Anxiety & the Glory of God

The Subway. George Tooker, 1950.

Reposted from The Cripplegate.

With the current global situation, it’s likely that anxiety is more common than usual. There are reasons for concern in this dark hour. Anxiety can be a very difficult thing to battle. But God’s word has answers.

Whether you battle with anxiety, or love someone who does, here are a few thoughts on anxiety and the glory of God.

1. The experience of anxiety is difficult.

You might be someone who never experiences anxiety or worry. Glory to God if so. It might be helpful to understand a bit what it’s like to go through it.

I don’t have to tell those of you who have experienced it, that anxiety is an unpleasant sensation. For those who have experienced prolonged and severe bouts of it, that is a major understatement.

Anxiety could be defined as “the state of feeling nervous or worried that something bad is going to happen” (Oxford). Often times it can start with a slow train-wreck in the mind. One thought begins to crash after another. And another, and another. And then it feels impossible to control, as frightening and unsettling thoughts begin to compound, like that derailed train wreck. It keeps going and crashing, and it feels like you can do nothing.

There is the great darkness of those crashing worries. It seems like it’s impossible to find your way through it, much less have relief. There is the terror of the, “What ifs?,” and the, “What am I going to do?” and, “This situation is impossible.” It can be a terrifying place to be. Despair can come in and out. These can be very unpleasant experiences. It seems like all is lost; nothing is going to work out; that you could be in this dark pit of torment forever. This can be an absolutely horrendous experience.

Then there is the loneliness. Bouts with anxiety are a very lonely place to be. You might be lying in bed next to a loving spouse. But, the complexity and darkness of anxiety make it feel like, at times, that people who may be immediately present are miles away. They can’t get into your experience. They can’t feel the darkness and torment. And it feels like they can’t pull you out. Anxiety can be a very lonely place.

Then there is the experience of shame. If you are a believer in Christ, it can be embarrassing to experience anxiety for many reasons. First, you know biblical truth which should give an unshakable peace. This compounds the frustration and anxiety. “I know that You are sovereign, God! I know that Jesus died for me. I know he rose from the grave. I know that I am going to heaven. So, why this lack of peace?!” Second, it can be embarrassing because no one around you seems to experience anxiety. All of the believers you know sleep like babies every night in the midst of storm. They seem at perfect peace when you are derailing. And to make matters worse, even the unbelievers around you seem to be at peace and sleep well. They don’t even know Christ and God. They do not have peace with God. They do not have the blessed assurance of heaven. And they, too, sleep like babies. This can compound the experience of anxiety.

Then there are the physical and mental symptoms. There is the racing heart. It can feel like it’s going to pound out of your chest. The pounding can be so hard that it keeps you awake. For some, there are palpitations and irregular heartbeats. There can be shortness of breath. There is the tightness and pressure in the chest and sternum. There can be the ball and butterflies in the stomach. Chills in the limbs. The feeling of a fever. It can become difficult to focus your eyes on something. There can be shaking of the limbs and shivering of the torso. There can be loss of appetite. Mentally, there can be great difficulty in processing things or making a decision what to do next. Then there is the inability to communicate. Those around you can become disturbed or even frustrated as you seem to shut down. There can be a loss of sexual desire, and lack of motivation for physical activity. Sleep begins to flee from you, which greatly compounds the problem. When bedtime approaches, it’s easy to start feeling anxious about the anxiety that may rob you of sleep. And then for some, suicidal thoughts may begin to enter the mind.

There are those times when anxiety seems to randomly come crashing on you. To make things worse, we can be anxious about our anxiety. Experiences of anxiety can be so distressing, that one can grow anxious as they wonder if another bout of anxiety is coming. “Is tonight going to be another sleepless night?” “Will I be able to function tomorrow?” All that to say, the experience of anxiety can be very difficult and unpleasant.

