Do you worry? Does your worrying sometimes consume you? And do you worry about your worrying because, after all, Jesus tells us we shouldn't worry? In the end, is worrying and anxiety a faith thing? Face it, especially in 2020, anxiety is everywhere. So, how are we as Christians to manage it? And how do we follow Jesus' commands about worrying? In this episode, dynamic preacher Rev. Courtney Clayton Jenkins gives practical advice so we may "take heart" and defeat the anxiety that can steal our joy!
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Take Heart When Anxiety Attacks
Bob: Our guest today earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature from Spelman College. She also earned a master of divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary. Her seminary degree is concentrated in preaching and congregational ministry.
Previously, she served as the designated pastor of Shaker Heights Community Church in Shaker Heights, Ohio. She’s the first woman to be ordained in historic Mount Zion Congregational Church in Cleveland. Our guest is a co-founder of Without Walls Ministry, a retreat designed to glorify God and edify women in ministry.
She was the recipient of the 2012 Star Award presented by the Women of Color Foundation. It’s an award for young professional women who are making a difference in Northeastern Ohio. Currently, she serves as a senior pastor and teacher of South Euclid United Church of Christ in Ohio. She’s the first African-American and the youngest pastor ever to be called to that congregation.
Courtney: Thank you so much for the opportunity to be here. I'm super excited. I don’t think I'm anywhere near one of the best preachers in America, but I'm going with the podcast title.
Bob: I appreciate that. I'm sure your congregation would disagree with that statement and say that you are indeed, very effective. I've seen you preach, and you are. This particular sermon is so timely. It’s a sermon about anxiety because there's anxiety everywhere. You even make the point in your sermon that this subject can be kind of taboo in the church.
We Are People Who Have Hope
Bob: One of the reasons is sometimes you feel so much anxiety, to the point where you feel like you might need help. You talk to your pastor about getting help for anxiety or maybe about taking your medication. You make the point that, unfortunately, that's kind of a taboo subject and that hurts us, doesn't it?
Courtney: It does, because we understand our faith is to be folks who walk with joy. We understand as people of faith, we're people who have hope. If you are those things and you're a follower of Christ, why in the world would you have anxiety? Over the last couple of years, I've really been doing work around what it means to be human.
What does it mean to be divinely created by God? To understand the levels of emotion that come with that, I really try to flesh that out in the sermon where our humanity really is strong. But these are taboo subjects in the church. I'm trying to courageously bring up the elephant in the room, especially in the midst of this year.
Bob: This is a perfect year to really discuss what it means to be human, and have the feelings that we have. And do that in the context of a close walk with God. What I love is where you go next. You sort of take the listener into this model that you call a situation room. It’s a way to kind of explain how anxiety affects us. Can you tell the listeners a little bit more about that?
Courtney: This sermon was a part of a series called Take Heart. I typically preach in series. It’s very helpful as a wife, a mother, and a pastor in managing all those things.
Anxiety Takes the Seat of the Commander-in-Chief
Clurtney: A big part of this situation room, as we looked at worship, was actually a series about worship. We utilized the situation room as understanding our heart as the situation room, and where there are various seats. It’s where ideas, thoughts, values, you name it, can contribute.
But so often with anxiety, we let it take the seat of the Commander in Chief. What does it mean for us to understand the loudest voice at the table? We're just taking this presidential model that people know. All of these decisions are made in the situation room. Advisers come, but the final decision rests with the Commander in Chief.
The question was, who is the commander in chief of your heart? It’s also clear who that is though, that should be God. That should be our trusting God, that there are competing realities to occupy that seat. There are competing realities for anxiety to be the chief decision-maker, for fear to be the chief decision-maker.
To make the future, or even the past, to be the chief decision. When we know what's around the table of our heart, we know that it's God. I want to get this clear. There's no problem with these other elements being at the table. They're what make us human. The problem is when they occupy the decision-making seat of the commander.
Bob: What you're saying is, whatever's occupying that Commander in Chief seat, that's driving the narrative of your life. That's the context in which you're going to see everything. Can you imagine that today? We have everything, from social unrest to COVID, to this presidential election, the economy.
Bob: All of these things create opportunities. People can replace God in that Commander in Chief seat with something else, like my anxiety and my worry. So, this is a very timely sermon.
