Cast all your Anxiety on God

Published: Monday, 29 May 2017

This sermon was presented at Ashburton Baptist Church on 28 May 2017 by Geoff Pound. It is the final in the series in the biblical letter called 1st Peter. The sermon manuscript is followed by some questions for personal study and group discussion.

Scripture Readings:

1 Peter 4:12 – 14; 1 Peter 5:6 - 11

Each Thursday evening from six o’clock, about 50 or 60 people from our church and community gather in our Café. At what used to be our Evening Service, we now eat a delicious meal and we’re gladdened by nourishing friendship.

At this HUB community meal, we have everyone from toddlers to retirees. Why don’t you come one night to this organic, home grown experience, to taste and see?

Sometimes after the meal many go into our church hall to let off some steam. Some weeks back, several were playing indoor soccer when one of the boys kicked the ball high and it hit the cross fixed on the far wall.

One seven year old girl caught the rebounding ball in her hands and said to the young offender, “You’re not allowed to hit the plus sign!”. To which he said, “That’s not a plus sign. That’s the cross.”

What spirituality on the soccer pitch! It makes you think of the great challenge that we have with children and young people in our community growing up with very little awareness of Christ and spiritual things. As a church this is one the goals we want to kick.

As we come today to study the last page of Peter’s first letter to believers scattered across what is modern day Turkey, we see him pointing to two pieces of wood and saying, “That’s not a plus sign. That’s the cross.”

 

He says in 1 Peter 4:12:

12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.

Peter doesn’t downplay the suffering that they’re going through but he gives them a lesson in spiritual mathematics—that the one they follow is best represented not with a plus sign but with a cross.

They thought that following Jesus was about addition. Maybe they’d been attracted by all the benefits, the comforts, the add-ons. They’d forgotten how Jesus spoke of subtraction—of leaving father and mother and jobs and country and losing oneself to follow him. That’s why he says, “Don’t be surprised when you suffer…as though something strange were happening to you”. Suffering is par for the course for those who are following Jesus!

Those of you who are Collingwood supporters may think you know a little about suffering and persecution.

Steele Sidebottom, the Magpies midfielder, has a very strange obsession.[1] He knows the brand and colour of the boots that are worn by every player in the AFL. When he’s tested he tells how Scott Pendlebury wears Puma Kings, Adam Treloar wears ASICS, white with a splash of red, Rory Sloane wears ASICS black, Jack Silvagni wears black NIKES and Dustin Martin wears fluoro PUMA.

He knows it’s crazy but Steele says that whenever he meets someone, he always looks first at their feet.

In contrast, when the risen Christ appeared to his grieving disciples, the very first thing he wanted them to see was his hands. (John 20: 20) He wanted these disciples to see the wounds where the nails had been hammered. Then he wanted them to see where one of the soldiers had pierced his side.

When Thomas had missed out on that life-changing appearance he said:

“Unless I see the nail marks in His hands and put my finger where the nails have been and put my hand into His side, I will never believe” (John 20: 25).

This is what Peter wants his readers to notice and when we are going through times of doubt and suffering, this too is what we need to see. As song writer Graham Kendrick invites us:

Come see His hands and his feet

The scars that speak of sacrifice

Hands that flung stars into space

To cruel nails surrendered.[2]

In a former life, I used to keep bees. One day I was taking off the top box full of honey and I lifted it up and because I couldn’t bend my knees, I moved it to the side and I felt something go in my back. Ouch, the pain! I needed physio and rest.

A funny thing happened. In the weeks afterwards when I walked ever so gingerly, I met scores of fellow back pain sufferers. They told me their stories. They commiserated with my pain. They offered all the remedies for coming right. What an amazing company that I never knew existed. I had been inducted into the fellowship of sore backs. These people had been there all the time but when I mentioned the Password ‘back trouble’ it triggered so many stories. It evoked so much support.[3]

Peter says that when we suffer for our faith, let this be a consoling thought:

13 But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings…

The fellowship of Christ’s sufferings! What a bond we forge with our Lord! What an honour to share with fellow sufferers!

13 But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. 

Rejoice now but look forward with joy to that day when we meet Christ face to face and we celebrate a reunion of all those who share Christ’s sufferings.

Peter gives us an insight into how these believers were suffering when he writes:

14 If you are reviled for the name of Christ…

He’s suggesting that they’re on the end of abusive language. They’re being insulted for their faith.

