At Gateway Church in Austin, John Burke kicked off our series called Hope and Anxiety.
One of the key aspects of learning to manage and even overcome our anxiety requires us to bring others into our fight. God calls us to do life deeply and authentically with other Christ followers, so we can experience the hope found only in community. What does it look like to invite others into our pain and fears so that we never have to battle alone?*
*Consider professional help if your anxiety has been severe or prolonged.
The Hope and Anxiety series included the following messages:
With your family, roommates, or life group, work through the Message Next Steps:
Listen to the message I shared at Gateway in South Austin:
Here are the notes from the message by Justin McCarty:
There’s something powerful that happens when we are deeply connected to other people, isn’t there? We can be more courageous, more determined, grittier, stronger than we seem to be on our own.
We find strength in our connectedness to another person. We can “borrow” strength and sheer willpower through a deep connection with a friend.
As John Burke has said:
“If you need hope, borrow it from someone else.”
In this series we have been looking at the very real struggle that the vast majority of us fight against anxiety. Over the past 3 weeks, we’ve gotten a focused look at the realities of anxiety, as well as how our habits can either work for us or against us in it. I really encourage you to re-watch/listen on Gateway App, Gateway South Facebook Group page, or www.ericbryant.org or online — we’ve gotten great feedback on this series; many people have found this very helpful to their everyday battle with anxiety.
The goal hasn’t been to provide a therapy session for you (we’re fans of counseling!), but to help you realize that you can grow in your grasp of hope in the midst of anxiety.
But today, we’re looking at a key point — you will only make it so far on your own! There will be moments you run into a personal limit in this fight against anxiety. In those times, we need people in our lives whom we can borrow hope, strength, endurance, courage from to keep moving forward.
The Early Church Threatened
To help bring this point home, I want to share with you a passage from the bible when people found themselves in a difficult, threatening position as they tried to pursue hope. We may not be able to relate to their precise circumstances, but I think we can learn from how they dealt with the pressure of anxiety.
To give you a little context to this story in Acts 4:
- the disciples of Jesus have been trying to share this amazing news of Jesus’ resurrection with city of Jerusalem
- the religious establishment has been very resistant to the message.
- Most recently, they jailed the disciples were teaching publicly about Jesus
- then, through sheer intimidation and threats, ordered them to never again speak in Jesus’ name in their city.
It’s good to keep in mind that these were not idle threats the Jewish leaders were making against the disciples. Not that long ago, the disciples had seen Jesus savagely beaten, whipped, crucified under the resistance of these same leaders. They themselves had already been jailed without cause the night before. These leaders weren’t bluffing! The anxiety level has definitely been turned up. Rather than continue sharing this message of hope, it would have been easy to go silent, to give into anxiety.
Circumstances Trigger Us
Quick aside — isn’t that precisely what happens to us when the threat of anxiety comes upon us?
- Whether it’s triggered by circumstances
- whether it’s a pattern that we’ve drifted into
- whether it’s a natural predisposition to anxiety — it tries to silence hope in us.
We deal with an event (loss of a job), a circumstance (health issues), experiences (betrayal or loss), and it’s like we have a tribunal in our own minds, pressuring and intimidating us with all the horrible things that have happened or that could happened. It’s so easy to be intimidated by it, to give away our hope, and just settle into silence.
Responding to Our Challenging Circumstances
Let’s see how they respond:
After they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. Acts 4:23 NRSV
They went to their friends
When their hope was threatened and they were being intimidated into silence, they went to their friends and shared what was going on. This seems really obvious, but we underestimate how isolating anxiety is. We think we are the only ones, no one could understand, no one knows how to help. These disciples were facing the threat of imprisonment, beatings, even death — their friends weren’t necessarily in that same place. But they chose to be vulnerable, authentic and let other people in. They were saying:
“This is what is trying to silence hope in us. It’s very real and very threatening.”
