I had the privilege of interviewing John Stange, a lead pastor, professor, coach, counselor, certified speaker and author. John has written several books and his recent one is called “Dwell On These Things.”
Pastor John Stange shares with us his struggles with anxiety and his great wisdom and insight on overcoming negative self-talk through looking at God’s perspective toward us. We also talked about dealing with perfectionism as I am also a recovering perfectionist.
- John Stange’s personal journey through anxiety, having sleepless nights, negative self-talk and excessive worries about “what if’s.”
- Analyzing the root of his anxiety and preaching the truth of the gospel to his own heart
- Factors that make people who are serving the ministry quit their role after a short period of time
- “Why walk a defeated life when Christ already secured victory over our sins?”
- Questions to ask yourself if you really want to understand Bible scriptures
- Helpful concepts about seeing yourself through God’s eyes based on John Stange’s book, “Dwell On These Things”
Transcript of Episode 31
Hope for Anxiety and OCD episode 31. Today’s episode is with John Stange who is a pastor and author. He’s recently written a book called Dwell On These Things based on Philippians 4:8. John has some great wisdom and insight into overcoming negative self-talk and seeing ourselves the way that God sees us.
So let’s dive right in.
Carrie: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today.
Pastor John: Well, happy to be here, glad to be with you.
Carrie: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Pastor John: My name is John Stange. I have been in full-time pastoral ministry for 23 years and my wife and I have four children. Two are in college, two are in high school. And in the midst of my ministry, serving as a pastor I’ve also gotten quite involved in podcasting and writing and have really been pursuing both of those as avenues where I really have a great opportunity to hopefully encourage people in their faith and hopefully help in a variety of ways. But that’s where I’ve been spending a lot of my time in addition to my service to the church and my ministry, just to my family.
Carrie: One thing that I’ve found really interesting about you in my research is that while you do have a degree in the Bible, you also have a master’s degree in psychology. How did that process develop?
Pastor John: Well, one of the things that I noticed when I became a pastor is that a lot of your preparation to become a pastor trains you to teach and preach the Bible and teach and preach theology. And that’s very helpful, but there are two other aspects to your role as a pastor that you really need to figure out a way to invest in one is leadership. So I spent a lot of time just studying leaders and going to leadership training and reading books on leadership and really invested in that. But then the other thing that is typically asked of you is that you be involved in a lot of counseling. And so when I was deciding what to do for a master’s, I decided to pursue counseling and psychology because so much of my task as a pastor involves counseling.
And it probably wouldn’t surprise you to discover that over the course of this past year in particular, I had more counseling than at any other time in my ministry. To the point where I actually had somebody tally up in one given week how much time I was spending on counseling when things were at their worst. And they said a full 29 hours of my week is being spent just counseling. In addition to all the other things that you have to do. So I actually had to figure out a way to balance that a little bit better because it was becoming quite excessive, but that is definitely a role that pastors are asked to actually step in and help out with. And so I wanted to make sure I did it well. And when I got my master’s, I thought, you know what? I’m going to pursue counseling, psychology. Learn these tasks and learn these skills so that I could serve our church even better, hopefully.
Carrie: I think that’s an important point because you can be a really great teacher and lack people skills and being a pastor, you have to find that balance between being able to communicate the word of God and also being able to relate and lead people, like you just talked about.
Pastor John: Yeah, you’re absolutely right. And I’ve seen that a lot where people are really skilled in a particular task, or they have a lot of knowledge in a particular area, but they really struggle to take that from their brain to another life. And because that relational piece seems to be missing, so yeah, I agree.
Carrie: I’ve also interviewed a few people on the show who started out as pastors and ended up becoming therapists. And those stories are really interesting as well as kind of like an outflow of just the ministry that they were doing.
Pastor John: Yeah, that doesn’t surprise me. That’s great.
Carrie: We’re talking about anxiety today and incorporating that with spirituality, obviously. And I’m curious about your particular struggles with anxiety.
Pastor John: Yeah, it’s interesting because I don’t know that at one season of my life, I would have really thought of myself as being particularly anxious. In some respects, I tend to think I’m an easygoing person. And then as life went on and I took on more responsibilities and as I was trying to lead my household well and try to lead our church well, I started to notice seasons where I would really struggle to sleep.
