Some of the hardest verses in the Bible for me to accept are those that say things like “fear not” or “do not be anxious.” As I shared with you all earlier this week, I’ve been living with anxiety and panic attacks for half my life. It’s become so much a part of who I am that even the thought of not being anxious scares me. I alternate between clinging to the Bible’s promises of God’s power to drive away fear and being afraid that I can’t accept those promises.
There is a difference between having an anxiety disorder and just being anxious/worried about things sometimes. And I want to make clear from the very beginning of this post that when you’re struggling with anxiety as a mental health issue, I don’t think you should just try to pray it away. Go talk with a mental health professional. They can be a huge help in learning to manage and minimize your anxiety.
With that said, there is overlap to the way the Bible talks about combating fear and the way modern psychology (at least some therapy styles) approach treating anxiety. Working to change unhelpful thought-patterns, finding hopeful things to focus on, building a supportive community — those are all things that can help you move away from anxiety controlling your life and toward living a full life even if you still have anxieties. And that’s part of what God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ want for us — an abundant life free from fear.
Let God Handle It
At its most basic, God’s solution for human anxiety is to let Him handle it. When anxiety stems from things we’re worried about controlling and fearful how they’ll turn out, He reminds us of some sobering and comforting truths.
Therefore I tell you, don’t be anxious for your life: what you will eat, or what you will drink; nor yet for your body, what you will wear. Isn’t life more than food, and the body more than clothing? See the birds of the sky, that they don’t sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns. Your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you of much more value than they? (Matt. 6:25-26, WEB)
Comparatively speaking, many of the things we worry about aren’t that important. There are better things we could focus our minds on. Not only that, but God tells us we don’t need to worry because He’ll take care of us. And really, He’s the only one who can.
Which of you, by being anxious, can add one moment to his lifespan? … But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today exists, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, won’t he much more clothe you, you of little faith? “Therefore don’t be anxious, saying, ‘What will we eat?’, ‘What will we drink?’ or, ‘With what will we be clothed?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. (Matt. 6:27, 30-32, WEB)
Of course, recognizing an anxiety is irrational doesn’t make it automatically go away. But we can work toward putting off anxiety/worry and replacing it with trust in God’s sovereignty and fatherly care. It’s a process — sometimes a life-long one — but that is the goal these verses tell us to strive toward.
Sharing God’s Peace
When I take a close look at my personal experience with anxiety, I find that many stem from fear that things won’t turn out well and that I can’t control the outcome. That’s an overly simplistic view, of course, because anxiety also comes on suddenly and without a clear trigger (part of what makes it a “disorder). But for me at least (everyone’s anxiety is different), when I can identify reasons for it they’re usually related to feeling like I’m not in control and I can’t predict a good outcome.
But seek first God’s Kingdom, and his righteousness; and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore don’t be anxious for tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Each day’s own evil is sufficient. (Matt. 6:33-34, WEB)
Anxiety is an exhausting condition. But imagine if all the time and energy spent in worry could be re-directed to seeking God’s kingdom? Imagine how freeing it could be to re-train your mind to react to anxiety by handing it over to God instead of ruminating on it and letting it build up unchecked? That seems like an almost impossible dream for me, but I also trust in a God who specializes in doing the impossible. So maybe someday that dream will be reality. And until then, I know God will help me through this even if the only answer I get to my prayer is a song running through my head reminding me to hold onto hope through dark times.
Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time; casting all your worries on him, because he cares for you. (1 Pet. 5:6-7, WEB)
It’s not easy to change the way you think. But one of the things God specializes in is healing people from the inside-out. He not only promises us peace, but He personally shares His peace with us and dwells in us through His spirit. And one of the primary roles of that Holy Spirit is to transform and lead our spirits so we can become like God.
Helping Us Choose Sound Thoughts
Part of the work God is doing in us involves replacing our anxious minds with His spirit of “power, love, and self-control” (2 Tim. 1:7, WEB). Other translations say “power, love, and “a sound mind” (KJV) or “self-discipline” (TLV). If you’re battling anxiety of any kind, I think you’ll understand when I say that I would love to have a sound mind. Anxiety can make us feel unstable, scared, uncertain, and off-balance. Anxious-me longs for something stable and reliable to hold on to.
In nothing be anxious, but in everything, by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:6-7, WEB)
God wants to shoulder all our cares and worries so we don’t need to be anxious about anything. He is trustworthy to share our load and guard our hearts and minds. He also offers us better things to think on than the thoughts that make us panic or worry.
Finally, brothers, whatever things are true, whatever things are honorable, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report; if there is any virtue, and if there is any praise, think about these things. The things which you learned, received, heard, and saw in me: do these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (Phil. 4:8-9, WEB)
We can’t have true peace without God. But He also doesn’t just snap His fingers and force our thoughts in line. We have an active role to play in “bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5, WEB). He will empower us to change our thinking, but we also have to make the choice to change and keep on making it.
What A Mind At Peace Looks Like
So what does a mind filled with God’s peace and transformed by His spirit look like?
Yahweh is my light and my salvation.
Whom shall I fear?
Yahweh is the strength of my life.
Of whom shall I be afraid?
When evildoers came at me to eat up my flesh,
even my adversaries and my foes, they stumbled and fell.
Though an army should encamp against me,
my heart shall not fear.
Though war should rise against me,
even then I will be confident.
One thing I have asked of Yahweh, that I will seek after,
that I may dwell in Yahweh’s house all the days of my life,
to see Yahweh’s beauty,
and to inquire in his temple.
For in the day of trouble he will keep me secretly in his pavilion.
In the covert of his tabernacle he will hide me.
He will lift me up on a rock. (Ps. 27:1-5, WEB)
This sort of confident peace comes with a deep trust in the faithfulness of God. That doesn’t mean you’ll never struggle — the same psalmist who wrote this also wrote, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, and from the words of my groaning?” (Ps. 22:1, WEB). But even this pained, heart-wrenching psalm turns hopeful by the end (v. 19-31).
David shows that a “man after God’s own heart” trusts in God and does not fear. But he also shows that because we’re human, fear is still going to show up sometimes. When it did, David expressed how he felt, asked God for aid, and then answered his fears by reminding himself of God’s promises. We can do the same thing today.
He has said, “I will in no way leave you, neither will I in any way forsake you.” So that with good courage we say, “The Lord is my helper. I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (Heb. 13:5-6, WEB)
God doesn’t promise you’ll never be anxious in this life, but He does provide a way to cast fear out and replace it with His power, His love, and His spiritual mind (1 John 4:18; 2 Tim. 1:7). Like the Psalmists, we can “say of Yahweh, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust” (Ps. 91:2). We won’t get to a place of fearlessness all at once, but our Lord will help us in our journeys toward healing.