Unfortunately anxiety is not an emotion that one can dismiss at will. It is like acid reflux. We cannot say to ourselves,” Be gone!” and all is suddenly good in the alimentary tract. Relief calls for counteractive measures. Same with anxiety.
These strange days we (believers especially) have ample reasons for anxiety. A stubborn pandemic with ‘experts’ forecasting a whole sickly train of the same to follow. Who knows how many, when and what frightening effects? A very shaky economy overall and a devastating one for many sectors.
Then even more ominously the hateful political left wing taking over the reins of government. Already this frightening crew owns (in every sense) the mainstream media and social media platforms. Its devotees dominate our colleges and universities. They infest the influential entertainment industry.
And through the canons of political correctness its high priests and acolytes pretty much rule the culture these days, dictating what can and cannot be allowed. They have managed to put in place a merciless ‘cancel culture’ that in a heartbeat can ruin the reputation of any fine person or group that does not accede to its standards. Freedom of speech and freedom of religion no longer exists as they once did.
That picture is not extreme. And any who are informed (as I happen to be) know it all too well.
For us believers these things are beyond concerning. What probably lies down the road is deeply troubling, if not downright scary. Many have chosen to stop their ears, shut their eyes, and pretend it’s all just politics as usual. However, there is little reason to think it’s just going to blow over.
I could go on and on about the stimulants to anxiety (and anger—the two often go together). I have only said this much to say that feelings of high anxiety are not some form of neurosis, fears concocted out of thin air. It stems from being in touch with reality, not from demons made up in our over-active imagination.
Thankfully, however, there is a biblical palliative for the anxiety-ridden heart.
The biblical prescription is tucked away at the end of the Epistle to the Philippians (4:6-7)
The results are guaranteed. For in verse 7 the Apostle assures us who take the cure that “the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
So, what is the divine prescription for alleviating anxiety? There are four compounds.
First, be anxious for nothing.
Here this is an appeal to resist it, It is like insomnia. Don’t just lie there helplessly counting sheep. Resist sleeplessness by doing something to combat it.
Victory over anxiety starts with resistance. Recall when David fought Goliath? He was overmatched. Smartly David took him on and down the right way, not in Saul’s armor. This emotional condition one must combat the right way or all efforts are doomed to failure. Otherwise, we are like an ant blustering against an elephant.
Like having a heart condition. One is not always to blame for its existence, but one can be faulted if one does not apply the medical means and measures to deal with it. So, with anxiety and anger. Through the Spirit, the apostle exhorts us to challenge its domination by actively applying the means and measures prescribed.
Don’t give in to it. Don’t let it have its way. Don’t let it beat you into submission day after day. Fight back!
Fight back? How? The Apostle did not say, take a cruise. Did not say, Call your doctor and get a pill. He did not say, Buy a new house or a new car. Resign your job or dump your spouse. Resist the anxiety attacks. How?
The second element of the cure is “by prayer and supplication…let your requests be made known to God.”
Storm the gates of Anxiety with a battering ram of prayer and supplication. Day after day approach the throne of grace boldly in faith in God’s promises and His power, asking for grace and mercy to help you in time of need. My time of need is “round the clock,” so to speak.
“Supplication” connotes concrete and specific petitions. That is important, for when the Lord answers those specific petitions, it is obvious to us that He has heard us. Those answers recharge a flagging faith, sometimes supercharge it and dissipate the anxieties troubling our hearts. Regular prayer and supplication (in faith) tend to subdue bouts of anxiety.
Way too often believers allow themselves to be paralyzed by attacks when more application of God’s remedy would subdue the depression.
Let me put it on pause a moment. It is impossible to sustain “prayer and supplication” (with faith) when one is not working with a full ‘spiritual deck’. By that deficit I mean a heart not fully committed to Christ or the baggage of a troubled conscience needing seriously to off load some guilt. We must lift up clean hands to God. In fact, lack of peace can stem from unresolved guilt (for sin unrepented of). In that case, square the books first and then pray.
The third compound in the prescription is “with thanksgiving.”
The late missionary martyr, Jim Elliot, once wrote in his journal, “If we were thankful for more, we would have more to be thankful for more.” So true!
If you tend to be paralyzed by worries, fretfulness, nagging anxieties, I ask you: When you pray and offer up your urgent petitions to God, how much of your prayer time focuses on giving thanks?
Way back in the early days of my pastoral ministry one morning I was praying, walking the aisles of my empty church, riddled with pastoral cares and anxiety and, no other honest way to put it, generally whining about all my trials and troubles when in a moment of self-consciousness (induced by the Spirit, I am sure) I became acutely aware that my petitions and supplications were all about my problems and pains and zero about His abundant blessings and provisions.
