One Saturday I was taking a nap. I laid down to take my nap and I was in that state where I was almost sleeping but not fully yet. You know, like when your body jumps and it wakes you up. Something like that happened to me. But I must have been sleeping because I was dreaming. And in my dream I’m tapping Noble, my youngest son, on his back. I’m trying to demonstrate something – like this is how you tap (don’t ask me why; dreams are weird). In any case, Honor, my oldest, must not have been convinced because he then proceeds to show me how it’s done by tapping my spine with his knuckle. But it wasn’t just a tap; it was more like a punch-swipe. It felt so real that I jumped, woke up, and I actually felt something on that spot. Nothing hit my back. But it felt so real.
Have you guys ever had something like that happen to you? You ever woke up mad at your spouse or partner because in your dream they cheated on you or did something to you? But this goes beyond our dreams. In life we can easily latch on to an idea – true or not true; real or not real – and that idea (that thought) impacts how we feel, what we believe, and how we behave. Yes, a dream could leave us feeling scared, mad, or even excited, but there’s no telling how much of our lives is dictated by what we think, feel, and believe BUT IT'S JUST NOT REAL. (It’s just not true.)
Let me ask you, do you ever feel alone/lonely/isolated; even when you know that it’s not true? Yes! I know that I do. But if you and I just stopped for a moment and took inventory I’m sure that we could easily list a few people in our lives that love us and are there for us. But sometimes it’s hard to think rationally or look past that feeling of loneliness because it’s just so strong. Do you ever feel rejected or abandoned by God? Even though we have countless examples in our lives and in the Scriptures of a God who says I will never leave you nor forsake you, of a prodigal father who receives his sons and daughters whenever they return back to him, of a savior that died for us even while we were still sinners?
I still battle those feelings and thoughts. Our feelings and thoughts are real, but they’re just not always true. And as we all know, the moment you and I start to believe those lies more than what we know is true, it impacts how we relate to God, it impacts how we relate to others, it impacts the trajectory of our lives. I have this affirmation that I remind myself often of because I know my tendencies: Don’t believe everything you think or feel. Because not everything that you think or feel is coming from a good place.
And that’s what we are going to talk about today. As we wrap up this anxiety series today, I want us to confront the reality that So much of our anxiety comes from things that we believe, but just aren’t true. And I want us to see where these things come from and how we can combat them.
But I also want us to see that when we believe lies (untruthful things) that what it actually leads to is sin. But don’t think of sin as simply something bad that we do, which makes us bad. But I want us to have in mind Ignatius’ definition of sin. He wrote about 500 years ago: Sin is my unwillingness to trust that what God wants for me is only my deepest happiness. (St. Ignatius of Loyola) Sin is our unwillingness to believe (to trust) that what God wants for me and you is only our deepest happiness. And because I don’t believe he wants that for me, and I want that for me, I have to seek it out myself. So I believe what the world tells me of how I can find happiness; and I try that out. And I believe what I heard over here; and I try that out. And as a result, you and I end up in a worse place than where we started, and without happiness. And this is the picture and cycle of sin that has been playing out since the beginning. Let’s take a look.
1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”
4 “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5 “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.
8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”
10 He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”
11 And he said, “Who told you that you were naked?…
In this short passage we have three questions. Questions are powerful. The right question can at times have a greater impact than the right answer. I’ve seen this happen many times. Both for good and for bad. For good, I have found myself in conversations with individuals about a specific matter that they are facing; and I know that this person knows all of the right answers. They might be needing direction or clarity, but if I go to give them advice they know what I’m going to say before I even say it. But if I ask the right question, all of sudden you see the lights go off. It’s not just that a new thought comes to mind, but it’s like they are experiencing something afresh.
Questions allow for self-discovery; which is powerful. This is why Pastor Ben masterfully uses them in his messages with great effectiveness.
But if questions have the power for good and for transformation, they can also be used for bad. The first question that we find in the entire Bible is from the serpent (aka Satan). Before we get to the question let me just say a few things about Satan. It’s not a coincidence that the story of the fall of mankind has the devil playing a significant role. In the end we paid the consequences; Adam and Eve were responsible for their own choices. But the devil is present, influencing their decisions.
