Featured So much anxiety regarding Spiritual Things - Can you Help me?

Discussion in 'Spiritual Warfare' started by De Jager, May 15, 2019.

  1. De Jager

    De Jager Puritan Board Freshman

    Dear brothers and sisters,

    I would like to share with you some of the struggles in my life right now.

    For a long time now I have dealt with much fear and anxiety regarding my spiritual state.

    For years, from around age 10 to ~24, I struggled with assurance of salvation. I was plagued with a dread of not really being saved, and asked God to save me 100s of times. During the same time, my understanding of salvation and the sovereignty of God was not very good. From a very young age I sensed a need for my sins to be forgiven. I definitely did not think that anything I did earned my salvation, but at the same time, I really struggled to believe that God would/had saved me. The anxiety I felt convinced me that I was not saved. Every sermon I heard/every exhortation to believe (I grew up in an evangelical, arminian setting) produced tremendous anxiety within me and I found myself again confessing my sins to God, and asking him to save me.

    Fast forward to age 24-25 and I became acquainted with the doctrines of Grace. I now understood that salvation was a sovereign work in the soul by God's grace alone, and that a man must be born again. Then came the questions - am I born again? I struggled with this question, looking inward to see "fruit", often disregarding anything I saw that might indicate that I had genuine saving faith. I listened to many sermons and read many articles on what was true saving faith, and had great anxiety every single time, worried that I didn't have it. And of course, that led to me crying out to God again and again.

    Around this time I also was diagnosed with OCD. After much research I learned that it is possible that those who struggle with this affliction can see it manifest itself in their spiritual life. Through fearful obsessions regarding spiritual things (es. intrusive thoughts like 'you're not saved') compulsions arise (ex. cry out to God to be saved). The more you feed the obsession by performing the compulsion, the worse the obsessions get, and the more anxiety you feel. The catch however, is that if you try to ignore the obsession, you feel like you are neglecting your very soul, which itself causes fear, and then causes you to perform the compulsion again. It truly is a vicious, vicious, cycle. The only way to get out of it is to either become so exhausted that your body says "enough", or to fall asleep.

    In the last couple of years, a new terrifying obsession has reared its head. Sometimes I will be sitting in church...or praying...or reading the word...when a thought comes into my head like

    "you don't really believe this...this is all made up...you're a faker...you don't believe"
    "God's word isn't true"
    "God isn't even real"
    "This is all just a big fairy tale"

    This makes it incredibly difficult to pray. It causes me to feel like if I pray, I am "faking it". Praying out loud in front of others is especially very difficult. Sometimes if I am praying or talking to others about God, it is all I can do to simply get the words out, meanwhile my mind is assaulted with thoughts like

    "you don't even believe this"
    "...how can you teach others, you don't even believe yourself"


    I am envious of others who seem to have such a strong faith. Myself, I am assaulted with terrifying thoughts of doubt and unbelief. I can't imagine leaving the faith...and I really don't want to!! But these things are incredibly hard and they give me such anxiety.

    Oftentimes I am afflicted with such anxiety that my stomach feels like it is in knots for hours. I feel short of breath. I feel exhausted to the point of falling asleep at work.

    Psalm 88 gives me hope that perhaps, I am like that man, who truly was a believer but nonetheless afflicted terribly by anxiety and depression.

    I cry out to God for mercy but it feels as though my anxiety keeps coming back.
     
  2. alexandermsmith

    alexandermsmith Puritan Board Freshman

    A few thoughts which occurred to me reading your post were:

    -a daily calling upon God, even a daily asking for mercy and forgiveness and salvation, is a positive sign. It would be more of a concern if you didn't feel this daily need.

    -one's own mental obsessions are indeed an affliction but you should also not assume that the "voice" you hear telling you you don't really believe these things is necessarily coming from this obsession of yours. That is precisely what the evil one tells God's children to cause the doubt and torment you are experiencing. Our spiritual battles encompass the whole gamut from our own mental or physical maladies to spiritual assault from without.

    -the best course of action for you is to stay under the preaching of the Gospel, praying to God and reading your Bible everyday, even when you feel your prayers are going no higher than your ceiling. The safest place to be is in the course of duty.

    -you may never lose your anxiety on this point but you should never take anxiety as proof of a lack of mercy. I hope you do lose your anxiety on this point but remember that grace is sufficient to overcome all obstacles and afflictions, maybe not that you lose them in this life, but that the victory is gained.

