We have been talking about hope for the last several weeks and at how we can have a hope in Christ that can carry us through anything. At least for the next few minutes, cast your cares aside and let go of your worries, because we are talking about having hope through our anxiety this morning.Did you know that in 2018, and I am sure these numbers have risen, “Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S. affecting over 40 million adults. That’s roughly 18% of the population, including Christians, but only about a 1/3 of those suffering are receiving treatment.” according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America?
Studies show that many of the people who struggle with anxiety, worry, or fear, and I have been one, learned to have those feelings from either a very traumatic event in their past or from parents or caregivers who modeled this way of thinking and feeling. Living with constant worry and even paralyzing anxiety is a learned response, not something we are born with like a genetic disorder.
I said before, I am not one to dismiss properly prescribed medications, but many Christians, and certainly those without God in their lives, try to fight anxiety and worry about an unknown future or feelings they project into others without first turning to the author and creator of life itself. This is an issue as old as time, an issue that even Jesus and the New Testament writers referred to on several occasions. So although these feelings may be all in our heads, jokingly and literally at the same time, they are also very real and can disrupt not only our material lives, but also wound our spiritual lives deeply as well.
Listen to the heart of David, a thousand years before Christ, and see if you can relate to some of his struggle…
‘O Lord , hear my prayer! Pay attention to my plea for help! Because of your faithfulness and justice, answer me! Do not sit in judgment on your servant, for no one alive is innocent before you. Certainly my enemies chase me. They smash me into the ground. They force me to live in dark regions, like those who have been dead for ages. My strength leaves me; I am absolutely shocked. I recall the old days; I meditate on all you have done; I reflect on your accomplishments. I spread my hands out to you in prayer; my soul thirsts for you in a parched land. Answer me quickly, Lord ! My strength is fading. Do not reject me, or I will join those descending into the grave. May I hear about your loyal love in the morning, for I trust in you. Show me the way I should go, because I long for you. Rescue me from my enemies, O Lord ! I run to you for protection. Teach me to do what pleases you, for you are my God. May your kind presence lead me into a level land. O Lord , for the sake of your reputation, revive me! Because of your justice, rescue me from trouble! As a demonstration of your loyal love, destroy my enemies! Annihilate all who threaten my life, for I am your servant.’
It’s true that David was being pursued by very real, physical enemies; who were trying to take his life. I would say, the vast majority of the time we are worried about something, our lives are not literally on the line. Although in our distress, especially a panic attack, it can feel that way. But listen how David goes through several stages working through his feelings and crying out to God. Allow me to paraphrase for you…
God hear me. God pay attention to me. Because of who you are God, faithful and just, answer me. (Petition and praise) I know I’m not innocent, but please don’t hold that against me. (Confession) I am losing all hope, help me. (Asking) I remember everything you’ve done for me in the past and I trust you to help me as you have before. I want to follow you and live how you want me to live. (Repentance) Please get me through this. (Asking again)
Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God.
Philippians 4:6 NET
This is a command, not a statement, and not a suggestion. Don’t be anxious. Or don’t worry. But instead reach out to God in humility, be grateful for everything he has done for you, and ask God for what you need. As the result of reaching out to God like this Paul says,
‘And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.’
When we are anxious, frightened, and worried, isn’t that what we most need, beyond any solution of bandaid fix, God to reach into the situation and give us PEACE. Freedom from the worry. Contentment to continue on. Listen to what Jesus said,
‘“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t there more to life than food and more to the body than clothing? Look at the birds in the sky: They do not sow, or reap, or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you more valuable than they are? And which of you by worrying can add even one hour to his life? Why do you worry about clothing? Think about how the flowers of the field grow; they do not work or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his glory was clothed like one of these! And if this is how God clothes the wild grass, which is here today and tomorrow is tossed into the fire to heat the oven, won’t he clothe you even more, you people of little faith? So then, don’t worry saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For the unconverted pursue these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But above all pursue his kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. So then, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Today has enough trouble of its own.’
Matthew 6:25-34 NET
Jesus lived life through hardship just as we must. Jesus needed shelter. Jesus had real enemies. Jesus had real people that relied on him. Jesus constantly had people asking him for stuff. Jesus certainly had enough he could be worried about, I mean seriously, the souls of the entire planet, with death and betrayal already written into his future hundreds of years in the past. If anyone had something to get anxious about, he did.
Jesus gives the same command, not a suggestion, don’t worry about tomorrow. Trust God for today, live in today, let tomorrow go, because God knows your tomorrow and will still be here to live through it with you.
Paul tells us to rewrite the script in our minds. Replace what worries us with other thoughts. He says,
‘Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is worthy of respect, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if something is excellent or praiseworthy, think about these things. And what you learned and received and heard and saw in me, do these things. And the God of peace will be with you.’
If we look at practical steps even non-believers use to work through their anxiety, this idea of replacement is there. But for those of us who are believers in the salvation and hope that Jesus brings to us. Those of us who are in a relationship with God the Creator of everything. Those of us who should have the indwelling Holy Spirit residing in us and guiding us through every situation and circumstance. The truth that we have nothing to fear should be foundational. Here are some other practical steps we can take.
- Identify the source of your anxiety- what is it that you are really worried about?
- Understand that feelings are not truth- remember that although what you are feeling is real, that the feelings you have may not be based on the truth.
- Evaluate your feelings- Evaluate whether your feelings are based on beliefs that make sense, or are realistic, when you say them out loud. What real evidence is there for them?
- Make sure your feelings are really yours- Can you really trust your feelings are from you? Are you just repeating the thoughts and beliefs of your parents, an ex-lover, or someone else in your life because they impressed it upon you, or are these thoughts and feelings actually your own? If you come from a Christian worldview, how do you know your true thoughts and feelings are not being manipulated by your enemy – Satan, the world, and your own sinful desires?
- Separate lies from truth- Take what you feel and compare it to the truth of who God is, who God says you are, and what purpose God really has for us here.
- Recall the times you made it through- God is faithful. For those who are his, he will always walk us through when we turn to him.
- Replace your thoughts
- Read Scripture
- Observe yourself- Learn to sit with your emotions and thoughts. Imagine watching yourself as an observer would watch a play. No need to react to them; you are just observing. See them as random thoughts, impressions, passing feelings. If these were actually narratives in a play or movie, what would the author be telling the audience? What can you learn from them? Instead of internally saying something like, “Oh, no, I can’t stand this,” try “This is really fascinating, I wonder why this theme always emerges, or why these people are always in the play?”
- Lay your burdens down- Cast your cares on the one who cares more for you than anyone else in your life.
- Relax- No one can just turn off their feelings, and it is not always as simple as “throwing your cares on God because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7) Many people need time, practice, support from others, and knowledge on how to truly do this. There are literally thousands of various websites and books on relaxation. But learn to chill, do what you enjoy (within the bounds of godly living), exercise, eat right, read, etc…
Above all, remember, anything you are going through is not too big for God. A great lie I hear all the time is that “God will never give you more than you can handle.” Read scripture, God constantly gives people more than they can handle. Because he wants us to rely completely on him and through him, overcome, and though overcoming, he receives the glory because it’s something we never could have done on our own.