Travel light

Sherpas-Everest-Nepal

About a year ago I wrote about decluttering my life of old stuff, dreams and ambitions. This task has become an iterative one – after clearing out one layer of clutter I find more underneath that has yet to be dealt with. It also takes time to examine my desires, motivations, dreams, anxieties, worries, priorities, fears, and insecurities and see them for what they are – excess baggage.

So many people I have met over the years walk around carrying a heap of emotional hang-ups that weigh them down. (Bear Grylls, A Survival Guide for Life)

I’m no Bear Grylls, but I have spent enough time carrying a heavy pack through New Zealand’s wilderness to know the folly of carrying stuff that is not essential. I’ve also occasionally forgotten to take something necessary and seriously regretted my lack of warm/dry clothes!

Jesus also encourages us to travel light, while acknowledging that many of us are in fact loaded down with cares, fears, anxiety and worries:

Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:31–33 ESV)

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28–30 ESV)

Obviously he is not talking about carrying a heavy backpack. Jesus promises rest for our souls rather than rest for out shoulders. And realistically it is our souls, our hearts, our minds that become burdened by the cares and worries of life. This soul burden becomes heavier as we move through adulthood and take on the responsibilities of spouse, children and jobs.


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Do not be afraid

I can worship God, pray to Him, cry out to Him and be heard and helped by Him no matter what my physical, mental or emotional state.


2014 was a dark year for me, by God’s grace and with a lot of support from my wife and kids I lived through an awful valley of depression. Thankfully, I am now doing OK, but the experience has caused me to reconsider some of what I read in the Bible in a new light. One such thing is the exhortation to not fear:

Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you. (Deuteronomy 31:6 ESV)

Do not fear or be in dread, the Lord your God goes with you. He will not leave or forsake you. For those of us who live in the ambiguity of faith and depression these are astonishing words.

An impossible command

Firstly, to be depressed and told not to fear or dread is an impossible thing. Fear, dread, anxiety are hallmark traits of this mental illness and those who are unwell cannot prevent these emotions and associated thoughts from occurring. Yet the Bible consistently commands us to do the impossible, for example:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, (James 1:2 ESV)

Normal people do not consider it joy when things are going badly, they get upset, annoyed, grumpy and sad. Joy in such situations springs either from some sort of delusion or from a hope or goal that is unaffected by the current circumstances. The command to have joy or to rejoice is rife in the New Testament (e.g., Matthew 5:12, Romans 5:3, Philippians 4:4).

What is the point in commanding something that is humanly impossible to fulfill?

Moses, the prophets, the apostles and God Himself are well aware of our weaknesses and that while we might be willing in spirit to live a life of purity, holiness and discipleship, in the messiness of real life it is usually only a short time before we stumble and fail to live up to our high aspirations (see Mark 14:38). This is true for each of us as individuals and even on a national scale for historical Israel.

Failure in obedience to God is inevitable. But sometimes we are like Peter and cannot be told, so have to experience failure first hand. Then once we are faced with the shattering truth of our failure, inability and sin, we say to God, “don’t come near me, I am too sinful” (see Luke 5:8). At this point we are given the promise of God’s presence:

The LORD your God who goes with you.

The unshakeable promise

Like the kid facing a bully whose Dad says, “Don’t worry, I will come with you”, God promises to cross over the Jordan river with the Israelites to face their enemies in the land of Canaan.

This is the God who parted the Red Sea and destroyed the Egyptian army, who opened the earth to swallow those who challenged His authorised spokesman, and provided food for the horde of Israelites in a desert for 40 years. God is powerful, well worth having beside you in a fight.

How about when the ‘enemy’ is from within? When my fear is fueled by my own heart and mind? God’s power and strength are great, but I am anxious that such strength could crush me.

In Jesus we see more of God than power alone, He is also gentle and carries us in our despair:

Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;

(Isaiah 53:4)

Jesus also promised, “I will never leave you or forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5) and “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Even in the depths of despair when it feels as if God has deserted me, I can trust that He determined long ago not to do so.

An unseeable promise

But I still do not see or sense God near me. This is not surprising when God is described in the Bible as “the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15), and “eternal, immortal, invisible” (1 Timothy 1:17) with Jesus telling us that, “No one has ever seen God” (John 1:18).

What did Jesus mean when He said, “I will never leave you or forsake you” then about a month later ascended into heaven?