And he wasn’t done with Adam and Eve. This is a picture of what is played out in our lives on a daily basis. But he doesn’t come in the form of a talking serpent. But because of this broken and wicked world that we live in we are just swimming in the lies and deceptive ideas of the devil, which run contrary to God’s heart, his character, and his ways.
Let me also say that I get the fact that it’s hard for some of us to connect with a story about a talking snake. In fact, for some of us it’s hard to not dismiss or view any talk about Satan or the devil as purely mythological. But make no mistake, for Jesus the devil is real. In John 8 Jesus warned us about Satan’s schemes. He said about him that Satan is the father of lies; lying is his native language. (ref. John 8:42-47) It’s what he’s fluent in. And elsewhere Jesus says that Satan has only come to steal and kill and destroy (John 10:10); and the primary weapon that he uses are lies.
John Mark Comer, in his great book Live No Lies, shares about the three enemies of our souls that steal our peace: Satan, the world, and the flesh. (John Mark Comer, Live No Lies) When he’s writing about Satan, here are a few questions that he asks that I believe we should consider:
More than likely you don’t believe you are believing any lies. And here’s why: The best lies are the ones we think are true. Satan rarely uses bold face lies that are easy to catch and dismiss. He’s more shrewd than that. Genesis 3:1 says that the serpent was crafty. He’s subtle. How does he come at Eve? With a question. He asks Eve, Did God really say? What a question! Four simple words but there is so much packed into them. The question is subtle, but boy can it wreck havoc if it lands correctly. Because in those four words the serpent is beginning to plant the seed and call into question God’s goodness.
The serpent asks Eve, Did God really say you couldn’t eat from any tree in the garden? She corrects him: We can eat from all of the trees except for the one in the middle; because if we do, we will surely die. This is how the serpent responds: 4 “You will not certainly die,”... (he contradicts God). 5 “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Here’s what he’s doing: 1) he’s diminishing the consequences (you will not certainly die); and 2) he’s maximizing the benefits (your eyes will be opened and you will be like God). But even beyond that, he’s telling her (without telling her), Don’t listen to God. He’s holding out on you. In essence, God is not good! Remember our definition of sin? God doesn’t want your deepest happiness. If you want happiness you should eat the fruit.
I’m not sure where this quote comes from but it’s a good one. "It is often the case that you swallow a lie about God before you swallow forbidden fruit." And what’s amazing (or not) about Satan, is that once we take the bait he turns around and accuses us for what he told us to do; ‘Accuser’ is another name for him.
Isn’t it interesting that the serpent doesn’t point to God’s generosity. Nor does it enter Eve’s mind that her and Adam have access to EVERY SINGLE TREE in the garden, except one. But Satan knows where to hit her. As he knows where to hit us. With Eve we have the first recorded case of FOMO. It didn’t matter what Eve had; she wanted what she couldn’t have. Especially after the serpent did this amazing job selling her on this fruit that was good for food, pleasing to the eye, and which would give her wisdom. (Genesis 3:6) How could she resist? How could she not fear missing out?
Let me ask you:
When any of these things are true and we start to doubt God's goodness, the natural result is anxiety within us. We have to go and relieve this tension. If God is not going to take care of us, we have to take care of ourselves.
That’s what Eve did. All in all, she ended up believing the serpent more than she believed God. And it all started with a question. Satan didn’t ask the question because he was curious or needed clarification (Did God say?). No. He asked to instill doubt in God (Really?) – doubt in God’s goodness.
And Satan is not alone in his efforts to get us to doubt. Don’t we have questions like this constantly coming our way all of the time from the culture? Do you really think God expects you not to sleep with or live with your boyfriend or girlfriend before marriage? Do you really think that you can afford to disconnect from work and take a sabbath? Do you really need to go to church or give a tithe to be a good Christian? Subtle, but powerful. So powerful that many of us live more closely aligned to the world’s advice than God’s – even though we know what God has to say about the matter. But I get it. We fall for it because just like the serpent the world uses the tactic of diminishing the consequences, while holding up the benefits. But it’s just not reality – it’s just not true.
