What Is Anxiety?
A mountainous problem faced by many individuals is the issue of anxiety. In fact, based on general statistics found through the sophisticated analysis of a Google search,1 20% of the American population has been seen to be impacted by anxiety. Even at that base number, we are dealing with a massive amount of the population. Understanding that fact, I wanted to dive into this area. To launch our investigation we must begin by asking the question, what actually is anxiety in the first place? Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary states:
“Concern or solicitude respecting some event, future or uncertain, which disturbs the mind, and keeps it in a state of painful uneasiness. It expresses more than uneasiness or disturbance, and even more than trouble or solicitude. It usually springs from fear or serious apprehension of evil, and involves a suspense respecting an event, and often, a perplexity of mind, to know how to shape our conduct.2”
Notice how Webster specifically ties fear and anxiety closely together. In fact, he says anxiety “springs” from fear. Anxiety is the pool filled by the overflowing waterfall of fear. Webster ties it to either the apprehension of evil or specific tension relating to some event. Essentially, sinful anxiety stems from fear of something you cannot control. But, is anxiety ever a good thing? What does the Scripture have to say about how we can be rid of anxiety? Let’s examine these particular areas together!
Positive and Negative Fear and Anxiety
It might sound foreign to some to see me write about fear or anxiety demonstrated in a healthy manner, but I think that Darrell Harrison and Virgil Walker help to make this clear:
“For example, let’s say you wake up tomorrow morning and find that there’s a brown recluse spider on your pillow. In such a situation, we would suggest that you have every right to be fearful because of your awareness that brown recluse spiders are among some of the most venomous spiders in the world.”3
I do apologize for the fact many will go to bed tonight anxious about a spider next to their pillow, but actually, that very idea represents the distinction between a healthy fear versus an unhealthy one. Healthy fear would cause you to jump out of bed as soon as you see the venomous spider menacingly glaring at you, while sinful fear causes you never to be able to sleep because you randomly think you might get bit by a spider as you are dreaming. One is a real event that must be addressed, the other is a crisis of your imagination which you have become fixated upon. It is right to speak about being concerned or having a care for others. For example, the Apostle Paul talks about his merimna for all the churches in 2 Corinthians 11:28. Depending on the translation you use, that Greek word will be either given in English as “care” or “anxiety.” Paul was not exhibiting sinful anxiety in this text, the point is that he had a Godly concern for them in Christ. However, it was not debilitating to the point where he was crippled in anxiety and fear. Being concerned for your loved one who has cancer is distinct from being anxious about your healthy family member who may possibly suffer from some illness at some point in the future. So, we need to comprehend the distinction between a healthy fear as opposed to a sinful one while addressing this issue.
Dealing With Sinful Fear and Anxiety
Now, sinful anxiety is not only the propensity of someone to be crippled by a thought in their mind that may or may not come to pass, it also can be demonstrated by how someone deals with events in real life. It is right for us to have legitimate regard toward long-term issues or difficult situations like persecution. Yet fearful anxiety was not exhibited by Peter, Paul, and the early church. If they would have been fearfully anxious, they would have never preached the Gospel again after enduring persecution. But, Acts 5:41-42 records the reaction of Peter and the Apostles:
Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus. -Acts 5:41-42
Notice the men simply rejoice that they were able to suffer for Christ while also going straight back to proclaiming the truth about Him. Obviously, there were periods where wisdom dictated individuals in the early church would flee to a different town for Gospel proclamation instead of staying in the same vicinity (see Acts 9:23-26). However, what I want you to notice is that the disciples did not stop proclaiming the truth because of anxiety over what might happen. They might have to move to a different location, they might need to stay in the same place, but they kept on proclaiming. What is it that drives someone to be able to live with that kind of courage in Christ instead of being paralyzed in fear?
Overcoming Sinful Anxiety
The opening of the 53rd Psalm gives us such a great lesson on this particular point. It states:
“Be gracious to me, O God, for man tramples on me; all day long an attacker oppresses me; my enemies trample on me all day long, for many attack me proudly. When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?” -Psalm 53:1-4
Did you see what David does with his fear? He puts his trust in God as the remedy. The way by which we are freed from anxiety and worry is to see God for who He is and trust in Him. We don’t just say this with our lips, but rather live it out daily by our actions. Because once we understand that truth, we see the reality nothing can befall us except it come from the hand of our Creator. The trials of life are sent our way in His sovereign plan that we might grow in Him and glorify Him more. Seasons of life which to us appear to be overflowing with joy are also part of His providential plan as gifts of His grace. Ecclesiastes 7:14 states:
“In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him.”
Understanding that the “day of prosperity” and the “day of adversity” both are made by God should cause us to trust instead of being anxious and remain resolved instead of being paralyzed by fear. So, the first step to ridding ourselves of fearful anxiety is to see God for who He is and trust in Him. Secondly, we need to humbly cast our cares or anxieties upon Him in humility. 1 Peter 5:6-7 says:
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” -1 Peter 5:6-7
Pride is often the fountain of anxiety and worry. Instead of casting our cares upon God trusting in Him, we hold on to them in fear. This text is not calling on us to somehow throw everything on God and not do anything in life. Instead, we must humbly throw everything upon Him walking forward in obedience with the wisdom and understanding He gives by His grace. Have you considered your anxiety might be driven by pride demonstrating itself in that you hold on to those cares because you do not trust God’s plan for them? Often we think by our endless hours of worry the situation will disappear, yet that is pure folly. Such areas as these should lead us all to stare in the mirror of Scripture and evaluate our lives.
The final aspect I will mention in this post is that to rid ourselves of anxiety we must become individuals of prayer and thankfulness. Philippians 4:4-6 states:
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
We are to not be anxious, but come to God in prayer, yet it is not prayer alone, but also prayer with thanksgiving that we are called to exhibit in our lives. Prayer with thanksgiving for who God is and what He has done. Thankfulness for the great salvation He has given to us. Thankfulness for the reality He has blessed us in Christ, and yes even thankfulness for the difficult trials which come our way to grow us in Him. I shall leave you with a word from the prince of preachers:
“Send me what Thou wilt my God, so long as it comes from Thee; never came there an ill portion from Thy table to any of Thy children. Say not my soul ‘From whence can God relieve my care?’ Remember that Omnipotence has servants everywhere. His method is sublime, His heart profoundly kind, God never is before His time, and never is behind.” -Charles Spurgeon
1 I jest with the term “sophisticated” as it pertains to my Google search. Nonetheless, I would venture a guess this number is much higher in reality than it shows up on the stat sheet.
3 Darrell Harrison and Virgil Walker, Why are You Afraid?, p. 13.