Simple Steps to Overcoming Anxiety Spirituality

Simple Steps to Overcoming Anxiety: Spirituality

Original Post Date: September 29, 2019

Part 4 of 4

You’re struggling to hold it together. One of your kids is in rebellion and you’re on the phone with the teacher every other day; your mom has cancer and needs you to drive her to chemo; there isn’t enough money to pay the bills because the landlord just raised the rent; and on your way home from the store with a trunk full of frozen food, the tire on the family car blows out.

As you’re standing on the side of the road waiting for roadside assistance, you’re taking deep breaths and telling yourself that it’s going to be okay. But it’s NOT okay. How in the world can all of this be okay?

It’s YOUR responsibility to solve these problems. You are the one that has to remember to take care of everyone. You are the one that needs to pick up Mom and get her to chemo. You are the one that needs to figure out what to cut in the family budget to make it through the month. Ignoring it won’t make it go away. You have to think about it. You have to plan your days around it.

And then it comes. A well-intentioned friend “encourages” you by quoting part of Philippians 4:6. “Be anxious for nothing!” she says with a cheery smile and a hug. “I’ll be praying for you.”

If you’re like me, in this moment you’re torn between wanting to kick her in the shin or just crumble under the weight of your failures. Since you’re not two anymore, you opt not to kick and instead resort to berating yourself: “If I was a good Christian, I wouldn’t feel overwhelmed by all of this. I should just ‘Let go and let God.’”

Really? Does being a Christian mean that we are never to be troubled or anxious about anything? Does the Bible really teach that ALL anxiety and worry is sin?

As usual, the answer lies in the heart and theology behind the emotion. Like anger, it can be sinful or not, depending on what’s going on in the heart (Eph. 4:26, Matt. 5:22, Jam. 1:20). After all, even Jesus experienced anxiety in the Garden of Gethsemane (Different translations render the Greek (adēmoneō or tarassō) as deeply troubled, deeply anguished, very sorrowful, distressed, grievedtroubled, and anxious); He just didn’t give in to sinning! (Matt. 26:37-39, Mar. 14:32-36, Luke 22:39-46).

The Bible uses different words to describe what we feel in these situations — troubled, worried, anxious — and understanding the overall context of Scripture for each of these situations is essential to understanding the sin of anxiety and how to avoid it.

Here are some Simple Steps to understanding sinful anxiety:

1. Are You Being Reasonable or Irrational?

In Philippians 4:5, right before Paul warns against anxiety, Paul uses a phrase that is translated reasonableness, gentle spirit, gracious attitude, forbearance, or moderation.

Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. (Phil. 4:5-6)

The context is this: Paul has just urged the Philippians to help two ladies who are not getting along. He then tells the people to rejoice, remember that the Lord is near, and not to be anxious. He tells them to instead be in prayer, be thankful, and think on things that are right. He assures them twice in this section that the peace from God will be with them. They were clearly struggling with feeling at peace!

What was happening in the lives of the Philippians? They had infighting in their congregation. There were people preaching false doctrine. They had persecution from outside the church. Their leader, Paul, was imprisoned in Rome. They were surrounded by a broken world and broken people — just like us.

God does not demand that we live in ignorant bliss, ignoring very real dangers and not planning ahead. In fact, Scripture teaches the opposite. We are to prepare for the future, work hard, and plan (Prov. 6:6-11, Eph. 2:10, 1 Thess. 3:6-14). Being free from anxiety does NOT mean being free from having to soberly consider how to accomplish the work God has given us (Heb. 10:24).

Sinful anxiety is not reasonable. It looks at the broken world and the broken people in it and FREAKS OUT. It screams, “This can’t be happening! I can’t do this! I have to fix this or the world will end!”

Reasonableness in the face of a sin-cursed world is self-disciplined and calm. It says, “This is what is actually happening. This is what is true. I am not in control, but I know Who is.” A reasonable, gentle spirit depends wholly on God — so much so that every broken situation becomes a cause for sorrow over the sinful parts and thanksgiving as God works out good in a world filled with evil.

Facing betrayal, a painful death, and separation from His Father, Jesus prayed in agony and earnest with sweat dripping off like drops of blood (Luke 22:44), “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death… My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will… My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done” (Mat 26:38-44). He was reasonable and gentle as He dealt with his troubled heart and trusted in His Father.

Are you facing life’s trials through prayer and a gentle, submissive spirit to God’s will? Are you being reasonable and calm by thinking on what is true instead of imagining scenarios that might never happen? Are you considering in moderation that the past is over and done, or are you dwelling on it and trying to emotionally time travel to go back and fix it?

Life on Earth, constricted to a chronological timeline, requires us to plan and think through possible scenarios. Planning, considering possibilities, sorting out feelings, and weighing options are all part of living. We can plan, but who is in control?

“Worrying is carrying tomorrow’s load with today’s strength- carrying two days at once. It is moving into tomorrow ahead of time. Worrying doesn’t empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.”

Corrie Ten Boom

2. Are You Trusting God or Yourself?

Philippians 4:5-6 reminds us that instead of being anxious, we need to let our requests be made known to God. Why? Because He is “at hand” (near) and is the only one who has the power to do anything about our requests. Only He can change the hearts in a strained relationship. Only He can protect our children from harm. Only He can bring healing in sickness and pain.

Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. (Phil. 4:5-6)

If we are trusting in ourselves to make sure that everything on the planet goes a certain way, we’re fools. We know it’s foolish, but we seem to default to it over and over! We think that we’re omniscient and omnipotent, and that we have the power to make sure what we want to have happen happens so we can be safe and happy.

The problem is, we are neither omniscient nor omnipotent, so we have to keep re-entering new data into our control centers and re-calculating possible outcomes. We don’t ACTUALLY have all the information and we don’t ACTUALLY have any power, so we spin ourselves into anxiety trying to gain control of what only God knows and does.

I have four teenagers all in various phases of beginning to drive. As I type this, one of them is driving by herself to a friend’s house. She might die. She might not. I cannot control what happens. I made reasonable decisions about allowing her to go based on her skill levels and the realities of the road. However, I cannot stop a drunk driver from hitting her car. I cannot make sure she looks in her mirrors and makes good choices.

My sitting at my computer and playing out every scenario I can conjure up is not going to change what happens to her in the next couple of hours. I have no power to control her, other people, or the inanimate objects she will encounter.

But, I know the One who does. When I remember my limitations as a sin-cursed human and I remember my good, omnipotent God, I have no cause to worry. He who hates sin so much that He gave His Son to free us from its bondage — He who loves me THAT much — is surely trustworthy and able to do what is right and good. Who is in perfect control of everyone and everything out there?

Just who do we think we are trying to control the universe? Says God, to Job, “Who is this that darkens my counsel by words without knowledge? Where were you? Who determined? Have you commanded? Have you comprehended? Can you bind? Can you lift? Can you send forth? Who provides? Do you know? Can you number? Who has let? Do you give? Do you make? Is it at your command? Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be in the right Have you an arm like God, and can you thunder with a voice like his? If you can do all this, then will I also acknowledge to you that your own right hand can save you” (Paraphrased from Job 38-42).

Job wisely concludes, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.’ I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:2-6).

When I stop trying to be God, give my requests to God, and just focus on what my job actually is, my anxiety ceases. My daughter has the Creator of the universe guiding her and everyone around her. Nothing can happen if He doesn’t allow it, and if my worst imaginations come true, is God not still in control?

*Read about the day my oldest daughter DID die… Simple Steps Through Grief: The Day My Daughter Died.

3. Are You Fearful or Focused?

Though we must have a healthy fear of actual danger and a reverent fear of God, most fear is sinful. When Jesus faced the end of His earthly mission, His response was not fear but focus. With unbelievable intensity and anguish He focused on His Father and the outcome of what He would accomplish (Heb. 12:2, Heb. 6:17-20, John 14:1-4). “Not my will but yours,” He said, and prayed that again and again.

Fear of being faced with emotional or physical pain, fear of enduring hardships, fear of losing relationships, fear of giving up our comforts — all of these lead us to anxious thoughts. This is because our focus is not on our inheritance in Heaven and eternal things, but rather on the stuff to make us comfortable in the here and now. Jesus tells us how to answer our anxieties in the Beatitudes where He redirects our focus on our eternal lives:

And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.”
Luke 6:20-23

What if nobody loves me? It’s only for a short time. I will love you perfectly for all eternity. (Ps. 103:11, John 15:9, Rom. 8:35-39, 1 John 3:1, Rev. 19:7)

What if I have to take care of a disabled child? He will only suffer momentarily. He will have a perfect body for all eternity. (John 9:1-5, Eph. 2:10, Rev. 21:4)

What if I have no shelter and nothing to eat? I know you need these things, and will give you what you need, even if it’s not what you think you need. I will give you strength to endure and then bring you into My kingdom where I have prepared a place for you and a feast to enjoy. (Matt. 6:8, 25-34; Matt. 25:34, John 14:1-4, Rev. 21:1-4)

If I don’t get this thing right, my whole life will fall apart! I will cause all things to work together for good, and there is nothing you can do that is outside My control. (Prov. 16:33, Prov. 19:21, Rom. 8:28, 1 Joh. 1:8)

I’m in horrible pain and can’t face tomorrow. I am already in tomorrow. I will uphold you and strengthen you. Nothing that happens is a surprise to Me. I will bring you home with Me when your work is done. (Ps. 90:4, Ps. 93:2, 2 Pet. 3:8)

I can’t face another day working with people who mock me for my faith. Do not fear those who have no power over your soul. Am I not there with you? Turn the other cheek and bear witness to My love for them. I will bring vengeance when the time is right. (Is. 35:3-10, Matt. 5:38-48, Luk. 12:4, Heb. 13:6)

When we look around at the hard times we must endure in this sin-cursed world, we can be overwhelmed by the evil and hurt. But when we focus on the truth of God’s ability to redeem it all for good and the reality of our inheritance (John 14:2-3, 2 Pet. 3:13,Rev. 21:1-6; Heaven by Randy Alcorn), we can be assured that this is not the last chapter in the story.

My dad, who is a very talented repairman of everything, will often say to one of us as we receive instructions from him, “All you gotta do….” We laugh because “All you gotta do” and he’s done in an hour, means to the rest of us that we have ahead of us two days of work, multiple re-dos, a trip to the hardware store, and calling him back several times.

So “all you gotta do” is what I said. “All I gotta do” is what I said. Just like you, give me a few minutes and I’ll forget these truths and get anxious about something. Only by God’s great grace can we stay focused on heaven, dependent on God, and reasonable in our responses.

Go Back… Simple Steps to Overcoming Anxiety: Psychology (Part 3)


Simple Steps to Overcoming Anxiety Series
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