I have been to my fair share of stress relief workshops. Different professionals each have their own way of calming anxiety and managing pressure: breathing techniques, exercise programs, diet plans… you name it. As more celebrities come out with stories on their struggles with depression, more attention has been given than ever before on the issue of mental health. In most cases, science suggests that the solution to anxiety and stress lies within. In other words, while pills might provide temporary relief, most psychiatrists point to mindfulness, meditation and other sources of self-help as the remedy.1
Recently, I have also been feeling anxious. Specifically, I am anxious because of my plans heading into 2021. Coming back from City to City’s church planting training in March, I was incredibly enthusiastic about the prospect of starting a new ministry here in Kuching. I imagined creating a space where people of all religious backgrounds could come with their questions about God. I pictured meeting with individuals at a coffee shop, walking with them in their journey to discover Christ. I envisioned us renting a place, renovating and decorating it into a welcoming church home. Unfortunately, any momentum that I could hope to find was thwarted by the ruthless and unpredictable strike of the Coronavirus. Thus, I went back to drafting. Over the next few months, I spent countless hours in prayer for our ministry.
December came, and even though there were still many cases of Covid-19 across various cities in Malaysia, our state has enjoyed relative stability. Other than a sudden spike in cases for one week, Sarawak has fared well against the resurgence of the pandemic. I started reaching out to different people and invited them to come to our study group beginning in January 5th. Using the Life Explored series, we plan to touch on the vanity of finding happiness in money, sex, and power, and lead the discussion towards establishing our ultimate hope in Christ. If things go according to plan, this study group will form the basis of a “core team” for the church plant—a consistent group of people who attend weekly gatherings and eventually become the congregation of a new church. Thus far, a Buddhist, a Catholic, and a free thinker has agreed to come.
While finally taking the first step in church planting is exciting, the unpredictability and instability of a new ministry is also daunting. As we get closer to the date of our first study, I am confronted ever so often by feelings of inadequacy and anxiety. Overwhelmed, I began to bring my questions before God in prayer, “Lord, why am I nervous? What does my anxiety say about where my heart is?” The more I reflected on my heart, the more God surfaced the idols within it. More specifically, God showed me that deep down, my outlook on ministry was still oriented around my own performance. I was concerned about reaching as many people as I can with my persuasion, I was worried that I might fail to lead the conversations well, I was distressed about losing people halfway through the course.
While church planting nonetheless presents an opportunity to start fresh: to instill strong principles on money and leadership, to build intimate relationships within core team members, to establish a Christ-centered approach on ministry, the truth is I was worried about making any mistake. What happens if I utter an inappropriate comment? What wrong direction would the church head into if I make a bad call? What would become of my reputation if by some unforeseen circumstances, the ministry fails? As I wrestled with these struggles in my quiet time, God used the words of Isaiah 50 to put my overemphasis on myself into perspective,
Why, when I came, was there no man?
why, when I called, was there no one to answer?
Is my hand shortened, that it cannot redeem?
Or have I no power to deliver?
Behold, the LORD God helps me;
who will declare me guilty?
Behold, all of them will wear out like a garment;
the moth will eat them up.
Who among you fears the LORD
and obeys the voices of his servant?
Let him who walks in darkness
and has no light
Trust in the name of the LORD
and rely on his God.
vv. 2, 9-10
The piercing words of the prophet brought to light my dependence on myself. In this case, I was anxious about the turnout of an event because I have subconsciously viewed it as a source of my validation. Should the ministry go well, I would no doubt be puffed up about my capability and gifting. Should the ministry fall apart, I would certainly berate myself on the failure to live up to expectations laid by myself and others. At its core, I have begun to see my value as being derived from my productivity. Yet the gospel reverses this worldly system of finding our worth in our work. In Christ, we are loved not because of our performance, but in spite of our performance. In Christ, we have a light and easy yoke. In Christ, all things hold together.
What are you anxious about? Do your worries surface any idols? Is there something you are turning to for fulfillment rather than Jesus? I pray that this short reflection will be an encouragement to you to wrestle with your insecurities in prayer. May the Lord dissect your heart and build you up, that you would grow ever more in utter reliance on Him.