“Where faith begins, anxiety ends; where anxiety begins, faith ends.”
America may very well have a new favorite pastime that will never make the info graphic charts. It highjacks our thoughts, steals our peace of mind, and exacts a high price for the indulgence. It’s appropriately named, deriving its origins from a word that means to “choke” or “strangle,” which is exactly what it does. We have become a nation of worriers.
Once regarded as a medical condition, anxiety is now viewed as a societal condition. In fact, our worried state is overtaking our depressed state, giving birth to new terminology such as “quarter-life crisis.” The National Institute of Mental Health reports that 38 percent of girls ages 13 through 17, and 26 percent of boys, have an anxiety disorder. And web searches for the term have doubled in the last five years. However, anxiety is not a youth epidemic if cannabis sales are any indication. The chill-out drug has catapulted to a $6.7 billion-dollar industry.
New York Times reporter Alex William describes American’s anxiety as “a shared cultural experience that feeds on alarmist CNN graphics and metastasizes through social media.” Dr. Jean Twenge, a social psychologist at San Diego State University, holds a slightly different view.
There’s clear evidence that the focus on money, fame, and image has gone up, and there’s also clear evidence that people who focus on money, fame, and image are more likely to be depressed and anxious.
Actually, finger pointing is omni-directional when it comes to our high anxiety, and much ink has been spilt on the subject. But what about you and me? Do we worry a lot? Do Christians have a problem with anxiety? When I look around at people in my church, they all look calm and peaceful on Sunday morning.
But there’s a reason why the Bible has so many “do not fear” and “do not be anxious” imperatives. We all worry! So we need to hear these commands over and over again since we are spring-loaded to worry about every changing circumstance in our lives. And the good news is we don’t have to live this way.
Anxiety in a Christian should be viewed as an alien emotion. If we can trust Christ to save us eternally, why would we worry about food, clothing, housing, education, employment, relationships, appearance, health and a host of other things that stress us? This is no small sin but to the contrary—worry is an affront to the person and character of God who withholds no good thing from those who walk uprightly. (Psalm 84:11)
I’m not going to pretend there isn’t a battle to be fought with anxiety. We live in an always “on” culture that relentlessly pursues us (and our children) with never-ending viral brouhahas. Samuel Rutherford once wrote a pastoral letter to a woman who had lost her husband and encouraged her with these words: “Your soul is a castle that may be besieged, but cannot be taken.” This is a great metaphor for the battle against anxiety. Yes, there is a fight and you may feel the enemy climbing your walls, but the victory has been won by Christ.
So how do we battle with this enemy of our souls when headline-induced visions of disaster fill every waking thought or the doctor hands us some very bad news? The apostle Paul gives us the 3-stage war plan in Philippians, so prepare to take up the sword. And teach your children how to vanquish this enemy in their lives as well.
1. Prayer and thanksgiving: Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made know to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)
Whenever you feel the presence of anxiety, stop immediately and remember God’s promises to you. Write them down and keep them close at hand. Better yet, memorize them. Then pray with gratitude, remembering that you are a child of God, not an orphan. This passage includes one of God’s “wills.” [Read Spurgeon’s thoughts on God’s “wills” and “shalls” here.] God promises that your thankful prayer will be answered with inner peace.
2. Refocused thinking: Proverbs 23:7 tells us that as a man thinks, so he is. Or to take it up a notch, what we behold we will become. (2 Corinthians 3:18) Paul instructs us to direct our thinking upward to things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy. (Philippians 4:8)
Christ is all of these things, and the more time we spend in personal study of the Scriptures, the more we will grow in a true knowledge of God. This biblical remapping of our minds will go a long way in delivering us from worry.
3. Practice, practice, practice: Paul tells us to practice the things we have learned and received and heard from him. By prayer, thanksgiving, and refocused thinking, we will begin to “take every thought captive to obey Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:4)
There are many verses that I use in the battle against anxiety, and I’ve included a few of them below. God’s word is powerful and full of promises for us to claim when worry shows up at our door or in our relationships or on the evening news. Remember, worry is a faith issue.
When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. (Psalm 56:3)
For I know that plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11)
Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? (Matthew 6:25-26)
When I thought, “My foot slips, your steadfast love, O Lord, held me up. When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul. (Psalm 94:18-19)
Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. (Colossians 3:2)
Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:9-11)
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. (Matthew 10:29-31)
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)
He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. (Psalm 121:3-4)
Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. (Luke 12:32)