Anxiety is a normal experience of living in a fallen world. We are surrounded by a host of uncertainties and problems that provoke our emotions to the edge. Some may deal with anxiety as a disorder and others as a natural expression of their human frailty and limitedness. But this is something we all feel in various ways and at various times.
Many parents are feeling quite anxious in this season as they grapple with the uncertainty of their children’s education this fall. A myriad of questions assail them – questions regarding health, scheduling, work, quality of education, social development, etc. There’s a lot to be anxious about.
Generally, many people are feeling quite anxious about their health and the health of their loved ones. They grapple with concerns about how “normal” they should live their lives. What if they’re not cautious enough? Is a mask enough? What news source is most reliable in helping one’s decision making?
Add to these anxieties, questions about work, relationships, faith, family, politics; and we can see why so many people are feeling edgy and anxious.
As Christians, the big question is not “Is anxiety a sin?” In many instances, that’s like asking if temptation is a sin. Martin Luther’s humorous illustration bears well on this question: You can’t keep birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair! The BIG question is “What do you do with your anxiety?”
Here are 3 things we must learn to do with our anxiety when it comes upon us:
I. Focus on God
The apostle Peter wrote, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you at the proper time… (1 Peter 5:6)” Humility does not feel entitled to a worry-free existence. Instead, it learns to keep God front and center. So much anxiety flows from a fear of not being in control. What an assurance to know that what may be out of control to us is not out of control to God! The same God who brings us low is able to lift us up. In fact, Peter says God humbles us so that he may exalt us at the proper time. This means that there is an expiration date to our problems. It’s called “the proper time.” Choosing to focus on God can help us endure in the midst of anxiety. In fact, it is a balm for our anxiety. Humility asks, “What is God try to teach me through this?” “How is He inviting me to be changed?” Humility says, “I’m not writing the script for my life. God is.” Humility remembers that the God who gave His one and only Son to save us is a God we can trust. He’s not absent or asleep on the job. His mighty hand is at work. Our job is to let Him do His mighty work in us.
II. Cast Your Cares Through Prayer
Peter tells us how we can humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand in 1 Peter 5:7. He says it’s by “casting our cares on him, because he cares about you.” The major temptation of anxiety is to think and act like you’re the only one who cares about you. This works itself out in the constant barrage of thoughts we cycle through on repeat. We start obsessing about the “what ifs” and the “if onlys.” The irony is that we try to gain a sense of control in a way that makes us only feel more out of control. Like a propeller churning up waves, we rehearse our worries to ourselves. The danger is that the propeller moves us into a place where we act out according to our anxieties. Which only produces new anxieties – speaking too soon, hurting a friendship, impulsively making a purchase, cutting ties, assuming the worst in someone, etc.
The Bible gives us a better way. Peter looks at anxious people who are churning up waves, and he says “Hello! Did you know that God cares about you? You think everything is out of control and nobody cares but you; yet the One who controls all things cares about you!
Before you act out or speak out, go to God in prayer. Picture yourself visually taking that fear or worry off of yourself and casting it upon Him. He can handle it. He wants to handle it! Part of prayer is to filter your anxieties and fears through the listening ear of God. There likely will be an opportunity to act or speak, but don’t let that happen until you cast your anxieties upon God. Let Him sanctify those things, so that when you do speak or act it won’t be from a place of anxiety or fear but from a place of peaceful trust in God.
III. Listen to the Right People
Proverbs 12:25 says “Anxiety in a person’s heart weighs it down, but a good word cheers it up.” What a realistic picture of anxiety! It’s like a weight upon the heart. How can we have hearts that are cheerful and light? The proverb doesn’t say “when the anxiety is removed.” It says, through good words spoken. We need liberating, joy-inducing truth spoken in words. Two dangers exist for anxious people: to either be the only one speaking to yourself (see #2); or to only listen to people who enable your anxieties (your facebook newsfeed is not exempt). Beware the empathetic friend who never moves from listening to truth telling. Sometimes our anxieties are just bold-faced lies. We need people who will help us see that. Sometimes our anxieties are dark clouds that obscure our vision. We need people who will remind us about the sun beyond those clouds.
Part of the medicine for our anxiety is to talk about it. Get out of your head. Talk to God and talk to others. Find the people who know how to speak good words, which are God’s words. The Lord will use all of it to sustain you and relieve you of that weight upon your heart.
Are you anxious today? Likely you are. What will you do with those anxious thoughts? Focus on God. He’s in total control even when you feel out of control. Cast your cares on Him, because He really does care for you. Lastly, speak those anxieties out loud, and listen to the good words that will cheer your heart up. And then keep doing it again and again.