How to walk through anxiety
As Christians, how do we deal with the mental health concern of anxiety?
In today’s world there are few words that get as much regular airtime as the word anxiety. Whether it is in reference to a specific clinical diagnosis or an undiagnosed feeling of worry and nervousness is not always clear. Regardless of which it is, the overwhelming reality is that people of all ages are more anxious, more depressed, more self-conscious, and more lonely than they have ever been. The dramatic rise in these statistics are even more overwhelming when looking at people aged 12-25. So, what do we do? As Christians; as leaders; as hope-filled, sin-redeemed, and Gospel-believing people, how do we deal with the mental health concern of anxiety? My initial thought: start in Scripture.
A Scriptural Diagnosis
As we flip the pages of the Bible we come into contact with real human beings, suffering from real doubt, real fear, and real worry. We see a myriad of ways in which God’s own people find themselves on the receiving end of the world’s most painful events. One need look no further than David’s journal entries in the Psalms to see the prevalence of mental health concerns even among the most faithful people. In Scripture we are met not with detached and irrelevant stories, but with genuine, raw, and personal struggles of the human psyche. Yet it is also in Scripture where we see a loving God walking closely to His suffering children. We can even see the way in which He does walk with His children; a model we are meant to follow. It is in Scripture where we see that perhaps the most crucial element of the Christian walk is placing our trust in this God of nearness. It the role of the Christian, then, to fully trust in Him, to trust that He will not leave us in darkness because He is light. It is trust that becomes the central theme for handling anxiety. It is trust that we must discuss.
A Scriptural Antidote
In one of David’s entries (Psalm 55) he lovingly lays out how important it is to remember God’s love for His children in every season and in every diagnosis. David talks about how God desires His children to not be dismayed by the world by looking beyond their present moment and casting their burdens upon the Lord (55:22). The child of God is not meant to let their current situation define their God, but rather let their God define their current situation. In order to believe that is possible, we must completely trust that God is doing something good even in our trials. We must trust that God, Himself is good. We must read Scripture and look back at all of these moments, these stories to see how unwavering God has been in His faithfulness to His children. As Christians, we must see that even when the evidence in front of us looks bleak the God of the Universe, your Father in Heaven, will never leave you or forsake you (Deut 31:8). This is your God. This is who the Bible reveals to us in Scripture. We have to read it to know Him, we have to know Him to love Him, and we have to love Him to trust Him. But just for a moment, take a pause a praise this great God. Think about how trustworthy He actually is. You may be in the midst of a brutal situation, but with breath still in your lungs, you should know that God is not through with you because you are still here, still breathing. This is a place where I have found myself on more than one occasion and although painful, it can be quite humbling. For the brother or sister who has a diagnosed mental health concern, place your trust in the God of Creation who knows you perfectly and loves you unconditionally. Trust that regardless of your present trials, He is shaping you, growing you, and sanctifying you to be less like the anxiousness you fear might consume you and more like His Son (Rom 5:1-5). For the brother or sister who has an undiagnosed mental health concern, I see you, the Lord sees you. There is no season, no time period, no catastrophe, and no darkness that the God of the Universe is not aware of in its
entirety. He is the all-knowing, all-present, and all-powerful God who even in His holy, holy, holiness is so near to you and is reaching out to hold you (Ps. 139).
A Scriptural Treatment Plan
I confess to you, even with this beautiful revelation, I still find myself asking, “that’s it, that’s all that is required of me? Just know Him?” The answer to this question is both yes and no. Yes in that God’s presence is not predicated on the fact that you work really hard to not be anxious. Because of Jesus’ atoning and adopting work on the cross, God remains near to His children forever. Yet the answer is no in that we do have responsibility in this life. The Bible is clear in many places that although our work will not save us or cure us, we are meant to pursue holiness by dying to self every day and living a life in response to Him (Rom 12:1; 2 Cor 7:1; Eph 1:4; 1 Thess 4:7; 1 Peter 1 15-16; etc.). There is work to be done as we walk with God through our anxiety. There are practices to implement and disciplines to act on, but to see the specifics, we are going to look at 1 Peter 5 to see a special set of instructions about how to deal with our anxieties.
“Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” (1 Pt. 5:5-7).
Peter doesn’t dance around mental health. Neither does he take the position that if you say that you have anxiety of any kind that you are sinning or being unfaithful. He does however seem to address the fact that for anybody who has an anxious thought, a distracting care for something, or a divided brain (GK. μερίζω, anxiety; a division of the mind) on anything, we are meant to “cast all…on Him [God],” (1 Pt 5:7). This isn’t an instruction written purely for those with a diagnosis, this is written for all of God’s children to hear and obey. If our divided mind causes us to think, care, and/or be consumed by things other than God, then we are meant to give it all to Him. Lay the anxieties and distractions at His feet. So, how do we do this? How do we actually cast our anxieties onto God? Additionally, what is that even supposed to do for us?
To cast off, in this case, is to do as Philippians 4:6 says and bring our anxieties to God through “prayer and petition”. We don’t wait for them to pile up so the load gets heavier and heavier like we do when we put off laundry day. Rather, from the very onset of that anxiousness, we stop what we are doing, we pull the car over, we drop to our knees in our bedroom and we bring it to Him. There is nothing too small or too big to be brought to our God. For some, it is a constantly stressful and/or unhealthy relationship. For others, it is an insatiable addiction to a substance, a social media platform, a way of living, or a philosophy of life. Yet for some, the anxieties are so deeply entrenched in our soul that it may take week after week of therapy and
anxiety medication just to feel stable. The only qualification for the things that we bring to God is that if it seems to divide our mind between various things and cause us to have any level of misfocus, we bring it to Him in prayer. It may not necessarily be sinful, but these types of anxieties must be brought to the Lord and left at His feet. We have to realize how weak and frail we are
and yet how perfect and strong He is. We have to understand how badly we need Him and then humble ourselves so that we can experience the fullness of His help to us. We have to trust that He will reach down, pick them up, bear them on His own shoulders for us. This is our God.
In 1 Peter 5, the act of casting anxieties comes as an act of humility. The idea is that many of us think too highly of ourselves and act as if we can handle life’s many problems on our own, but this is a lie. In these moments, we are acting in pride, not humility. We will never come to the Lord in prayer if we believe ourselves to not be in need of Him. The casting of anxieties can only be life-altering if we realize that the God of the Universe is the one who hears us and takes them from us. So how do we deal with anxiety? We come to the Lord in prayer with anything and everything, we lay it out on the floor, we set our focus back on Him and we trust Him to do the rest. Let us be a people who are so convinced by the faithfulness and love of our great God that we live open-handed lives of humble adoration and surrender.
Finn Foster / Youth Minister First Baptist Durango