Dealing with Anxiety

The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, 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 4:5b-7.

Verse 6 has probably been one of the most influential verses in my life in addition to Matthew 6:25-34 and Luke 12:22-34.  I’m a worrywart, of sorts, in that I get stressed out by other people’s opinions, not meeting expectations and concern I might end up a failure.  Most people worry about something, and while our issues may not orbit the exact same object, the emotional energy and sense of stress ends up being pretty much the same.

I need this passage more than I can say.  When I feel like I’m gonna’ fall on my face in some way or another, Paul’s words float across the screen of my consciousness to remind me to let it go.

But letting it go is easier said than done.

When the outcome is vital to my peace of mind or the well-being of those around me (and thus their opinion of me hangs in the balance), I am so anxious for the expected result that it’s hard to release it to God.  I realize I can’t control anyone else (and sometimes not even myself), yet I grind my teeth in frustration when things go completely south of a northern goal.

The Lord is Near

Standing or traveling alone gets tiresome.  Being at the mercy of the strongest force gnaws at anyone’s self-esteem or sense of purpose.  Reading that The Lord is near might get a nod of acknowledgment from most believers, yet it rarely actually translates to any form of real serenity.  If the Lord is near, how should I think about myself, others or the current state of the immediate world around me?

Most diseases find a backdoor to our bodies through anxiety.  Most distress is caused by thwarted expectations.  Most depression is caused by continually playing the tapes of the voices of despair in our heads and a series of often self-inflicted failures brought on by self-fulfilling prophecies.  It’s when we give into despair that spiritual, mental and emotional entropy takes over.

But if the Lord is near, of what do we need to be afraid?  Where is the outcome that is so dire He cannot rescue or solve it?  If even death holds no power over us, then how can anything else be thought of as worth the energy it takes to be discouraged or depressed by our own seeming failures?  The only reason for us to be discouraged or depressed (besides chemical imbalances) is when we take our concentration off the Master.  Peter only sank when he gave way to his fear of the natural forces surrounding him and took his eyes off Jesus.  Once he accepted the Master’s hand, however, he walked without fear or trouble.

Yet Paul isn’t suggesting we aren’t going to experience anxiety; because if he was, then why give us the encouragement to present our requests to God through prayer and petition?  It wouldn’t make sense to pray about something we aren’t worried about at all.  No, the truth is the need for requesting anything from God reveals a need for comfort and reassurance.

What he is pounding home is the need for vigilance in the face of stressful situations.  Notice the way we defeat anxiety comes in three forms:  prayer, petition, then thanksgiving.  The last one is vital to our mental health, if nothing else, for it produces gratitude, which in turn brings about joy—or rejoicing.  Being thankful for God’s presence and provision takes the edge off our troubles and brings equilibrium to our good times.

In recent years I’ve read more and more articles dealing with the healing benefits of gratitude.  The correlation studies seem to strongly point to an attitude of gratitude being one of the key ingredients in fighting disease or depression.  Most of us want some kind of peace, depending on our definition.  The only way to peace for the follower of Jesus, however, is to bet all our money on Him.  Prayer is a devotional communication where the person seeking God opens their hearts to Him in various ways.  Petition indicates a heart of trust.  Thanksgiving simply demonstrates faith in the outcome and the One who provides it.  It is an act of faith to pray to a god; to petition a deity demands we recognize their divinity.  To be thankful means we have either already received what we asked for or our confidence in the deity is solid.

So as we call upon and appeal to God for our needs Paul instructs us to do so with thanksgiving, and this leads to something quite profitable for us.  Trust breeds dependence—it’s a natural outcome of trust by the way—which is an integral part of any relationship.  The profit for us is peace beyond what we can think or imagine.  This peace grows out of security in Christ, as it should, but that’s not necessarily the reason it transcends understanding.  A person who remains secure through everything life can throw at them, does so precisely because what they have supersedes what they experience.

I’ll say it again another way:  The mere fact we remain calm through trouble stems from the confidence in something greater than our circumstances.

No one retains any sense of peace when they see the problem as bigger than their solution.  If we trust the problems we face to be greater than God’s ability to solve them or keep us secure, then we give in to the stress produced by our lack of confidence.  The rubber meets the road in faith only when the potholes and weather go against us.  In peaceful times who needs help or faith?  Faith really becomes necessary when everything seems to be going against all the evidence we know for it.

I think of this passage as a pattern in a tapestry of promises in Scripture.  We need to connect the dots to get the big picture painted for our comfort and instruction in faith.  When Jesus tells not to worry about our life, what we wear, eat or drink, then we must take Him at His word.  When David speaks about a man stumbling but not falling because God hold him up with the right hand of favor (Psalms 37:24), we need to pay attention and get the picture of grace He’s woven throughout the fabric.

The message is clear:  God will take care of us—even in death, persecution, loss and pain, our future is secure in Christ.  The only time anxiety rears its ugly head is when we take our eyes off the Master.  Yet if we keep our eyes fixed on Him, we will walk unharmed through whatever comes in our path.  It doesn’t mean we won’t be touched by the pain or suffering, but our equanimity remains through it all.  Nothing shakes our confidence in our God when we know His promises and trust His word.

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3 Responses to “Dealing with Anxiety”

  1. Heart Guard « Jonny’s Habit Says:

    […] Jonny’s Habit Hopefully devoted… « Dealing with Anxiety […]

  2. tlc4women Says:

    This is so true and so hard to walk out. It is sometimes hard not to take back the anxiety after we’ve left it at the throne. Sometimes I am wildly successful at praying about a matter and having a good attitude that it will all purpose out for my good. Other times it’s like dragging a sack full of stuff to the Lord and offering it to him, then on my way out the door, picking it back up and dragging it along behind me!

  3. jonnysoundsketch2 Says:

    I know what you mean. I do the same thing so I have to believe in grace and His mercy otherwise we’re sunk.

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