How Does A Christian Manage Anxiety?
When I was a young follower of Christ, I thought that Christians should be able to live “above” it all, and because we were God’s children, we wouldn’t have to fall victim to the bad, the evil and the suffering of the world. I guess I entirely ignored all the verses of Jesus saying, “in this world, you will have trouble” (John 16:33).
I also naively thought I could just pray, and God would instantly do what I asked or give me what I wanted, like Santa Claus. Obviously, I was often confused and disappointed and left wondering if He was punishing me, mad at me, or maybe just didn’t hear my prayer list.
As I allowed the Holy Spirit to teach me through the discipleship I received from my pastor and other trusted brothers and sisters, I realized Jesus didn’t come to “take us out of the world” (John 17:15) but rather, He walks through this world and our lives with us (Deuteronomy 31:8). Since the Old Testament is filled with stories that serve as “an example for us and written down for our instruction” (1 Corinthians 10:11), we have so much evidence that God does not keep trouble from us but rather His presence is with us in our troubles. Think of the 4th man in the fiery furnace who “looked like the son of the gods” (Daniel 3:25).
God also makes a way where there is none. Remember the parting of the Red Sea in Exodus? The accounts of the Children of Israel as they wandered in the wilderness and conquered the Promised Land reminds us that God’s presence, guidance, and provision is with us as we face hardships and battles. All of these accounts teach us that there will be times when even God’s children find themselves in a fiery furnace, amid a plague, and suffering, hungry and afraid. God doesn’t keep us from those experiences, but He does promise He will be with us.
Fear is a reaction to a real or perceived threat. Sometimes we are afraid because of a real, fearful situation, and sometimes we make ourselves afraid by thinking about what might happen in a situation. I think that’s the difference between fear and anxiety. Fear is the reaction to a real threat, and anxiety is worrying about what might happen next, or the perceived threat.
Events happen, like accidents, illness, sudden changes that affect our lives like the pandemic we’re living through right now, and many of us are afraid, even Christians. For our protection, God designed us so that we would have physical reactions when there is a threat. Our bodies respond with a rapid heartbeat, our breathing is quick and shallow, we break out in a cold sweat, adrenaline pumps through our bloodstream, and we’re either going to fight or flee. Fear happens, and it’s a good thing when faced with a threat. We may not be able to control feelings of fear that rises in us when there is a threat, but I think we can manage the anxiety that can cripple us when we allow fear to stay present in our minds.
Anxiety Is When Fear Moves In
God knows our tendency to allow fears to grow into anxiety. Jesus addressed this very thing in His Sermon on the Mount when He said, “do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34).
Feelings of fear grow into anxiety when we entertain anxious thoughts that cause us to worry and fret, become nervous, pace the floor, and wring our hands. Anxiety causes us to wake up at 3 in the morning with ruminating thoughts - you know, those fearful thoughts that run through your brain like a hamster on a wheel that we can’t stop? We can’t sleep, we’re agitated, argumentative, and we often have physical ailments as a result of the anxiety that wears us down.
This anxiety is fed when we think about what might happen or imagine scary scenarios, often under the guise of trying to be prepared. It’s good to think ahead and be prepared, but often we can go overboard and try to predict the future and guess at what might happen. It often becomes a habit that wears us down, so we reach out to God and the Bible and find that both the Holy Spirit and His Word say to not be afraid (Deuteronomy 31:8), and do not worry (Matthew 6:34). How in the world do we do that?
How Does A Christian Manage Anxiety?
If we are battling a real threat, we will take action. We will do what we need to protect ourselves and our family. We will fight, or we will escape the threat. Then, we will seek out what is needed to help, heal, and provide for those who are in need. How to battle against a real threat does not need to be taught. However, the battle against a perceived threat, or the battle against anxiety and worry, is a different situation. It takes some instruction and some practice for it to become natural.
First, recognize that the battle is in your mind and heart. In Ephesians 6:13, Paul addresses the fact that our battle is not physical, but rather spiritual. He gives us tools to help us “seek peace and pursue it” (Psalm 34:14). So, I hope you understand that as a Christian, the effort you make to find peace of mind is necessary and important. The Holy Spirit wants to help you so that you can help others in times of distress.
So, here are some suggestions on how Christians can manage anxiety so we won’t be overcome and can continue the work of the Kingdom in difficult times.
- Think about what you are thinking about. The first thing to do is to recognize that you might be making yourself anxious by allowing frightening thoughts to run freely in your mind. The Bible teaches that we should “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). The idea here is that we should take every anxious and fearful thought as it pops into our minds and make it bow to the truth of God and His word. In these situations are where memorizing scripture is very helpful. Search out those promises that counter the fearful thoughts you often fight against. Then, when the fearful thought shows up, don’t allow it to run free but quote a promise from scripture instead. Keep at it until your mind is filled with promises instead of anxious thoughts.
- Do not feed your fear. Control what comes into your mind through what you watch, read, and what/who you listen to. Distraction is very helpful to keep negative thoughts at bay, but if it causes you more anxiety, don’t watch it or listen to it. That includes negative people and fear mongers. You might need to tune them out. Here’s an easy way to achieve a healthy balance: make sure that the amount of positive, healthy input you find in scripture, biblical teaching, worship music, and positive conversation with other believers are more than the negative, fearful input you receive elsewhere.
- Pray. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6) A powerful tool to help manage anxiety is to pray. Tell God all your fears, all your troubles, and ask Him to help. Then, thank Him for all He has done for you.
- Cast your cares upon Jesus. At the same time as you pray, it is very important that you “Cast all your anxiety on Him, for He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). The word “cast” is from the Greek, which means “to throw upon.” The usage of this word provides us with an image of throwing a burden on the back of a donkey to be free of the burden's weight. The important thing to remember here is to try and not take the burden back up again.
- Ride the wave. Anxiety ebbs and flows over us like waves. For many, it often comes in the middle of the night and our minds race with thoughts that we feel we can’t control. I have found this tactic to work: if you’ve ever been swimming in rough waves, you know that the best thing to do when you get knocked over is to relax. The more you fight, the more chance there is to get hurt. The same is true with fear and anxiety. When anxiety comes, pray, cast your cares on Jesus, and relax. Counter the anxious thoughts with the truth about God. It will be over soon, and Jesus will see you through.
- You can be concerned and caring without worrying. It’s called having faith. Pray. Cast your cares upon Jesus and trust. Having faith in God means that you trust He hears your prayers and will take care of those burdens you’ve given Him. You can continue to pray and continue to give Him your worries, but there will come a time when you need to rest in His greatness, goodness, and faithfulness. Breathe in His peace and remember the old song, “He’s got the whole world in His hands.”
One last thought. In our battle to manage fear and anxiety, it is necessary to have an accurate, scriptural understanding of God. To battle anxiety, Christians need to remember that God is good, all the time. He never changes. He loves you, and He only has good intentions toward you. God is not looking over your shoulder, waiting to pounce on you and punish you for every misstep. The fearful situation that you find yourself in is probably the result of natural occurrences or the choices of yourself or others.
Remember, God promises to be with you. Look for His presence and His provision. He is there. Always.
The River Church Staff