Summary: The Bible gives us tools to deal with anxiety.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, 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. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:6-9
David Seamands is a former pastoral care professor at Asbury Theological Seminary and long-time Methodist minister. He has written some enlightening books on the healing of painful emotions. In one of his first books he writes, “Preachers have often given people the mistaken idea that new birth and being ‘filled with the Spirit’ are going to automatically take care of emotional hang-ups. But this just isn't true. A great crisis experience of Jesus Christ, as important and eternally valuable as this is, is not a shortcut to emotional health. It is not a quickie cure for personality problems.”
He goes on to write, “We need to understand this so that we can live compassionately with ourselves and allow the Holy Spirit to work with special healing in our own hurts and confusions. We also need to understand this in order to not judge other people too harshly, but to have patience with their sometimes confusing and contradictory behavior. In so doing, we will be kept from unfairly criticizing and judging fellow Christians. They're not fakes, phonies or hypocrites. They are people like you and me, with hurts and scars and wrong programming that interfere with their present behavior.” (1)
I want to begin to examine some personal issues that Christians face from time to time—some more than others. Hopefully, we can examine them in relation to our faith and understand, as Dr. Seamands said, that emotional issues are not a sign of weakness in the Christian walk nor is Christianity an instant cure for emotional issues. Let us move forward then with one issue, anxiety.
“Ron is twenty, healthy, handsome, and liked by his friends. Until recently, he was enrolled as a business major in a Midwestern Christian College, but in the middle of his sophomore year, just a week before finals, he dropped out. “I couldn't handle the anxiety,” he told his family doctor after arriving home. “During tests, I would break out in a cold sweat, my mind would go blank, and I would forget everything I had studied. After being at school for a while, I stopped going to lectures. They were too scary because I was afraid I might forget something that would be on the test. By the end of the quarter, I was uncomfortable even going into the academic building. Then I stopped going to the coffee shop because I was afraid I would meet one of my teachers. By the end of my time in school, I was almost too anxious to leave my room.”
Ron is a Christian. He has a marker in his Bible at Philippians 4, and he has underlined Verses 6 and 7: “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.” But, despite his prayers, Ron feels no peace. Instead, he feels panic as he anticipates looking for a job, now that he is out of school. “What if nobody will hire me?” he wonders. “What if I find a job and can't do it? What if I get too anxious to go to work?”
The doctor prescribed some anti-anxiety medication for Ron and suggested he contact a counselor. The calming effects of the anti-anxiety medication enabled Ron to make an appointment for counseling. Together, Ron and his counselor will try to understand the reasons for his intense anxiety. They will probably consider ways to relax and cope with stress, including the stress of a new job.
Ron's parents accept the idea of counseling, but they are impatient for improvement. His father is a highly successful, achievement-oriented businessman who likes to see things accomplished quickly. He has little patience with his son seeing some kind of “shrink” and hopes that all of Ron's anxieties will be gone soon.” (2)
Anxiety has been called “the official emotion of our age.” It can vary in intensity and influence. Every person has experience with some sort of anxiety. Whether it is a speech you had to give, a test you had to take, a prayer you had to present, a doctor's visit you had to make, or a result you had to wait on. But anxiety can also be a chemical imbalance in the brain. It seems to come from the unknown. It can manifest in many physical ways, and the worst response you can get from anyone is “It's all in your head.”