DEALING WITH FEAR AND ANXIETY (PART 2)

FEAR

2

AVOIDING ANXIETY THROUGH PRAYER

Philippians 4 provides the apostle Paul’s advice on how to avoid anxiety. It is the most comprehensive portion of Scripture dealing with anxiety and therefore is foundational to understand how God feels about anxiety and why He feels that way. In Philippians 4:6–9, Paul issued a series of commands:

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”

The best way to eliminate a bad habit is to replace it with a good one, and few habits are as bad as worrying. The foremost way to avoid anxiety is through prayer. Right thinking and action are the next logical steps, but it all begins with prayer.

React to Problems with Thankful Prayer

Instead of praying to God with feelings of doubt, discouragement, or discontent, we are to approach Him with a thankful attitude before we utter even one word. We can only do that with sincerity when we realize that God promises not to allow anything to happen to us that will be too much for us to bear (1 Cor. 10:13), to work out everything for our good in the end (Rom. 8:28), and to “perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish” us in the midst of our suffering (1 Peter 5:10).

Know that all your difficulties are within God’s purpose and thank Him for His available power and promises. Being thankful will release you from fear and worry. There are so many blessings to be thankful for: knowing that God will supply all our needs (Phil. 4:19), that He stays closely in touch with our lives (Ps. 139:3), that He cares about us (1 Peter 5:7), that all power belongs to Him (Ps. 62:11), that He is making us more and more like Christ (Rom. 8:29; Phil. 1:6), and that no detail escapes Him (Ps. 147:5).

That’s the promise of Philippians 4:7: “The peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” This precious verse promises inner calm and tranquillity to believers who pray with a thankful attitude. Notice, however, it doesn’t promise what the answer to our prayers will be.

The real challenge of Christian living is not to eliminate every uncomfortable circumstance from our lives, but to trust our sovereign, wise, good, and powerful God in the midst of every situation. Things that might trouble us can actually be sources of strength, not weakness.

Jesus said to His disciples, “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation but take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). As disciples of Christ, we need to accept the fact that we live in an imperfect world and allow God to do His perfect work in us. Our Lord will give us His peace as we confidently entrust ourselves to His care. The peace of God “will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:7).

The believer who doesn’t live in the confidence of God’s sovereignty will lack God’s peace and be left to the chaos of a troubled heart. But our confident trust in the Lord will allow us to thank Him in the midst of trials because we have God’s peace on duty to protect our hearts.

Focus on Godly Virtues

Prayer is our chief means of avoiding anxiety. After Paul said not to be anxious (Phil. 4:6), he added two complete sentences specifying how we’re to pray and what the benefits will be. Philippians 4 is often oversimplified and misrepresented as a mere grocery list on how to deal with worry, but it is much more than that. As believers, we’re to leave the sin of worry behind with our prayers and gradually become different people through new ways of thinking and acting.

Paul wrote these words: “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things” (Phil. 4:8). We are the products of our thinking. According to Proverbs 23:7, “As [a person] thinks within himself, so he is.” Unfortunately, many psychologists believe an individual can find stability by recalling his past sins, hurts, and abuses. That kind of thinking has infiltrated Christianity. The apostle Paul, however, said to focus only on what is right and honorable, not on the sins of darkness (see Eph. 5:12).

How We Think

Now let’s survey what Scripture says about our thinking patterns before, at, and after salvation.

Describing unredeemed humanity, Paul wrote: “As they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind” (Rom. 1:28). Once, our minds were corrupt. Worse, our minds were also blind, for “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving” (2 Cor. 4:4). As a result, our minds were engaged in futile thoughts (Eph. 4:17). Indeed, prior to salvation, people’s minds are “darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them” (v. 18).

The ability to think clearly and correctly is a blessing from God. It all begins with the gospel, which is “the power of God for salvation” (Rom. 1:16). The Lord uses the gospel to illumine the mind of the unbeliever. Salvation begins in the mind as an individual comes to realize the seriousness of sin and Christ’s atoning work on his or her behalf. The Holy Spirit is at work in us, renewing us; and we receive a new mind or way of thinking. Divine and supernatural thoughts inject our human thought patterns.

“The thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God,” said Paul, but we as believers “have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we may know the things freely given to us by God” (1 Cor. 2:11– 12). In other words, because the Holy Spirit indwells us, the very thoughts of God are available to us.

The Bible is full of logic, and we must never think of faith as something purely mystical. We do not just sit down in an armchair and expect marvelous things to happen to us. That is not Christian faith. Christian faith is essentially about thinking. Look at the birds, think about them, and draw your deductions. Look at the grass, look at the lilies of the field, consider them.… The trouble with the person of little faith is that, instead of controlling his own thought, his thought is being controlled by something else, and he goes round and round in circles. Some people assume worry is the result of too much thinking. Actually, it’s the result of too little thinking in the right direction. If you know who God is and understand His purposes, promises, and plans, it will help you not to worry.

