Anxiety is a species of fear. It’s the paralyzing fear of “what if.” It’s the fear that something we dread might possibly come true.
There’s only one solution to anxiety: the assurance everything is going to be okay.
But the world gives us no such assurances. We find ourselves surrounded by myriad real dangers resulting in an endless list of “what if.” It’s no wonder human beings are so afflicted with anxiety. And our anxieties only increase our misery by adding countless imagined dangers to the very real ones in front of us.
Antidote to Anxiety
But God. God the Son stepped into this dangerous, demonic world, where even man’s greatest efforts to ensure safety are ultimately and decidedly defeated by death. And when he did, he made the most audacious claim ever uttered by human lips: for every person who believes in him, everything is going to be ultimately, gloriously, eternally, inexpressibly, wonderfully okay (John 3:16; 11:25–26). Then to demonstrate the reality of his claim, and therefore its trustworthiness, he decidedly defeated death and announced “all authority in heaven and on earth” had been given to him (Matthew 28:18).
With this authority, he says to everyone who believes in him, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life” (Luke 12:22). Jesus — and all the promises that are now Yes in him (2 Corinthians 1:20) — is the antidote to anxiety. What he accomplishes for us and promises to us is the ultimate triumph over all that terrifies us. He does not promise us escape from misery in this world. He promises that he will redeem every misery (Romans 8:28), and that in him we will overcome the worst the world can do to us (John 16:33; Romans 8:35–39).
In Christ, everything is going to be ultimately, gloriously, eternally, inexpressibly, wonderfully okay. Therefore, Jesus says to you and me, right now, right where we’re at, “Do not be anxious.” He says this knowing our past, our temperament, the seriousness of our current crises, and how intense we fear the possible dread may become reality.
“Do not be anxious” can seem like an impossible command. But this should not surprise us. Jesus commands us to believe that “everyone who lives and believes in [him] shall never die” (John 11:26). Jesus commands us to love one another just like he has loved us (John 15:12). Jesus commands us to renounce all we have (Luke 14:33), which can mean selling our abundant possessions and giving them to the poor because we are more confident in the treasures we have in heaven (Mark 10:21).
Of course, the command to not be anxious is humanly impossible. But as with nearly every other command for the Christian, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God” (Mark 10:27).
The only way we can fulfill this command is “by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving,” making our requests known to God, trusting a specific promise. Then his peace, surpassing all our understanding, will guard our hearts and minds in Christ (Philippians 4:6–7). We cast our anxieties on God (1 Peter 5:7), and cease to be anxious in the strength he supplies (1 Peter 4:11).
Don’t Talk to Your Anxieties
Your anxieties talk to you. Don’t talk back to them. Talk to God.
This is typically hard because anxieties often disguise themselves in our imaginations. They feel like such realistic scenarios and therefore emotionally compelling to dwell upon. Anxieties can even impersonate, taking the form of people — often people we know. These are some of the most insidious to fight.
In real life, these people might be family members or friends or fellow church members or co-workers or acquaintances or people we only know by reputation. They might be people with whom we disagree on an issue, or with whom we have a relational strain, or with whom we are in serious conflict. They might be people we fear misunderstand us, or fear disappointing, or fear exposing our weakness or ignorance in front of, or fear confronting with a hard truth, or whose sin we fear might be a symptom of deep spiritual issues, or whose influence we fear might damage our loved one or our church.
Whoever they really are, something about them provokes anxiety in us. And our anxiety then can come to us in our imagination in the form of that person, and start talking to us. It says provocative things to us, and we reply. Before we know it, we have engaged in a lengthy argument in our heads that arouses all kinds of sinful emotions and leads us to think and feel uncharitably toward the real person. But we haven’t talked to them at all. We’ve talked to our anxiety — we’ve talked to ourselves and sinned not only in indulging faithless anxiety, but in failing to love that person.
God never instructs us in Scripture to fight anxiety by arguing with it. It never works. Scripture only instructs us to cast our anxieties on God in prayer and trust him to meet our needs, whatever they are (1 Peter 5:7; Philippians 4:6–7, 19).
Not All Anxiety Is Sin
There is righteous anxiety, like Jesus’s in Gethsemane (Matthew 26:38–39), Paul’s for the churches (2 Corinthians 11:28), and parents’ godly concerns over the spiritually dangerous influences their children will face in the world. Christians in America aren’t necessarily sinning if they feel a form of “anxiety” over the progression of embraced and institutionalized evil in the nation. The Bible gives us warrant to feel anxious concern, in a sense, over the real or potential destructive effects of evil on precious souls.
What keeps these anxieties from turning sinful is when we, like Jesus and Paul, translate our fear-fueled concerns into prayer requests, weaving them with thanksgiving for graces we’ve received from God and all the promises he’s made to us (2 Peter 1:4), and give them over to God. When this occurs, a spiritually beautiful exchange takes place: God receives glory as the all-sufficient, abundantly generous object of our faith (2 Corinthians 9:8), and we receive the joys of experiencing the mind and heart guarding peace that surpasses our understanding before we receive our request (Philippians 4:6–7), as well as the eventual provision we need.
Prayer is the key to escaping the snare of sinful anxiety. Don’t listen to your anxieties, and don’t talk back to them. Especially beware of anxieties in disguise. Direct your talk to God and cast all your “what if” concerns on him because only he can give you the assurance that everything will ultimately be okay.
Related Preaching Articles
By Sermoncentral on Jul 31, 2017
I suppose, in my little prayer nook in my study, where I have a little prayer bench that I built in 1975, as I’ve bent over that bench thousands of times, the most common prayer has been, “Lead me not into temptation. Deliver me from evil (see Matthew 6:13). Keep me. Keep me. I feel so utterly unable to do the next thing. My kids are at the breakfast table. I have nothing. I’m supposed to model joyful fatherhood, and I’m so depressed I can hardly remember their names. Help me.”
By Sermoncentral on May 30, 2017
Ten effects of seeing God’s sovereignty in Romans 9 and their effects on the life and ministry of John Piper.
By Todd Brown on Jan 7, 2017
Working with hundreds of churches over the last 35 years, I have observed three common elements of successful building programs and all three are characteristics displayed by quality leaders.