Anxiety is an aspect of our fallen, sinful condition that every one of us battles to one degree or another. Some, like me, struggle in a very significant way. But we are not alone. It is estimated that 23 million Americans suffer from “panic attacks.” Therefore, it is helpful and encouraging to realize that the Bible honestly addresses this aspect of our fallen human condition, including its negative effects on the human body and spirit.
According to Proverbs 12:25, anxiety can cause mental, emotional, and physical distress. “Anxiety in the heart of a man weighs it down, but a good word makes it glad.” Dr. Robert Smith, MD writes in The Christian Counselor’s Medical Desk Reference,
People weighed down with anxiety and cares are much more likely to become ill. And the recovery time for them is much longer: ‘The effects of worry upon the inner man are serious; literally one can worry himself sick. The picture is of one sinking down into the depths; perhaps this is referring to the kind of fatigue that often accompanies those who worry.’
Anxiety is primarily a problem of the heart and the mind, which sometimes produces problems in the body. But, as the Lord has been showing me in the past few years, anxiety, and the depressive tendencies that often accompany it, are often directly linked to thought patterns—negative ways of thinking that we have unknowingly trained ourselves in throughout our lives.
Thankfully, the Bible not only acknowledges the problem of anxiety and its prominence in our lives, but also provides the key solution: prayer. Not merely prayer, but a very specific ingredient in prayer, which keeps prayer God-centered, rather than the self-centered recitation of our wish list. That key ingredient is thanksgiving in prayer.
How do we cultivate and maintain this God-centered perspective? How does God instruct us to battle our anxiety? Philippians 4:6-7 answers these questions: “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, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Here, God promises that His peace will take control of our hearts and protect us from anxiety as a direct result of prayer. The text reveals two steps for dealing with anxiety.
STEP 1: Worry about nothing (6a). Verse six says, “Be anxious for nothing.” The word for “anxious” means to be anxious, to care for, or to be worried. It is used in a good sense in 1 Corinthians 7:32-34 of being concerned. The context is Paul’s encouragement to singles to consider remaining single since the unmarried person is free to be more concerned about the things of the Lord.
It is also used in a negative sense in Matthew 6:25-34, where it is used five times to address the worrier’s lack of faith or fear of lack of provision. From this part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount we observe at least three causes of anxiety.
3 Causes of Anxiety
- False cares (Matthew 6:25; 31-32). False cares are problems or fears that we dream up that do not really exist. In other words, if God has told us He will meet our needs then worrying about them is a false care that does not really exist. God faithfully provides for our needs. Yes, He does this primarily through our work, and the wise, disciplined stewardship of our resources. But if we are working at being faithful with the responsibilities He has given, and we still have unmet needs, then we need to trust that He will provide for us. To worry over them is to create a false care since God clearly promised His care. We must be more like the birds that do not worry about the faithfulness of their Creator.
- Lack of faith (Matthew 6:30). The lack of faith that Jesus confronted is caused by our tendency to look at our circumstances through mere earthly eyes and thereby fail to rest in the promises of God. He was saying, “Look at what God has done; look at creation; look at the flowers; look at the trees; look at the grass. God takes care of His creation. You are more valuable than they are. God will meet your need. Have faith.” God really does care about our needs!
- Worldly values (Matthew 6:32-33). In other words, Jesus says to us, “Adjust your priorities. Replace your worldly priorities with God-centered values which are eternal and all your other cares will fall into their proper place.” Much worry is caused by discontentment that comes from measuring our success by comparing ourselves and our material wealth to that of others. As a result, we end up worrying over stuff. That’s all it is. Stuff! Instead of measuring our worth by the things we possess, Jesus gently reminds us to live with a God-centered perspective.
So, you may be thinking, does this mean I should live an irresponsible life and just expect manna to drop from heaven every morning? Well, no. We are called to be faithful and responsible. But we can also take that too far. Psalm 127:2 reminds us, “It is vain for you to rise up early, to retire late, to eat the bread of painful labors; for He gives to His beloved even in his sleep.”
The point Jesus makes is that we should not worry about what is not ours to worry about: God’s responsibility and the responsibility of others. Instead we must do what God has commanded us and rest in His promises. The first step in God’s prescription for anxiety is to worry about nothing. Tomorrow, we will examine Step 2.
Related Post: Dear Fellow Worrier
[This blog post series is based on a recent sermon that you can listen to here.]