    -anxiety over one's salvation is always to be preferred over indifference or a passive (carnal) sense of security.

    I hope these few thoughts are helpful.
     
    Last edited: May 15, 2019
  3. moral necessity

    moral necessity Puritan Board Junior

    Sir,

    You sound very much like myself (OCD, etc...) when I struggled with assurance.
    I'd be glad to share what helped me find my way out of this maze.
    I'll have to gather some thoughts first, but for now...answer these questions:

    Christ died to reconcile the Father to us. Was he successful?

    In Christ is safety...you are invited to abandon all other hopes and trust in this one way of being reconciled to God, through Christ. Do you believe He invites you to do this?

    If you trust in Christ as your reconciliation, then do not doubt. Rather take him at his word. Does God ever lie? He promises that anyone who comes to him, he will not cast out. Do you believe this?

    Turn your eyes outward to Christ, and do not look away. The Gospel is outside of you, as Luther said.

    Blessings!
     
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  4. Reformed Covenanter

    Reformed Covenanter Puritan Board Doctor

    I once heard Martyn Lloyd-Jones say in a sermon that since Satan is a coward and a liar, he will often strike men when they are down and at their weakest points. If you suffer from OCD, which is no joke (my brother has an extreme form of it), these sort of thoughts could easily consume you. Perhaps you should try to channel the obsessiveness into resisting the Devil that he might flee from you.
     
  5. C. M. Sheffield

    C. M. Sheffield Puritan Board Junior

    Have you talked about these things with your pastor? I have dealt with two brothers in my course of pastoral ministry that fit your own discription. You certainly are not alone. In both cases I would say progress was only achieved with steady, consistent pastoral care and counseling and regular participation in the public and private means of grace.

    I will be praying for you. This is not an easy thing and their are no quick remedies. If you would ever like to talk by phone, I would be glad to speak with you. You can PM me for my number.
     
  6. Ryan&Amber2013

    Ryan&Amber2013 Puritan Board Junior

    Brother, I know all too well what you go through. For many years I dealt with the "O" in OCD, having obsessive thoughts about things I feared. I never had it in regards to salvation, but that is a common theme in the illness: continuous obsessive penance.

    Honestly, the answer is to know the objective truth and conform your practical life to the truth, in every way. You are no longer a slave. You are free to live in the light. You don't have to obsess over this, and it is a choice you have to make to no longer do so. Fight and be victorious. It takes time, but when you change a habit, eventually it will no longer be a part of you. Just don't be passive. If you know the truth, you have to live it out. God has given you a way out of every temptation you face. In Jesus you are free to choose what you know is right, even when the temptation is there.

    I know you can overcome this. Be strong!
     
  7. JTB.SDG

    JTB.SDG Puritan Board Sophomore

    Dear Izaak,

    One of my best friends has OCD and the struggle has manifested itself in similar ways. On a side note, have you considered taking medications? For my friend this really helped him manage these types of struggles.

    As for the thoughts in your head, I went through a similar time in my early 20's. It felt like spiritual oppression; it was the same kinds of questions.

    It's important for you to know that your struggles are not unique to you. Many others struggle with the same types of things, and the thoughts in your mind sound like the accuser. Obviously it's not God who is telling you: God's word isn't true. And we've heard this one before (Gen.3), right? Also, if you find yourself troubled by these thoughts, that argues life in your soul. You hate these thoughts and wish they weren't there, no? For you to take these thoughts and embrace them and love and cherish them and use them as an excuse to plunge yourself into sin and licentiousness, that would argue no saving faith. But the fact that you are troubled by these thoughts argues life. Satan took the form of the snake in the garden, but now he takes on different forms, and often he takes on the form of our thoughts. Lloyd-Jones has a great chapter about this in his book on Spiritual Depression and one of the most valuable things he says in that book is that the whole trouble in this is that we need to stop letting ourselves talk to us and start talking to ourselves. In those moments you need to fight off the lies with truths and promises from God's Word. Treat your thoughts like a younger brother--sometimes they have good things to say but often times they're wrong.

    My heart goes out to you. You're not alone. In terms of resources, I would really recommend Lloyd-Jones' book, as well as Richard Sibbes' The Bruised Reed. Also, find friends in your context you can trust and confide in and share these things on a regular basis; you need God's gift of community. And having said all that, do talk to a doctor about if medication could be a good idea or not. We have physical bodies as well as eternal souls, and these things affect each other. If I get sick, it's going to affect my soul too.

