You anxiety is talking to you. Your anxiety is trying to convince you that if you don’t do something then something bad will happen or it will not get done right. You are the only one who can do this. Your anxiety will tell you that you are not good enough and you are not worthy enough and that’s why people leave you. Your anxiety wants you to believe that if you have enough information, knowledge, and wisdom then you will have all the answer then you will be successful and people will like you. Anxiety will work you to death by convincing you that you have to be there for everyone and that you are less of a person if you say no. Anxiety wants you to believe that you must make everyone happy and you need their approval and acceptance to be happy.
Anxiety is that feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about a real or perceived upcoming event or current situation. You can get anxious by sitting in a room that is cluttered or crowded or to loud or to quite. Anxiety has no boundaries. You can find it in a movie theatre, amusement park, at work, in your living room, outside, at church or in a bible study. Anxiety does not care where it’s at.
Anxiety is your emotional engine light
However, anxiety is your emotional engine light. Anxiety is like an engine light on your car. When you feel anxious, that is an internal light going off that says, “You are trying to control. You priorities are shifting out of place. Your trust in God is leaking and you are depending on you to much.” When the anxiety light comes on inside you, that’s when you need to stop and evaluate why you are anxious. Why is your engine light on?
Some time back my engine light came on in my truck. I took it to get tested and discovered it was simply my gas cap was lose. Made the adjustment. Easy fix. Went on down the road.
A few months ago, my wife was needing another week of chemotherapy at University Hospital. When we left the hospital, the engine light came on in our van and there was a strange rattling noise coming from the engine. I’m not a mechanic. I took it to my mechanic. They looked at, tested it, and came back saying, “Your van needs a new engine.”
Like an engine light, your anxiety does not tell you exactly what is wrong, but it does tell you that something is wrong. Anxiety reveals something inside of you is not right and it out of alignment. Sometimes it is a quick fix. It’s a small adjustment in your thinking, attitude or behavior. Sometimes it’s an engine replacement. You need a new heart and a new mind.
Today, I want to introduce you to someone who had a moment where her anxiety got the best of her. This anxious moment in her life does not define her, but it does help us.
Let’s take a look at the event and pull out some observations.
Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. 40 But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, 42 but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (ESV)
Jesus described Martha as someone who is anxious and troubled. What we see with Martha is what happens if you don’t manage your anxiety. What I want to do today is look at some characteristics of unmanaged anxiety. Managing your anxiety is part of your discipleship. It is becoming more like Jesus. Managing your anxiety will bring you more peace and you will be more effective in ministering to others. The more aware, calm and present you can be the more productive you will be for God’s kingdom.
Let’s take a look at some features and consequences of unmanaged anxiety.
Unmanaged anxiety leads to distraction
Number one, unmanaged anxiety leads to distraction. It distracts you from God, it diverts your attention away from the important, and engages your mind on the insignificant. We see this in Martha. Luke tells us in verse 40, But Martha was distracted with much serving. The word distracted (perispao) means to be drawn away by cares and responsibilities. It is to be driven about mentally, over-occupied. It means to be pulled and dragged in different directions. The thing about being distracted is that you don’t know you are being distracted. While Mary was drawn to Jesus, Martha was drawn away. At the moment, Martha does not see what is happening to her.
What has distracted Martha? What has drawn her attention away from Jesus? Luke says she was drawn away by much serving. Something good has distracted her from something better.
You need to understand that she is not trying to make baloney sandwiches. She is trying to prepare a special meal for a special guest. At minimum she is trying to prepare a meal for fifteen people (Jesus, the 12 twelve disciples, Mary, and herself).
She becomes distracted and preoccupied with getting the roast done, the rolls made, along with the gravy, corn, beans, mashed potatoes, honey carrots, and key lime pie. There is no Pizza Hut or Cracker Barrel down the street.
Instead of making a simple meal, she wants to bless them with an elaborate meal. It is an honor to have Jesus and the disciples in her house. Martha becomes deeply distracted and focuses on getting everything ready for the meal. She is being distracted and drawn away by real needs and responsibilities.
