The Paradox of Awe and Anxiety

My blog has been silent for the last three months.  With the beginning of a new school year, fall usually brings about the slowing down of writing activity.  This fall has been particularly active in a number of ways: adjusting to a regular part-time teaching routine at my daughters’ school, new relationships in and around Diakonos that put us on the cusp of something exciting for the years ahead, and small victories in the lives of people our community touches that increase the load of face-to-face mentoring that goes with leading a missional community.

Times like these can lead to feelings of awe and anxiety at the same time.  They bring awe because you realize little to none of it is a product of your own creating.  Instead, it is the result of God seeking to build a piece of His Kingdom through you.  They bring anxiety because you realize your own limitations and your need of a power greater than yourself if you hope to see the fulfillment of God’s plan through all this.  The choice is to step ahead or to shrink back.

You get the sense in the writings of Paul the Apostle that he felt these same feelings many times.  In one of his most vulnerable letters he confides to the followers of Jesus in Corinth the paradox of feeling awe and anxiety at the same time in the pursuit of God’s Kingdom.  Early on he compares the paradox to having a valuable treasure hidden in a fragile clay jar.  Though the outward pressure appears ready to crush the jar, the inward presence sustains it:

“We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.

We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.” (2 Corinthians 4:7-10 NLT)

Later he speaks of a what he calls a thorn in the flesh that keeps him from being too self-confident, even in the midst of great spiritual encounters.  It keeps him seeking God for a relief from the torment, but finding the answer is to trust God’s strength in the midst of weakness:

“Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said,’My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.’ So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.” 2 Corinthians 12:8, 9 NLT)

So, as we face the paradox of awe and anxiety, we need to press ahead and trust the presence of God’s strength and grace to shine through our own feelings of inadequacy and weakness.

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