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The Space Between Us

The Space Between Us

We have learned how to be anxious about everything and even how to be anxious about nothing…at least nothing we can put our finger on. Anxiety has, for so many of us, become a close companion. It’s almost like we wouldn’t recognize our lives without it. 

And through this teaching series, our aim hasn’t been necessarily to eradicate all anxiety from planet earth. We’ve been way more interested in how to make sure our anxiety doesn’t have the ability to control or paralyze our lives. And more than that, I don’t want my anxiety or your anxiety to rob us of the abundant life Jesus has called us into. The only way that can happen is if we come up with a good answer to this question:

What are we supposed to do with our anxiety?

We are all doing something with our anxiety. Knowing this is true:

We want to make sure we lead our anxiety to the right place, rather than our anxiety leading us to the wrong place. 

There’s a hopeful invitation for all of us today. And the reason I say it’s hopeful is because it comes from a man who used to be so anxious. And his anxiety was constantly leading him to be emotionally reactive rather than thoughtfully responsive. I’m talking about Peter.

1 Peter 5:5-11 In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever.

Can you even imagine becoming a non-anxious person?

I’m guessing Peter also had a hard time imagining this. When we see him throughout the gospels, he was anxious so often. He was always reacting quickly, always speaking up first. 

When Jesus told the disciples about how he had to die, what does Peter day? 

Matthew 16:22 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”

When Jesus takes Peter, James and John up the mountain to experience the transfiguration, Peter can’t just enjoy the moment.

Matthew 17:4 Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters – one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”

Do you remember what Peter did when they came to arrest Jesus?

John 18:10 Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.)

When your anxiety is left unchecked, it will either cause you to get bigger or smaller. Bigger means you’re more intense and angry; think of the phrase “bull in a china shop”. Smaller means you’re silent or you shrink or you hide. Peter’s anxiety made him always get bigger.

Does your anxiety tend to cause you to get bigger or smaller?

When Jesus predicts that all of his disciples will fall away, Peter’s anxiety causes him to make bold promises:

Matthew 26:33 Peter replied, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.”

Jesus predicts Peter’s denial. How do you think Peter responded to that?

Matthew 26:35 But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the other disciples said the same.

And of course, the anxiety in Peter that caused him to make bold promises to Jesus became the same anxiety that led Peter to tell others this about Jesus – “I don’t know the man!” 

So anxious. So reactive. He’s not yet a calm person or someone who’s at ease. Peter had the same dilemma that every human being has.

We are always going to cast our anxiety somewhere.

cast – to throw something upon someone or something else

Who are you casting your anxiety on?

If you and I aren’t casting our anxiety on God, it means we’re casting our anxiety on ourselves or other people.

If we are casting our anxiety on ourselves, it looks like this: constant pressure, the feeling that we’re never doing enough, the sense that we should be smarter or stronger or more gifted.

If we are casting our anxiety on other people, it looks like this: blame, anger, and all kinds of other reactivity. Steve Cuss says there are four spaces where anxiety can exist:

Four Spaces Where Anxiety Exists:

  1. The Space Within Me
  2. The Space Between Me and You
  3. The Space Within You
  4. The Space Between You and Another

You know which of those spaces you have responsibility over? Only the space within you and your part in the space between yourself and another person.

Too often, we take responsibility for what we have no control over.

And this leads to all kinds of anxiety in our lives. And it causes us to react rather than respond. We want to become a non-anxious presence. And I think the words from Peter in our main text show us how we can become a non-anxious presence…even if that seems so foreign to the lives we’ve been living.

There are so many great verses in this text, but how do they fit together. There’s this part about humility and then about anxiety. These don’t seem to go together. But do they?

Anxiety can be a form of pride.

Part of our anxiety comes from us being convinced we have to solve all of our problems in our own strength. When we think we can only depend on and trust ourselves, we will always end up anxious.

Anxiety comes when there’s a gap between what I’m expecting from myself and what I’m actually able to do.

Peace comes when there’s no gap between what we’re expecting from God and what He is actually able to do.

Peter has learned a valuable lesson he’s trying to pass on to us. 

God opposes the proud, but shows favor to the humble.

Then he tells us to come under God’s mighty hand. Peter knows what it’s like to try to live over God (No, Lord!) or to try to live outside of God. Come under his hand, so he may lift you up in due time. As you come under his hand and realize how much He cares for you, you can cast ALL of your anxiety on Him.

Peter’s anxiety had come from his pride. He was constantly telling Jesus in some form or fashion that Jesus could always count on Peter to come through. But things are different now. He now knows his pride caused God to oppose him. 

Are there good reasons for you to cast ALL of your anxiety on God?

Yes and Peter gives them to us. He has a mighty hand. And He cares for you. If you need help from someone, there are only two questions you must have answered. Do they have a desire to help me? And do they have the ability to help me? 

Then Peter tells us that we must be aware that the devil is out to devour us. Satan wants us to trust ourselves or trust anything else that will cause us to distrust God.

What do we do? We resist the devil by standing firm in our faith. Standing firm in our faith is also how we become a non-anxious presence in the midst of everyone else’s anxiety in our world.

“The non-anxious presence responds (exercises thoughtfulness) instead of reacting (a mindless action). Under conditions of extreme anxiety, most people become an anxious presence, lacking restraint and acting on impulse.” Peter Steinke, Uproar

You know what anxious kids need?

You know what an anxious small group needs?

You know what your anxious team at work needs?

You know what an anxious church community going through COVID needed from me and our staff team?

That’s right- all of these groups need their leaders to be a non-anxious presence.

“The influencing potential of the non-anxious presence is not to be confused with being “cool” or being “nice.” Nor is it to be construed as denying anxiety in ourselves, as if unaffected by events. The non-anxious presence involves engagement, being there and taking the heat if need be, witnessing the pain and yet not fighting fire with fire.” Peter Steinke, Uproar

When we feel the onset of anxiety, what if we begin to see that as an invitation? It’s there…and we know we have to do something with it. There’s a path to being reactive, thinking fast, losing control…and taking it out on other people or ourselves. And there’s also a path to cast it on the God who has a mighty hand and cares for us.

Proverbs 15:18 A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict, but the one who is patient calms a quarrel.

I know full well how to be the hot-tempered person, but how do we become the calm, non-anxious presence who is patient? Here are the two options we tend to choose:

Enmeshed = Anxious Presence

Detached = Non-Anxious Absence

Instead of choosing either of these, we can choose differentiation.

“Differentiation is the ability to be fully yourself while being fully connected to people. It’s gaining clarity on where “I” end and the “other” begins. A differentiated person allows space between herself and another, even when that other person is highly anxious or asking for rescue. A differentiated leader is clear on her own values and convictions and is not easily swayed from them.” Steve Cuss, Managing Leadership Anxiety

Jesus embodied this and Peter tells us how:

1 Peter 2:23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.

The last thing from our main text today – Peter writes that “after you have suffered a little while, God will restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. Peter had such a deep experience with this restoration. It’s available to you too.

Humble yourselves. Cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.

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