This is part of the trap of anxiety. Anxiety gets you worked up over things that seem and feel important.
What you have here is the tension between something urgent and something necessary. Martha is feeling the pull between cooking in the kitchen in order to feed these people and spending time with Jesus in the living room. It’s like there are two masters trying to rule you: what you want to do and what you need to do. That’s what anxiety does.
Remember the word distracted (perispao) means to be pulled in many directions. Her mind is shifting from the roast, to the rolls, the dessert, the drinks, where people will sit, what is Jesus talking about and why her sister is not helping and on and on. She’s wanting to provide a great meal for them, but also be in there with them like her sister. She is being mentally and emotionally pulled in different directions. That’s what anxiety does. It makes you feel like you are being pulled apart. It’s like you are trying to serve two master: you and Jesus.
For Martha, she was distracted from Jesus by wanting to serve and cook a great meal for Jesus and the disciples. What distracts you from Jesus? What distracts you from spending time with Him? Is it things like cleaning the house, working on the car, vacations, your phone, yard work, recreation, or hobbies? Could it be taking care of someone like caring for a parent or child. Anxiety will use things, needs, and wants that are important in your life to pull you away from God. Anxiety will try to convince you that you don’t need God, when in reality it’s your engine light letting you know you need Him.
Unmanaged anxiety leads to an emotional outburst
Number two, unmanaged anxiety leads to an emotional outburst. It makes you difficult to live with. Luke tells us in verse 40 that Martha went up to Jesus.[i] That phrase refers to someone bursting into a room, upset, and demanding something. Picture Martha in the kitchen cooking for over a dozen people and not only is the pot roast heating up, but so is her temper. Her mind begins to think, “Why am I the only one having to cook? Why can’t my sister get in here and help? Why do I have to do it all? She needs to get up, get in here and get to work. Why doesn’t Jesus tell her to come help me?” As she continued working and serving she became more and more flustered, agitated, and frustrated, until finally she became angry. The harder she worked the more “worked up” she became. The target of her anger was going to be her sister and Jesus.
At some point she had it. She snapped. She exploded out of the kitchen with a rolling pin in one hand and a bowl of green beans in the other. Stormed into the living room and went straight up to Jesus for all to see and hear and corrected Jesus, commanded Jesus, and scolded her sister.
There were other options, but anxiety only sees one. If it’s not done that one way, your anxiety can cause you to do and say some things you regret later.
Instead of recognizing her anxiety and frustration sooner and having a conversation about what Jesus wanted to eat or do that night, she took control of the meal, what was on the menu, who should help, and how the evening would go. She and her anxiety assumed a lot. It led to this outburst and confrontation with Jesus and her sister. Unmanaged anxiety can lead you to these moments.
If this is your pattern in dealing with anxiety, I promise you, you are difficult to live with. You create conflict more often than you realize and it seems irrational most of the time and it seems to come from out of the blue.
If serving Christ makes us difficult to live with, then something is terribly wrong with our service! The key is to have the right priorities: Jesus Christ first, then others, then ourselves. It is vitally important that we spend time “at the feet of Jesus” every single day, letting Him share His Word with us. The most important part of the Christian life is the part that only God sees. Unless we meet Christ personally and privately each day, we will soon end up like Martha: busy but not blessed. Anxiety will keep you distracted and busy, but it will not keep you blessed.
Unmanaged anxiety leads to doubt
Number three, unmanaged anxiety leads to doubt. Anxiety can cause you to question and distrust God. You begin to have reservations about God’s love and you become skeptical about God’s concern and care for you. Anxiety interprets God’s care as uncaring. We see this in Martha. Luke tells us in verse 40, Martha approached Jesus and said, Lord, do you not care….
Martha began to think, “Jesus has no concern for me or He would send my sister or someone into to help me. I guess I don’t mean anything to Him.” She thought this was unfair that her sister got to sit and listen to Jesus while she was stuck in the kitchen trying to prepare this elaborate meal fit for a king. She was trying to honor Jesus, but her anxiety caused her to believe Jesus was not honoring her.
