A subtle feeling of unease. A nagging sense of discomfort. An apprehension about the future. This is how anxiety manifests itself to me, and maybe to you. Sometimes I’m anxious about big decisions or problems: do I commit to this new job? Do I move a thousand miles away from my family? But anxiety usually takes the form of a troubled heart, uneasy and tense without an apparent motivating factor. I will be sitting in my car or at my desk and I will realize that there is a hum of anxiety like background noise in my mind. It’s been there for hours, but it’s only surfaced now. And like a dripping faucet, it wears away at some essential fabric of my spirit.
Then I read parts of the Bible like, “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27) and that seems rather simplistic: “Well yes, I will stop being troubled now. Thank you.”
Is that what Christ calls us to, a superhuman effort to halt the nagging stream of steady anxiety that leaks beneath the floorboards of our minds, rotting away the foundation of joy? I know that my everyday anxiety is not so easily dismissed. I worry about small things, things I need to do, things I may have forgotten. I worry about people and what they think of me, people I’ve not been faithful in keeping in touch with. There are so many small and incomplete things that nag me every day, and when they join that running stream of unease, they dominate my thoughts and my heart.
Yet we have to face what the Bible and Christ Himself say about worry. They are not kindly suggestions; they are not self-help mantras. They are direct commands from God, and their stark simplicity masks a complex and benevolent God who wishes to make the Christian life a rich and passionate experience. The anxiety that we barely notice, a part of our daily experience, can be and must be checked. But how does that work, practically?
[YOU BETTA RECOGNIZE]
There are several disciplines, still very much in progress, that have helped me control and occasionally switch off my anxiety. The first step has been in recognizing that I am almost constantly anxious. Thoreau said, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,” and I think that quote has become so well known because most people recognize that yes, we too are secretly scrambling to handle our fear, doubt, anxiety. But when we’re asked about our worries we shrug it off with a laugh; our lives aren’t that bad. There may not be anything dramatic to worry about in your life, but is there still that undercurrent of fear? I try to stop and identify my negative emotions. If I’m feeling stretched, I think, “Now why do I feel this way? Is there something specific that I forgot to do? Is there a task that needs to be completed?” Stopping to identify my vague sense of anxiety can show up irrational fears or a simple task to resolve.
I challenge you to be alert to the condition of your heart and mind. “Above all else,” says Proverbs 4:23, “guard your heart, for it affects everything you do” (NLT). Take time each day to check on your heart. Are you anxious? Do you feel vaguely bothered? Ask yourself why.
[STUDY GOD’S CHARACTER]
Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, tells in his book Beyond All Limits how he was asked the question, “Dr. Bright, what is the most important truth to teach any follower of Christ?” He was taken aback at first; it was a dramatic question to answer on the spur of the moment! But he felt that the Holy Spirit brought the answer to his mind, and he answered, “The attributes of God.” This is the next discipline that has strongly influenced my life: a study of God’s character. God is powerful, complex, and deeply emotional, and the Bible tells a story of His holiness and His love that can’t be fully grasped in a few readings. An integral part of the Christian life is the immersion of our minds in the truth of God and who He is. For example, even though I know, technically, that God loves me, it has been revolutionary to meditate on and digest verses like Jeremiah 31:3, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness.” Even though I don’t always believe these words, they act on me. The Holy Spirit uses the very breath of God, alive in His Word, to soften my heart.
The movement towards deeper, truer belief does not come with just accepting the intellectual truth of God’s goodness, His mercy, His omnipotence. It comes through meditating, praying, and thinking deeply about His attributes – wrestling through anger and doubts, too. Knowledge of the Holy, by A.W. Tozer, is an essential book in this study. He spends each chapter explicating and giving the biblical basis of a major attribute of God, then explains how a truer understanding of this can change a Christian’s life.
The challenge to you is to ask, what are you worried about? Do you fear being left alone? Are you anxious about being adequate for all the demands that the future will lay on you? Crack open the Bible, dig out verses on these things. Write out a verse that addresses your fear and tape it on your bathroom mirror or the dashboard of your car. Let God’s truth burrow into your heart and change the course of the channels that worry leaves in your heart. This devotional can’t effect change in your heart; only God and His Word, reminding you of the rich depth of peace possible in Christ, can do that.
[GET A PROPER PERSPECTIVE]
The final discipline that has helped me move towards a more peaceful heart is one that strongly depends on having a proper view of God and His loving attitude towards me. This discipline also means taking very literally Philippians 4:6, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (NIV). He says “everything,” and I am starting to take this very seriously. I find myself being anxious, perhaps over some small thing I promised to do and then forgot. If I believe that God loves me, and does not want me to live in anxiety, then I must believe that He wants me to engage with Him over this concern. God, help! I forgot this! Can You give an opportunity for me to get this done? And give me the grace to apologize to this person for my unfaithfulness. Thank You for being concerned about my life and for inviting me to talk with You about everything going on in my life.
The more I am focused on God, even in the smallest things I need or want, the more He has the opportunity to show me His love, grace, and provision. The more I throw in His lap, like a child bringing a tangled shoelace to his mother, the more chance He has to look at me and I to sit at His feet. He doesn’t tell us He’s a cosmic vending machine, but He wants us to interact with Him about absolutely anything we’re thinking about.
Do you really believe that God is concerned about the state of your heart? If you say that you believe in the God of the Bible, or at least are willing to consider Him, then I challenge you to do this. Mutter your concerns to Him, vent your frustration about your roommates to Him, tell Him that you don’t quite believe He’s listening. Take a chance on telling Him about your anxieties. Nothing is trivial; Psalm 23:37 says, “The steps of the godly are directed by the LORD. He delights in every detail of their lives” (NLT).
If you struggle with anxiety, and if you have a hard time with those commands against worry, try these disciplines. You may have heard these things a hundred times before. But the point is not in the hearing; it’s in the doing. And you’ve probably heard that before. But these disciplines are in the remembering: remember to stop and ask why you’re worried. Remember that God makes extravagant claims of goodness. Remember that He has promised to give you your desires for peace, joy, security. Remember that He has invited you to aggressively engage with Him. And remember that those crazy, impossible commands are only possible if you ask Him to check the steady drip of your anxiety. He intended it that way.
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