Notice, they didn’t avoid or minimize the source of what was intimidating them, perhaps causing anxiety.
It’s no different for us. When we find ourselves battling anxiety — especially when the circumstances are real and threatening, when there’s real substance to our fears — we’ve got to use that as a cue to get authentic with people in our lives that we can trust and that are for us. It doesn’t help to avoid or minimize the cause of our anxiety — it’s better to be honest about it.
The disciples in Acts 4 found themselves in a very real, very threatening situation, and after sharing that with their friends, here’s what happens:
When they heard the report, they lifted their voices together in prayer to God: “O Sovereign Lord, Creator of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them— you spoke long ago by the Holy Spirit through our ancestor David, your servant, saying, ‘Why were the nations so angry? Why did they waste their time with futile plans? The kings of the earth prepared for battle; the rulers gathered together against the Lord and against his Messiah.’ “In fact, this has happened here in this very city! For Herod Antipas, Pontius Pilate the governor, the Gentiles, and the people of Israel were all united against Jesus, your holy servant, whom you anointed. But everything they did was determined beforehand according to your will. And now, O Lord, hear their threats, and give us, your servants, great boldness in preaching your word. Acts 4:24-29 NLT
Do you see what they did? “They lifted their voices together in prayer to God”
They invited God into the difficulty with them.
Rather than deny what’s going or just giving into silence, they instead spoke up — but they went directly to God with what was on their hearts. And don’t miss they “lifted their voices together” — it’s fine to pray and talk to God alone, but when you’re facing the threat of anxiety, we can lift our voices together with others. They were being carried along by their friends.
Do you see what else they did?
They remembered who God is.
“Sovereign Lord, Creator of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them”
Let’s not forget who we’re talking to. This is the God that creates stars, galaxies, planets, and ecosystems for a hobby.
But even as they remember who God is, they also do something else –
They were honest about the threats facing them.
No denying it, no minimizing it. But together they reframe the threats they are facing against the backdrop of God’s power, his goodness, and his presence in their situation.
We need people with whom we can be safely authentic about real things, but who will also point us to the greater reality of God in our circumstances.
- Do you have people like that in your life?
- People who won’t just complain with you?
- Or try to minimize it for you?
- People who will enter into it authentically, but won’t just settle for silence in the face of anxiety?
- People who will point you to God’s power, goodness, presence in your situation?
We need people like that around us.
- We live in a large growing city where it can be incredibly lonely.
- Some of us have no family here.
- Some of us have family here who do not have the capacity to be there for us when we are in need.
Because there were two other vital things they did together:
They entrusted themselves and their circumstances to God.
This is encapsulated in their phrase “Now, O Lord, hear their threats.” It’s like, God, we hear it. You hear it. I’m trusting you’re paying attention and are on this.” And then they finish with an astounding ask in the midst of their anxiety:
They asked for boldness.
In the face of threats and fear, they didn’t pray for safety, they asked for boldness — “great boldness.” And not to make this is a lesson in ancient Greek, but the word that English translates as “great boldness” is the word parresia.
Here’s some of what that word means: “free and fearless confidence, cheerful courage, boldness, assurance” Cheerful courage.
That would be the opposite of anxiety! They were asking for a confidence born out of hope — the hope that God was present, paying attention, and bigger than the anxieties facing them. That is ultimately what we want to help each other toward — parresia even in the face of anxiety.
That’s what we want right?
- We all need friends like these, don’t we?
- Where do we find them?
- Is there a match.com like website out there for “Friends That Inspire Hope”?
- Are these people available for hire?
Great question! No they aren’t for hire, but yes, they are absolutely available — just look around you.
Together, here at Gateway, we are each trying, in our own way, to pursue this kind of hope in our lives.
None of us are perfect, none of us have this all figured out.
This church family has helped the big city feel like a small town
Neither did the disciples or their friends.
But God had placed them in each other’s lives — and here you all are together.