2. Those who do not experience anxiety must exercise compassion towards those who do.

Those who do not experience anxiety must understand something of the difficulty. It’s hard for you to grasp both the reasons for and darkness of anxiety. “Why are they worrying?” “I just don’t worry.” “I trust God.” “I rest in his sovereignty and love.” “I am at ease knowing that heaven is real and assured for me.” Amen and amen. These are wonderful truths. And they are critical for stabilizing the soul in unstable circumstances. Praise God if you are someone who doesn’t battle anxiety. Give him glory and fall down and worship him for his mercy towards you.

If you are someone who quietly (or loudly) scoffs at the experiences of anxiety, you need to consider a more excellent way. You probably need to repent of your pride and lack of love for people. You are sinning.

Should believers be experiencing anxiety? Probably not. Do we sometimes get worked up for not the best reasons? Yes. Is anxiety a sin? Yes (cf. Matt. 6:25, 31; Phil. 4:6). Is God so much bigger than that person’s anxiety? Of course. Are God’s promises of his sovereignty, love, and eternal life larger than our worries? Of course. Can people experience anxiety for bad reasons? Yes.

However, those truths in no way negate the necessity to exercise compassion towards those who experience the battle of anxiety.

So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience…Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity (Col. 3:12, 14).

And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it (1 Cor. 12:26).

When it comes to compassion, our Lord is not asking us to examine if another’s suffering seems reasonable before we will exercise that compassion. Jesus never says to us, “So, if that person seems like they are having a hard time for bad reasons, then you don’t have to love them or show compassion. Just move on with your jolly day.”

3. Jesus died for our anxiety.

This is where we must begin in dealing with anxiety. Anxiety is sin. The symptoms and associated difficulties are not necessarily. But the act of anxiousness is. Anxiety is sin for a few reasons. First, anxiety can be idolatry. Idolatry means to worship something which should never be worshiped; something other than the true God. Sometimes the reason we worry is because we are worshiping health and feeling good. If something comes along that threatens it, I will worry. Maybe I worship my financial security. If something threatens that, I will grow anxious. Finances and health are good things, but they are not to be god-things. We are to love the Lord our God, not feeling good and finances, with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Matt. 22:37).

Second, worry can be pride. In that moment, we might have a wrong or low view of God and a high view of self. We might be failing to think that God is not an all-good, all-knowing, all-perfect, and all-providing Father. Or, we can suppose that we have more control than God has allotted. Worry worries at times because it cannot control the uncontrollable. David Powlison wrote, “Worry assumes the possibility of control over the uncontrollable. The illusion of control lurks inside your anxiety. Anxiety and control are two sides of one coin. When we can’t control something, we worry about it” (Seeing With New Eyes, p. 115).

Third, worry can be a lack of thankfulness. Philippians 4:6 commands us to, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.” This means that worry is dealt with, in part, by thankfulness. So, where there is worry, there may be a lack of gratitude. And we are to give thanks in all things (1 Thess. 5:18).

Fourth, there can be self-centeredness in anxiety. When I am consumed by worry, I am have often become self-focused and self-consumed. I am spending too much time thinking about me; what I want; instead of thinking about loving others, praying, and obedience to God.

Fifth, when we are anxious we are often unloving. Worry can be unloving towards others. I cannot be simultaneously worried I will not get something and focused on serving another.

These are just a few ways in which anxiety can be sin.

That anxiety is sin does not give us less hope, but more. Why? Jesus came to die for sin and do away with its power in our lives (Rom. 6:11, 1 Pet. 2:24). If something is sin, there is hope. Christ paid the penalty for it (1 Pet. 2:24). The righteous wrath of God was place upon him and there is now no condemnation for those who put simple, childlike faith in Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:1). Further, he also died to do away with sin’s power. “For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace” (Rom. 6:14).

