Friday, April 18, 2014

Everyone’s Story: Dr. Ryan Fraser: A Hope Dealer

I feel very humbled by the opportunity to be this week's featured author on Elaine Stock's wonderful blog, "Everyone's Story," this week. Thanks, Elaine, for honoring my work in this way! I hope that my story will inspire others in their walk with Christ and bring glory to our God!

Everyone’s Story: Dr. Ryan Fraser: A Hope Dealer: Everyone's Story welcomes Dr. Ryan Fraser. My  main objective of this blog is to uplift and encourage others by sharing personal stori...

Monday, April 14, 2014

How to Handle Anxiety

Anxiety. Worry. Everyone deals with it to some degree. It’s an unavoidable part of the human condition—an inescapable mark of our mortality. The poet, W. H. Auden, called our era the “age of anxiety.”

On the mild side of anxiety are those common everyday worries and concerns that we typically manage fairly well. However, on the severe side are more serious issues, debilitating phobias, and nervous disorders related to chronic anxiety. These problems typically require medical attention and professional counseling.

But, no matter where you fall on the spectrum, I imagine you’d agree that worry and anxiety are significant issues in our society. Anxiety often coexists with depression as they perpetuate each other in a vicious cycle. The results can be devastating.
Let’s face it—many of us are “worry warts.” We stress over all kinds of things on a regular basis. Some of these issues include financial worries, relationship difficulties, work-related stressors, parenting problems, academic struggles, health and safety concerns, getting older, gaining weight, dietary restrictions, and the list goes on and on.

It comes at no real surprise that the Bible has a lot to say about worry and anxiety. Our Creator anticipated this issue being a real battle for us as human beings. Life often seems scary and uncertain to us.

We tend to make mountains out of molehills. Anxiety is an enemy of faith. It corrodes our confidence in Christ and dismantles our spiritual security and sense of hope.

So what are we to do about it? Scripture tells us around 365 times to “fear not” or, in modern English, “to not be afraid”—one time for every day of the year. That’s both comforting and challenging. It’s certainly easier said than done!

Christ’s teaching in Matthew 6:25-34 reminds us of God’s amazing care of all creation, even the tiniest birds, which are nowhere near as valuable in God’s eyes as we are as His children. If God takes care of the sparrow, surely He will see after our needs too!

Worrying about things beyond our control has no real value. It certainly won’t extend our lives. Since our Heavenly Father attends to the seasonal flowering of the lilies and grass of the field, we know He is more than capable of watching over us. In fact, He has the very hairs on our heads numbered (Matt. 10:30). Granted, some of us have less hair to count than others!

It’s important to realize that God already knows what we need before we ask Him in prayer (Matthew 6:8, 32). But, He still wants us to acknowledge our complete dependence upon Him for every blessing in our lives.

Worrying won’t change anything, but prayer changes everything. Indeed, it can move mountains. The point is this: We must trust God to take care of us! First Peter 5:7 tells you to cast “all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”

Therefore, only focus on things over which you have control. Avoid worrying about those concerns that fall beyond the purview of your power. Psalm 103:14 (ESV) states, “For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.”

When we realize that the world and everything in it belongs to our omnipotent Creator, we’ll be more apt to relinquish our worries. We all need a good, stout dose of faith and courage.

Philippians 4:6-7 (ESV) says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

God holds our lives in the palm of His almighty, loving hand. So live one day at a time. Don’t get out too far ahead of yourself. Avoid borrowing trouble from tomorrow.

In Matthew 6:34 (ESV), Jesus states, “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” And always remember: God is in control!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Depression is Not a Symptom of Faithlessness

Depression hurts. Deeply. If you suffer with it, you know that firsthand. And nobody is immune, not even Christians.

It’s a widespread mental health problem in our nation with 14.8 million of the adult population being diagnosed with major depressive disorder. Depression is twice as prevalent in women as men. It is the leading cause of disability in America for ages 15-44 and often co-occurs with anxiety disorders and substance abuse. More than 350 million people worldwide suffer with depression. The medical community has long recognized it as a huge health risk, especially when it results in suicide.

Christians who suffer with depression often question the validity of their faith. They feel spiritually weak for relying on antidepressants. This is fueled by shame, guilt, confusion, and hopelessness. Believers may hold the mistaken idea that God is angry with them for some reason and must be punishing them for their sins. Indeed, depression can rob Christians of their spiritual peace and joy. Proverbs 17:22 (ESV) says, “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”

Suffering with depression ought not be viewed as a symptom of faithlessness. It’s a medical condition resulting from an altered brain structure and chemical imbalance. Brain chemicals known as neurotransmitters cease to function properly and thus affect mood. The disorder may be passed down genetically from one generation to the next. Symptoms of depression should never be ignored or minimized. It requires proper medical treatment along with competent professional counseling.

It doesn’t matter how spiritually minded someone is, depression is no respecter of persons and impacts individuals at all levels of spiritual maturity. To get down on oneself for feeling depressed, or to criticize those who struggle with it, is tantamount to blaming victims for a problem over which they have little control. It’s both unloving and unfair.

Everyday tasks like getting out of bed in the morning, taking care of personal hygiene, grooming and getting dressed, preparing meals, or performing simple chores around the house become seemingly insurmountable challenges. Sleep patterns are erratic—either too much or not enough. Energy levels plummet. Depression also can take a toll on our relationships, negatively impacting marriages and friendships.

In the past, I’ve counseled godly leaders who have told me that they were thinking about resigning their ministries due to their losing battle with depression. Their self-esteem and confidence has taken a big hit. But, in my opinion, these church leaders possess tremendous insight, wisdom, and empathy because of their personal experience with depression, which they wouldn’t have otherwise. They are, therefore, a valuable resource to others who suffer with depression.

David was a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14; 16:7), yet he seems to have dealt with depression. In Psalm 31:9-10, 12 (ESV) he cries out, “Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am in distress; my eye is wasted from grief; my soul and my body also. For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my iniquity, and my bones waste away ... I have been forgotten like one who is dead. I have become like a broken vessel.” David’s melancholic language reveals that he was clearly not in a good place in his life.

However, with God’s help he survived his painful ordeal. David trusted that God would strengthen and sustain him. He states in Psalm 30:5 (ESV), “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” This beautiful scripture is infused with thankfulness, hope, and joy at the steadfast love of our God.

Depressed persons often feel bogged down emotionally, but the Great Physician is able to bind up their broken hearts (Psalm 147:3; Isaiah 61:1). God is aware of your needs and hears your cries for help. He cares about you. Psalm 34:18 (ESV) promises, “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.”

So never give up! Take hold of God’s loving hand. He won't let go of you. Seek godly counsel, professional care, and support from others. You’re not alone!