Courtney: It is. In that piece, I was reading an article out of The New Yorker the other day. It simply said, "The anxiety of Americans right now is the highest it has ever been." It’s because of all the things you just named. Then, there are these other things like cancer, disease. I get more folks who are caretakers. Their anxiety is how do I care for myself?
You're taking the educational system. Parents are homeschooling. There are these broad subjects that we all know. Then there are the little things going on in our own lives, in our own homes. Those are also adding just to stress in a reality to where we are.
Bob: They compound. Normally, you might be okay dealing with some of the small things in your life. When you're trying to negotiate all these other things that are going on, those things kind of compound that anxiety. It's got to get, for many, to the point of a breaking point at some point.
Courtney: It does, it can get there. One of my points, and it's so funny, I've gotten more feedback on this point than any of the sermon. Wiggle your toes. I get so many people who have said that that point in that sermon more than anything else is what has sustained them in 2020.
I get in there, I get overwhelmed, and I just wiggle my toes. It's a reminder, God is in that. It's a grounding, but it is that compounding that can send us into a tizzy.
The Place of Risk Calculation
Courtney: Preaching on these subjects and just talking about the elephant in the room, is in fact what people really need to hear.
Bob: For those people who want to hear and see the whole sermon, I have a link through it on the best preachers page on inspirationalsermons.com. There's a lot about this sermon that I think is fantastic, besides the wiggling your toes. The idea of a risk calculation, you kind of lay the groundwork. There’s Maslow's hierarchy of needs that, right now, people are really struggling with.
Am I going to be okay? I'm not at self-actualization right now. I don't know that I'm okay. With my security, and safety and all the needs that I have just to physically be able to live. With that in mind, you say, we normally get into this place of risk calculation. Would you mind just bringing our listeners up to speed on what you mean by that?
Courtney: Anxiety is about the future. It's all about what's going to happen in the future. Because the future has not come yet, we drive our humanity. We drive our anxiety by trying to calculate if this is safe or not. I believe I walked through an example of Adam and Eve in the garden with God. He looked at all the trees and calculated the risk.
God said, "Okay, it's safe to eat from all the trees except this one. I've calculated the risk, it's of no good." So what happens is, their eyes are now open. Now, what does the serpent say? You can see like God, you can think like God, you can be like God. We're trying in our humanity to calculate the risk of our decisions.
Anxiety Is a Good Thing
Courtney: We are trying to calculate the risk of the election. We're trying to calculate the risk of the economy. These are all things in the future. When we become consumed with the risk calculation, that's when anxiety takes that seat of Commander in Chief. Anxiety, I want to say, and I kind of flushed it out, is a good thing.
It was designed to protect us and to keep us safe. I sense danger, I sense harm. The problem is, we're not in the prehistoric times, the early Jesus times. There's a well, I might fall in. We have a level that the media, social media, whatever we're reading, are all contributing to the calculation. We're overwhelmed by it.
Bob: What I love about this is you then begin to go back to scripture. You say, look, Adam and Eve really didn't have any anxiety. Before that event, they weren't even able to calculate the risk. They lived in concert with God. The root of anxiety that we have calculated, the pandemic, the economy, this becomes the root of my anxiety.
When I sit there and I add up the calculation, how am I going to get out of this thing? How are we going to get out of 2020? What's that going to mean for 2021? The final result is that the risk is too great. Anxiety again, as you say, becomes the Commander in Chief.
Courtney: I'm immobilized by it. Faith without works is dead. We walk by faith and not by sight. So when that risk calculation overwhelms me, and anxiety has the last word, I become stuck. Here's the theological thing that I've been working through in my mind in the last couple of weeks.
The Time Does Not Stop
Courtney: Just thinking, but time keeps moving. You can be stuck, but time does not stop. We're on a continuum moving with God. You can say, hey, I don't want to go forward. But time is still moving around you.
Bob: Then you bring up Jesus. You bring up the point that Jesus says, look, you want to reset your perspective. Look at nature. Nature doesn't do a risk calculation, which I love. The grass, the loos of the field, they don't calculate risk. God does a great job of running his organization.
Courtney: Been doing it a mighty long time.
Bob: When you think about it, you think of the loaves and the fishes. Five loaves and two fishes. Any right-thinking person is going to look at that and do the calculation. They say, come on, Jesus. This ain't happening. We're not going to be able to do this. We ain't feeding anybody. We're going to run out.
