Sunday, October 10, 2010

Anxiety Is Dangerous - And Avoidable

After somehow managing to successfully not post during the whole month of September, I want to jump back in by following up on the last post on how Martin Luther addressed anxiety. Since anxiety saps the joy out of many Christians, I want to share two realizations that have changed my life and explain how they helped: 1) anxiety comes from wrong thinking about God; and 2) anxiety is optional - it isn't a normal and necessary part of human life.

Regarding the first, I used to beat myself up when I was running late or when I didn't think I had put enough effort into something. I would pummel myself with thoughts about what was going to happen if I didn't pull out all the stops and somehow redeem the situation. This tended to put me in a high-stress, anxious state of mind that bordered on panic. Mercifully, a couple of years ago I began to realize that this practice of anxious self-reproach was accomplishing nothing. It wasn't helping me change my behavior. All it was doing was making me stressed and tense. I didn't know how to break out of the pattern, though, because it seemed irresponsible and apathetic to not be anxious and worked up when I was in a bad situation.

Part of the problem was that I had been unconsciously trying to use anxiety as a motivator - if I worked up enough stress and worry over something, hopefully it would push me into giving everything I had. By God's grace, I started to realize this and how useless it was. It was more than useless, too, because it left me stressed and irritable. In fact, Jesus warned that the cares of this world can choke out the Word of God and keep us from being fruitful. (Matthew 13:22-23). Anxiety is actually counterproductive. So instead, I started working on applying some things I learned from reading Battling Unbelief, a book by John Piper (you can also read the sermons he preached on this).

Piper introduced me to the surprising concept that anxiety was not just bothersome, but actually a form of distrust in God. Anxiety comes from not believing that God will faithfully watch over us and provide for us. It comes from believing that we have to take care of things ourselves or they won't get taken care of. So Piper calls anxiety a form of unbelief, a lack of faith in God's character. The cure for unbelief is faith - putting your trust in God to do what He has promised. This brought me to the second revelation: anxiety is unnatural for a Christian. It's a weakness of faith, and if we focus on building our faith, anxiety can be dispelled. Here's what happened when I tried applying this.

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