Anxiety is so much a part of our lives that it’s natural for us to frequently talk about it. However, defining it can be another story. Defining anxiety, and understanding how it works, sometimes seems like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall. Our definition doesn’t quite hold. Anxiety is an emotion. We know this, but it’s more than a feeling. Anxiety often includes a physical reaction, but it’s more than that, too. So what is anxiety, exactly?
The writers of the New Testament employ two different, but related, words. Care is a noun that is connected to a verb which means to draw in different directions, or distract. So, to be anxious means to have a distracting care, to have our mind and heart torn between two worlds. For example, Jesus uses the noun form when he warns against thorns choking out the Word of God which is intended to produce faith. He identifies these thorns as “the cares of the world” (Mark 4:19; Matt. 13:22), or “the cares and riches and pleasures of life” (Luke 8:14). These Scriptures reveal that anxious cares are typically earthbound; that is, they are tied to our earthly life. In other words, the cares that most often accompany anxiety are temporal, not eternal.
Consequently, these cares divide our mental energy and cloud our spiritual vision; they keep us focused on the here-and-now instead of the future-promised-but-not-yet. Anxious cares form cataracts over our spiritual eyes. These anxieties cloud our sight; they hinder us from keeping heavenly things in clear focus, or keeping diligent watch for the return of the Lord (Luke 21:34).
To sum things up, anxiety distracts us from what is most important. It trains our eyes to see only what is before us at the very moment. It exerts great effort at keeping our vision fixed on the horizontal—on the things of the world—instead of vertical, on the things of God. For this reason, Jesus commands us “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?” (Matt. 6:25). But then, immediately, he also directs us to “Look” somewhere else (Matt. 6:26). By looking at the birds of the air, and the flowers of the field, we can jog our memory and shift our focus to the heavenly Father who promises to provide better care for us than he even does for them.
Instead of allowing our minds to be distracted by the troubles of today, Jesus tells us to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:33). As we discipline our mind and heart to keep eternal matters at the center, the earthly distractions will gradually fade. Yes, some may remain in our peripheral vision (especially if they pertain to our responsibilities), but they will not distract us from what is most important.
- Reflect: What earthly cares are currently distracting you? What preoccupies your mind?
- Act: In a journal or notebook write down everything you are currently anxious about.
- Act: Now turn your Care List into a Prayer List. Take each care to the Lord in prayer. Ask God to show you which cares relate to responsibilities, which you then need to act upon, and which cares you need to entrust (release) to him in faith.
[PRAYER REQUEST: This post is from a 31-day devotional, which I am currently writing. The book will be released sometime in 2019. I’m asking my readers to please pray for me as I write, that the end product will be biblical and helpful to others. It’s a challenge to write a book about anxiety while being anxious, as my first draft deadline approaches.]