When you are anxious you are thinking about who you should be, but when you are at peace you are thinking about who you actually are. Anxiety says you should be in control. Peace says you are a child of God and He is in control. Anxiety says you should be perfect or at least better. Peace says you are perfect and righteous in the eyes of God because of Christ in you. Anxiety says you should be smarter and have more answers. Peace says you belong to the one who knows everything and He can be trusted. Anxiety says you should be there for everyone. Peace says God is there for everyone and you only need to be there for those who God assigns to you. Anxiety says you should be more accepted by others. Peace says you are accepted by God and not everyone will like you and that’s okay. When you are anxious you are thinking about who you should be, but when you are at peace you are thinking about who you actually are in Christ.
Today, we are going to finish a two part series on unmanaged anxiety. Managing your anxiety is a part of your spiritual growth and maturity. You want to be that man or woman of God who is aware, calm, and present. You want to be a person of peace. God wants you to be that person who is able to distinguish between the good and the best, the urgent and the necessary. God wants you to operate out of who you are as a follower of Jesus.
Last time we took a look at some consequences of unmanaged anxiety from an event in Martha’s life. Let’s take a look at the event and pull out some observations about confronting unmanaged anxiety.
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)
Martha is busy but not blessed. Jesus has come to her home but she is so stressed out that the joy has been replaced by frustration and anger. And oddly enough, her desire to serve Christ actually pulls her away from time with Christ. What should have been an awesome time ended up being an anxious time. Martha let something good squeeze out the best.
Last week we identified six consequences of anxiety from Martha’s statement.
- Unmanaged anxiety leads to distraction
- Unmanaged anxiety leads to an emotional outburst
- Unmanaged anxiety leads to doubt
- Unmanaged anxiety leads to feelings of abandonment
- Unmanaged anxiety leads to resentment
- Unmanaged anxiety leads to selfish manipulation
I would encourage you to go to the church’s website and listen to that message if you missed it or you can go to truthappliedjs.com and read my notes.
If you were to stop after Martha’s statement what you have is simply an angry and irritated person. So far, the idea of anxiety, irritation, abandonment, or anger has not been mentioned in the text. The person who identifies the anxiety is Jesus. Sometimes it is difficult to recognize when you are anxious and you need God to point it out to you. He may speak to your heart and mind about it or He may have someone else say something to you.
One of the reasons why it’s hard for us to see our anxiety is because our anxiety makes us feel right and justified in our anger and in our reaction to whatever is going on. Anxiety blinds us to how rude we are, insensitive we are, and highlights the person or people we think is to blame for something not going the way we want it.
I want us to take a look at this like a case study. What do we learn about anxiety and how to deal with the anxiety in ourselves and others?
Jesus is giving us an example of how to confront someone with unmanaged anxiety. The Martha’s in this world need people like Jesus in their life to help them guide through their anxiety. What does Jesus do to help Martha and what does that mean for us who live with people who struggle with anxiety? We are followers of Jesus and He is giving us an example of how to minister to someone who is anxious. Jesus shows us three things we should do when helping those with anxiety and within that gives the key to anxiety management.
Confront unmanaged anxiety compassionately
First, confront unmanaged anxiety compassionately. You don’t want to agitate it anymore. What we have a tendency to do when we encounter someone’s anxiety is make fun of it, mock them in some way, belittle them for being anxious, tell them to get over it or suck it up. At their moment of anxiety they need compassion.
Notice what Jesus did. He began by saying, Martha, Martha…. Jesus is showing us that when someone is anxious be gentle and tender toward them. Anxiety is like a tender bruise on your body, you don’t want people poking it. Jesus began with Martha in a loving way.
The phrase Martha, Martha has two implications.
- The first implication is compassion. When someone would use another person’s name twice like that it was an indication they cared. Some translations trying to catch the compassion in the statement will translate this as “My dear Martha” (NLT) or “Martha, my dear” (Philipps). Jesus didn’t become angry at Martha because she let her anxiety get the best of her, He became compassionate.
