No one goes through life without worry. For some of us, anxiety feels like a stray dog, always following us around, or like steam bursting out of a boiling kettle. The feelings are strong, quick to surface and not easily contained.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) reports that anxiety disorders affect 18 percent of the adult population, and some say that Millennials are the most anxious generation of all. With endless decisions and a wide open future, it is no wonder that young adults are feeling the pressure.
Not all anxiety is the same. Some anxiety is a God-given aid to help us cope with difficult circumstances. For example, a stress response may help us do well on a test or run away from a wild animal. But other kinds of anxiety are destructive and suffocating. They suck the joy out of life and negatively impact our work and relationships.
It’s not surprising that we struggle with anxiety when we consider how frail and limited our lives actually are. An unwelcome turn of events or a loved one’s death is all it takes to remind us of what it means to be human.
Brian Munnings, director of Toronto Biblical Counseling, told me that “most worry can be significantly helped by a good friend or a willingness to cry out to the Lord and seek him in His Word,” but when anxiety becomes debilitating, Munnings recommends you seek professional help.
Meanwhile, the Bible has more to say about anxiety than most people realize. God’s people have been struggling with anxiety since the beginning of time. If worry is wrecking your life, here are four spiritual truths to fight back with.
God Understands You
In moments of anxiety, God seems distant. We may imagine that He takes an occasional cursory glance in our direction, but in these moments, our imagination is wrong. God’s Word tells us that “the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him” (Ps. 33:18).
My pastor once told me that God knows me better than I know myself. And although it may be hard to believe that someone could know you better than you do, this is the picture that God’s Word paints.
Do you know the exact number of hairs on your head? God does (Matt. 10:30). He knows the exact number of your days. He knows your words before you speak them. He discerns your thoughts from afar. He saw you when you were being knit together in your mother’s womb. He actually formed your inward parts (Psalm 139).
There is nothing about your situation or the inner workings of your heart that God does not understand. You may be a tangle of anxious emotions, but He sees clearly what you need. He made you with your unique temperament, and He placed you in your mother’s womb to be born into your family at this particular time. And He has plans for you in your unique circumstances.
Anxiety can make us feel isolated, misunderstood and hopeless, but you are not alone. God understands you.
God Is Greater Than Your Emotions
Everyone loves an authentic, emotionally-aware person, but our culture tends to elevate a person’s feelings above every other marker of truth. Movies and novels portray strong, authentic emotions as ultimate, and Instagram feeds are filled with quotes encouraging us to follow our hearts.
But what if our emotions tend toward anxiety? Our culture of supposed authenticity makes us a victim to our own emotions. By contrast, the Bible tells us that our emotions can deceive us (Jer. 17:9) and that Jesus himself is the Truth (John 14:6).
This is remarkably liberating for those of us who struggle with anxiety because we can acknowledge our anxious feelings without putting too much stock in them. 1 John 3:20 says, “God is greater than our heart.” In other words, God’s will holds more weight than our feelings do.
Welsh preacher and medical doctor Martyn Lloyd-Jones advised that we talk to ourselves more than listen to ourselves. In his book Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure, he wrote, “Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself?”
His advice for spiritually depressed people can easily be applied to an anxious heart. When anxiety plagues us, we must tell ourselves that God is greater than our anxiety. Just because we feel anxious does not mean that we are any less secure in God’s care. God is not limited like we are. He works all things together for the good of His children (Rom. 8:28).
Jesus Has Secured Your Future
In the midst of stressful circumstances, heaven may seem like unreality. But God’s people have a long history of looking to future promises to help them with present difficulties. Even Jesus endured the cross because of “the joy that was set before him” (Heb. 12:2).
It’s stressful when life doesn’t go according to plan. Difficult circumstances stretch us and push us into uncomfortable places, but trials are a God-given means to prepare us for “an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17).
Nowhere in Scripture are Christians promised to have ease and abundance in this lifetime. In fact, according to the Apostle Paul not many Christians are rich, powerful, or “wise according to worldly standards,” but rather “those who desire to be rich fall into temptation” (1 Cor. 1:26, 1 Tim. 6:9).
If you are a Christian, it is much more likely that God has plans to refine you through trials because they grow your character and faith (Rom. 5:4).
If you are constantly struggling with anxiety, you may want to check whether you are holding your earthly plans with a death grip. Jesus is able “to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:25). It’s OK to open your hand. If you trust in Jesus, He holds your future secure forever.
God Establishes Your Steps
We will never be free from sinful anxiety until we admit that God is on the throne, not us.
Our life is a stewardship from God. He has given us intelligence, talents, opportunity, and a unique personality. Our job is to take the gifts and responsibilities He’s entrusted us with and use them for His glory.
This is very different than creating your own destiny. A person who takes the entire weight of their life upon their shoulders is bound to feel anxious. There are far too many uncontrollable factors in the world around us.
Proverbs 16:9 says, “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.” We can plan for the future, but only God is sovereign over it. We have no power over world dictators, incurable illness and natural disasters. We can’t even control the weather! It is no wonder that we feel stressed when we erase God from the equation.
We may imagine that God doesn’t care about our life as much as we do, but the truth is that the sovereign King of the universe counts each of our “tossings” (also translated “sorrows” or “wanderings”) and puts our “tears in a bottle” (Ps. 56:8). It is impossible for us to control our destiny, but we can trust God to establish our steps.
The hard work of overcoming anxiety happens as we grow in our relationship with God. Everything else is more like a Band-Aid on a gaping wound. You may gain temporary relief from mindfulness techniques or adult coloring books, but they are a distraction, not a cure.
Anxiety can be good if it drives us to Jesus. Instead of believing the lie that we are autonomous, we can learn what it is to walk humbly in dependence on God. After all, “We have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Cor. 4:7).
Copyright 2017 by Christel Humfrey. All rights reserved.