So then, the great news for people who battle anxiety is the Person, death, resurrection, and lordship of Jesus Christ. The situation is never hopeless. The second Person of the Trinity really did incarnate. Jesus really lived a righteous life. He really did struggle with distress as well, though without sinning. “And He said to them, ‘My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death; remain here and keep watch’” (Mark 14:34). And he submitted to the Father’s will. He really died as our wrath-bearing substitute for sin. He really rose. He really forgives all who put faith in him for forgiveness. And he really is doing a work of sanctification. All of God’s children will experience transformation, including those with the misery of anxiety. “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6). So then, let all of us who battle with anxiety put our faith in Jesus to both cleanse and progressively rid us of it.

4. Those who experience anxiety must use God’s means to fight it.

The great news for those who struggle with anxiety is that God has equipped us with tools to fight it. The purpose here is not to give an exhaustive treatment on battling anxiety, but instead to briefly mention some of the tools our loving God gives. It can seem very difficult to impossible in anxiety to get motivated to fight. But we can and we must. God gives us the strength to take up his resources.

Scripture. “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). This is fantastic news.

Note this well: the Bible is a powerful and sufficient tool for anxiety. Now, what could it look like to address our anxiety with the Bible? Meditation, for example. This means more than passive reading. Bible verses are not to be treated like magic pixie dust that we can sprinkle on anxiety, and, voila!, it’s gone. For that reason, mediation can be helpful. One problem with anxiety is that our minds have gone rogue into dark places. Meditation helps that. It can be helpful to actively meditate through something like a journal. You might write out verses, and pray them back to God; declare the beauty of their truths back to God; write out synonymous thoughts/words pertaining to a verse. If there are commands, turn them into requests to God. If there are doctrinal truths about God and his kingdom, write out praises and thanksgiving for them. Doing all of this falls in line with a direct command in Scripture addressing anxiety:

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:6-7).

The peace of God can and will come, but often only as we fight in biblical prayer, supplication, and thanksgiving.

Studying Scripture to gain a higher view of God, Christ, and his promises can help. Reading things like the Psalms (e.g. 23, 34, 37, 93, 119), Philippians, Isaiah 40-66, 2 Corinthians, James, and the Gospels can be very helpful.

Listening to sermons can be helpful as well. Sermons from passages like James 1:2-5, the aforementioned Psalms, 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, Philippians, and Jesus’ miracles (e.g. stopping the storm) can be strengthening.

Scripture memorization is also key. The key is to saturate our minds with the power of God’s word (cf. Ps. 119:11).

Prayer. Philippians 4:6-7 commends the power of prayer to us in our anxiety. As mentioned above, biblical meditation often takes up the weapon of prayer. During all of life, and especially bouts with anxiety, it is essential to be offloading our cares onto God. “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you” (1 Pet. 5:6-7).

Biblical music. With today’s technology, we can easily access music. Again, this is largely about filling our minds with rock solid truth. One might listen to songs like, He Will Hold Me Fast, What a Friend We Have in Jesus, A Mighty Fortress, Grace and Grace Alone, How Firm a Foundation, to name a few.

Worship. Corporate worship is critical to strengthening the soul. Things look a little different these days. But God has still enabled us to worship via livestream.

Confession and repentance. We must confess our anxiety to God as sin and ask his forgiveness. It is sin because he forbids it (Matt. 6:25, 31; Phil. 4:6).

Works on anxiety. To name a few, there is Answering Anxiety, by Richard Caldwell; Trusting God, by Jerry Bridges; Anxious for Nothing, by John MacArthur; Found: God’s Peace, by John MacArthur; Help! I’m Anxious, by Philip De Courcy; Anxiety: Knowing God’s Peace, by Paul Tautges.

I have been asked about taking anti-anxiety medication. Since my field of expertise is not psychiatry, it would not be appropriate for me to comment on psychopharmacological intervention. I would say this: we must exercise compassion and grace upon people in these struggles.

It could also be a good idea to get an exam from your physician. There are physiological things that can exacerbate anxiety. God made us body and soul.