- The second implication is seriousness. Generally, the repetition of the name of the person indicated a message of importance was to follow.[i] Throughout the Bible you find God or a prophet or someone speaking and they will say someone’s name twice for emphasis because they are about to say something important and serious.
So what you have here is Jesus expressing serious compassion. Jesus is not making a joke about Martha’s anxiety, nor is He mocking her. He is not belittling her or what she feels. If you live with someone who struggles with anxiety it is vital that you provide them with serious compassion. You take their anxiety seriously, but you are gentle with it. At that moment they are emotionally sensitive. If you don’t show serious compassion you will only make it worse and increase their frustration and anxiety.
Anxiety is not a sin. It can lead you to sin and sometimes sin can cause anxiety, however, anxiety itself is not a sin. However, anxiety is a weakness if left unmanaged. When you are confronting someone’s weakness you must approach it with tenderness. Listen to what God’s Word says in 1 Thessalonians 5:14 about this, “Brothers and sisters, we urge you to warn those who are lazy. Encourage those who are timid. Take tender care of those who are weak. Be patient with everyone” (NLT). When Martha walks into the living room of your life with her anxious anger, irritation, or annoyance your first response should come in the form of tender care, compassion, and patience. Their weakness is on display and you have an opportunity to encourage, bless, and build them up.
Confront unmanaged anxiety directly
Number two, confront unmanaged anxiety directly. Sometimes those around an anxious person sees the person’s anxiety before the person does. When you observe someone’s anxiety you will need to acknowledge it and identify it for them. Remember, you are doing this out of compassion. You are going to be direct and clear, but you are going to be gracious and tender toward them.
Let’s take a look at Jesus again. After Jesus demonstrated serious compassion by saying Martha, Martha, Jesus went on to say, you are anxious and troubled about many things. Jesus has just become Martha’s counselor. Counselor Jesus identifies three things going on inside of Martha. When you are anxious the same thing is happening inside of you.
- First, Jesus says, you are anxious. The word anxious (merimnao) means to be distracted mentally. Your thoughts are divided. Your mind is being drawn in different directions. Martha is overthinking and rethinking things in her mind. When your mind is distracted it is very difficult to focus on the task at hand.
- Second, Jesus says, you are troubled. The word troubled (turbazo) means to be emotionally stirred up. The Greek word here is turbazo and we get our word turbulent from it. It means to make noise, an uproar, to disturb, stir up, and to cause trouble. What’s happening here is Martha is letting her anxious mind cause trouble with her emotions. Martha’s thoughts are agitating her emotions. She is causing herself to get worked up.
We do this all the time. We think about what someone said or did or didn’t do and we are a little bothered by it, but the more we think about it the madder we get.
One form of this is called anger fantasies. This is where you have an imaginative argument with someone where you out smart, out talk, and out reason the person making your view and opinion dominate. The person apologizes and tells you how right you are. This is all in your mind. If you are not careful, this anger fantasy gets stuck on repeat and you play and replay the scene over and over in your mind. The more your replay it in your mind the more upset you get.
Compassionately, Jesus identifies and acknowledges that Martha is anxious and troubled.
- Jesus identifies a behavioral pattern. Jesus tells Martha that she is anxious and troubled about many things. You have probably heard the saying, “The devil is in the details.” Well, the same is true when it comes to God’s truth, truth is in the details. When Jesus says Martha is being distracted by many things he is referring to right then and generally speaking. What this tells me is that Martha struggles with what we call chronic anxiety. Martha is anxious and troubled about all the things surrounding the meal, the guest, and her sister Mary. She is also anxious about many other things in life. This is not a standalone event in Martha’s life.
For those who struggle with anxiety let me pause and talk to you for a moment. God has placed people in your life who can help you. Your success in managing your anxiety is up to you. You must give the people in your life permission to help you identify your anxiety when it appears. They see it, they hear it. They see it in your body language, your silence, your tone of voice, your pacing, or your fidgeting. They see you shut down because of anxiety. They see you withdraw and binge eat or not eat. Let them demonstrate serious compassion at the moment you need it. Let them help you identify what is going on with your thinker, your feeler, and your doer.
