Pastor Andrew closed the door to his study and leaned against the hard wood, letting out a long breath. A ball of anxiety grew inside his mind, threatening to shut down all functions.
There are times when that ball of anxiety threatens to overwhelm us. It might be because we have overwhelming responsibilities or because people problems loom. The anxiety can also grow from bills or that feeling that we are missing something.
Have you ever noticed how fear takes over your brain? What starts as a niggling feeling in the back of your mind soon has you comatose in front of the television, hoping to drown out the cacophony of "what ifs."
As you sort through your “must dos,” you might find that you put things on hold due to this weird kind of stress. Here are some things to help:
1. Name the anxiety. Are you delaying painting the building because you fear dry rot? Name the fear—out loud, to a trusted advisor or coach. (Always pick someone who will not amplify your feelings but will give you a balanced perspective.) Just naming the anxiety will put it in perspective. Satan loves to keep us bound by fear. His main tool is our own silence. When we don’t express our fears, they grow. When we express them to a trusted advisor, we quickly move to logic and are able to assess the damage rather than live in anxiety.
2. Fear God. The Bible is pretty clear: God really is in charge. When we spend our time focusing on our anxieties (or avoiding them, to no avail), we aren’t taking our stuff to God and realizing that He really is in charge. He is bigger than the biggest problem. He is stronger than the hardest relationship. God can bring all things into order. Your anxiety will go down when you let Him be in the driver’s seat instead of trying to muddle through on your own.
3. Talk through your approach. Sometimes we just need to think through something logically, and the anxiety will go away. Money is often this way. We can be immobilized by a deficit in our budget, but once we put the numbers on paper, we are able to see things as they are, not just as they feel. We know where we are headed and are able to articulate what needs to happen.
4. Pray and praise. Remember Jehoshaphat? He took things to prayer and then went out praising. Do you have a personal prayer team? These are trusted friends (they can be from all over the world) who will hold you up in prayer. If you do nothing else for your personal growth as a leader this year, get six friends who will meet and pray with you regularly. (Google hangout, Skype and closed Facebook groups now allow us to do this over distance and across time zones.)
5. Be Authentic. One of the biggest anxiety-builders is the fear that people might be disappointed in us. This is compounded by the thought that leaders needed to be better than. It causes us to separate and isolate ourselves from those we lead. Jesus was an authentic leader and experienced everyday life with His disciples. Only a few of them saw Him at his best (at the Mount of Transfiguration), but all of them saw Him in his moments of stress. When your congregation sees how you deal with real stress, those who are "playing the game" will be shocked, but those who really want to learn to follow Jesus will cheer your honest example and feel relieved that real leaders aren’t perfect.
Pastor Andrew locked the door behind him and knelt by one of the office chairs. Taking out his journal, he began to write. “God,” he wrote, “Here are the things that are bugging me. I’m just going to write them down and then see what You want to do with them.” Soon he had a list of 15 items. As he wrote, a sense of calm began to settle over him. Some of these things weren’t real stresses at all. They were just compounded by the fear he had from the big things—and there were only four of those.
When he was done writing, Andrew began to pray in the Spirit over each of the big four. As he prayed, he sensed God showing him new perspectives. “I’ve got that one,” God said to one. “Call someone to talk through this,” God said on another. As Andrew continued to pray, he moved into intercession and felt God move his heart with compassion for those involved in the third. When he got to the last of the big four, Andrew felt joy and praise well up within.
“Today is a good day, and God really is in control,” he said to himself as he unlocked the office door and turned to face the paperwork on his desk. Even the biggest problems can be fixed if we simply face them with authenticity, let others in to help and wait for God’s perspective.
Kim Martinez is an ordained Assemblies of God pastor with a master's degree in theology from Fuller Seminary. She is a ministry and life development coach and can be found online at www.deepimprints.com. She writes a weekly column for ministrytodaymag.com.