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  • Writer's pictureRoss Moughtin

To know Christ’s peace is a spiritual battle



Did you know that going on holiday represents 13 points on the Holmes and Rahe stress scale?  Okay, that’s much less than hassle with your mother-in-law (29 points), going to prison (63 points) or Everton being relegated due to a points penalty (250 points).*  But 13 points nevertheless.


For surely the whole point of going on holiday is the very opposite, to eliminate stress and to enjoy life!  But no, here we are again in Tenerife for our annual vitamin D fix -at a cost.  In order to get here - packing our bags, going through airport security and so on -  I invariably experience mild anxiety. 


It’s partly a change in routine (normally 24 points), being stuck on the M6 and so missing our flight (42 points), even a change in our sleep pattern as we had to be at Manchester airport at an unearthly hour (16 points).   


And then there’s always the risk, as happened to some EasyJet travellers earlier this week, of our plane being forced to land in the wrong country by yet another winter storm.


Sadly, being mildly anxious even in the good times seems to be part of being human.  If nothing else, it keeps us on our toes for the simple reason “You never know.”  


So many of the Psalms speak of this vague sense of worry: “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts (Psalm 139:23).  And then later in the New Testament, the apostle Peter counsels his readers:  “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7)


But what seems to be happening is that our anxiety levels are rising. Aberdeen academic Henna Cundill observes in her excellent article for Seen&Unseen: “We live in anxious times, apparently – it’s hard to go a day without hearing someone use the word anxiety.”


She continues:  “But even as the BBC reports a surge in internet searches for anxiety-related topics, The Times is running editorials which ask whether too many people are being signed off work with ‘anxiety’ because it is now presumed to be pathology rather than a normal part of life.”  


Sadly there are so many reasons to be anxious, on the personal level with so many of us hit by the cost of living crisis or under undue stress at work.  Then we would read in the tabloids what is wrong with our country, with our world.  Gaza, Ukraine, Trump.  Tense times. 


Even here in Tenerife, an island of two halves, there is a huge crisis in housing, especially  for young people.  An analysis carried out by Catholic relief services – showed that around 2,400 people were living in shanties, substandard housing.  In fact, in the municipality where I am writing this blog there are about 770 homeless people.  You don’t see them, of course. 


Many of those reduced to homelessness still have a job, but they can't afford a home due to lack of living spaces, rent prices and mortgages. Employed and homeless, something I heard last month from someone running a homeless shelter in London.  


One effect of all this, to quote Henna Cundill again, is “when the structures and moral frameworks of a society start to shift and realign, people become more anxious about life, death and everything in between.”


And here only Christ offers a sure security, a solid foundation as the structures beneath us start to sway alarmingly. All other ground is sinking sand.


I think I have quoted the author  G K Chesterton before: “Jesus promised his disciples three things – that they would be completely fearless, absurdly happy, and in constant trouble.”


Fearless: we face foes of formidable power, especially as we decide to follow Jesus.  “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32)


Absurdly happy, even when we are being persecuted: “Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way.” (Matthew 5:12)


Constant trouble.  “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me.” (John 14:1).


It’s a case of relentlessly focusing on God’s promises even as life would bounce us up and down, even as the devil would carefully point out all that would depress us.  Not easy, we need to practice.  Strangely, to know the peace which Jesus absurdly promises is a spiritual battle.


And here, of course, the ministry of encouragement is priceless. So the apostle Paul urges: “So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.” (I Thessalonians 5:11).


However, underlying all this is the ministry of the Holy Spirit who would inform our minds and our way of thinking, his fruit of peace appearing in our lives.  So Paul writes an antidote to anxiety:  “The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace.”  (Romans 8:6). 


s author Heather Riggleman urges: “In the battlefield of our minds, we are to practice awareness of our thoughts and take them captive.”


Hopefully this will free us up to engage politically to combat homelessness, poverty, family breakdown and all that would cause an army of anxieties. 


Meanwhile: “Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down.


“It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the centre of your life.”  (Philippians 4:6-7, Message translation)


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