Let them say, “Hey, I see you are anxious and troubled about something. Is there something I can help you with?”
What do we have so far?
- For those who encounter people with anxiety your role is to address their anxiety with serious compassion and be direct and clear about what you see.
- For those who are anxious, let others help you recognize when you are anxious and let them help you through it.
Confront unmanaged anxiety spiritually
Number three, confront unmanaged anxiety spiritually. What I mean by that is when you address your anxiety you approach it as a spiritual problem, but you do not get rid of practical solutions. A lot of those practical solutions are a gift from God which makes it a spiritual thing.
- God leads you to a wise counselor. That’s a spiritual thing.
- God leads you to a discerning doctor that prescribes medication, that is a spiritual thing.
- God leads you to a diet change and exercise, that is a spiritual thing.
When I say confront anxiety spiritually, I mean see it from a spiritual perspective. Being spiritual means believing that God is present, working, and intending good for my life.
When Jesus addresses Martha’s anxiety, He moves her thinking from an earthly perspective to a spiritual perspective regarding a very practical matter. Let me show you. Jesus said it this way, but one thing is necessary. Jesus is going to redirect her thinking to one thing. This one thing is going to address her mind, will, and emotions. This one thing will realign her inwardly. This one thing will help her manage and contain her anxiety. This one thing will help her manage and contain her anxiety.
What is that one thing Jesus is referring to? There are two ways to look at this one thing.
Listening to God’s Word
First, the one thing refers to listening to God’s Word. I agree that as follower of Jesus, like Martha, we too often allow our lives to be regulated by what feels urgent not what is necessary. Working hard at the job, trying to be a good spouse or parent, and being committed to the church are all great things, but we must not allow those things to replace our faithfulness to God’s divine truth. Jesus said, “People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4, NLT). Only by making God’s word a priority will they come to know how wonderful He truly is and experience the abundant life He has purchased for them. Part of the one thing is the one and only word of God we call the Bible.
Attitude of Worship
I do believe that the one thing Jesus speaks of includes listening and feasting on God’s Word. However, I think that is only one aspect within the one thing Jesus is actually referring to. I’m convinced the one thing Jesus is referring to is an attitude of worship. That one thing is learning how to worship God based on who you are. It’s discovering how to do everything as an act of worship. Where do I see this?
First of all, Jesus did not tell Martha to leave the kitchen. Jesus said one thing was necessary and Mary has chosen it. I don’t think Jesus is referring to Mary’s position of sitting down in the living room and listening to Jesus. That is a very important thing to do, but I don’t believe that’s what Jesus is actually suggesting here. I think it has something to do with her heart and her attitude with what she is doing.
This reason I say this is because of what happens later. Let’s fast forward. Jesus is getting closer to when He will be crucified. In John 12 we are told something interesting that I think brings light into this situation. John says,
Six days before the Passover celebration began, Jesus arrived in Bethany, the home of Lazarus—the man he had raised from the dead. A dinner was prepared in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, and Lazarus was among those who ate with him. Then Mary took a twelve-ounce jar of expensive perfume made from essence of nard, and she anointed Jesus’ feet with it, wiping his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance (John 12:1-3, NLT).
This is almost the same situation that we have here in Luke 10. In both cases you have a great meal being prepared, you have Jesus as the special guest, you have Martha serving, and you have Mary at Jesus’ feet once again. What is missing in this second event? Martha’s anxious and troubled heart. They both were worshipping Jesus according to their personality. Mary was more a reflective worshiper and Martha was more of a doer worshiper. I think Martha had learned how to let Mary worship Jesus her way and Martha had learned to worship Jesus her own way.
