As a counselor, I’ve noticed a distinct increase in the use of anti- anxiety medications over the last 5-10 years. I’d estimate that 75% of my former clients were using these meds on a daily basis, or felt the need to use them occasionally. It prompts me to ask, why? Have people changed? Or, has something outside of them changed? I believe it’s a combination of both. Although the heart of man hasn’t changed, the world has given us new things to worry about…. bullying, sex-trafficking, drugs, terrorism, strangers, new diseases, hackers, etc. It’s enough to make me break out in a cold sweat! So, how are we to filter all these uncontrolled things through Scripture?
First, let’s take a look at some basics. Man has always had the capacity to fear. It’s a God-given emotion that warns us to pay attention. Adam and Eve would have needed to have a healthy reaction to fear if an elephant stampede had threatened their paths. It would have been a necessary, reasonable, non-sinful reaction to a real threat if they had needed to step out of the way in order to avoid disaster. However, they also had an irresponsible sinful reaction to a perceived fear as they ate the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge. They believed that they had to know what God knew, because they feared He had withheld necessary knowledge from them. They felt that God had thrown them under the bus, so they tried to take control by disobeying God, and taking matters into their own hands. So, as you can see, fear motivated the first couple to respond in a self-protective way via the Enemy (and their flesh) that deceived them…..and we’re no different. We get anxious and obsess about things over which we have no control. We even convince ourselves that if we try hard enough, we can control the uncontrollable…. namely the future.
As living, breathing human beings, we only have the past, present, and future. If we live in the past, we will often make excuses to remain angry by blameshifting and holding grudges against others. If we live in the future, we fear what may happen, and life feels out of control. So, the only option that brings real peace is to focus on the present….today. But, today, Mary is worried whether or not her high-schooler will get into college. Bill fears he may lose his job. Cindy is never free from worry about her weight. Tom fears his cash flow won’t pay the bills. Emily worries that her sick child won’t recover. These kinds of fears have been around forever. What’s new, is that this present world’s culture has created new kinds of fears. We live in an information overload, brain-taxing, stress-producing, global sphere, thanks to technology. Google, Facebook, U-Tube, Twitter, and the rest of the I-Need-To-Know-It apps have elevated a new level to life’s concerns. Plus, the 24-7 news channels give us on the spot, breaking news about everything and nothing. As a result, we see anxiety-overload, like Nancy worrying that her babies will get snatched. Dan, wondering if his search on WebMD will tell him whether or not he may have cancer. Bill watches the moment by moment downward movement of his stock portfolio. Janice (me) Googling what her surgical procedure last Thursday would look like. Jenny’s fear of her medical or financial data being hacked. We know too much about things out of our control, which we’re deceived into thinking, that if we just do something to get ahead of it, the outcome will be good or at least be tolerable. That’s not living in the present, because worry is ALWAYS about the future. It lives in fear about what may happen. It wants total control, but can’t have it. Think about the people/things you’ve stressed about today. The amount of time you’ve spent worrying about people/things that have taken up space in your day. The people/ things that have consumed your mental energy.
I’m a worrier. I spend far too much time thinking about the “what-ifs”, than I do about the present joy in a day I’m living. What if that happens? What if they don’t do such and such? What if I can’t get this done? What if I see someone at the mailbox and I have on no makeup? (Yes, sadly, this is a vain concern, but then you’d be the one in danger of fright.) I’ve recently had the occasion to fret over my latest medical issues which I shared in my “Suffering” post of a few weeks ago. I underwent surgery 2 days ago, and won’t know the results for 4-5 business days. As much as I don’t relish the experience, it’s yet another occasion where I’m pushed out of my comfort zone to see where I land. It’s an opportunity for me to experience how trust can overlay fear, when an uncertain future causes anxiety about things I can’t control. I really do want to know if my faith is genuine, and what better way to discover that, than through a fearful time. So…. you would think that if worry is my companion these days, it would have been over my health, but the Holy Spirit has graciously given me peace about that particular outcome.
