Monday, August 21, 2017

Hope for the Anxious Heart

Do you ever wake up in the middle of the night overwhelmed by what needs done the next day? Do you find it hard to get to sleep wondering what lies ahead? Do you get panic/anxiety attacks or have moments where you feel frozen by fear or worry?
Recently I was talking with a friend about similar issues and have recognized some of these instances in my own life as well. This has lead me to thinking more about this topic of anxiety focusing on what it is and then, what we can do about it.

What Is Anxiety?
The New Testament uses the same word for both "worry" and "anxiety." Some of the ways lexicons define it are, "care for, be concerned about, be anxious, be overly concerned about, be worried about, think earnestly upon, to be disturbed, annoyed in spirit,  distracted" [1] [2] [3] I think those cover the spectrum well. Anxiety may be demonstrated in outward actions like sleeplessness, inability to breathe, nausea, depression, apathy, frantic working. However, these are only the results of where anxiety starts. It begins in my heart. As I dwell upon circumstances, the future, other things that I or others expect of me, unfulfilled desires and hopes I have, all of these can lead me to having an anxious heart, … IF not partnered with a trust in God.

How Do I Deal With Anxiety?
There is a somewhat popular thought that stress and or stressful situations are bad for you because they can help produce anxiety. The answer given to this supposed problem is to not be in those situations. This idea is great in theory, but completely impractical in real life. If you have a job, drive your car in traffic, buy food at the grocery store, or in any way interact with people or things, you will find not everything goes your way and life gets stressful. We as Christians are called to be in the world thus it seems we must understand a different way, God's way, for functioning well in it through times of stress and anxiety. Scripture gives us very helpful answers to this.

Phil  4:6-9 (NASB), "6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. 9 The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you."
Paul gives 3 actions and 2 promises in this passage helping us deal with anxiety…

Action 1: Pray
Paul says that as anxious thought and feelings come into our thinking we should bring them to the Lord. Peter states it, "casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you" (1 Pet 5:7). Bring your desires, fears, questions, concerns to the Lord. Paul adds, do so with thanksgiving. How do I pray in desperation with thanksgiving? It means recognizing who God is as the all powerful Creator, Who loves and cares for you and will only work for your best (Rom 8:28). Understanding Who God is and trusting Him should drive us to thankfulness and praise in our time of worry.

Promise 1: The Peace of God
God states that as we bring our anxiety and worry to Him, He will give us His peace. Not just a peace that is temporary or just dulls the feelings, but a peace beyond what you or I can comprehend. This peace guards us from fear and worry and allows us to rest. It guards are whole being that we not still fret. When is the last time you waited before the Lord with your anxiety till you were given His peace?

Action 2: Think Rightly
Our anxiety always stems from a wrong view of God. We look at the circumstances and situations around us and rightly assess we are ill-equipped for the task ahead. We recognize our weak, feebleness, but instead of turning to God we keep our eyes on ourselves and we despair. We don't see God for Who He is. We forget He is the sovereign Creator and we fear. Paul tells us to combat this thinking instead of focusing on ourselves or our situation, we are instead to primarily focus on our God. He is the epitome of the list of things to think upon. As we think rightly about our situation, ourselves, and our God, suddenly our hope is restored.

Action 3: Act
Paul continues, prayer is a necessary start, right thinking is key to combating hopelessness, but the process of overcoming anxiety is not complete until we act in faith upon the promises we have dwelt. Paul says we are to practice… regularly do these actions. Rather than being frozen by fear or apathetic to outcomes, God calls us to act in obedience to His desires. It may not be fun or easy. Start by simply determining, what is the next thing I need to do. You don't need to have all your plans figured out or even know the end of the path your on necessarily. Often you just need to step. After taking the first step, take another, and another, and another. God will graciously allow you to persevere.
One other note on this, notice this is in the context of community both Paul's relationship with the church walking with and before them, and their relationship with each other. You don't have to do this alone. Bring it to others. Ask for their help and encouragement. Walk in obedience with others.

Promise 2: The God of Peace
You see what Paul did there? I love the play on words! Not only do you get the peace of God from dealing rightly with your anxiety, you also, ultimately get the God of peace! As you walk with the Lord bringing your concerns to Him, thinking rightly about Him, and walking in obedience to Him you start having true joy and relationship with Him. Your time and focus get taken from the creation futility and instead are transferred to walking with the Creator. How blessed we are as God's children!

Practical Suggestions
These are just some helpful thoughts/tips I put together and would suggest for you as you start the process and dealing with anxiety:
·       Take time to do a prayer journal bringing your thoughts to the Lord on a daily basis
·       Memorize Philippians 4:6-9
·       Read Matthew 6:25-34 to see how Jesus talks about this as well

I will close with Paul's words to the church in Philippi, "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (Phil 1:2).
Phil Smith, Youth Minister

[1] Friberg, Barbara, Timothy Friberg, Neva F. Miller, Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament (electronic edition: Baker Books, 2000).
[2] Liddell, Henry George and Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon (New York: Harper and Bros., 1897).
[3] Thayer, Joseph Henry, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 4th ed. (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, [1889] 1901).