5. Those who experience anxiety must keep fighting.

For many, the motivation to fight can diminish. It’s so difficult. The anxiety keeps coming. What’s the point?

The point is, that God has promised to transform us. He absolutely guarantees that we will be changed. That may not mean that he changes us at the rate we want.

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure (Phil. 2:12-13).

Notice those words there: as we fight, God is also at work. That is great news! He promises to be at work. We should not think about if the anxiety will still be around in a month or year from now (cf. Matt. 6:34). Look to God today. Praise him when you make it through another day. Keep fighting. He is at work.

Also, God may allow these things to build endurance in us.

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (Jas. 1:2-4).

God, in his goodness, wants to mature us a bit. He wants to produce endurance in us; steadfastness; perseverance; strength; a faith that keeps trusting him and moves forward. What a kindness of God to do so! What a mercy. What a great thing our Father does for us in these trying moments.

6. God’s grace is sufficient for those who battle with anxiety.

It may not seem like it at times, but God’s grace is sufficient. That does not mean that God will remove the distress right away. Instead, he will strengthen us to keep going. That does not mean we will keep going feeling great. At times it can be quite the opposite. What it means that his grace is sufficient is, in part, that he will not fail to be with us in it; he will not abandon us; he will not let us fall away from Christ; he will strengthen us in our weakness though we will not feel strong.

Paul’s words are instructive along these lines:

Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Cor. 12:7-10).

You can feel Paul’s pain there. The thorn. The devilish messenger. Whatever it was, it was seemingly unbearable. But, it was more important that Paul experience the Lord’s sufficient grace to keep going than it was to remove it and give quick relief. So, let us pray and fight to rest in our weakness. And let us fight to put our minds on our good God, who never ever abandons us in these trials. God’s grace is sufficient in our distress.

7. There will be no more anxiety in heaven.

No anxiety will last forever. It will not. The darkness; the pain; the loneliness; the feeling of helplessness—it absolutely will not last forever. As we read the scenes of heaven, there is only endless praise, joy, song, and exultation (cf. Rev. 15:3-4). What great news that is, dear believer. Anxiety, and every other misery and sin, will be forever done away with in heaven.

This is what we have to look forward to:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true” (Rev. 21:3-5).

O dear struggling, believer, is that not great news? Is that not reason to press forward in your anxiety, and every other struggle, and look up in hope to our blessed God and Savior, Jesus Christ? He reigns. He is risen. He looks upon us with compassion and mercy. “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all” (Ps. 34:18-19). So, then, let all under the crushing weight of anxiety, and other distress, look up to Christ. Let us trust in him for forgiveness and change. And let us press on, looking to the hope of heaven where all things will be made new.

Eric Davis Bio


Eric is the pastor of Cornerstone Church in Jackson Hole, WY. He and his team planted the church in 2008. He has been married for 15 years and has 3 children.

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Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

The train wreck analogy is a good one. Another is falling down a spiral staircase in slow motion while it crumbles behind. At the bottom, you're not only "very low" but there's a lot of rubble, and it's kind of churning. Lying there is painful. Getting up is worse...   but only temporarily, and you have to do it. The descent is often anxiety, but sometimes it's anger--sometimes both, and few other things, too. And the bottom is something else, more like despair.

If you're there, I sympathize. It's been a long time, but I know the neighborhood. Eric obviously does, too. A truth that seems very unlikely when you're there, but it's still truth: there is absolutely nothing keeping you there but you. 

It's a good idea to plan in advance what you're going to do if you find yourself there, especially if you're in a time in your life where it happens frequently. There isn't any light there. You have to know instead of seeing or feeling, which is why the kinds of truths in Eric's article are so important. You have to know before you get there, because it's the worst place in the world to try do any thinking. Probably the first thing you have to know is that you have to get up... that it's worth it to get up, and that you'll be actually be glad you did.

(In practical terms, getting up is when you "gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you" 1 Pet 1.13)

A lot of great truth and advice in the article!

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