Take this black cloud hanging over our world and our culture. Recently I heard some TV talking head whine that there has never been a worse year (2020). Right there I knew that person was way too inexperienced in real life to be trusted as a sage. Let me just itemize some of the many things we have to be grateful for.
In Christ we have assurance of eternal life. Of all the lost souls on this dark planet, we are among the minority God has chosen to comprise His family in everlasting glory. Talk about ‘winning the lottery.’
In Christ we enjoy abundant life, the daily presence, power and provision of the Holy Spirit to help us navigate this life and every situation the vagaries of life this world, the flesh and the devil may throw at us.
In Christ we enjoy in the Spirit the right of access to Almighty God to find grace and help in time of need. Hey, sadly everybody else is out there in deep water, in a leaky boat, without a paddle, without hope, without help, and no matter what they may have going for them here, have one terrible destination—Hell.
In Christ we have the provision of everything necessary for life and godliness. Even if we are alone, we are never alone. Even if we are inadequate for the challenges of life, we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. We are never powerless.
In Christ we have a sure compass in the darkness, the revelation of God (the Scriptures) to guide us when we don’t know up from down.
In Christ the vast majority of us enjoy ample incomes, food, health, shelter, transportation, clean water, safe keeping, and a still relatively free country where we mostly live unmolested from hostile and unfriendly authorities. For all the threats on the horizon, we still enjoy the best and freest country on the planet, to my knowledge.
In God’s providence, when we are sick and ailing, the majority of us have access to fine physicians and medical facilities and technology to sustain or restore our well-being.
Think about all the billions of suffering people on this planet. How many of them would gladly trade places with you if they could only enjoy the ‘hateful’ life we complain about? I think about that.
Do we have any idea of how many otherwise wealthy and privileged individuals would in a heartbeat give everything they own just to have once again the good health and physical strength and good society that you and I enjoy?
I have hardly scratched the surface of blessings to be thankful for. Yeah, many of us do have much to be anxious about, but must not forget to thank God profusely and daily for the multitude of His routine blessings we do enjoy (instead of fretting all the time in fear and frustration about the ones we don’t).
Ah, lest we forget — the fourth element: [with thanksgiving] “in everything.”
There’s a biggie.
In thanksgiving there may be a tendency to focus primarily on the obvious. We should always take note of God’s hidden blessings in our burdens. I always say, in every blessing one can find a burden and in every burden a blessing.
That is why we “boast in our tribulations.” The Spirit causes our tribulations to produce perseverance (in faith) and perseverance in turn to produce godly character and godly character intensifies our hope or sense of expectation in Christ.
There is a terrific example in the story of Corrie Ten Boom when she and her sister, Betsy, were, along with many others, more or less rotting away in a cruel Nazi concentration camp. As is well known, the conditions in those camps were ghastly and the camp guards were cruel. None of those poor women quartered in those dorms ever wanted a surprise ‘visit’ by the guards stationed outside the doors. Bad things were bound to happen.
Despite all that cruelty and daily anxiety, Corrie and Betsy would pray together nightly. On this particular night, as I recall, when Betsy was praying, she thanked God even for the omnipresent fleas that infested their quarters and upped the misery quotient.
Well, Corrie thought that was over the top. She questioned Betsy about propriety of thanking God for those miserable fleas.” Betsy however reminded her sister that God told us to give thanks to Him ‘in everything.” Fleas came under the heading of ‘everything.”
A short time later somebody was standing by the door and overheard a guard outside explaining why he was so reluctant to enter that particular dorm. “I hate going in that place because of the fleas!”
That burden was a left-handed blessing! There were things worse than an infestation of noxious fleas, believe it or not. One was an invasion of cruel human insects in the form of nasty German prison guards.
In thanksgiving remember to thank God for our burdens as well as His obvious blessings. We never know the hidden good some of those hardships may be doing us. All things He works together for good, even if it in no way seems obvious or possible to us.
Growing up I experienced a lot of pain, deep pain, that I have to this day never shared with anyone except my wife. Yet today, as I reflect, a lot of those ‘fleas’ God used to prepare me for the work to which He called me.
Of course at the time I was not grateful. Yet eventually in my maturity I learned better the wisdom of “in everything” give thanks.
You cannot live without anxiety any more than I or anyone else. But if we take to heart the cure, we can much more easily live with and rule over it without it ruling over us.
We have a prescription. Take it regularly. God promises peace of mind to those who take the cure.