It’s a war zone out there. Or, rather, in there. The battle for our thoughts has been ongoing, but 2020 has added firepower that has even this heavy sleeper waking up at night with anxious thoughts.
A 24-hour news cycle, a divided country (on just about every subject), a virus that seems to threaten each host differently, and an uncertain economic future will fray the nerves of even the strongest among us. According to a recent Time article, “more than half of Americans say the news causes them stress, and many report feeling anxiety, fatigue or sleep loss as a result, the survey shows. Yet one in 10 adults checks the news every hour, and fully 20% of Americans report ‘constantly’ monitoring their social media feeds—which often exposes them to the latest news headlines, whether they like it or not.”
While we must be careful what we invite into our minds, we just can’t seem to turn it off.
I must confess that when I spend my day engulfed in bad news, I find my nights terrorized by anxiety. Normally a sound sleeper, I’ve been waking up in the wee hours replaying the scariest forecasts and rehearsing scripts for my life that the Lord has not written. During the day it’s easier to take each thought captive and make it obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). But in the middle of the night, when my mind is teetering between sleep and wakefulness, the captives stage a mutiny.
Truly, I’ve found the only thing that disarms my anxious thoughts is to battle them with scripture. Therefore, my days must also be filled praying and reading God’s Word. I cannot return enemy fire with scripture if my armory is bare.
Inviting the news of the day into my mind without sifting it through Scripture is not only demoralizing, it leads to heavy casualties. Christian, I will say what I’ve said before (here and here) we were chosen by God to live in this tumultuous time. The headlines are going to be jarring, but we have the Word of God, and we know Who receives the victory.
One night, Peter was out on his boat with the disciples when a storm came in. They saw Jesus walking on the water toward them. They were terrified they were seeing a ghost, but Jesus called out to them, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”
“Come,” He said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:25-31).
Where fear reigns, faith withers. However, where faith reigns, fear loses its power. We know Peter had faith. He wouldn’t have asked Jesus to let him come out on the water if he didn’t have faith that Jesus could sustain him. However, as Peter allowed what he knew about wind and waves have a louder voice than Jesus, he began to sink.
And so it goes with us when we allow the headlines of 2020 to drown out Jesus’ promises to us. I’m not suggesting that we ignore the news, only that we don’t lose focus of the Good News. We are not called to disaster cast and nurse catastrophic thoughts. We haven’t been entrusted with the keys to the Kingdom to wallow in calamity.
Our brains respond to our consistent choices. Spending hours on end watching fear-inducing headlines in the name of “knowing what’s going on” while forgoing prayer and reading God’s Word is the stuff of Screwtape’s letters to Wormwood. Don’t make that trade.
Yes it’s a war zone in there, but may our battle cry be “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things” (Philippians 4:8).
Pillow Talk — helpful verses for nighttime (or anytime) anxiety
Below are verses that I have memorized and recall when my sleep is invaded by anxious thoughts:
“For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him” (2 Chronicles 16:9). I follow this verse up with “Lord, please stop your eyes on me and strengthen me.”
“This is what the Lord says to you: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s” (2 Chronicles 20:15).
“Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” (Matthew 6:27).
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2).
“Take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).
“Cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).
“I will lie down and sleep in peace, for You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety” (Psalm 4:8).
As I pray the scriptures above, I also employ a technique I learned in a meditation class 20 years ago – breathing the name of Jesus or Yahweh. It’s easy and effective. Breathe in first syllable “Je”, exhale second syllable “sus.” Or breathe in first syllable, “Yah”, exhale second syllable “weh.” Make His name the literal air you breathe. “I will bless God every chance I get; my lungs will expand with His praise” (Psalm 34:1 The Message). I find sleep is just on the other side of these deep breaths.
While this chaotic year is inviting disaster casting, we will keep our 2020 vision squarely on the One who reigns victorious.
Dear Lord, thank You for trusting us to be Your ambassadors in 2020. May we be focused on You and not shaken by the wind and waves crashing on us daily. May Your Word bring us peace, and may we share that peace with those you put in our path. Amen.
Postscript: What I’ve written I’ve written with followers of Jesus in mind. That said, if you are reading this and do not follow Jesus, may I make a request? Please take any extra time you have now to pray and seek Him. Read the Bible. You can start in the book of John. Even if you’ve sworn off every religion, get to know the Person of Jesus. People will fail and disappoint you, but He never will. I implore you to even start with a prayer like, “Jesus, if You’re real, make Yourself known to me.” A broken heart and a contrite spirit, He has yet to deny. All who call on the name of Jesus will be saved. If you have questions or don’t know how to start, message me.
I will end with this. During my first year at college, I decided that people who followed Jesus were weak and needed a crutch. Fast forward to my junior year and I found myself praying one morning, “Lord, I don’t even remember how to pray, but I remember enough about you to know even this pitiful prayer matters to You. I want You. Please take everything and everyone out of my life that is keeping me from You. I’d rather be alone with You, than have people around me without You.” That mustard seed of a prayer changed EVERYTHING in my life. I pray the same for you.