Sunday, October 10, 2010

How to Confront and Avoid Anxiety

As the last post explained, Battling Unbelief taught me to start focusing on God's promises and to put my trust in Him to keep them. If you want to overcome anxiety, you can't start by trying to ignore problems or by exerting "self-control" to stop being anxious. You have to find your peace by knowing the problem is being taken care of. You will always have problems and uncertainties to deal with in life, but anxiety comes from thinking we have to deal with them ourselves. God has promised us we don't have to. Jesus specifically said we shouldn't be anxious about tomorrow or about our needs, because our Father in heaven will take care of it all. (Matthew 6:25-33).

The first step is to believe God means what He says, and reject any feelings to the contrary. If you had a friend you deeply trusted, you would believe his or her word over the word of someone less reliable. Faith means showing God the same trust. We need to remember that our feelings and the circumstances around us are not in any way as reliable as the God who created us and who upholds the universe. I gradually began to respond to situations that made me anxious by resisting the anxiety and directing my thoughts to God's promises instead. I would focus on God's words instead of my thoughts and feelings, and on remembering that the fulfillment of these promises depends on God, not on me. Instead of driving faster or sitting up at night worrying over the next day's work, I needed to trust that things were in God's hands and He would take care of them.

I struggled with applying this because it seemed too easy - it seemed like I was just being lazy and putting off my own responsibilities onto God. Part of the deception of anxiety is the idea that everything really depends on what we do. But that is not a life of faith. The life of faith acknowledges that we are dependent on God, and that we can't succeed without Him. Jesus told His disciples: "...apart from me you can do nothing." (John 15:5). Paul tells us that our very salvation "depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy." (Romans 9:16). And he told the Galatian church that if they received the Holy Spirit by faith, it was foolish for them to think that having begun by faith, they were now being perfected by their own work. (Galatians 3:1-7). The Christian life is a practice of depending on God by faith from beginning to end. We trust Him, and He shows His glory and faithfulness by always giving us what we need.

The more I practiced this, the more I discovered that I wasn't slipping in my responsibilities just because I was depending on God instead of my own anxious efforts. On the contrary, I began to be more faithful and more productive, and God proved His words true time and again by causing things to turn out well even when the circumstances looked anxious. My faith was strengthened by trusting God to keep His word, and I had a lot of freedom from the stress and tension I had carried around before. It wasn't a one-time cure; I still had to remember to practice this the next time a new anxiety came up. But living by faith has made me more productive and given me more peace of mind than ever before.


Jomo said...

The battle over our hearts and minds will be an ever pressing one, worry and anxiety are just a few of these things. As child my mother had me remember Philippians 4:4-8 to overcome my struggles in this area, it helps even more to believe the words are true :)

"Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say, rejoice! Let everyone see your gentleness. The Lord is near! Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God. And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is worthy of respect, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if something is excellent or praiseworthy, think about these things."

Anthony Bushnell said...

Thanks for the comment and the Scripture! I think one source of comfort and encouragement we often neglect is looking ahead to the hope that we have and remembering all the great blessings and joys that are already ours. Anxiety tends to narrow our vision and keep us preoccupied with the negative. This verse is a great antidote.