I’m not a great sleeper to begin with. So I’m just going to confess that I think there’s something biological there that factors into that, but it was even worse than normal. And I can remember certain times where I would just find myself looking out the window of my bedroom, just looking outside, wondering in my mind why can’t I sleep.
And then as I try to lay my head down on the pillow, I would be thinking about all these what-if scenarios. What if this happens with your family or what if this happens with the church or what if this happens with your finances, all sorts of things. And I realized that I was becoming a rather anxious person.
I don’t know that I always demonstrated that to other people, but within my own mind. In fact, I actually think I tried to make a pretty strong effort to not demonstrate that to other people just to kind of portray that everything was fine. But in my own mind, I have to admit to you I really have gone through seasons where I felt particularly anxious and kind of went on a journey to try and figure out what’s at the root of this and what can I do that would be actually be helpful so that this doesn’t become such a dominant feature in my life.
If I’m going to be doing the things that I think God’s called me to do, I can’t be paralyzed by anxiety constantly. And I can’t give this full sway over myself. So I need to call it out into the light and I need to do something that’s going to actually help me overcome it.
Carrie: What was that process like for you?
Pastor John: I had to kind of analyze what was at the root of it at first. And what I noticed about myself is that I was trying to control too many things, and I was trying to do too many things without help. And I don’t know if that was a pride issue. I think that’s part of it. I, you know, I think certainly it was a pride issue in some respects, but I also think it comes from this thought of not wanting to burden other people with your problems.
And then also just this thought that sometimes you get in your mind when you’re trying to lead, this is your responsibility. So you just think, look, this is my job. I have to handle this. I can’t give this to somebody else. I just have to do it. Right. It’s just my role. And so the first thing I needed to do was just figure out what was at the root of this.
And again, it was just control issues and a desire not to burden other people and just, you know, the burdens that come from leadership. But the solution for me was multifaceted. And a lot of these things I think come back to preaching the gospel to your heart, where sometimes if you’re trying to do too much, it’s almost like you’re trying to take Christ’s job and do it instead of relying on him to be the strength that we need. And so it was almost like a works-based false gospel that I was starting to preach to my heart that can be very unhealthy. And when I phrased it that way in my mind, my theological triggers went off and said, “Wait a second. You can’t preach something false to your own heart. You have to stop this.” And so I thought, all right, well, what does it look like to actually apply the truth of the gospel to my own heart? What does it look like to be content in Christ and to trust him to do the things that I can’t do and to rest in the fact that he is perfect? I am not, and I’m fine with that.
And so this was part of the journey that I went on, but when I started analyzing that seeing what was at the root and then preaching the truth of the gospel to my heart, that really made a huge difference.
Carrie: I can really relate to that because I started this podcast and I was doing entirely too much. And I ended up hiring an assistant this year and it was super scary in the beginning.
Just the sense of like, “Okay. I’m like, yes, it’s a great thing that I have help, but I’m also like having to let go of control of things that I’ve been doing and what’s going to happen if I start letting go of that control and somebody else is gonna take over, and I think we do that with God so much in our own lives. We try to take control over things that we have no control over, even things like our own health like I’m up at night worrying about all of these things that could be happening to me are going on. And instead of saying, okay, I don’t have control over this. God loves me. He cares about me. He’s for me.
And I think that’s what you’re talking about in terms of having a theology of how God sees us. And really speaking that into ourselves is so important.
Pastor John: Yeah, exactly. I agree. A hundred percent.
Carrie: So, talk to us about negative self-talk because I think a lot of people really struggle with that. And what have you found to be helpful in your life?
Pastor John: There’s a variety of things that I have found helpful. And one of the things that I’ve noticed that is helpful for me is to know that I’m not the only person that wrestles with this. So when you serve in a public role, right now you’re putting yourself out there publicly doing a podcast, right?
So you’re just basically, you’re subjecting yourself to the opinions of others. And that could be a challenging task to do no matter what role you do it in. So you can imagine when I became a pastor I was subjecting myself to the opinions of many, many people and my opinion being sometimes the harshest and frequently, I would find myself preparing a message.
