Anxious. Worried. Concerned. Forlorn. Overwhelmed. Fearful.
These are all words that solid, Bible-believing Christians have used to express their thoughts and feelings with me in recent months. Most obviously, they are referring to the state of culture, concern for their children and the predominance of secularism in the school system, the state of the economy, and the related big-picture matters of society. Each of these realities, and their associated emotions, trickle down into how it is we live our daily lives. The result is often a consistent feeling of tension; for some it is like a constant white noise in the background of their mind. For others, it perpetually dominates their thoughts in the form of anxiety.
The emotions of anxiety loom large in our societal midst. As such, it is wise, especially during a pause in a season of what has been tremendous, cultural reactivity, to consider anxiety and manage it for the glory of God.
Pastor Frederick Wright, in his journal on life reformation, defines anxiety this way: “A feeling of uneasiness, apprehension, or fear that something is wrong or something harmful is going to happen.”[i] He notes shortly after the definition that there “are many legitimate reasons to be afraid. However, when anxiety robs us of our confidence and trust in God, it becomes unbelief.”[ii] His definition stings to read and prompts needed self-examination. It emphasizes what Christians must remember in an effort to not allow our emotions to drive us to sinful thought, sinful emotions, and/or sinful actions; we must not allow unbelief in God to creep into our minds.
This usually evidences itself in the subtleties of how we make decisions, and not in an overt act of rebellion. It’s in thoughts like:
- Wouldn’t this just be better if I handled [insert anxiety] a better way (my way) instead of this?
- It sure feels like God is giving me more [insert anxiety] than I can handle…
- I’ll deal with [insert anxiety] myself.
- Would God really allow [insert anxiety] for my good?
Even pop culture recognizes the destructive nature of this. Consider this statement from Jedi Master Yoda to young Anakin Skywalker (in reference to Anakin’s anxiety over the potential of losing his mother) in the 1999 phenomenon, Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. Yoda noted in response to the significance of Anakin’s anxiety: “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering. I sense so much fear in you.” I could go on, but I think you see my point. Regardless of the medium, it is generally understood that anxiety and fear have the power to result in unbelief, and when these emotions dominate, it results in suffering. My friends, this is not the way. And thankfully, the Bible does not leave us alone in determining the means of consistent belief again.
We find some help for anxiety in Psalm 56. Here David has been captured by the Philistines and was writing a prayer to God in response to his dire situation. He wrote in Psalm 56:1-2 and 5-8 of his plight:
“Be gracious to me, O God, for man tramples on me;
all day long an attacker oppresses me;
my enemies trample on me all day long,
for many attack me proudly.
All day long they injure my cause;
all their thoughts are against me for evil.
They stir up strife, they lurk;
they watch my steps,
as they have waited for my life.
For their crime will they escape?
In wrath cast down the peoples, O God!
You have kept count of my tossings;
put my tears in your bottle” (ESV).
And sometimes, this is exactly what it feels like. We feel trampled, oppressed, pursued, constantly under the gun, injured, attacked, and believe as if those things, people, or circumstances that cause us such feelings are just waiting for us to trip, to further capitalize on our distress. It is in times like this that the above temptations to allow anxiety to rule in our lives become sharp enough to act on, and where functional unbelief becomes a ruling desire to grasp some sort of control once again.
Yet, David, in the midst of his great anxiety and distress, knew exactly what his spiritual and emotional posture must be. Consider Psalm 56:3-4 and 9-11 (emphasis added):
“When I am afraid,
I put my trust in you.
In God, whose word I praise,
in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.
What can flesh do to me?
This I know, that God is for me.
In God, whose word I praise,
in the Lord, whose word I praise,
in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.
What can man do to me?”
David repeatedly states that he combats fear with trust; he confronts the unbelief of anxiety with confidence in who God has revealed himself to be. David preached the truth to himself, and then sought to live it.
This is not an easy thing. It starts in our hearts and in our minds as a matter of focused attention. There must be a willingness to acknowledge and address these emotions as an internal reality before addressing external things. But with anxiety, it does not often “feel” enough.
Yet (and this is important), that thought is in and of itself, veiled unbelief. It is the subtle notion that God is not good, cannot or will not deliver us, and we need to do something to save or relieve ourselves. We must direct our focus (set our minds, Colossians 3:1-2) to believe God’s truth and have faith in what we know of God and what God says is enough. Then in faith, we can act with the situation-specific tools God has given us to address the external tension / anxiety causing issues.
Understanding our need to set our hearts on Jesus first, how do we practically battle anxiety now and in the days ahead? The following is a solid battle plan starting in our hearts and working outward.
- Examine Scripture
- What does the Bible say about the type of anxiety I am experiencing?
- Believe what God says
- What promises or warnings do I need to practically believe right now?
- Pray confidently
- Ask God to make you firm in your belief in him
- Address what you can
- Give the anxiety a specific name
- Make a list of faith-filled, tangible things you can functionally do to address it
- Pair action steps with deadlines in place to make charted progress
- Ask for help if it’s needed (small group, family, close friends, accountability)
- Follow-up: did your efforts make a difference? If not, what internal or external things need to be enhanced?
- Believe this: God says that when you trust him, he will not just make a straight path for you to follow (Proverbs 3:5-6), but equip you to do the good work he’s set before you to accomplish through the anxiety you are battling (Hebrews 13:20-21).
I pray this will encourage and equip you to aggressively battle anxiety from the inside, out!
[i] F.T. Wright, Reformation Journal: Why We Fight. (Plymouth, MI: Action Printech, 2018), 15.
Stephen Ganschow, Ph.D.
Biblical Counselor, RGI Training Program Instructor
Stephen Ganschow, Ph.D., has been with Reigning Grace since its inception. While he provides some long-distance counseling, his current role is strategic development, consultation, and teaching within Reigning Grace Institute as an instructor. Additionally, he serves as the Pastor of Counseling at Bethel Church in northwestern Indiana. He is a Level II-certified biblical counselor with the ACBC, is certified by the IABC, and has various specialty certifications in a wide array of counseling disciplines. Additionally, he is pursuing an Ed.D. in Community Care Counseling, with an emphasis on the pastoral counseling and the local church.