Faith isn’t psychological self-hypnosis or wishful thinking, but a reasoned response to revealed truth. When we in faith embrace Christ as our Lord and Savior, our minds are transformed.

Since we still live in a fallen world, however, our renewed minds need ongoing cleansing and refreshment. Jesus said that God’s chief agent for purifying our thinking is His Word (John 15:3). Paul reiterated that concept many times:

  • Romans 12:1–2: “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”
  • Ephesians 4:23: “Be renewed in the spirit of your mind.”
  • Colossians 3:10: “Put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him.”

The New Testament calls us to the mental discipline of right thinking. Paul said, “Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2). In addition, Peter said, “Prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:13).

What We Should Think About

What is that right focus? Dwelling on “whatever is true … honorable … right … pure … lovely … of good repute” (Phil. 4:8).

Truthful Things – We will find what is true in God’s Word. Jesus said, “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth” (John 17:17; see also Ps. 119:151). The truth is also in Christ Himself, “just as truth is in Jesus,” said Paul (Eph. 4:21). Dwelling on what is true necessitates meditating on God’s Word and “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of [our] faith” (Heb. 12:2).

Noble Things –  We are to dwell on whatever is worthy of awe and adoration—the sacred as opposed to the profane.

Righteous Things The term “right” speaks of righteousness. Our thoughts are to be in perfect harmony with the eternal, unchanging, divine standard of our Holy God as revealed in Scripture. Right thinking is always consistent with God’s absolute holiness.

Pure Things – “Pure” refers to something morally clean and undefiled. We are to dwell on what is clean, not soiled.

Gracious Things – The Greek term translated “lovely” occurs only here in the New Testament and means “pleasing” or “amiable.” The implication is that we are to focus on whatever is kind or gracious.

Praiseworthy Things – “Honorable” predominantly refers to something worthy of veneration by believers, but “good repute” refers more to what is reputable in the world at large. This term includes universally praised virtues such as courage and respect for others.

Whenever you catch your mind wandering back into the forbidden territory (and you can be sure that it will—more frequently at first, until you retrain and discipline it), change the direction of your thought. Instead, crisply ask God to help you to refocus upon those things that fit into Paul’s list recorded in Philippians 4:8–9.

Practice What’s Been Preached

All this godly thinking is to lead to a practical end. Paul put it this way: “The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Phil. 4:9).

Paul’s words speak of action that’s repetitious or continuous working to improve our skill. God’s Word cultivates the godly attitudes, thoughts, and actions that will keep trials and temptations from overwhelming us.

Right attitudes and thoughts must precede right practices. Only spiritual weapons will help in our warfare against the flesh (2 Cor. 10:4). By avoiding anxiety through prayer and making other such attitude adjustments, we can take “every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (v. 5).

Finally, “the God of peace will be with you” (Phil. 4:9), said Paul, who ended on this note because he was addressing the issue of spiritual stability in the midst of trialsWhen we follow that practice, “the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard [our] hearts and … minds in Christ Jesus” (v. 7). There’s no better protection from worry than that.

DEALING WITH FEAR AND ANXIETY (PART 1)

FEAR

INTRODUCTION

Anxiety, fear, worry, and stress are familiar words in our day and familiar experiences to many. More and more we’re hearing of an extreme form of anxiety referred to as a “panic attack.” Anxiety is, at its core, an inappropriate response to circumstances.

The wrong way to handle the stresses of life is to worry about them. Jesus said three times, “Do not be anxious” (see Matt. 6:25, 31, 34). Paul later reiterated, “Be anxious for nothing” (Phil. 4:6). Worry at any time is a sin because it violates the clear biblical command.

Such thoughts are unproductive, and they end up controlling us. That brings on legitimate feelings of guilt. If we don’t deal with those feelings in a productive manner by getting back on track with our duties in life, we’ll lose hope instead of finding answers. When left unresolved, anxiety can debilitate one’s mind and body—and even lead to panic attacks.

You need to be careful how you deal with your worries and to also discern the kind of counsel you receive. To tackle anxiety in a biblical fashion, first we need to know the primary Scripture passages on the topic. Then we need to consider those passages in their context.

As we realign our thinking on anxiety with what God says about it in His Word and why, we will be different people. We will be ready to apply His precious Word to our hearts. We won’t just know we’re not to worry; we will have confidence and success in doing something about it.

