Steven’s Sermon: https://youtu.be/JOvc2Imvzvg
A primary issue with Furtick’s approach to this topic is the fact that it is inherently man-centered. I don’t take issue with the fact that he invites his hearers to read the Bible, for example, in order that they might have peace and less anxiety. Sure, this motivation is man-centered, but all of our desire for God is at some extent motivated by our selfishness. Only once we experience true relationship with Him do we begin to become selfless and desire to serve Him for His sake and not our own. This is to say, a fundamental truth of Christianity is that we seek God so that we may be saved.
The problem I see with Furtick’s approach is that the Biblical truth that he presents is warped in the sense that he turns God’s work into psychiatric service. Somehow, he takes a passage (Psalm 139) that is dripping with a holy desire to see God’s name magnified, and applies it to his hearers by spending the entire sermon talking about them. Indeed, most of his points are centered around the idea of thinking less about ourselves and more about others and what God thinks about us. This is OK. But, I think it is a misrepresentation of the text from which he is purportedly preaching.
Instead of presenting a case against anxiety based on what God thinks about you, David in Psalm 139 is reverently worshipping God and expressing his earnest desire to see God win. Furtick says that David is asking God to “slay the wicked” (139:19) because Saul was after him and David needed some relief. However, David’s reason for asking that God would do this is given in the very next verse. 139:20 says that God should slay the wicked because “They speak against you with malicious intent; your enemies take your name in vain.” David doesn’t want God to slay the wicked because he is tired of running. David wants God to slay the wicked because they take His “name in vain.”
Now, I think the personal application of Psalm 139 is the same as what Furtick presented. However, I think the way that we apply this Psalm to our lives is 100% different from the way that Furtick does. Here’s why: this passage is a death blow to anxiety. Not because it proves that God is in heaven looking down on us ready to smack down anyone that thinks poorly of us. The point isn’t, in the words of Furtick, “You better be nice to me. God is watching.” That is an insane interpretation.
The beauty of this Psalm is that, when we think like David – when we seek God’s glorification, and honor, and praise with every breath we take – the anxieties of the world disappear like drops of water on the surface of the sun. The point isn’t that God makes our enemies His enemies. The point is the exact opposite of that. Instead, when referring to God’s enemies, David says, “I count them my enemies.” What I’m trying to say is that relief from anxiety as per Psalm 139 isn’t to be had by using psychological techniques. Anxiety is to be banished by aligning ourselves with God, fixing our eyes on Him, forgetting about ourselves, and understanding that He is absolutely in control of every atom in existence (see Matthew 10:29-30).
The point of this Psalm isn’t to think about what God thinks about you – that is just thinking about yourself in an indirect way and keeping the focus on yourself. Furtick understands anxiety comes from being self-focused but his “cure” is simply more of the same. The point of the Psalm is to think more about God. When we worship God and understand that we cannot run from Him (139:7-12) and that His power over creation is so high that we can’t fully understand it (139:6) we begin to stop worrying about our problems because they pale in comparison with His might. We are not free from anxiety because God is on our side. We are free from anxiety because we are on God’s side.
This distinction is important because, like I mentioned earlier, an improper application will inevitably lead us to think about ourselves instead of God. The Furtick technique might sooth the anxious soul at first. But, as times goes on and we continue to imagine what God thinks about us, or simply turn off our cell phones, or make more decisive decisions, or stop lying about ourselves, instead of focusing on worshipping Him, we can become more anxious because all of these psychological techniques are not rooted in the majesty and glory of the Creator and Lord of the entire universe. These techniques are rooted in you.
With all this said, I don’t disagree with the techniques Furtick presents. The problem is that they are psychological techniques not based on the text. Psalm 139 offers a nuclear bomb for anxiety and Furtick appeals to human sling-shots. Sure, these techniques can help, but if eradication is what you seek, pray that God would give you an all-consuming passion for His name. All consuming passions don’t leave room for self-focused anxieties. It may sound harsh to say that anxieties are often “self-focused” but this is generally the case. This is one of Furtick’s most cogent points with which I agree. I differ to say, the key to removing the pervasive desire to be anxious isn’t to remove thoughts of yourself with psychological tricks. The key to removing thoughts of yourself is to learn to become wholly obsessed with God and His thoughts.
This is a monumental feat – becoming obsessed with God. But, God is fit for the task and He earnestly desires to make you obsessed with Him. That is the reason for the great God exalting passages of the Old Testament that drip with God’s desire to be glorified (see post on God’s Desire to Be Glorified – http://wp.me/p8hupY-l). The reason God wants us to to glorify Him, to become obsessed with Him, to borrow the words of John Piper, is because, “God is most glorified in us, when we are most satisfied in Him.” This posture of the heart – one in which we are most satisfied in God – is one He can give to us as we continually, selflessly, and regularly seek Him. It’s not an overnight success story. It’s a pattern of commitment that brings the greatest reward.