God is spirit, and Jesus had previously told His disciples, Nevertheless I tell you the truth: It is expedient for you that I go away; for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I go, I will send him unto you. (John 16:7 ASV). The Comforter, (also translated as ‘Helper’, ‘Counselor’, ‘Advocate’) is the Holy Spirit and this is the One who is promised to never leave us or forsake us.

As Spirit we cannot interact or sense God through our physical senses. However, we are not only physical beings, we have a spirit too and God gives life to our spirit through rebirth by faith in Jesus as the Son of God. This means that my spirit can commune with the Holy Spirit who is always present.

I may not be able to feel it through my senses, but I can worship God, pray to Him, cry out to Him and be heard and helped by Him all in the realm of the spiritual no matter what my physical, mental or emotional state. He will not leave, He will not abandon me, and He can strengthen me by His Spirit. Fear and despair may come, but in my despair God’s power is undiminished and His resolve to be with me and strengthen me step by step, breath by breath through the darkness is backed by repeated promises through the Bible.


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I am an anxious parent

Another  biblical exhortation to not fear.

This one is also from Genesis (I will jump into the New Testament also), when Hagar was sent away by Sarah and is convinced both her and Ishmael will perish in the desert.

What troubles you?

Hagar has little food and no water. It is obvious what the outcome will be and she cannot bear to watch her own child die of thirst. How many millions of women have wept in Africa and elsewhere as their children slip from this world for lack of water? How many have desperately cried out to God and received no answer?

And God heard the voice of the boy, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. (Genesis 21:17 ESV)

The unseen

In this particular case God says to Hagar, “Fear not”. Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. And she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink. (Genesis 21:19 ESV)

These incidents always seem odd to me – how come there was a well of water there but she couldn’t see it? How this actually happens is a mystery but these sorts of incidents are moderately common in the Bible (see Numbers 22:31, 2 Kings 6:17-20, Luke 24:31), reminding us that there are realities out there which we are not usually able to see without God’s enabling.

Can I claim it?

Given that this promise to Hagar doesn’t really apply to Christians directly – let’s face it, Ishmael’s descendants are not particularly favourable towards Christians – can we claim this ‘fear not’ as having any relevance to us?

I think there is at least one way in which it does apply: When we are stressing over how to provide for our children we need to remember that God has a destiny mapped out for every child ever born. Sin, corruption and evil do their utmost to derail our destinies but I think we can at least be assured that it is never wrong to commit our children into God’s hands when we are anxious over being able to provide for them. In fact, Jesus tells us not to fret over food and drink because God knows we need them and we do better to seek God’s kingdom first (Luke 22:22-30).

Why children die of starvation and hunger even when their parents pray and beseech God to save them remains unanswered. The reasons for poverty, drought and food scarcity are many and I suspect God’s reasons for allowing these things are likewise very complex. I do think that regardless of our circumstances the person who pleases God most is the one who seeks him and His kingdom in all situations, even poverty. How, I do not know – I’ve never been in such a place and based on my previous performance I doubt that I would be pleasing to God in my own responses.

Try it with me

In my current circumstances I am going to turn my heart to God today and seek to glorify Him rather than my ability to plan, save, hoard or work for a paycheck.

So Abraham rose early in the morning and took bread and a skin of water and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed and wandered in the wilderness of Beersheba.
When the water in the skin was gone, she put the child under one of the bushes. Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot, for she said, “Let me not look on the death of the child.” And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept.
And God heard the voice of the boy, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. Up! Lift up the boy, and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make him into a great nation.” Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. And she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.
(Genesis 21:14–19 ESV)


Photo of man anxious over bills: sturti (iStock)

I can’t drink from a fire hose

Fire-hoseI deleted 52 blogs off my feed reader today. They were all good ones too. Now I have only 10 feeds remaining, one of which is my own blog.

Why would I do that?

I realized that I can only drink from a cup, not from a fire hose.

I was spending a lot of time scanning through numerous pages of blog posts, anxious I might miss something if I didn’t read all of them. Or I would look at my feed reader and read nothing because it was too overwhelming.

I subscribed to all of those blogs because they offered something useful to me at the time. But regardless of how useful they were individually, as a combined fire hose of information they simply generated anxiety.

Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh. (Ecclesiastes 12:12 ESV)

The skillset of our internet age no longer has finding information at the top of the most useful list, now we have to be better at filtering information – taking in only what we need. This is something I am having to learn, having been educated in the era when books were the only source of reliable information.