So I’ll use a sermon as an example. I’d prepare a message. I’d have it all straight in my head. I’d get up and I’d preach it. And then afterwards I’d have this thought that it didn’t go as well as I thought, or maybe the feedback I got on it wasn’t exactly what I was anticipating. And I would find myself spending the rest of Sunday beating myself up over perceived weaknesses in my presentation or times when I tripped over my words or ways that I could have said something better or something that I forgot to share that I meant to share or someone’s reaction that I misinterpreted or whatever it may be. And I just have all these thoughts going through my mind. Just the imperfections of what I had just shared and all this negative self-talk about, oh, why can’t you be as good of a speaker as this individual or that individual. And that’s a very unhealthy thing to start drilling into your mind. And I would suspect that’s probably one of the contributors to a lot of people who serve in public ministry roles quitting after a short period of time because they just spent a lot of time in self-accusation instead of refreshing their heart with the truth of the gospel and preaching the same message to their own heart that they just preached to their congregation. And eventually, I needed to get to the spot where I started to see the opportunities that I was being given to speak or to lead as opportunities to help people, not opportunities to look good while you’re helping people. And what I mean by that is this: Yeah it was a big change in my mind. I thought I used to wrestle with after I would preach a sermon, or lead a meeting, or whatever it may be. “How did you look doing that? Did you do okay?” And it was basically “how did you look doing it?” And then somewhere along the way, the Lord helped me to flip that in my mind to say, “did you help somebody?” And judge what I had just done by whether or not I was seeking to glorify God and help people. And when that became the measuring stick that really helped me with probably the major area of negative self-talk that I was wrestling with. Just trying to understand what it looks like to glorify God and help people Instead of worrying about how I looked while I was trying to do it.
Carrie: I think that’s been probably one of the greatest gifts that this podcast has ever given to me, just like, you know, through the Lord’s work, it’s showing me that it doesn’t have to be perfect to help people and I consider myself a recovering perfectionist. So I know that I have to go back and listen to these episodes and we joked. Before I hit record, there was a squeaky chair in one of them and it drove me crazy like I can hear that chair. And probably other people are listening to this in their car or they’re in the bathroom getting ready in the morning and they don’t care. You know, they’re probably not even noticing that. And somebody is going to be really blessed by that episode. But here I am and all I’m focused on is that annoying chair in the background.
Pastor John: Right. Instead of thinking of all the ways that you’re producing helpful content, you’re just hearing that chair that needs a little grease or a little oil.
Carrie: Right. So now I’m like, you know what? It goes out. There’s some people that like it and it’s helping some people and that’s all it really matters and it doesn’t have to be perfect in order to benefit other people. So that has been an unexpected gift, I guess, of going through this process.
You actually were really gracious enough to send me a copy of your book, “Dwell on these things” and I am really enjoying it. So I appreciate you for writing it, and you encourage readers to dwell on 31 different truths in God’s word. It’s written a little bit like a devotional, right? To kind of read one each day.
Pastor John: Yeah, it could be used that way for sure. Yeah. I wanted it to be useful in that way. If someone wanted to use the chapters in that kind of fashion, they definitely could.
Carrie: So would you be willing to share a few of these with us and how they can transform our thinking and self-talk.
Pastor John: Sure. There’s a variety of things that are mentioned in the book that kind of point us to things that the Lord is trying to communicate to us that sometimes we forget to communicate to ourselves, or we forget to repeat to ourselves after he’s communicated them. And so when you look through the book, you’ll see on day one, we talk about the fact that you are loved more deeply than you realize, and we start off the book with that concept because we want that to be a baseline for what we’re thinking about as we start to adopt God’s perspective toward us as our perspective toward us, as well as we work through the book, we talk about the blessing of walking by faith rather than by sight to experience greater joy.
I think a lot of times we think that there are all sorts of things we need to see ahead of time or know ahead of time to be able to actually experience contentment in life. But scripture shows us that we can walk by faith. We don’t have to walk by sight If we’re going to experience the greater joy that the Lord wants us to have.