So, how in a church like Gateway, do you find friends like this? I’m so glad you asked! In case there’s been any confusion (and I realize there probably has been), I wanted to share with you how you can connect with people at Gateway who could come alongside you in life.
But it really depends on what you’re looking for.
If this is all new to you, and you’re not really sure where to start or how to get going, but you know this seems like the right step, then I would point you toward our process for spiritual growth which also happens to be our 4 Core Values.
- Sundays Inspire Service – Sermon on the Mount – Come As You Are (sitting in same section each week allows you to get to know some people around you if you’d like)
- Networks – the 70 – Live Connected
- Life Groups – the 12 – Be Transformed
- The Commissioned – missionaries – Change Your World
Since you are already here at a Sunday Inspire Service, let me share a bit more about the next two ways to build community in this lonely city.
These are groups of people reaching out to serve those in our city or they focus on serving people who come here to this campus, creating connectedness with each other (hence “network”).
Networks foster relationships that build friendships, help inspire spiritual growth, and they tangibly serve others in need.
So how do you find out about Networks?
Starting Gate — will primarily introduce you to network groups that serve here on our campus such as Arts/Production, Guest Services, and Next Gen
You can visit the Connect Spot for more on serving others with others or to find a Network Dinner.
- Networks like those serving neighborhoods like Circle C and 78704
- Or cities like Dripping Springs, Buda/Kyle, Bastrop, Lakeway
- Or affinity groups like Business Leaders, those Serving the Homeless, those with a heart for Reconciliation and Justice
- Or our networks for Men, Women, the Deaf Community, Artists, and those in their 20s and 30s
If you’ve already found traction in a network, or are ready for a little bit more high challenge experience in spiritual growth, you might be ready for a Life Group.
This is a group of people that are relationally connected, but they are specifically focused on growing in intentional spiritual maturity. Many times these life groups grow out of an existing network because they all already know each other. But it’s not for the faint of heart, it requires real commitment, consistency, and engagement to really experience the transformation of being in a Life Group together. You can visit our website at gatewaychurch.com/lifegroups to find out the availability of life groups. I’d also encourage you to discuss this with people in your serving network — perhaps a life group already exists among your network, or we could begin one if there are enough interested people.
These are all available to you, but it will require some intentionality and perseverance on your part. But know there are people all around you who could be help form a circle around you in the battles you face.
The Results of Community
Interesting things happen we connect with others deeply in community. Check out what happened after they prayed together that day in Acts 4
After this prayer, the meeting place shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Then they preached the word of God with boldness. All the believers were united in heart and mind. And they felt that what they owned was not their own, so they shared everything they had. The apostles testified powerfully to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and God’s great blessing was upon them all. There were no needy people among them, because those who owned land or houses would sell them and bring the money to the apostles to give to those in need. Acts 4:31-35 NLT
God shook some things up. Love that. What does it look like after God shakes things up? We become a community of hope! Notice it was a hope that emanated from Jesus. It wasn’t just “pie in the sky hope”, it was a hope fixed on the news of Jesus’ resurrection. They were deriving hope from Jesus, who had told them:
I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world. John 16:33 NLT
Another little interesting thing about this in the original language, in English its translated “you” but Jesus was really speaking to a group. Here in Texas, we would translate it more like this: “I have told ya’ll this so that ya’ll may have peace in me.”
The peace was a promise to a community — a group of deeply connected people.
You know almost all of the letters in the New Testament were written to local churches. The Scriptures can only be applied fully in the context of community.
- You cannot love one another without others.
- You cannot forgive one another without others.
- You cannot serve one another without others.
Jesus said: “If you lose your life serving others for my sake, that is how you will find your life.”
Some of us will find freedom from the anxiety within by focusing on meeting the needs of others. We are so caught up in thinking about ourselves we are missing the path to peace which we can find in community – hope’s community
The threat of anxiety is always real, but we were called to peace — peace because Jesus has overcome our fears, peace because we can stand together in face of anxiety.