I want you to notice that Marth calls Jesus, Lord. She uses the Greek word kurios which refers to someone with complete authority, who is sovereign and supreme. It is also translated Master. She has already seen enough, heard enough and believes enough that Jesus is Lord. She is all in. She is a follower of Jesus. She is convinced. Even though she is convinced that Jesus is Lord over her, she doubts His love for her.
When you get stressed out and begin to experience worry about your finances, concern about your marriage, nervous about your health or fear for your children and feel like you are overworked and you have too much to do and things are not going as you had hoped or planned, the anxiety you feel from that can lead you to question and doubt if God cares about you or even notices you. Anxiety can cause you to distrust and doubt God. This is why your anxiety is your engine light to let you know something is not right inside you.
Unmanaged anxiety leads to feelings of abandonment
Number four, unmanaged anxiety leads to feelings of abandonment. When you get anxious and feel like you have to do it all, you will feel abandoned by those who you think should be helping. Not only does anxiety cause you to feel abandoned by the people around you, but you will feel abandoned by God as well. Anxiety will cause you to think things and believe things that are not true. If it is true that someone hasn’t help you, anxiety will exaggerate the abandonment and neglect that you feel. Anxiety will make it feel bigger and worse than it really is. Anxiety will make small things cast a big shadow.
We see this in Martha. Luke tells us in verse 40 that Martha complained to Jesus about her sister saying, Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? The word left (kataleipo) is a strong word that comes with intensity. It conveys a strong feeling of being forsaken and abandoned. It carries the idea of feeling neglected and left behind.
The phrase has left me means she kept on leaving me.[ii] The implication of that little phrase means that Mary started off helping Martha, but then would go into the living room to listen to Jesus. Martha probably asked her to come back in the kitchen to help and Mary did. But then Mary overheard something Jesus said and went back into the living room to hear what Jesus was saying. At some point, Mary decided to stay in the living room.
This moment is a significant moment for Mary. Jesus is in the house. Sitting in the living room. Mary has an opportunity to listen to Jesus, learn from Jesus, and ask any question she may have of Jesus. This moment may never happen again. Instead of seeing this as an opportunity for her sister to grow, Martha sees this as Mary abandoning her.
Anxiety will cause you to feel neglected, when there is no neglect. Anxiety will cause you feel mistreated when there was no mistreatment. If left unmanaged, anxiety convinces you others don’t care and have abandoned you.
Unmanaged anxiety leads to resentment
Number five, unmanaged anxiety leads to resentment. Once you get stressed out about what you think needs to be done and the people around you are not helping or cooperating you will begin to despise and resent them. You will start holding a grudge against them. Resentment comes from believing you have been mistreated.
When you take a close look at what Martha says you hear resentment for both her sister and Jesus. She feels like both of them have mistreated her unfairly. Look closely at what Martha says in verse 40, Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me. Because of her unchecked anxiety she has already started to distance herself from her sister and depersonalize her. She doesn’t even call her sister by name, she simply refers to her as my sister. Her sister is sitting right there!
Not only is she starting to resent Mary, but she is also starting to resent Jesus. She already questions whether Jesus cares or not. She wants her sister to do her job and she is wanting Jesus to do His. It’s like she is saying, “Jesus, I can tell you don’t care because if you did you would do your job and tell my sister to get in here and help.”
Anxiety can snowball on you. You get anxious about all that you need to do and then you get irritated with those who aren’t helping or who are making it more difficult. That leads to accusations, blame, and conflict. The reason why anxiety begins to despise and accuse others is because anxiety does not want to change. Anxiety wants the circumstances to change. Your anxiety will convince you that the other person needs to change, not you. Anxiety wants God to change the circumstances, when God wants to change you.
Unmanaged anxiety leads to selfish manipulation
Number six, unmanaged anxiety leads to selfish manipulation. Anxiety will cause you to try to manipulate and control people for your own benefit and for your own agenda. Look again at what Martha says, Martha flat out says to Jesus, Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me. In the world of counseling, what Martha just did is called triangulation. A triangulated relationship is any three-person relationship that should have two people in it. A triangulated relationship is where two people conspire against the third person or one person brings in an outsider into a two-person relationship in order to manipulate the third person. Instead of talking to Mary about this, she decided to bring Jesus into the conflict and make Him say something to Mary in order to get her to do what she wants her to do. She is trying to manipulate the situation and people to her own benefit. This is all anxiety driven.
