For some of us, it’s always there. For others, it comes and goes with the circumstances. It takes on a number of forms — worry or stress or fear or dread. But whether it’s just a mild undertone of uncertainty or a full on blitzkrieg panic attack, we can all identify with the struggle of anxiety.

Anxiety is like an unwelcome guest in your soul telling you stories that things will go bad. Maybe you are so used to it that you don’t even notice that it’s there. Either way, its presence leaves you in a constant state of scanning for some danger “out there.” And because we are not designed to live in a constant state of alert, this heightened state of awareness takes its toll. Left unchecked, it can do significant damage both internally and externally.

Internally, anxiety is a robber of joy, peace and life. It drains and distracts, making it nearly impossible to think clearly. Arthur Somers Roche called it “a thin stream of fear trickling through the mind. If encouraged, it cuts a channel into which all others thoughts are drained.”

Externally, it hurts those around us. I cannot count the number of times I’ve had to apologize for the rude and insensitive things that I have said under the influence of anxiety. Why is that? Because when we are anxious, we long for control so much that we will step on anyone who stands in our way. Our restless spirits seem to fly around like severed power lines. Whoever is near us is in danger of getting zapped by an electrically charged tongue.

At the heart of the problem is this: Anxiety is about a need to be in control in a world where we are simply not in control. It is the inevitable result of finite creatures trying to face a big dangerous world on their own. But the truth is, we were never meant to face this world on our own. We were meant to find our strength, wisdom and resources by relying on an all-powerful, all-wise and ever-present God.

Author Paul Miller stated it clearly in his book, A Praying Life:

“Anxiety wants to be God but lacks God’s wisdom, power, or knowledge. A godlike stance without godlike character and ability is pure tension. Because anxiety is self on its own, it tries to get control. It is unable to relax in the face of chaos. Once one problem is solved, the next in line steps up. The new one looms so large, we forget the last deliverance.” [1]

So what should you do with this? Fortunately, God’s Word speaks directly and clearly to the problem of anxiety. One of the most popular verses is Philippians 4:6-7. The Apostle Paul says, “do not be anxious about anything, 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 understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

That’s quite a promise. What could we want more than the peace of God which surpasses all understanding? All you need to do is pray with thanksgiving.

Problem solved.

If that does it for you, then more power to you. However, I need more. This verse on its own can discourage me. When I feel anxious and go to Philippians 4:6-7, it can feel like someone is telling me, “Stop it! Anxiety is a sin, so stop worrying and start praying.”

Here’s the problem with that. “Stop worrying and start praying” is a simplistic and shallow solution to a complex and deep-rooted issue. Instructions, no matter how good and true they are, rarely cure our fears. When I am afraid, I don’t need the right instructions; I need the right Person.

That bears repeating:  When I am afraid, I don’t need the right instructions; I need the right Person. What do you think my 4-year-old daughter wants when she wakes up from a scary dream in the middle of the night? Do you think she wants a three-step set of instructions to help her relax? Of course not! She wants her Daddy.

So did Paul simply give us some good instructions? No, he didn’t. Paul knows better than to diagnose us, give us a prescription and send us on our way. I say that because Philippians 4:6-7 is not being read in its fuller context.

Did you notice that verse 6 starts in the middle of a sentence? Here is the full statement.

The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, 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 understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:5b-7

These verses are bracketed by the intimate presence of God. “The Lord is at hand.” (Or as the NIV translates it, “The Lord is near.”) And the peace of God guards your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Confronting anxiety starts with the recognition that God is near. He is with you and available. And along with that, He loves and cares deeply for you (1 Peter 5:7). You don’t have to be in control; He is. You don’t have to know the future; He knows it. He’s promised you that He will never leave you nor forsake you (Hebrews 13:5b). The Scriptures are overflowing with the comforting promises of a loving and present God who wants to meet us in our anxiety.

… fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. –Isaiah 41:10

Overcoming anxiety is a relational process, not a one-time response to an exhortation. We were not meant to figure out life by following instructions ON OUR OWN. We were meant to live our lives in intimate dependence on our Father.

So, the next time you notice that familiar voice of anxiety — the unwelcome guest telling you about everything that is going to go wrong, remind yourself that someone else has spoken to you. And start speaking to Him. Draw near to Him, because He has already drawn near to you in Christ Jesus.

 

-Ryan McCarthy

 

[1] Miller, P., & Powlison, D. (2014). A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.

 

 

 

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Fort Worth Campus: 9:15 a.m., 11 a.m. and 5 p.m.
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Overwhelmed: Dealing with Fear, Stress and Anxiety
WEST CAMPUS
Sundays, Sept. 9 through Sept. 30
FORT WORTH CAMPUS
Sundays, Oct. 21 through Nov. 18
We all feel it at times — life comes at us at lightning speed from a hundred directions. The demands, duties and deadlines won’t let up. And yet, some people seem to be able to float above it all with a peace that transcends all understanding. (Really?!) This fall, explore what it looks like to deal with fear, stress and anxiety in a way that works for the rest of us who don’t always feel so spiritual.

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