If you would have seen me “walking” at my apartment complex on a particular night last week, I don’t know what you would have thought of me. Maybe I appeared normal (or just intensely focused and speed walking), but internally, I was a bit of a wreck.
I’m not usually a worrier, but I was hit with a wave of anxiety because of something that had happened that weekend. Ironically enough, I had just finished reading a chapter called “Battling Anxiety” in John Piper’s book Battling Unbelief. Coincidence? I think not - more like God’s sovereignly preparing me for what was about to happen.
As a result of everything, I paused my normal Bible reading plan to spend some time over the next couple of days studying the “do not be anxious” passage in Matthew 6. It’s one of those “speed dial” passages that you hear or recite, however, I had never really sat down and studied it verse-by-verse. But it’s been feeding my soul this past 1 ½ week. Here’s some truths I’ve gleaned in my study:
“‘Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?’” (v. 25)
“Therefore.” This word indicates that Jesus is summing up what He just said and is telling you how to live as a result of it. What preceded this command to not be anxious?
“‘Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth...For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also...No one can serve two masters...You cannot serve God and money.” (vv. 18, 21, 24)
These are the truths that color Jesus’ teaching on worry in Matthew 6:25-34.
It was on that intense walk-and-talk with God in my apartment complex that I realized my anxiety was tied to what I treasure, and that particular time, what I treasured was my own security. I like having a plan. All those dotted “i’s” and crossed “t’s” make me feel secure. I like having things known and taken care of, and I was A-okay until my comfort and well-being was threatened. Till something happened that was outside of my control, something that I didn’t foresee and didn’t have a plan for. Add a host of unknowns about the future to the mix, and I couldn’t tell which was the reason I was breathing so hard on that walk - the physical exertion or the panic building inside.
Anytime we feel anxious, there’s a reason. What’s the root? What’s behind the anxiety? Why do you worry about that particular issue, person, or thing? If you backtrack, you’ll most likely find an area where you are not trusting God or an area where you are putting something (or someone) above God. What we love the most, desire the most, and fear the most is what we worship.
How should we respond when we are anxious?
1. Confront anxiety and worry as a sin.
I needed to confess my unbelief to God - unbelief that showed itself in the way that I tried to control things by over-planning. Being put into this situation where I had no control shed light on an area of sinfulness I didn’t even realize was there.
2. Stop allowing your mind to dwell on the object of worry.
Have you ever seen that Bob Newhart video of a counseling session where his response to the woman in his office is to just “stop it!”? While his response is harsh and unfeeling, he does acknowledge that the person has a choice to either continue indulging the emotion or to take action. You won’t overcome anxiety by focusing on your anxiety. Instead, you have to change how you think.
I had a counseling professor who told us, “Worry is like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but it doesn’t get you anywhere.” This is something God reminded me last week. I can either feed the anxiety by dwelling on all of the unknowns, or I can choose to pray and to remind myself of God’s truth (such as Matthew 6:25-34). You choose what you allow to consume your thinking.
3. Renew your mind.
This was part of why I dug into Matthew 6. Here’s some of the truths that I’ve been rehearsing and telling myself this past week based on this passage:
- Life is more than the things I am anxious about (v. 25). Life is about more than me.
- If God takes care of the birds who cannot grow crops and store them away for later but provides for them on a daily basis, how much more will He care for me (v. 26)? God considers me to be more valuable than them.
- God is my “heavenly Father” (v. 26). As my Father, He loves me, is good to me, and cares about the things that concern me.
- Wallowing in my anxiety does not solve any of my problems (v. 27). It just leads to irritability, ulcers, and panic attacks. Why indulge in something that leads to that end?
- While wildflowers are beautiful, they exist for only a short time, yet God lavishes such attention to detail in their design and care (vv. 28-30). If God would do this for an inanimate object that fades away after a few days or weeks, how much more does He invest attention and care for us whom He made in His image?
- My life is about God and God’s Kingdom. He is who I should be seeking first (v. 33).
4. Rejoice and Turn to God with Your Anxiety.
In Philippians 4 when Paul instructs believers not to be anxious but to pray (v. 6), he precedes that with the command to rejoice (v. 4). So in the midst of all this, I have been spending way more time in prayer but also in thanking Him for ways that He has worked in my life in the past, ways that He is working in my life right now, and praising Him for Who He is. I’m putting the focus on Him and bolstering my faith, my confidence in Him, in the process
5. Get outside yourself.
Often when anxiety creeps in, we become navel-gazers. We become self-consumed. But when we look up, we’ll notice that there are other people who have things going on in their lives. How can you pray for them? How can you serve them? How can you encourage them? Shift from self-focus to how you can love and serve someone else.
While I would certainly prefer to have my situation resolved (or for it not to have happened in the first place), I can say that it has shed light on areas of my life that need to be sanctified, and it has pushed me towards God. Facing anxiety is an opportunity to turn to God and to trust Him. But doing that is a choice. So what will you choose?