1 – OBSERVING HOW GOD CARES FOR YOU

In Matthew 6:25–34 Jesus directly addressed the topic of worry, telling us what to do about it and why. Jesus said we need to take a good look around us and observe or think deeply about the meaning behind what we see. This is what Jesus told us to ponder if we want to be free from worry:

“For this reason I say to you, do not be anxious for your life, as to what you will eat, or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! Do not worry then, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “With what will we wear for clothing?” For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Expressions of Worry

We all have to admit that worry is a common temptation in life, and it can occupy a person’s thoughts for a great portion of the day. The Christian who worries is really thinking, God, I know You mean well by what You say, but I’m not sure You can pull it off. Anxiety is blatant distrust of the power and love of God.

We’re not much different from the people to whom Jesus spoke. They worried about what they were going to eat, drink, and wear. And if you want to legitimize your worry, what better way than to think, Well, after all, I’m not worrying about extravagant things; I’m just worrying about the basics. But even that is forbidden for the Christian.

God wants His children preoccupied with Him, not with the mundane, passing things of this world. Scripture says, “Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2). To free us to do that God says, “Don’t worry about the basics. I’ll take care of that.” Fully trusting our heavenly Father dispels anxiety. And the more we know about Him, the more we will trust Him. God promised to provide all your needs, and He will: “My God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19). That is His concern, not yours.

Believers are commanded to be financially responsible and care for their families (1 Tim. 5:8). Scripture does not imply that having a savings account, investing extra money, or owning insurance shows a lack of trust in God. Such provisions from the Lord are reasonable safeguards for the average person in any complex, modern society. However, they ought to be balanced with Jesus’ command to “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness” (Matt. 6:33) and to “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (v. 20 KJV).

What Jesus Said about Worry

Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:21). Focusing on earthly treasures produces earthly affections. It blinds our spiritual vision and draws us away from serving God. That’s why God promises to provide what we need.

As children of God we have a single goal—treasure in heaven; a single vision —God’s purposes; and a single Master—God, not money (Matt. 6:19–24). Therefore, we must not let ourselves become preoccupied with the mundane things of this world—“what [we] will eat or what [we] will drink” (v. 25).

Jesus then asked rhetorically, “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (v. 25). Of course it is, but you wouldn’t know it judging by what’s advertised today and what people seem to feel they need to be pursuing.

Why He Said It

Jesus gave us, His children, three reasons for not worrying about this life:

  1. Worry Is Unnecessary because of Our Father

If your concept of God is right and you see Him as Owner, Controller, and Provider, and beyond that as your loving Father, then you know you have nothing to worry about. Jesus said, “What man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!” (Matt. 7:9–11).

Since all things come under God’s control, rest assured He controls those things on behalf of His children.

God Always Feeds His Creatures

In Matthew 6:26 Jesus said, “Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?”

Jesus wants us to think about birds. They have no self-consciousness or ability to reason, but God has planted within them the instinct or divine capacity to find what is necessary to live. God doesn’t just create life; He also sustains life.

Now that isn’t an excuse for idleness. Perhaps you’ve noticed: It never rains worms! God feeds birds through the instinct that tells them where to find food. They work hard for it. They’re always busy searching, gobbling up little insects, migrating with the seasons, preparing their nests, caring for their young, then teaching them to fly and pushing them out of the nest at the right time, and so on.

Not even in your strangest dream would a bird say, “I’m going to build bigger nests. I’m going to store more worms. I’m going to say to myself.” Birds work within the framework of God’s design and never overindulge themselves.

Birds have no reason to worry, and if they don’t, what are you worrying for? Jesus put it this way: “Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows” (Matt. 10:29–31).

If God sustains the life of a bird, don’t you think He will take care of you? Life is a gift from God. If God gives you the greater gift of life itself, don’t you think He will give you the lesser gift of sustaining that life? Of course He will, so don’t worry about it.

Keep in mind, of course, that like a bird, we have to work because God has designed that people should earn their bread by the sweat of their brows (Gen. 3:19). If we don’t work, it is not fitting that we eat (2 Thess. 3:10). Just as God provides for the birds through their instinct, so God provides for people through their efforts.

  1. Worry Is Unable to Accomplish Anything Productive

Jesus gave another practical observation that highlights the folly of worry: “Who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?” (Matt. 6:27).

Not only will you not lengthen your life by worrying, but you will probably shorten it, as the observation was made that worry adversely affects the circulatory system, heart, glands, and entire nervous system.

We live in a day when people have an excessive interest in vitamins, health spas, diet, and exercise. God, however, has previously determined how long we shall live. Job 14:5 says of man, “His days are determined, the number of his months is with You; and his limits You have set so that he cannot pass.” To worry about how long you are going to live and how to add years onto your life is to distrust God. If you give Him your life and are obedient to Him, He will give you the fullness of days. You will experience life to the fullest when you live it to the glory of God.

