Ann Spangler

Ann Spangler is an award-winning writer and speaker.

Crazy Love?

Crazy Love“That’s insane!”

That thought has repeatedly run through my mind as certain social barriers are collapsing in our nation. Though individual freedom has always been a foundational value of our society, freedom un-tethered from responsibility seems to be the new norm.

In fact we are undergoing a period of rapid un-tethering. We are un-tethering ourselves from history, proclaiming certain kinds of behaviors good that have for thousands of years been considered immoral or maladaptive. We are un-tethering ourselves from biology, locating our identity entirely in our minds without reference to our bodies. It doesn’t matter whether my body appears to be male or female. Thanks to medical technology and psychological trends I can become whatever sex I want to be.

Where will all this un-tethering lead? One likely result is that our sense of community will continue to unravel. It will be harder to create healthy families, churches, and work environments. People will hide what they think out of fear of being labeled and rejected. Civil discourse will continue to decline and healthy community will be become rare. But without healthy communities, human beings cannot flourish.

In the midst of rapid cultural decline, which many are hailing as cultural advance, how should Christians respond?

The first temptation is to condemn those who disagree with us. The second is to go into hiding, hoping that things will blow over if we just keep our heads down and stay quiet. The third is to circle the wagons and try to isolate ourselves from the increasing toxicity of our culture.

But what if there’s a better way--a way to engage the culture lovingly without suppressing or disguising our beliefs? To do so, we have to remember the second great commandment, which is to love our neighbor as ourselves. Disagreements never give us the right to treat others in unloving ways.

We also have to realize that love and agreement are not the same thing. People who are psychologically healthy should be able to disagree without rejecting each other. Even if we are labeled and belittled by those who dislike us, we should not retaliate in kind.

If I am right and our world is getting crazier by the minute, we need to remember that the early church thrived in the Roman Empire in the midst a culture that was far crazier than ours. Though the gospel has important cultural implications, our primary call is to evangelize people not cultures. The culture will change to the extent that more and more people embrace the gospel and live in its power.

The only way to live as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ in this crazy world, is to ask God to give us the faith and the courage to continually display his crazy love no matter how hard it might become in the months and years ahead.

2 Simple Ways to Stop Worrying

2 waysMost of us realize that worry can be hard to get rid of. How often have you heard the advice to “stop worrying?” If it were that easy to simply stop, most of us would instantly comply.

Sometimes people advise us to pray instead of worry, as though prayer is an automatic antidote. But I am living proof that prayers can simply be worries in disguise.

Corrie ten Boom was imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II. If anyone had a right to worry, she did. But here’s her take on worry: “Worrying is carrying tomorrow’s load with today’s strength—carrying two days at once. It is moving into tomorrow ahead of time. Worrying doesn’t empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.”

Worry is simply a maladaptive planning tool. It’s also a distorted use of our imagination. Instead of equipping us to face the future, it drains us of the strength we need to deal with the present.

But how can we stop?

Here are 2 practical suggestions that have helped me.

1.  Distract Yourself

Parents know that unhappy toddlers can often be calmed with simple distractions—an interesting toy, an invitation to look at the puppy dog that’s walking by. Try distracting yourself from your worries by thanking God for specific ways in which he’s blessed you. Decide that you will begin and end each day and each time of prayer by thanking God for at least three good things. Doing so will redirect your focus on God and help you to remember how faithful he’s been in the past.

2.  Never Worry Alone

John Ortberg points out that one of the most powerful ways to stop worrying is to disclose our worries to a friend. “The simple act of reassurance from another human being,” he says, can be “a tool of the Spirit to cast out fear.”

Everyone worries. But worry doesn’t need to consume us. I’ve shared a couple of simple strategies that help me to stop worrying. But I know there are many others.

Let me know if you’ve found other practical strategies that have decreased the power of worry in your own life. I’d love to share these with readers.

For Father's Day

Do something special for your husband on Father's Day--pray for him. Thanks to Jared Brock, the author of A Year of Living Prayerfully, for this great advice:

A list by Jared Brock: 5 ways to pray for your husband

Confessions of a Prayer Worrier

Black and white photograph of a worried-looking personI’m a prayer junkie. I pray when I hear the wailing of an ambulance, while I’m waiting in line at the grocery store, or when I’m watching the evening news. I have so many people on my prayer list that I can’t possibly pray for them all in one day. I pray so frequently and so habitually that I’ve caught myself praying for fictional characters in a movie. Now that’s embarrassing!

My prayers ramped up big time the moment I became a mother. Years later, as the rapidly aging, single mother of two adopted children, I feel both tremendously blessed and incredibly challenged. Like any mother, I want my teenage girls to launch well, to know that they will reach adulthood as people who can take care of themselves and others. Because both have special needs, I worry about how difficult this might be. What will happen to them when I’m no longer around?

It’s not just children who make me anxious. My list of “things and people to worry about” is a long one, full of dramatic and difficult situations. It pretty well maps my prayer list. I’m sure you have your list, too, and it may be far longer than mine. Like you, I’m not dreaming this stuff up. Our challenges are real and pressing.

The other day while I was praying, I asked God to take away anything that keeps me from experiencing him more deeply. As I prayed, I imagined myself trying to remove a thick rind around my heart. Though I was trying to pull it off, it kept snapping back in place, too strong to yield to my small efforts. What was this thing that had formed a barrier between me and God? As I prayed, it seemed evident that my heart was wrapped up tight in layer upon layer of worry. I had a sense that getting free from its controlling power would be a process rather than an event. I would need to keep coming back to God for help.

Lately I’ve begun to wonder about how my anxiety might be affecting the way I pray for people. Are my efforts at prayer powered by worry and stress? Have I become more of a “prayer worrier” than a “prayer warrior,” a person who not only works like everything depends on her but prays that way too? How many of my prayers reflect a desire to control outcomes, especially for people close to me? Why do I find it so hard to endure messy situations if that’s what it takes for someone to know Christ? Do I ask God how he wants me to pray and then give him space to answer?

By asking myself these questions, I’m hoping to expose what’s really driving me so that I can find a better way to pray—a way that’s open to the indwelling presence of God’s Spirit. The Apostle Paul urges us to pray about every situation. That means that we should all become prayer junkies. But he also tells us not to be anxious. But if my prayer lists equals my worry list, how can I not be anxious when I pray?

Perhaps the key to dealing with our anxiety comes from what Paul says last, that we are to present our prayers with thanksgiving. Gratitude turns us back to God and away from our problems. Expressing thanks gives us time to calm down and remember who God is.

Giving thanks to God when your heart is smothered in anxiety isn’t an easy thing to do. Our worried thoughts are like little rats running around on a spinning wheel. But if we want to stop the rats from taking over, if we want to become prayer warriors rather than prayer worriers, let’s remember to start every day by thanking God. Let’s start right now.

(Image courtesy of kikis_86 at freeimages.com)

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