    Psalm 88 is a wonderful one. I've had seasons where that was my go-to Psalm. This is why God put it in Scripture. I've found it comforting recently actually to read through the Message's translation of some of these lament Psalms. It makes it more real and puts it in the language of my heart. It might also be healing to write out your own lament in your own words. God wants us to come to Him as we are. Lay it all out before Him--the good, the bad, and the ugly.

    Lastly, be encouraged. Many people think Martin Luther had OCD. And if that's true, God gave it to him for a reason. The struggles you're having aren't for no reason (2 Cor. 1). God has given them to you for very particular purposes, and He is going to use them to work glory in and through you.
     
    Last edited: May 15, 2019
  8. De Jager

    De Jager Puritan Board Freshman

    I thank you all for your replies - they mean a lot. I have read each one and will read them again. It is truly a battle.

    I have to get better at talking to myself, as alluded to in the post above. In fact, that is the second time I have heard that in the last couple weeks.

    On a praiseworthy note, God has provided a wonderful girl for me and we are to be married in ~2 months. She loves the Lord very much and can support me in my struggles.

    A couple verses that I have taken to heart in this struggle are:

    "all that the father gives me will come to me, and he who comes to me I will in no wise cast out"

    "come to me, all ye who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly of heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light"

    "let him who desires come, and take the water of life, freely"

    In fact, the first verse I listed is sometimes one of the only things that I can actually think of. Sometimes my mind is so locked up with anxiety that it's hard to come up with a coherent thought.
     
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  9. moral necessity

    moral necessity Puritan Board Junior

    "I believe...help thou my unbelief" was a quote put in scripture to encourage people like the man in that story. It is a prayer God will honor, and he will bless that request in due time.

    Blessings!
     
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  10. Aharown

    Aharown Puritan Board Freshman

    I agree! Mark 9:24 has been my prayer many times.
     
  11. Blueridge Believer

    Blueridge Believer Puritan Board Professor

    A couple of books that you may find helpful are John Bunyan’s “Holy War” and “Abounding Grace to the chief of sinners”. Also the “Jerusalem sinner saved” and of course “Pilgrims progress”. You can get all these books in an ebook collection for $2.99 on amazon and maybe free on Monergism.con
     
  12. C. M. Sheffield

    C. M. Sheffield Puritan Board Junior

    As for good books, one of best is A Lifting Up for the Downcast by William Bridge. Bridge is very skillful in dealing with the different maladies that afflict the child of God. He writes with pastoral warmth while at the same time speaking with firmness where it is needed. His writing abounds with figures and illustrations drawn from Scripture, life, and nature which make reading him a delight. His knowledge of those things that discourage the Christian in their walk is so keen, you might think he's been reading your mail. He apparently spent a lot of time interacting with cases like yours. And it is very likely the case that he spoke from his own experiences.
     
  13. Stephen L Smith

    Stephen L Smith Moderator

    Jon, have you read Sibbes' other classic "The Souls Conflict". The sister ministry to the Puritan Board, Puritan Publications, publishes it. Since you mentioned Dr Lloyd-Jones, here is MLJ recommendation of it (emphasis added):
    You will find, I think, in general that the Puritans are almost invariably helpful . . "I shall never cease to be grateful to one of them called Richard Sibbes who was balm to my soul at a period in my life when I was overworked and badly overtired, and therefore subject in an unusual manner to the onslaughts of the devil. In that state and condition . . . what you need is some gentle, tender treatment for your soul. I found at that time that Richard Sibbes, who was known in London in the early seventeenth century as `the heavenly Doctor Sibbes', was an unfailing remedy. His books The Bruised Reed and The Soul's Conflict quietened, soothed, comforted, encouraged and healed me."

    Izaak, I have a condition similar to OCD so I can understand the struggle. I second the recommendation of the Lloyd-Jones and Sibbes books.

    It is important your mind absorbs truth, but equally important to knpw we have a loving Saviour. "Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Heb 4:14-16
     
  14. De Jager

    De Jager Puritan Board Freshman

    I have the book "The Bruised Reed"...and have never read it.

    I bought it on Amazon in a down time, thinking it might be helpful, but never got around to reading it.

    It seems as though I should put that near the top of my reading list.

