Unless the Lord had given me help, I would soon have dwelt in the silence of death. When I said, “My foot is slipping,” your unfailing love, Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy. -Psalm 94:17-19
I am writing this article hopefully as an encouragement to others who may battle with anxiety. I have read various statistics about the increase of anxiety in our culture and know personally how crippling and defeating it can be. Early in my walk with the Lord I really could not relate to or understand those who struggle with anxiety. However, over the years my own battles with anxiety have given me understanding, sympathy and compassion for those who do. It is easy to judge or tell people they shouldn’t worry or wonder why they are so anxious; but much like fear, anxiety is very real even if often irrational. But I believe our Lord is particularly sensitive towards those with an anxious mind/heart and rather than condemning, desires to comfort us.
In writing this, my hope and prayer is that you will experience the comfort that He alone can provide us as we apply the antidotes he has given us to combat anxiety.
Let me start with a personal example. The other evening I went for a quick walk and began pouring out some frustration in my heart. That morning our pastor had preached a great message on anxiety, but all day I was still restless and agitated. It finally spilled out while walking and praying. My prayer essentially was this: “God I am tired of the anxiety of feeling like I have to depend on you on a monthly-weekly-daily basis.” As soon as that came out of me, it was as if God showed up and whispered the following: “The problem is not a life of depending on me daily, but your anxiety in not trusting me as your Heavenly Father. I want you to daily depend on me, but without anxiety.”
Something broke that moment for me and since then I have been thinking more on what Jesus taught about daily dependence on God, especially in the context of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). First of all, in the “Lord’s Prayer”, he taught us to pray “give us today our daily bread.” Notice, two things. First, we are to broaden our prayers from “me” to “us” and “my” to “ours.” This is not a minor point or irrelevant to our lives. Part of the problem of worry is that it is very self-focused and isolating. Broadening our prayer to include the needs of others takes the focus off ourselves and makes us sensitive to others. It reminds us we are not alone, the only ones, or unique with having needs.
Secondly, he did not teach us to pray for the bread we need tomorrow to be given to us today; but for what we need specifically for today. This is a critical point because most of our (my) anxieties revolve around the future. Usually our fears are not so much for today but tomorrow. We worry about next week, next month, this year or even years later. And if I am being honest, I know I am looking for God’s provision now for what I need later, which means I am really wanting to find security and certainty in the provision instead of the Provider. But this is not the way Jesus wants us to live.
Later, in Matthew 6, Jesus spends a whole section (25-34) talking about not worrying about our needs for tomorrow or making that our main concern, promising that as we put the priority of his kingdom and righteousness first in our lives, he will tend to our needs. He concludes with this, Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Until my recent “conversation” with God over this, I found this way of life to seem stressful and irresponsible. As Americans, we are always worried about our savings, investments and retirement plans for the future. While there are Proverbs about being responsible in those areas; worrying about the future is not the place any of this should be coming from.
But what really has struck me anew is how liberating it is to just live in today, rather than worrying about the future today. God’s grace is sufficient for our needs for today and God’s grace will be sufficient for our needs every day when those days become “today.” We need to take it literally one day at a time as God’s grace and mercy is only given (and new) each day and when actually needed.
Worrying is evidence that we aren’t trusting Him as our Father. Worry means that our focus is on the wrong things. While we all wrestle with anxieties, worry, and fears for different reasons, in different seasons, to different degree’s, giving into those anxieties is sinful, as our faith is not in the reality of God as our Father, His promises, and his love for us. Worry can lead us to taking life into our own hands and becoming our own “god” instead of being still and knowing he is God. It also cripples us in what He wants us to do, the joy he wants us to have, and the peace he wants us to walk in.
Part of the issue with our anxieties is also our expectations. When I am anxious about something, I want the cause of it to be resolved. I want solutions. I want my circumstances to immediately change or troubles to go away. However, this is not what Jesus promised us. He has however, promised us his peace in the midst of situations that are not ideal as we pray. Consider the following verses:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. -Philippians 4:6-9
But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. -Jesus, John 14:26-27
Jesus has promised us his peace which comes through the person of the Holy Spirit who is our comforter and comforts our hearts. Nowhere has Jesus promised to make our lives “comfortable” but he has promised to comfort the hearts of his people as they look to him in faith, gratitude and prayer. It is the “consolation” of the Holy Spirit that soothes our anxious hearts and minds. It is as we rest in his promises, receive from his person, refocus on who He is, and remind ourselves of what He has already done for us, that we come to know his peace.
When you are wrestling with anxiety here are God’s antidotes:
- Reflect on Who He is as our Heavenly Father who is good
- Receive from him the comfort, peace and joy only He can provide as our Comforter
- Rest in his promises, unfailing love and unchanging character
- Remind yourself of all he has already done for you or brought your through
- Remember to take it one day at a time
- Refocus your thoughts on His Word
- Recommit to a life of obedience and walking in his ways
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. –Philippians 4:8-9.