But not only does our anxiety lead us to make poor decisions. But the results or byproduct of our decisions is even more anxiety. Just look at how Adam and Eve turned out after they ate the fruit. Satan painted this pretty picture of how life would be after they ate the fruit. Your eyes are going to be opened. You are going to be like God. You are going to know the difference between good and evil. Oddly enough, he wasn’t lying (their eyes were opened, they became self-dependent like God, and they now knew good and evil). But he didn’t share the full truth. He forgot to mention the broken relationships that would result between them and God, and each other. He forgot to mention the shame that would dominate their lives. Shame is another form of anxiety. In fact, I read somewhere that shame is a secondary emotion for those who are dealing with depression and anxiety. So they ate the fruit because of anxiety (because of FOMO), and they hid from God because of anxiety.
I don’t know about you, but nothing gives me more anxiety than feeling disconnected from God. (Maybe it’s because of my job. I know that I can’t do this in my own strength and abilities.) But when I’m seeking him and trusting in him, no matter what may be going on in my life, I’m good. Seriously! But when I feel disconnected, even though everything around me may be going great, inside I feel like I’m running scared. I’m like Adam and Eve, fearful of God – hiding from God.
But thank God we have a God that doesn’t leave us in that state. I want you to see how God responds to this whole mess with Adam and Eve. I want you to see how he responds to our sin and anxiety. The first question that God asks in the Bible is Where are you? (Verse 9) At times a question does more than just seek information, but it reveals something about the question-asker. You mean to tell me that the all-knowing God didn’t know where they were? He knew. But I believe this question reveals God’s heart and longing to be with Adam and Eve – it reveals his longing to be with us. Despite Adam and Eve’s clear disobedience, you have God still searching for them – still wanting to be close to them. And the same is true for you and for me. No matter what you may have done, or how disconnected you have been from God and the church, God is still searching for you. He’s asking you today, where are you, because he’s wanting to connect with you. Because he’s here right now, wanting your heart.
Adam and Eve responded to God’s where are you question by saying that they hid because they realized that they were naked. But ‘where are you’ is also an invitation for you to bring your full and true self; for you to come as you are; for you to tell God, I’m in a dark place. I’m scared. I’m lonely. ‘Where are you’ is a reminder that you no longer have to hide or be ashamed.
I love God’s next question to Adam and Eve: Who told you that you were naked? I know that some of us might hear that question in a harsh tone. But I think it’s quite the opposite. This question is actually the answer to our problem. It’s the solution that will keep us from continually being deceived.
You see, what God is really asking here is, who are you listening to? In fact, right after he asked who told you that you were naked, he goes on to ask: Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from? (Genesis 3:11) He’s wanting to know, from Adam, and from you and me: Are you listening to God or are you listening to Satan? (John 8) Are you listening to the world or are you listening to Jesus? (Romans 12:2) Are you listening to the desires for your flesh or are you listening to the Spirit? (Galatians 5) The voice that you listen to and believe is the voice that you will follow. So, who are you listening to?
Here’s something that I have come to learn throughout this series on anxiety. The opposite of anxiety is not necessarily peace – although that is a great byproduct. The opposite of anxiety is trust. What Pastor Ben, and Rich, and Mark Lee have tried to instill in us throughout this series is that there is no other solution for our anxiety apart from God. We have to trust in a good God who loves us and wants nothing but the best for us. We have to believe that what God most wants for you and me is our deepest happiness; and that’s not found by following the ways of this world or the lies of the enemy.
And so how do we live out of that reality? We have to keep it before us. We have to keep reminding ourselves of God’s love and what he has to say about how we live a life of joy and peace and purpose. And we do that by being in God’s Word. We can’t just do nothing. No, because we are constantly being bombarded by the lies and deceptions of Satan and the world. Again, we are swimming in it. And if you hear something enough, you start to believe it. And so we have to read and meditate on the Scriptures. The psalmist writes: I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. (Psalm 119:11)
Let me give you just a few suggestions on How to keep the word of God before you:
God loves you. And he desires your deepest happiness. You probably won’t hear that anywhere else but here (church) and here (Bible). And so lean into both; and live the life of freedom and happiness that God desires for you.
Prayer: God, help us believe that what you desire most for us is our deepest happiness, which is found in you and in following your ways, over the lies that we have tended to believe from the world and Satan.