Oddly enough, this situation is a little like the very first temptation – reach out and take knowledge (Genesis 3:5-6). Yet having grasped knowledge we now find that unlimited information is in fact empty and burdensome because we ourselves are finite. Satisfaction does not come from trying to become like God, it is found by submitting to God and trusting in my Creator.

What I need to refresh me is to drink from a cup of still water, something that has had time to sit and allow the sediment and crud to settle out from it. God provides this, He leads me into spaces in which there are restful waters to refresh my soul. Deep, living water bubbling up from His Word.

He leads me beside still waters.
(Psalm 23:2 ESV)


Photo of firefighter by AnnaGreen via iStock

Quit working

Jesus tells us not to worry about tomorrow as each day has enough worries of it’s own. In Exodus God supplied enough food for each day only, forcing His people to look to Him for their provision rather than their own cleverness or hard work. When God and wise Christians tell me to be faithful to the tasks in front of me today, trusting God for tomorrow I nod in agreement while internally I am still seeking security in what I can do, planning, worrying and fretting.

I’m going to quit working and will live by faith. I have come to realize that although I’ve not thought of myself as an anxious person, I do in fact worry a lot about the future for myself and my family. Jesus tells us not to do this so I have decided it is time to take a step of faith and trust God’s promises for provision (see Matthew 6:25–34).

Some history

On freeing the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt, one of the first issues to arise was the logistical problem of feeding hundreds of thousands of people. God took care of this by providing manna each morning (except on the Sabbath) which the people were to gather and cook for food. To ensure the Israelites only gathered what they needed for the day and didn’t stockpile the stuff, God made it go rotten if kept overnight (except on the Sabbath). So they had to go out each day to gather enough for that day. Anxiously hiding away extra ‘for a rainy day’ would result in an awful stink and maggots growing in it.

Written for us

Paul tells us that these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come (1 Corinthians 10:11). We have a big thick Bible with Exodus included in it so that we will learn spiritual lessons from what God has done in the past (see also 1 Corinthians 10:1–5).

Your goal is to get into a manna rhythm. Seek his grace today, be faithful to the tasks in front of you, and trust him for tomorrow (Ed Welch, Depression, A stubborn Darkness p150).

Such a manna rhythm is something that honours God. It is an attitude which acknowledges that all we have comes from Him. It is an attitude of humility, trusting that God knows what He is doing, is faithful to His promises and will always provide what I need as I need it.

Now the rubber hits the road

That’s not to say it is easy though. I prove day after day my mistrust of God’s promises, embracing assumptions which highlight a lack of faith in God by my choices to work at improving myself by human means. Allowing weakness to become an excuse for not fighting for joy. Letting physiology over-ride love.

Changing these things is a daunting mountain. I do try to overcome this obstacle, and this is where I’m going wrong. God is calling me to seek grace daily for the tasks of today. He is not asking me to worry about the mountain, He calls me to follow Jesus. Step, step, step, step. Jesus even calls me His friend. We can chat on the way. What He does require is that I trust Him. Trusting promises such as:

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it (1 Corinthians 10:13 ESV).

But I fall and fail. It is so easy to look at my own weakness and failings (sin) and interpret the situation as meaning this promise cannot be true because I have sinned so that settles it. Whereas perhaps it is more like I have given up on enduring, or have not accepted the way out. Giving up too early or hanging around too long can open me up to sin.

God’s promise is that he will never put us in a situation where we have no choice but to sin (Ed Welch, p201).

Sin is not only actions, I have sinful thoughts more often than I do sinful actions. Temptations are not limited to lust or coveting, despair and joylessness can be lure me in also. Whether Satan skewers me with sex or suicide probably makes little difference to him. The roots of sin and temptation go very deep into my heart, it is difficult for me to discern where each temptation originates, this is like guerrilla warfare against my own heart (James 1:14–15, Jeremiah 17:9 and 1 Peter 2:11). It is serious stuff, subtle – but of eternal consequence.

In the mind of God, sin is a much more serious problem than suffering (Ed Welch, p202).

I’m too busted for a DIY job to be feasible, only God can fix my sin. So working at a patch up job is simply making the mess worse, yet there remains a job to be done. My job is to keep trusting in Jesus Christ when my anxious thoughts are wanting to scheme ways to look after myself.

So I remind myself

God is calling me to seek grace now for the tasks of today.


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