This recalls the mockery that Jesus endured at the hands of Roman soldiers. Remember how Jesus was blindfolded? They slapped him in the face and said, “Prophesy. Tell who hit you.” After the taunting was the torture, the lashing with a whip. This is the one who suffered such condemnation. Like all mockery, this involves humiliation, the cruelty of being laughed at, the ridicule, the vandalism of the human spirit.

With such memories, Peter says:

14 If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you

There are blessings (the beatitude) for the persecuted and when you suffer for Jesus’ name, know that the spirit of God is resting on you.

Peter sounds the call to humility which has reverberated throughout this entire letter:

Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. 

Sir Lawrence Olivier has been judged one of the greatest actors of the twentieth century. “He was the kind of performer for whom superlatives were invented” but despite all the accolades, he was humble. He refused to see himself or his profession at the centre of the universe. In one interview he said:

“When you think about it, what is acting but lying? When I was small I lied all the time…I like to think I was just practicing my profession. But really I was just being a bl**#dy liar.”[4]

So, don’t act up and assert your rights when you’re mistreated. Don’t yearn for the centre of the stage. Don’t lust for attention. Humbly play the part you are assigned. When you feel the slap of suffering and the oppressive hand of the Roman Empire, humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that God may exalt you in due time.

Peter then drops in a much-loved verse that’s been written on cards, painted on hangings and hung on church and hospital walls:

Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. 

To cast all your anxieties is such a deliberate thing. It’s the act of throwing the blanket and saddle over the horse. Instead of being covered and weighed down by all our anxieties, it’s like casting the cloth over the table when we cast all our anxieties on God.

I remember going to a 10-pin bowling alley and seeing a young woman who instead of casting the ball, she left the ball behind and threw herself toward the skittles! This can happen easily. We worry about the outcome medical tests. What if? We worry whether our money will stretch to pay that unexpected bill. All these anxieties mount up over us and weigh us down instead of our worries being cast down the alley.

This is such a great verse to stick on the wall, to memorize and to share with others worrying through life. The only problem with doing this is that we rip it from its context. We forget that it’s linked with the preceding verse and the call to live humbly.

The phrase is not a new thought and sentence, ‘Cast all your anxieties on God’. It’s a continuation of the sentence before for it literally reads: ‘casting all your anxiety on God.

The word ‘casting’ is dependent on the words before about being humbled. So it must read: Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time, Casting all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.”

Casting all our anxieties on God is an expression of our humility. Casting all our anxieties on God is humbling because we’re declaring that we are insufficient to handle them on our own.

Peter nears the end of his letter with further instructions:

Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. 

This recalls Jesus in the desert and his testing by the evil one that was so long and grueling. He set a model to follow. He taught us to pray against such an onslaught: ‘Deliver us from evil’. ‘Deliver us from the Evil One’.

He reminds them again of others that are suffering:

Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. 

Two years ago, Rev. Richard Coombs visited our church, and, knowing his leadership of the Middle East Christian Organisation, I interviewed him about the church suffering in the Middle East. After that I wanted to personalize our concern and Richard put me in touch with a pastor of a Baptist Church in Damascus and we have written to each other weekly ever since.

Our Prayers and Squares Team made a quilt (exactly like this one on the table) to symbolize our solidarity with this suffering church in Syria and Richard got it to them via Beirut and they now have it.

But the suffering they are experiencing is immense.

Here [photos were used in this story] is the pastor (in the blue) giving money to this boy whose hand was recently damaged by a landmine.

Take a closer look at the damage. They’re helping him with medical support.

These women receiving roses found Mother’s Day particularly hard because all these women in black have lost husbands or fathers in the war.

Refugees from the interior like Homs and Aleppo have poured into Damascus and this church has people ministering with them.

They’re giving hygiene products to families.

The pastor here is praying for this soldier wounded in the conflict.

They’re welcoming not only their own people but Sudanese escaping their own conflict. This is one of the Sudanese women receiving from the pastor the Bible in Arabic.

Here’s the pastor and church leaders organizing a soccer tournament for refugees and displaced people.

This church in the midst of suffering has a vibrancy and a hope. Look at all these children holding up their own copy of the Word of God.