I think something else that’s in the book that is most certainly a helpful concept for any of us. If we’re feeling anxious or just worried about a variety of things is the fact that scripture encourages us to have hearts that are ruled by the peace of Christ. And so when we get into the third section of the book that we talk about letting your heart be ruled by the peace of Christ. And I can tell you just from experience, there are all sorts of things that I have tried to soothe my heart within this world or all sorts of things that I have told myself, this will bring you peace if you just acquire this or achieve this or obtain this or whatever it may be. And there’s nothing this world offers me that has ever produced lasting peace in my mind or in my life.
And when you look at what scripture teaches us, scripture teaches us that we can let our hearts be ruled by the peace of Christ. And when his peace is ruling in our heart, we’re actually being ruled or led by something that’s everlasting, not something that’s temporary, not something that’s just here for a moment and then goes away.
Some of the chapters in the book talk about ways in which we can live out the things that the Lord has taught to us. And so there’s a chapter where we talk a lot about giving grace to those around you. And that can be a very helpful thing for us internally as well, because we start to realize that we don’t have to demand perfection from ourselves. And we don’t have to demand perfection from others. And as recipients of the grace of God, we can demonstrate the grace of God to other people. And I love what scripture tells us in the book of acts, where it reminds us that Christ taught that it’s better to give than it is to receive.
And in a moment like that, where you’re giving grace to somebody else. I think we even have the opportunity to see how that plays out where just giving grace to somebody that ends up being a blessing in our own life and in our own heart. So those are some of the concepts. There’s 31 different concepts that we focus on in the book, but those are just a few of them-just a sample of some of the things that are in the book that I truly hope will be helpful to others. If they’re trying to develop a perspective of what does it look like to actually talk to yourself like God talks to you and repeat a message to your heart that actually lines up with the truth of his gospel.
Carrie: That’s good. I know that in my counseling practice specifically, I work with a lot of people who have OCD sometimes like there’s a form of OCD called scrupulosity. And we’ve talked about it on the podcast before. It’s where you have all of these intrusive thoughts about God. You know, maybe God is angry at me. Maybe I’ve sinned. Maybe I’m going to hell, even though I know that I’m saved, those types of things people tend to ruminate on. And a lot of times people I work with are somewhat spiritually confused because they’ve sought out teachings to try to soothe some of this from a variety of different sources. You know, this person says you can lose your salvation. This person says you can’t lose your salvation. How do I know who God really is? And I know a lot of times people say, “okay, well in order to know God read the Bible that’s his word that’s his love letter to you.” How do we form this healthy theology of an understanding of who God is if there are so many different teachings that are saying are based on scripture.
Pastor John: Yeah, that could be a tough thing for a new Christian, in particular, to try to discern. Thankfully we have the internal witness of the holy spirit and he points us in the direction of truth. So I believe that any suggestion I give needs to come under the fact that the holy spirit will actively point us in the direction of truth. I do believe he does that. So I would encourage anyone that’s really wrestling with that to just begin with prayer and trust the holy spirit to lead you in the direction of truth. And then as we’re looking at scripture, I think it’s also helpful to know that when you’re reading through the Bible if you really want to understand the Bible, you need to ask the question, what does this section have to do with Jesus? Or maybe I could say it this way: how is this portion of scripture trying to point me to Christ?
So if I’m in the book of Genesis, I need to be asking that question. If I’m in the Psalms, I need to be asking that question, but I mean the gospels or the letters of Paul or the general letters or the book of revelation, the whole thing is trying to point our minds to Christ. And specifically, when you look throughout scripture, you see the message of redemption as the Lord is trying to redeem lost humanity. And he’s trying to redeem fallen creation, right? Like it’s all, there’s this message of redemption all throughout. And so that points us to the gospel and the gospel is if you want to summarize the gospel, you could summarize it this way. It’s the life, the death, and the resurrection of Christ.
And so in Christ lived the perfect life that we could never live. He lived that on our behalf. He walked a mile in our shoes. He’s our merciful sympathetic high priest. He knows all details of all things, and he actually walked it and lived it. And he did it perfectly without sin. And then in his death, he paid for our sin.
He took our sin upon himself so that ultimately we could be justified so that we could be declared righteous because he who knew no sin became sin for us. And then in his resurrection, he defeated the power of sin, the power of Satan. And the power of death. And he shares that victory with all of us who believe in him with anyone who trusts in him.