God Clothes Even the Meadows in Splendor

Jesus gave another illustration from nature on why not to worry: “Why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith!” (Matt. 6:28–30).

For some people, the most important place in their whole world is the closet. Instead of being afraid they won’t have anything to wear, they fear not being able to look their best! Lusting after costly clothes is a common sin in our society.

“Your adornment must not be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God” (1 Peter 3:3–4).

If you want to talk about fancy clothing, though, Jesus said that the best this world has to offer doesn’t even compare to “the lilies of the field” (Matt. 6:28). “They do not toil nor do they spin” (v. 28). If you’ve ever taken a good look at a flower, you know there is a texture, form, design, substance, and color that man with all his ingenuity cannot come close to duplicating.

Jesus said, “if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you?” (Matt. 6:30). Wildflowers have a very short life span. A God who would lavish such beauty on temporary fire fodder certainly will provide the necessary clothing for His eternal children.

If you worry, what kind of faith do you manifest? “Little faith,” according to Jesus (Matt. 6:30). If you are a child of God, you by definition have a heavenly Father. To act like you don’t, nervously asking, “What will I eat? What will I drink? With what will I clothe myself?” is to act like an unbeliever in God’s eyes (see vv. 31–32).

Christians who worry believe God can redeem them, break the shackles of Satan, take them from hell to heaven, put them into His kingdom, and give them eternal life; but they just don’t think He can get them through the next couple of days. That is pretty ridiculous. We can believe God for the greater gift and then stumble and not believe Him for the lesser one.

The Worrier Strikes Out at God

When you worry, you are saying in effect, “God, I just don’t think I can trust You.” Worry strikes a blow at the person and character of God.

The Worrier Disbelieves Scripture

It is incongruous to say how much we believe the Bible and then worry about God fulfilling what He says in it.

The Worrier Is Mastered by Circumstances

When you or I worry, we are choosing to be mastered by our circumstances instead of by the truth of God. The hardships and trials of life are pale in comparison to the greatness of our salvation. Jesus wants us to realize it doesn’t make sense to believe God can save us from eternal hell but not help us in the practical matters of life.

The Worrier Distrusts God

When we worry, we are not trusting our heavenly Father. That means we don’t know Him well enough. Study the Word of God to find out who He really is and how He has supplied the needs of His people in the past. That will build confidence for the future. Stay fresh in the Word every day so that God is in your mind. Otherwise Satan is apt to move into the vacuum and tempt you to worry about something. Instead, let God’s track record in Scripture and in your own life assure you that worry is needless because of God’s bounty, senseless because of God’s promise, useless because of its impotence to do anything productive, and faithless because it is characteristic of unbelievers.

  1. Worry Is Unwise because of Our Future

Jesus said, “So do not worry for tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matt. 6:34). He was saying, “Don’t worry about the future. Even though it will have its share of problems, they have a way of working themselves out at the time. Just deal with them as they come, for there’s no way to solve them in advance.” Providing for tomorrow is good, but worrying about tomorrow is a sin because God is the God of tomorrow just as He is the God of today. Lamentations 3:23 tells us His mercies “are new every morning.” He feeds us as He fed the children of Israel—with just enough manna for the day.

Worry paralyzes its victim, making him or her too upset to accomplish anything productive. It will seek to do that to you by taking you mentally into tomorrow until you find something to worry about. Refuse to go along for the ride. The Lord said you have enough to deal with today. Apply today’s resources to today’s needs or you will lose today’s joy.

God gives you the glorious gift of life today; live in the light and full joy of that day, using the resources God supplies. Don’t push yourself into the future and forfeit the day’s joy over some tomorrow that may never happen. Today is all you really have, for God permits none of us to live in tomorrow until it turns into today.

Realize God gives you strength one day at a time. He gives you what you need when you need it. He doesn’t encumber you with excess baggage. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8). That means He will be doing the same thing tomorrow that He was doing yesterday. If you have any question about the future, look at the past. Did He sustain you then? He will sustain you in the future.

Replacing Worry with the Right Focus

This is what Jesus says to you today: “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:33). In other words, move your thoughts up to the divine level, and God will take care of all your physical needs. God wants to free His children from being preoccupied with the mundane. Colossians 3:2 says as directly as possible, “Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.” Therefore a materialistic Christian is a contradiction in terms.

When the world sees those virtues in your life instead of worry, it’s evidence that the kingdom of God is there. You can say, “I want to tell people about Jesus so they can be saved,” but if your life is marked by anxiety and fear, they will not believe you have anything they want. They are certainly going to question the power of God. Perhaps you already are painfully aware of your less-than-perfect testimony.

We as believers don’t need to do that. Our Lord “gives grace and glory; no good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Ps. 84:11).