Come on, man. I've seen this happen a million times. You're going to run out of food. But what you're saying is with Jesus, you reset your risk calculation. Because he is the one in the driver's seat. He's the one that's resetting your framework here, the way you are to look at life. It’s a really a great point. It gets back to the scripture.
Courtney: It's that perspective that we can hang our hat on scripture. Part of scripture may not be Jesus' words, but part of scripture is Jesus' actions. It's still scripture. We get caught up in, do you know the scripture? Yes. I know what the word says. Here it is. But what did the word do? Sometimes the word is doing.
Letting God Do the Calculation
Courtney: I don't know about you, but as a pastor, I've learned more by watching than by talking. So when I watch Jesus, that's when I begin to see how does Jesus do it. Because Jesus is dealing, maybe not with anxiety as we know it, but I deal with that too. In the Garden of Gethsemane, he's calculating the risk. Got him worried.
Bob: In the end, he puts a father in the driver's seat.
Courtney: Ultimately, we could retranslate that. Jesus ultimately says, "Not just let this cup pass from me."
What Jesus is really saying is when I calculate my cup, the math doesn't add up. Here it is. But when I let you calculate the cup, then I say, "Not my will, but your will be done."
Bob: I love the idea of this calculation because you say, God, thankfully doesn't rely on my math. God doesn't see the calculation like I see the calculation. My job is to let him do the calculation. To trust that he's leading me. He knows better than I do what is good for my life, and what my future holds.
Courtney: Think about it, I know I'm jumping here, but I think it applies. That calculation is also found in Psalm 23. God knows when I need green pastures, God knows when I need still waters. He knows when I need my soul refreshed.
God also knows when I need to walk through the valley of the shadow of death.
Here's God's calculation. You're going to make it, but you're going to need me, my rod and my staff. And you can make it to the other side.
Anxiety Is All About the Future
Courtney: So the calculations are not always just in the bad. Sometimes in the great seasons, God is still calculating and saying, this is where you need to be. This is how you need to get there.
Bob: You think about the, “thou prepare us a table before me in the presence of my enemies”. There’s this image of Jesus setting up a banquet table in the middle of a battlefield. You got arrows whizzing by your head. All the things you're worried about, he says, "Come on, let's eat. Don't worry about any of this. I got this covered."
Courtney: I wish we had time because I preached a sermon on that exact line. That would take us in a whole different direction. We'll do that another time because that's a fun one.
Bob: We'll do that next time. Pastor Jenkins, with that as a groundwork, you give people something to do. You give them kind of a solution and say, look, your job is to take heart here. Then you point to three things that they can do to give them some meat to walk home with, to change their week and their life. There are three specific things. The first one you say is, just be present. Can you explain what you mean by that?
Courtney: That's so important because we take that part from verse 30. Jesus says, "Look around at nature" as I said in here, and not the news. We did flesh out in the beginning, what anxiety is. Anxiety is all about the future. One of the things Jesus is saying right here is to look around you, nature is just present in the moment.
A Way to Combat the Enemy
Courtney: Nature is just doing what nature does. The squirrels might be gathering for the winter, but they just get up each day. They may not have a concept that that's what they're doing. That's just what they do in the present moment. So part of it is really a way, if we can go here, to combat the enemy. The enemy wants to be consumed with the future.
Jesus says, hey, I have a dog. A dog is not concerned about tomorrow. Just living right here in the present moment today. That one of the ways to still and silence the calculation is to simply be present. That's why we tell people at that point, wiggle your toes.
When my mind begins to get caught up in the future, wiggling my toes grounds me in that present moment. Here's where I am.
For me, it really shows how God is in control. These little tiny parts of my body have activity, they have feeling. How awesome is it that God gives me that capacity. I don't know if there are other animals that can consciously wiggle their toes. That's the beauty of God's creation, that's the beauty of being present in that moment.
Bob: It grounds you immediately and it kind of takes your blinders off. There's a lot more going on here than what I'm presently worried about. You say then a second thing that you can do is to harness perspective. Talk about that a little bit. This is really an important point and we do this to ourselves with all the things that we tell ourselves.
Do Not Worry
Courtney: Right there around verse 31, he says, "So do not worry." Or in another translation, it says, "So do not say.” What will we eat? Or what will we drink? What shall we wear? It goes on to say the pagans ran after these things. Jesus is saying, you've got to put this stuff in perspective. That's why we even talk about God running the organization of the world.