I think she had learned what Paul would eventually write in Colossians 3:17, “And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father” (NLT). He would go on later and say in Colossians 3:23, “Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord” (NLT). I think when she was cooking and preparing the meal for Jesus in the first case, she wasn’t really doing it for Jesus. She was doing it for herself. When things were not going the way she wanted her selfishness pushed anxiety to the front and that’s when she became troubled and angry at Jesus and Mary. As Christians, we have to be careful here, because we do a lot of good things for a lot of people and we can hide our selfishness behind the acts of good deeds when in reality those acts of good deeds are about us. One of the indicators that your good deeds is about you is when you become anxious and troubled over things that don’t really matter. That’s what was happening to Martha.
There is a huge difference between cleaning the house because it bothers you and cleaning the house as an act of worship to God. Martha had learned this. There is a huge difference in going to work as though you work for the Lord rather than for people. There is a huge difference when you do homework to get a good grade versus doing your homework as an act of worship to God. When you do everything from a heart of worship then peace will prevail. I think this is the point Jesus is making.
Jesus says, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her. The thing that is necessary for inner peace is an attitude of worship in everything you do.
Jesus said, Mary has chosen the good portion. That good portion is learning to feast on God’s greatness and goodness and presence whether you are sitting at His feet listening to Him or working in the kitchen serving Him and others. Worshiping Him is the good portion.
Then Jesus goes on to say, Which will not be taken away from her – Jesus is saying, “I’m not going to tell Mary to get up and go in the kitchen. She is expressing her love for me by sitting here and listening to me and I’m not going to tell you to stop working in the kitchen because you can express your love for me there as well. You are a doer, Martha, that’s how you are made. You are about getting things done and being productive, but I want you to love me and express your worship to Me through how you were created. Love me with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength as you work in the kitchen. Once you learn how to do that, I will make sure that will never be taken away from you.”
Remember, I said confront unmanaged anxiety spiritually.
- This means if you believe you need to go see a counselor then do it as an act of worship. “God, thank you for my counselor. I want to hear you through them. Give them insight and discernment on how they guide the conversation. I want to hear from you through them.” Let that counseling session be an act of worship.
- This means if you believe you need medication for your anxiety then take it as an act of worship. “God, thank you for this medication. May it do what it is supposed to do. I see this medication as a provision from your hand to my life.”
- This means if you need to start exercising or eating better to manage your anxiety then do so as an act of worship and love for God.
Managing your anxiety is a part of your spiritual growth. It is also spiritual warfare over your mind and emotions. God wants you to learn how to turn those anxious moments into worship moments. He wants you to see everything you do as an act of worship. He wants you to see all the various provisions He has made to help you contain your anxiety. You can do this. Listen to the people in your life and become aware, calm, and present.
- How does anxiety use should be thinking against you?
- Why do you think anxiety makes us feel justified in our anger and blind to how rude or insensitive we are in anxious moments?
- How is managing your anxiety a part of your spiritual growth?
- Jesus gives us an example to follow when confronting someone with unmanaged anxiety. The first observation is to confront unmanaged anxiety compassionately. Based on how Jesus treated Martha, what does that look like? (Remember the phrase serious compassion).
- Jesus demonstrates we should confront unmanaged anxiety in others directly. Jesus points out to Martha that she was both anxious and troubled. How can you help others become aware of their anxiety in a direct way without being unnecessarily offensive?
- Who usually recognizes your anxiety first? Your or someone else? Why do you think that is?
- Jesus shows us that we should confront unmanaged anxiety in others spiritually. Based on what Jesus said to Martha about her anxiety, what does it mean to address anxiety as a spiritual problem?
- How does talking to counselors, taking medication, and exercise become a spiritual approach to anxiety management?
- Describe the “one thing” Jesus was referring to that is the key to anxiety management.
[i] Examples of names being used twice in similar fashion are Abraham (Gen. 22:11), Jacob (Gen. 46:2), Moses (Ex. 3:4), Samuel (1 Sam. 3:4, 10), and Saul (Acts 9:4; 26:14).