We have all been there – the night before a big meeting, exam, sport or some other momentous event; the morning of a job interview; the day before the rent is due; a few hours before your date arrives; the first day of school; the moments before getting up to speak to an audience; seeing on your calendar that your next doctor’s appointment is fast approaching, or that a certain family member is coming to visit – all of these and many other situations can induce anxiety.
Most of us have things in our lives that can trigger an anxious reaction. Whether from fear of people or circumstances that seem bigger than our capacities to handle them, anxiety is a common reaction we have to what life throws at us.
What does the Bible have to say about anxiety? Is it possible to joyfully meet life head on without worrying?
A Command and a Promise
Often, the first verse that comes to mind when talking about anxiety is from Paul’s letter to the Christians in Philippi – “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).
These two verses are a bit of a powder keg, carrying both a command and a promise. The command not to be anxious can sound a little like asking someone to stop doing something as natural as breathing. When you struggle with something like anxiety, whether occasionally or more frequently, being told to simply “stop” seems unhelpful.
However, Paul doesn’t simply instruct the Philippians (and us) to just stop being anxious. It does us no good to stop one behavior without replacing it with something else. Instead of being anxious, we are told that prayer accompanied by thanksgiving should replace our anxiety.
Paul urges us to redirect our attention away from our fears, away from the circumstance that’s inducing anxiety, and toward God who is bigger than our fears and our circumstances. Not only does being thankful make us feel good, but giving thanks also reminds us of the other occasions God has come through for us. We can face this new situation with the confidence that we’ve gone through other circumstances and emerged in one piece.
God Cares for You
In his sermon on the mount, Jesus reminds his followers of twin truths – worrying doesn’t help, and God cares for you. Firstly, Jesus reminds us why we should not worry about our food and clothing:
Consider the ravens: they do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn, yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! – Luke 12: 24, 27-28
Because God takes care of everything else in nature, like birds and plants, we should also expect him to take care of us. We should not be anxious about our daily needs because God cares for us. As Peter put it, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).
Jesus also points out the futility of worrying: “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?” (Luke 12:25-6). Our worrying and anxiety, Jesus says, does us no good, and so we’re better off not giving in to those impulses.
“Therefore,” Jesus says, “do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34). In place of worry, what are we to do? “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).
Again, our focus is being taken from our circumstances to the God who stands behind and is bigger than our circumstances and concerns. Occupying our hearts and minds with the larger, pressing reality of God’s Kingdom is a big enough concern to engage our whole being. It puts our daily concerns into a proper perspective when they threaten to overwhelm us with anxiety.
Don’t Fear the Unknown
One of the biggest generators of anxiety and worry is the future. We don’t know whether we’re going to get the job, or whether we’ll get through this illness, or if we’ll meet our expenses this month, and this can cause us to worry about how all of this will be resolved. In addition to the care that God has for us, Jesus tells us that God knows we need these things that concern us (Matthew 6:32).
God knows all things, from our thoughts to all our comings and goings. The Psalmist puts it like this – “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Psalm 139:16). There is nothing about our life which is an unknown to God. There are no surprises for him.
As a result, we can step into every day with the confidence that whatever happens, none of it will surprise God, and that his children are in his loving hands. Even when hard times come, we can face them with confidence knowing that God knows the outcome, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). If God, who is love, is working for our good in all things, even the scary stuff, that gives us the courage to face each day without anxiety crowding in.
How is it that many people can display great boldness in the face of perilous situations? How could Daniel go into the lions’ den, or his three friends into the fire without hesitation? How other heroes like Esther take their lives in their hands and face down kings?
Knowing that we are loved by God, who is working out our good in all things, drives out fear (1 John 4:18). Sometimes we are fearful of the power that certain people have over us and become anxious to please them. Armed with God’s promise that he will never leave nor forsake us (such security!), we can say with confidence – “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (Psalm 118:6).
He has Overcome the World
The world we live in is not safe. A variety of hardships come our way all the time. At a time of great testing for his disciples, Jesus gave them this promise – “In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
The first part of that promise is something most of us would prefer Jesus hadn’t said. However, it’s true. We do have trouble in this world. We do encounter many things that bring us discomfort and anxiety. If Jesus hadn’t said the first part, the second part would have felt naïve and shallow. But because Jesus knows exactly what we’re facing, his encouragement to take heart because he has overcome the world is that much more potent.
After he’d been crucified and raised from the dead, and just before he ascended into heaven, Jesus said this to his disciples – “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18). Jesus wields this power and exercises it for his people.
We can cast our anxieties and cares upon him, knowing that he can take care of all our todays and tomorrows. He is working all things for our good – even the rough patches we go through – and so we will not be afraid of or anxious about what comes our way. Take heart! Jesus has overcome the world.
“Morning Cup”, Courtesy of Caleb George, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Man in Plaid”, Courtesy of Nathan Cowley, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Stay Away,” courtesy of M.T. ElGassier, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Devotions”, Courtesy of Aaron Burden, Unsplash.com, CC0 License