Literally, God's got the whole world in God's hands. Knowing that, and that nature's not overwhelmed, water is still flowing. I have this thing I say sometimes during the sermons, if we were one inch closer to the sun, we would burn up. One inch further away, we would freeze. The moon is what allows the current to happen so that the water is not stagnant.
So on and so forth. If God can handle that, let you and I be intentional about our speech. Be intentional about our priorities, intentional about our perspectives. Literally I say, harness. You have to get your hands on that perspective and you got to pull it in. And you can't expect anybody else to do that for you.
Bob: You've got a great tip here, give yourself a time. You're going to worry for 20 minutes. At the end of this 20 minutes, I'm putting my worry to bed. I've done my worrying, nothing else I can do. Again, all of that comes from sort of a change of perspective of who's in control here. Who am I really relying on to make sure I'm going to be okay. Number three, set priorities. You bring the scripture here too.
A Good Steward of Today
Courtney: Making that reference to verse 33. It says, "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." Part of what we bring in here is around priorities. How do you set those for the day?
When you allow God to set your priorities, that is when you let God run that Commander in Chief seat. God has calculated all of the things you need to do. He is calculating your present. God is calculating your future. He is even calculating the past.
From that, God is saying, don't worry about tomorrow. All you can do is prioritize today. I've done this thing long enough that if I'm a good steward of today and it's what that scripture says, then tomorrow takes care of itself.
Bob: You say, this is great. Jesus tells you seek ye first the kingdom. How many of us seek our own comfort first, or our own status first?
Courtney: Or the news.
Bob: That ultimately is going to make us feel better and reduce our anxiety. When really, if you seek God first, He pretty much, will set your priorities. I think this is one of the most important messages for today.
Courtney: To God be the glory.
Bob: Human beings are anxious. We're all anxious because of the zeitgeists, the things that are happening today. This is so important for people. I sense it in my congregation, I sense it in the community. There is an anxiety. My goodness, for folks to really be able to think about who is in their driver's seat. Who is the Commander in Chief right there?
Bob: Use some of these points and some of the practical applications you have in your sermon, Pastor Jenkins. I think it would make a huge difference. I really am so appreciative of this sermon and your ministry. With that in mind, let me ask you about Pastor Courtney Clayton Jenkins. Since the age of three, you knew you wanted to be a pastor or no?
Courtney: Since the age of five. It's actually a really interesting story. At five, somebody asked me, what do you want to be when you grow up? I said, maybe a pastor, but it looks like a boring job. This is not a boring job.
Bob: Well, you only work on Sunday. Even then, for a couple hours.
Courtney: Exactly. Then in the sixth grade, I took the Myers-Briggs. It said that my top two professions would either be a pastor or a truck driver. So, these crumbs have been there. They've been there all along.
Bob: Any other pastors in your life, a parent or an aunt, uncle, grandparent?
Courtney: To my knowledge, no one else in my family. My parents, we went to church growing up, but we only went maybe twice a month is my guess. When I turned 16, my parents got me a car, but they wouldn't let me drive it anywhere. They were afraid I was going to crash. So I said, well, where's somewhere I could go that they wouldn't tell me no.
I said, could I drive to church on Sundays. Then I’ll go by and visit my grandparents and spend a little time with them. Of course they went with that. But my inquiry of God, of spirituality, of faith, has really always been there.
God Is Working the Gift
Courtney: I remember in first grade like I'm going to read the whole Bible. Not in a home where my parents were. My parents, they went to church. Back then too, that was the thing to do. But God has really been walking with me. I took speech and debate as a kid. Ironically, I would share sermons of Martin Luther King Jr. for speech. They were sermons.
I would have to memorize them and deliver them and not realizing really all along God was just working the gift. He’s working the craft. I've been preaching since about 13 unofficially, but definitely 20 years officially.
Bob: That is just fantastic. The fact that not only did you know what you wanted to be, but you could also send something inside you. God sort of called you to something that is very powerful. When I hear you preach, you do have power. You do have connectivity, you do have charisma.
I can't imagine anyone in your congregation dozing off. Or looking around, or looking at their watch, because you're powerful. A good 45 minutes to an hour of your sermon you don't blink, because you're onto the next point. There's something that I can use with that.
Not only do I see that scripture differently, and not only do you open it up, and make it interesting to me. You give me something that I can use and change my life with. So I encourage everyone to get online and to listen to your sermons. I can't thank you enough today for not only timely message but a very powerful and helpful message.