What inspiration that so often rises from a church in suffering not just because of war but suffering for their faith. But this church with which we are linked goes back in time to when the early church in Jerusalem was persecuted so they scattered.

And a Pharisee named Saul was ravaging the church by entering house after house dragging men and women into prison.

In their church’s history they remember how Saul stormed down the Damascus Road breathing threats and murder against People of the Way. This church rejoices in the story of Saul’s conversion on their road and how he was led, because he’d been blinded, to Damascus. This church with which we’re linked is only a stone’s throw from the House where Ananias had a vision and was commanded to go along Straight Street to a house and minister to Saul.

Suffering marks the story of the Syrian church but so also does deliverance and transformation.

No wonder, Peter calls his readers not to let suffering have the last word:

10 And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. 11 To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.

Peter finishes his letter as he started, by reminding his readers not of their anxieties and sufferings but of God. The God of all grace. The God who restores. The God who supports. The God who strengthens, the God who will establish you and the God of power.

I often talk of Dr. F W Boreham because he was the most prolific religious author in Australia with 55 books to his name.

He wrote more than 3,000 weekly editorials over 47 years in the Hobart Mercury, The Argus and the Melbourne Age.

He pastored vibrant churches in Mosgiel, New Zealand, Hobart in Tasmania, and here in Victoria: along the road at Armadale, then at Kew and the popular mid-week, lunch time service, for 18 years at Scot’s Church in the city.

In one of his last books he wrote: “If I had my time over again…” I thought, after such a magnificent life does he have some regrets? After such a fruitful ministry he says he would do it again differently? What was his lack?

He wrote: “If I had my ministry again, I would talk more about God… I would talk about God’s omnipotence, God’s unutterable goodness, God’s ineffable holiness, God’s splendour, God’s glory, God’s beauty and God’s love. For if I could make people very sure of God, they would soon hurry to the divine Saviour who is able to save to the uttermost those who come to God by Him.”[5]

Suffering may last for a while, but the final word will be ‘God’.

Prayer

God of truth and transformation

When we suffer and wrestle and endure hardship,

When our sight is clouded and our minds dominated by anxiety and cares,

Give us a vision of the hope that you promise.

Shift our thoughts from the score at half time to the state of play at the final siren.

Remind us of the cross.

Enable us to see the hands of Christ and the marks of suffering.

We pray for all those brothers and sisters across the world who are reviled, insulted and disadvantaged because they claim your name.

Enable them to be humble, to live under your mighty hand.

Help them to know and experience the God of grace, the God who restores, the God who supports, the God of peace.

Amen.

Questions for Personal Study and Group Discussion

1 Peter 4:12

12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 

To what extent do we imagine that the Christian life is more about peace, comfort and security than suffering?

1 Peter 4:13

13 But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. 

The sermon referenced ‘the fellowship of sore backs’. If you are part of a similar company, share what it is like (both the good and the bad).

Discuss the experience of being part of the fellowship that share in Christ sufferings.

1 Peter 4:14

14 If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you.

Share any experiences of this nature – personally or that which is the experience of another.

The reviling is not much fun. Highlight the benefits according to Peter.

1 Peter 5:6-7

Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. 

What are your current anxieties or cares and share how well we may cast our anxieties on God.

1 Peter 5:8

Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. 

How well are you withstanding the onslaughts of the evil one and what are you discovering about the business of deliverance from evil?

1 Peter 5:9

Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. 

Share your awareness of those undergoing all kinds of suffering for their faith.

1 Peter 5:10-11

10 And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. 11 To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.

The reading and this letter finishes with this catalogue of God’s actions and character. What feature of God's character and work are you keen to understand and experience more?

Pray for those suffering in various ways, especially for those suffering and persecuted for their faith.

 

[1] Steele shows off his strange obsession, Collingwood Media Videos, July 21 2016.

[2] Graham Kendrick, The Servant King, Elyrics.

[3] While the back trouble was my own experience (unfortunately), this reflection is enriched by a similar experience by Gordon MacDonald, relayed in his book, Rebuilding Your Broken World, whose thoughts are also shaped by another back sufferer, Harry Blamires, recounted in his book, Recovering the Christian Mind.

[4] Times Staff Reporter, ‘Greatest Actor of His Time Dies’, 12 July 1989 and reprinted May 22 2017, L A Times.

[5] F W Boreham, The Tide Comes In, 60.