So the life, the death, and the resurrection of Christ, I think it all comes back to that. So now, you know, let’s think about some issues that sometimes we deal with and let’s plug it into that metric. If I’m dealing with, and we were just joking a few moments ago about perfectionism and the desire to kind of get everything right.
You know, whether the chair’s squeaking or whether all the words we say are exactly right, or whatever it may be. We deal with perfectionism. Well, let’s plug that into the gospel. Well, scripture tells us that we are not perfect. But Jesus is, and he came to live the perfect life for us because we couldn’t do it, which tells me I need to stop pressuring myself to be perfect because I’m not perfect.
And if I’m pressuring myself to be perfect, I’m preaching a false gospel to my heart because Christ came to this earth and was perfect for me because in my own strength I couldn’t be perfect. And so, you know, so that’s one element of how I think preaching the gospel to our hearts. Actually helps and it helps point us in the right direction. But then when you get to issues like Christ’s death, you know, I think sometimes we think that we have to be some sort of sacrificial martyr who can’t ask for help or can’t ask for assistance that we need to somehow, you know, die for our own sin or suffer for our own center, whatever it may be. And yet Jesus came to this earth to die in our place because we couldn’t die for our own sin ultimately, and have any sort of redemptive aspect come out of that.
And so Jesus who is perfect died in our place. And then scripture tells us that he rose from the grave. He defeated sin, Satan, and death. And so that victory gets shared with me because I trust in him. He’s already secured that victory. So what sense does it make for me to walk a defeated life or to just spend all this time telling myself how I’m defeated in this area or this area, or this area? Christ already secured victory over my sin Christ secured victory over my faulty thing.
He secured victory over death. I don’t even need to live in the fear of death because he’s already secured victory over it. He defeated death and even the deception of Satan or the accusation of Satan scripture tells us Satan loves to accuse God’s people. And I think sometimes we repeat Satan’s accusations in our own minds, almost like we’re trying to do his job for him. And that comes right back to the resurrection as well because Christ secured victory over sin, Satan, and death. And so Satan is defeated. So I don’t need to act like Satan is victorious. He’s been defeated. And so for me, it comes right back to preaching the gospel to my heart and understanding that the message of the gospel is woven all throughout scripture.
And if someone teaches something that does not line up with the truth of the life, the death, and the resurrection of Christ, then that gives me a good metric to know how I can actually filter that out and not welcome that into my thinking.
Carrie: That was a lot. That was good though. It was a lot. I was really trying to filter in thinking through some of the things that we just talked about like is God mad at me? Well, you know, God loves you. God loves you. He sent his son to die for you. There’s no greater love than that. Nobody else is going to be out here giving their life for you.
Pastor John: Right. When you look theologically, what scripture says, it says, you know, prior to coming to faith in Christ, we were under the wrath of God, right?
We were like, yes, you were under the wrath of God. It speaks of that in the book of Ephesians. Okay. But then Christ came to this earth and took the wrath of the father upon himself so that we could become objects of mercy. Instead of objects of wrath. And so scripture actually says, you’re an object of mercy now. So if scripture is telling me I’m an object of mercy and that Christ already took the wrath of the father upon himself, then why don’t I just believe what it says instead of just trying to make it up. You know, it’s like, we’re trying to make up the opposite of what scripture says because we want to make ourselves feel bad sometimes.
And it’s like, let’s not torture yourself. You know, just believe what it says and believe what he is.
Carrie: Or sometimes we try to take over maybe the role of the holy spirit and almost like over-convict ourselves. Sometimes people can air on one side or the other, right. Then they’re never open to correction or conviction. But then on the other side, it’s like, let me pick apart and confess every single thing I’ve done. Even the things that I know I’m already forgiven for. I keep bringing up the past sins over and over and over again. And we’re just really torturing ourselves at that point.
Pastor John: Yeah. You’re absolutely right.
Yeah. We’re prone to extremes.
Carrie: Yeah, absolutely. Okay. So tell us where people can find “Dwell on these things”.