Martha’s anxiety not only caused her to try to triangulate a relationship, but it has caused her to be demanding. She began to tell the Lord exactly what to do, tell her then to help me. This implies that she thinks that her will and her plans are more important that the Lord’s. At this point, it is clear that she has lost her perspective. She is now at the center of everything when Jesus should have been at the center. Anxiety removes the focus off of Jesus and places it on us and our needs and our desires. One sign that this has happened is when you start telling God what He ought to do.
As a result of her unmanaged anxiety, what started out as a blessing to serve Jesus is now a burden to serve Jesus. Her work for Jesus has become weary. Her joyful service has become sour. Her anxiety has caused her to become angry at her sister, bossy toward her Lord, created unnecessary tension in the house, questioned whether Jesus cares, and to feel abandoned. What started out as a great opportunity to bless people, enjoy fellowship with others and Jesus has turned into something ugly. What turned it ugly is how she reacted to her feelings of anxiety.
Martha’s problem is that she doesn’t think she is the one with the problem. She thinks everyone else has a problem. That’s what anxiety will do. But there is hope. Jesus is about to confront her anxiety and help her to be the Martha she was designed to be.
Today, we have looked at the consequences of unmanaged anxiety. Next week we are going to take a look at confronting our anxiety through what Jesus said to Martha. Before we leave I want you to hear something very important.
Martha’s anxious moment did not cause Jesus to love her less. Later on in John 11:5 we are told that Jesus loved Martha and Mary and their brother Lazarus. God loves you. He does not let your anxiety get in the way of His love for you. Don’t ever let the devil or your inner critic convince you that God loves you less because you get nervous or worry or upset about something. You are precious in His sight. He wants to help you manage your anxiety so you can be aware, calm and present for Him and others.
Martha was not aware of her anxiety. Jesus would have to point it out to her. Jesus would have to say, You are anxious and troubled about many things. Sometimes we can’t see our own anxieties, God has to place someone in our lives to show it to us and to help us realign and manage our anxieties. We will take a look at what Jesus says to Martha next week and learn some important things about managing and containing our anxieties.
- When you are anxious, what is your anxiety saying to you?
- How does your anxiety usually reveal itself? In the form of fear, anger, nervousness, unease or some other way?
- How does your anxiety distract you? What does it distract you from? Who does it distract you from? What was Martha distracted from?
- Martha’s anxiety caused her to have an emotional outburst. Does your anxiety result in something similar? If so, how?
- Martha’s anxiety caused her to question Jesus’ love and care for her. Does your anxiety cause you to doubt God in any way? Does it cause you to doubt or mistrust others? If so, how?
- Martha’s anxiety led her to believe she was abandoned by her sister to do all the work. Does your anxiety lead you to feel abandoned by others? What other feelings or thoughts do you usually have toward others when you are anxious?
- Martha’s anxiety resulted in feelings of resentment toward her sister. Why do you think anxiety can create such strong negative emotions toward others?
- Martha’s anxiety tried to use Jesus to get her sister to do what she wanted. When you are anxious how does selfish manipulation show up in your words or actions to get people to do what you want?
- Do you feel like God loves or likes you less because of your anxiety? How would you counsel someone who felt like God was disappointed in them for being anxious?
- Jesus pointed out Martha’s anxiety. Who has God placed in your life to help you recognize when you are becoming anxious?
[i] She came up to him (επιστασα). Second aorist active participle of εφιστημ, an old verb to place upon, but in the N.T. only in the middle voice or the intransitive tenses of the active (perfect and second aorist as here). It is the ingressive aorist here and really means. stepping up to or bursting in or upon Jesus. It is an explosive act as is the speech of Martha. (Robertson’s Word Picture in the New Testament)
[ii] The phrase “has left me” is an imperfect active phrase meaning continual or repeated action.