Unfortunately, however, I laid awake last night for hours thinking of the fact that I hadn’t posted in over a week, and I was stressing over what I was going to write about stress! I was worried about what people would think, since I hadn’t posted in a week. I was anxious about coming up with a topic that would be of interest. I tossed and turned over what to say. I started praying, and the Lord quickly reminded my soul that my anxiety was coming from worry; that worry comes from fear; and fear comes from believing that a real or perceived danger is imminent, thereby not trusting that God will see me through it. So, the question I asked myself was, What do I believe the danger to be just because I haven’t posted in a timely fashion? Is it a real or perceived danger? How do I believe it can it hurt me if I let people down?
There is certainly real danger at times in situations which require us to be responsible, wise people; circumstances which necessitate us to take action. However, the large majority of the time, fear is based on a perceived danger. A belief that the situation poses danger to us, and we have to do something to circumvent it. My example of staying awake during the night is a case in point. I was thinking to myself, What is my anxiety really about? If I’m honest with myself, I’d have to admit it was about what other people would be thinking of me. My reputation. Is there really a danger in that? The answer is yes, if I live to believe that what others think of me will give me life. However, if I live to believe that Jesus is the only One who gives me life, then there’s no real danger. Possibly, a disappointment, but nothing that will kill me.
Stress, worry, and anxiety are not caused by what’s going on outside of us, even though circumstances may be uncertain, confusing, and painful. Our struggle with anxiety comes from what’s going on inside of us. You see, it’s a faith issue…. spoken by the very mouth of Christ. Matthew 6:19-34 is a familiar passage on Worry, where Jesus says in verse 27, “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?”… and in verse 30, goes on to describe those who worry as, “O’ you of little faith.” This passage is sandwiched squarely between Jesus talking about the treasures (of our heart) that we store up on earth, and by contrast, seeking God’s kingdom as the treasure of our heart. In other words, what we worry about and what we find rest in, reveal the true treasures of our heart. Worry rips our soul apart. It tears at the very fabric of our faith. Paul David Tripp wrote an article on “Worry” that says it best. He said, “You will rest the most when what you treasure the most is secure, and you will worry the most when what you treasure the most is at risk. What does your world of worry reveal about the true treasures of your heart?” Friends, even when we understandably fear real danger, if it turns into obsessing, it means our misplaced treasure is safety. We value that over seeking the eternal treasure of seeking God’s Kingdom purposes as our master.
When I consider my anxiety that I experienced last night about what others think of me, it convicts me to repent. My head and heart were wrapped around my kingdom, and I was assigning value to my own self-centered “need” to be liked. The Holy Spirit graciously enabled me to remember that only Jesus and His Kingdom is my highest and deepest treasure. When I spend countless moments in worry, it robs me of living for a purpose that is so much higher. When I treasure my earthly desires and perceived needs above what Jesus has for me, it steals my rest.
Friend, what do you stress about? How high is your anxiety? Please understand that this is a war for your heart. Who will win? If your brain spends a good part of the day worrying about what may happen in the future, then I challenge you to consider what you’re treasuring more than Christ’s Kingdom purposes. If you could “fix” and control the future, how much of it would be about your comfort, your peace of mind, and your world. How much of it would include trusting His provision for you? Faith and trust in the Lord’s plan, and not your own, pushes out worry because it believes the promise, “Fear not, for I am with you. . . . I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)….regardless as to how it may look and feel to you. (Italics mine)
There is no need to be anxious. Anxiety is a product of your perception that God can’t be trusted with your future, or the futures of those you love. It is an unvarnished faith issue. Turn Around. Don’t be like Adam and Eve and attempt to take matters into your own hands when the outcome is up to the Lord. You can believe that God’s timing and purposes are always trustworthy because He doesn’t lie. Ask the Holy Spirit to remind you of what is true and real. He will enable you to repent and have a renewed perspective. Then….enjoy the rest.