When Paul was in chains in Rome, he rejoiced that the power of the gospel was seen in his weakness.
One thing that I have read continually from those who heard Ravi Zacharias speak is this: when he spoke, you knew you were in the presence of a great man. he was so articulate, so wise, so charismatic. He could work a crowd. He could answer any objection.
Paul was just the opposite. In fact, Paul said that he preached in weakness and trembling. He was ridiculed frequently for NOT being a great public speaker, or a skilled rhetorician.
As I was thinking these things, I decided to come out. I have hidden something about myself for many years. I’ve hidden it even from myself, preferring to beat myself up for not being quite right than acknowledging that I have a weakness that I can do very little about.
I have anxiety disorder. Whether it was inherited or whether it was learned through much experience, or perhaps a little of both, it is a chain around me that I cannot rid myself of.
My brain warns me that I am in danger and tells me to flee, usually at the most inopportune time.
My heart races. My face flushes. I break out in a sweat. I start to shake. My words start to stammer.
If it is bad, I won’t eat.
I wake up frequently in the middle of the night having conversations in my head, running events through my head over and over again – until I break out into a sweat and my body temperature goes up.
I read recently that Herman Bavinck, arguably the greatest theologian of the 20th century, vomited before every sermon.
I don’t vomit. But I completely identify with the sentiment.
I manuscript sermons because I don’t know when my mind will go blank. I rehearse conversations because I have no idea what to do in them.
Social events are exhausting. I tend to flee somewhere just to regroup. Weddings are torture.
My mind tells me that everything is OK. God is on the throne. I am just human. My conversation is fine.
But there is a part of my brain that attacks me during every single conversation:
“You are such an idiot. I can’t believe you said that. They are going to hate you now. You will be left alone. Don’t you know how to people?”
“You are doing this wrong. You are going to fail. You’ll never make this. They will think you are stupid.
I won’t try out a new restaurant if the ordering procedure is too different. I have never tried sushi. I have never attempted to do something new for fear of failing.
When I am in a new place, or trying something new that I am required to do, my heart races and I go into panic mode. “Failure deserves to be beaten, outcast, isolated, and alone.”
I would far, far rather serve the table than sit down at it and be served. When I am clearing dishes I know what is expected, and when I know what is expected, I don’t break out in a cold sweat and listen to my heart pound in my ears.
I have been like this as long as I could remember. When I was younger, I would pinpoint a person that I figured was an acceptable person and try to imitate them. Maybe I wouldn’t be rejected if I could be someone else.
But that is a hard way to live.
One of my earliest memories was being terrified of trying out the slide. My parents, not knowing what to do, spanked me until I went down.
I remember the absolute terror of my first fire drill when I was about 5. They should not allow children to be tortured like that.
I self-medicated with nicotene for years. It gave me a good excuse to leave any social situation and it would calm my panicked nerves. But when I quit several years ago, my panic attacks and anxiety would attack from out of nowhere.
Today I know that it has a name and there are things to do about it. I have anxiety disorder.
I have anxiety disorder.
My dad used to say that worrying about stuff never helped. He was fond of saying that the things he worried the most about never happened. I’m very glad for him.
For me, everything that I ever worried about actually did happen, but those are stories for another time.
The curse on this world is very real. People do things that are even worse than you can imagine. The hate that the world can throw at you is unfathomable.
Illness is real. Cancer is real. Brain damage is real. Suffering is real.
The cross is real, and if we are Jesus’ we will pick it up with him and follow him.
And like Paul, when those chains tie us down, paralyze us and keep us from doing what we want to do – God will show himself strong.
“How can you be a minister” – my anxiety tells me repeatedly.
And then I remember Paul’s words:
(1Corinthians:2:1-5) And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.
And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.
And so I’ve decided to quit pretending that I’m something I am not. I will speak the truth. I will teach from house to house. I will visit. I will call. I will do what I can to show the power of God in the cross of Christ.
But then I might have to sit down. I might have to go outside and regroup. I might need to do something to calm my pounding heart and my rapid breathing.
I’m not the kind of preacher that has everything together. When people see me, they don’t say, “I’m in the presence of a great man” and that’s OK.
Because if I can lead someone to the living water, if I can exalt the power of God, if I can tell you about the beauty of Jesus who sweat great drops of blood, who fell down terrified at Gethsemane in order to bring me to God – then it is all worth it. Because I also know that when I am at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, I will sit in his presence and rejoice and no longer panic. I will no longer feel like an outcast. I will no longer be an outsider looking in on the normals.
And that is what I long for. But more than that, I long to be free from sin and misery.
In the meantime, don’t look for me to exalt human strength. I don’t have any. When I am in God’s presence, it won’t do me any good anyway.
Instead, I have an anxiety disorder. And so I look to Jesus.
Jesus didn’t come for the well. He came for the sick. He didn’t come for the strong, he came for the weak and foolish – and that is me.
If you are like me, and struggle with these things, don’t be ashamed. Walk right into it, for Jesus is with you through the valley of the shadow of death.
I wrote these words so that you might not feel so alone. There are a lot of us out here. I just thought that you might want to meet one.