Pastor John: “Dwell on these things” can be found literally anywhere. So you’ll be able to find it on Amazon. You’ll be able to find it at Barnes and noble. You’ll be able to find it pretty much any store you go to and which I’m really excited about the wide release that the book is receiving. But if you’d also like to find out some more information about it, or if people would like to read the first three chapters for free and just kind of see if it’s for them, just go to my website: desireJesus.com and you can read the first three chapters of the book right there on the website for free.
The publisher gave me permission to be able to post that. And so that’s right there. You’ll see a link to it right on the front page of the website.
Carrie: That’s great. And we’ll put a link in the show notes too. So since our podcast is called hope for anxiety and OCD, I like to ask our guests to share a story of hope, a time where you received hope from God or another person.
Pastor John: Certainly. So in 2008, my wife and I feel like the Lord was calling us to move to Langhorne, Pennsylvania, which was a couple of hours south of where we were living up in the Pocono region of Pennsylvania. And we felt like the Lord was leading us to move here and replant a church that was just about to close down.
And you know, shut its doors forever. And so we moved here to get involved in church planting, church revitalization. And I remember at the time being very convinced that the Lord had called us to do that, but that doesn’t come with any guarantees. So when you’re moving to a new area, you’re not certain if you’re going to be able to connect with people. And I believe that the Lord was paving a way for us to do so. And in my heart, I did believe that it was all going to work. But I remember at one point very, very early in the process, this was just a couple of days or a couple of weeks, I guess I should say before we moved down to this area, I agreed to do a wedding down in this area, in the building that we were going to use. So in the church building. And I remember at that point, there weren’t really very many people that were part of the church. There were just about six or so active people that had been part of the church that hung on to help us plant the new church. And I remember as the wedding was about to get underway, I started watching people pull into the parking lot and I saw one car pull in and another car pull in and another car pull in and before I knew it, the parking lot was filled and I thought, wow, this is exciting to see for this wedding. I’m just hopeful that the day comes when we have worship services here, that people will actually become part of this church, that we actually have the opportunity to build a church. And I just remember looking out at that full parking lot and just praying to the Lord, just a very simple prayer.
I just prayed, Lord, may it be so. May this be the type of thing that we get to see again when this church really gets underway, not just for a special event, but for the believers gathering together for worship gathering together on a Sunday morning gathering together mid-week whatever, whatever the Lord willed. And so I just remember having filled with the hope of Christ in that moment. And just a confidence that the Lord was going to help facilitate that even though I was certainly tempted to drift toward anxiety in that process because it was certainly a big step of faith for our family to come and, and move to a new area and try and get the church going.
But I remember sometime after that, a few years after that, when the parking lot really was filling up on Sunday mornings and looking at that in my mind, coming right back to standing on that porch and thinking, all right, Lord, this is wonderful. You answered that prayer. You filled us with your hope.
You gave us confidence in you. And now we get to see with our eyes, the type of things that we were seeing by faith for the past several years. And that was a real blessing to me. It was confirmation that when the Lord leads you in a particular direction, it’s best to just obey because he’s got the details already figured out. And sometimes he asks us to make big steps of faith. And so we just go and we get to see what he has planned on the other side of that step.
Carrie: It’s so beautiful when you’re able to just look back and see how far the Lord has brought you in a particular area and things, and all the challenges that there were, I’m sure along the ways of like, are we ever going to be able to do this? Is this ever going to grow? That’s awesome.
Pastor John: Yeah. You’re right. Big challenges.
Carrie: Well, thank you so much for being on the show and talking with us about preaching the gospel to our hearts. I think it’s been a great conversation.
Pastor John: Well, Carrie, thanks so much for having me on. It’s been a real pleasure.
I felt like we had a little bit of therapy on myself today on this episode, talking about my perfectionism and difficulty letting go of responsibilities and delegating them to my VA. In all seriousness, I really needed those reminders today that Jesus has overcome sin, death. Nothing is too difficult for him.
As I like to remind myself on a regular basis, God is way bigger than my problem. So allow that to encourage you today. If you would like to stay up to date with what’s going on on the podcast, you can join our email list at www.hopeforanxietyandocd.com. Thank you so much for listening.
Hope for anxiety and OCD is a production of by the world counseling in Smyrna, Tennessee. Our original music is by Brandon Mangrum and audio editing is completed by Benjamin Bynam.
Until next time may you be comforted by God’s great love for you.