    Brothers, all of your responses have been so kind. I truly thank all of you.
     
  15. A.Joseph

    A.Joseph Puritan Board Freshman

    Good brother, hang in there, I totally relate. I believe Bunyan wrote pilgrims progress under the same type of afflictions. Don’t be too hard on yourself, be patient, and if you cannot stop the vicious cycle you may need a medication to help break that cycle. You are probably feeling anxiety over your wedding, maybe? Life changes can be a trigger. Life is not a sprint... And God is for you, not against you, try and rest in this knowledge.
     
    Last edited: May 17, 2019
  16. De Jager

    De Jager Puritan Board Freshman

    I have in the past, yes. Crippling anxiety, in fact. After I was engaged, I spent the next two days in horrible anxiety, and it passed fully within a week. I have had other spells as well.

    Thankfully, the Lord has given me much peace about it recently. I look forward to it.

    Thanks for the support, brother. Reading John Bunyan has helped as well. I read a lot of "Grace abounding to the chief of sinners". He dealt with some very similar things.

    God bless.
     
  17. R. Andrew Compton

    R. Andrew Compton Puritan Board Freshman

    Dear Izaak,

    Thank you for sharing your struggle - your transparancy is trumly humbling and has enabled so many of us to pray for you and encourage you, even though many (most?) of us have never met you face to face.

    A good friend in the church I served in California struggled with anxiety relative to assurance in very similar ways to which you describe and I remember her telling me one day that John 6:37 was a place where she found tremendous rest for her soul: "All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out."

    The very fact that you want to come to Jesus and that you worry that you're not authentic enough is proof positive that do belong to him, "Body and Soul, in life and in death..." (HC Q&A 1). And know that when you come to him, even in your fear and anxiety, even in your weak prayers, even with your "little faith" (Luke 12:28), you are clothed so much more than the grass, and Jesus will never send you away from him. Remember that our faith is extraspective, resting on Christ alone and his finished work, and you can be confident he will never cast you out because there is an empty tomb testifying to his victory on your behalf.

    One book I've found so edifying is Ed Welch, Running Scared: Fear, Worry, and the God of Rest. I know the folks here have given you many fine titles so I hesitate to add even more to your reading list, let alone make you fear that you'll only find rest by finishing this entire list, but I hope these recommendations have helped you sense that you are not alone. Your brothers and sisters and father's and mother's in the faith have walked this difficult path and witness to the fact that Christ has not and will not leave them or forsake them ... or you.

    Blessings to you, brother Izaak.

    Andrew Compton
     
  18. bookish_Basset

    bookish_Basset Puritan Board Freshman

    I agree that reading Sibbes should be a top priority. I know you said you've already purchased a copy of the book, but in case listening is ever easier for you than reading (as is sometimes true for me when I'm anxious), I thought I'd recommend this audiobook version as well. My husband listened to it last year and was surprised how good the narrator is.

    I have struggled with obsessive thoughts in the past, and anxiety has been recurrent through much of my life, too. The means of grace are truly a lifeline at such times. And although medication isn't the right option for everybody, at times a mild antidepressant has taken the edge off things for me--one of numerous things through which God has worked.
     
  19. Alan D. Strange

    Alan D. Strange Puritan Board Junior

    Much good counsel, here, brother. I won't add to the reading list!

    Just remember this: you are accepted in the Beloved. The truth of justification and adoption is that, though you are thoroughly unacceptable in the flesh, you are perfectly accepted and declared to be a son in Christ. This is true no matter what opposition you may receive from the devil, flesh, and the world.

    Rest in Christ and glory in the acceptance that is yours in Him!

    Peace,
    Alan
     
  20. De Jager

    De Jager Puritan Board Freshman

    Thank you Sarah!

    My issue with reading is that my obsessive tendencies make it hard for me to actually start and finish a book. I do well with audio, or with reading short portions of books, or articles. It is very hard for me to focus through an entire book.

    I will look into audiobooks - a good thought!
     
  21. nickipicki123

    nickipicki123 Puritan Board Freshman

    Hi De Jager,

    I think a lot of the people here on the PB have the same struggle. Several of us have OCD or OCD-like tendencies, especially in regards to religious things. There's actually a word for it: scrupulosity.

    One time I was searching the PB for "scrupulosity" and I came across this post by someone named Paul Nowman. It really helped me:

     

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