A long-distance friend called last week. “How are you?”
I confess, I wanted to lie, “Oh fine, busy as usual but God is good, everything’s fine!” I believe the Spirit checked my words, and instead I said, “Not great, it’s been tough, really struggling this week.” That meant my seasonal depression had been activated again with the long dreary cold spell and other troubling issues had been interrupting my concentration during the day and my sleep at night. Anxiety had been stalking me like a lion stalks a deer.
Why did I not want to tell her that? What is it in us as Christians that feels the need to protect God’s reputation by denying our difficulties? Or, maybe it is denying my own weakness and hiding from myself what I don’t admit: anxiety, fear, discouragement, or a host of other unpleasant emotions can take me out without warning?
Is there a better way? How does believing in Immanuel help in these moments?
I find it interesting that denying emotion is not the pattern we see in Scripture. The Psalms are full of honest reports of fear, anger, disillusionment, doubt, discouragement, and even anxiety.
When my anxious thoughts multiply within me,
Your consolations delight my soul.
Not ‘if’ I have anxious thoughts – but when. It’s true. As I began thinking through these thoughts with a friend, I found anxiety becoming more of a battle. I could not shake it. In reality, this is part of our human experience. And while I recognize that the roots of anxiety can be discerned and repented of, there are two specific things that God used to comfort me as these anxious thoughts multiplied within me.
One of these I share this week – Psalm 23, “The Lord is my Shepherd.” Immanuel, a Good Shepherd (John 10) is with us. The imagery of shepherds is throughout Scripture, both good and bad examples (Ezekiel 34:11-16); but this Psalm seems to intimately express the shepherd’s heart that Immanuel has for his people.
Immanuel, the Good Shepherd cares well for his sheep. I specifically meditated on Psalm 23:2:
“He makes me lie down in green pastures”
One author I read recently says,
“The interpretation of ‘he makes me lie down’ in Psalm 23 can lead us into a story of either punishment or peace… The Greek translation of the Old Testament uses the word kataskenoo in this passage, which can be translated as ‘rest’ or ‘settle down.’”
I do not know Greek, but what a beautiful picture! In his book, “A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23” Phillip Keller notes that sheep are restless creatures. They will wander incessantly without the presence of their shepherd. It is the physical presence of their shepherd that causes them to settle down and rest. Their enemies may still be lurking, but with the shepherd present they are consoled, unalarmed, and settled.
How does believing Immanuel is with us change the experience of anxiety and all our other unsettling, disquieting emotions? First, because He is present with me, I can acknowledge the truth of what is going on in my heart like David does throughout the Psalms. Then, calling out to my Good Shepherd, the one who knows me intimately, I allow His presence to settle my soul, even if the enemies do not disappear.
Pondering this, my prayers changed from “Lord, please help me not be anxious!” to “Immanuel – you are with me, please settle me down in Your green pastures.” I may have to cry out to Him this way persistently throughout the day (and night). But He does it, He is faithful! Rest came. He is Immanuel-Our Good Shepherd.
And instead of trying to protect God’s reputation, I told my friend the truth; life is hard, I am struggling, but I am also choosing to trust God to be with me even in the hard.
Immanuel, We confess we are such restless creatures by nature. We need a Shepherd who knows our weaknesses and our needs who has power over our enemies. Help us walk in the knowledge and assurance of your presence. You are our Good Shepherd! Console us with your presence and settle our hearts. We trust that you give what is good, even while enemies stalk. Thank you for being with us always. ~Amen
Photo by Luke Stackpoole on Unsplash
 Ramsey, K.J. (2022). The Lord Is My Courage. Zondervan