We’re thinking about emotional wisdom and in this video, we’re going to think about anxiety and fear in particular.
Anxiety Is A Common Emotion
During a time of great uncertainty, anxiety is perhaps one of the most common emotions we’re all going to experience. And so it’s good to prepare for it and to think about how to process it. And so, as we think about how to prepare for it, I want to provide a few principles from scripture that help us think through what anxiety is. After that we’re going to look at a short process on how to manage your anxiety and here is a worksheet you can download that will help you to do that.
Anxiety is perhaps one of the most common emotions we’re all going to experience.
So firstly, what is anxiety?
What Anxiety Is & Isn’t
Let’s try and be clear about what anxiety is and what it isn’t.
The first principle I want to share from scripture is that fear and distress – which are part of the anxiety family if you like – fear and distress are not inherently sinful.
Fear and distress are not inherently sinful.
Counsellor Ed Welch says the following: “The scripture assumes that we will live with fear. We are weak people who can control very little. Our reputations, our finances, our loved ones and even our lives are at risk every day.”
So fear and distress are not inherently sinful and it may surprise you that God’s response to our weakness and our frailty is actually a response of compassion.
God Has Compassion; Jesus Can Empathise
In Psalm 103 we read this: “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him. For he knows how we are formed. He remembers that we are dust.”
We have a father who has compassion, we have a saviour who responds with empathy.
When our heavenly father reflects on our weakness, he responds with compassion. What’s more, our saviour can respond with empathy. Because, as we read the Psalms – and as we realise that the Psalms give us an insight into the life, and heart and mind of Christ – we realise that he too experienced distress.
And so, we have a father who has compassion, we have a saviour who responds with empathy. That’s the first thing that’s worth keeping in mind.
Godly Concern Is Appropriate
The second thing that can help us when it comes to reflecting on what anxiety is, is to distinguish sinful anxiety from godly concern.
Godly concern is appropriate. When you are faced with a threat, you should be concerned about it; that is the appropriate response. And godly concern leads us to wise action and dependent prayer. That’s how we deal with threats. We pray and we work. And we hopefully do those with faith and wisdom.
Godly concern leads us to wise action and dependent prayer. That’s how we deal with threats.
In the current danger of the Coronavirus, in the reality of our economic uncertainties, godly concern is absolutely appropriate. It should lead us to pray and it should lead us to wise, creative, faithful action steps. So we ought to have appropriate vigilance in the face of danger. We out to have a godly concern when we are faced with threats. And in that sense, it’s really helpful to distinguish sinful anxiety from godly concern.
A lot of the time what you might be feeling is actually better understood as godly concern than sinful anxiety.
When Is Anxiety Sinful?
Well thirdly then, what anxiety is sinful? Because, in certain passages (Matthew 6 would be a good example) Jesus tells us repeatedly, “Do not worry.” The Bible tells us that again and again.
Jesus tells us repeatedly, “Do not worry.”
Well firstly, when you take a look at the context of Matthew 6, we see Jesus bringing up a contrast between worshipping God and worshipping money – between seeking your own kingdom or seeking God’s kingdom. In that sense my anxieties reveal a heart that is worshipping something other than God.
In that sense my anxiety reveals that my priorities are wrong: that something else has become more important to me than God. And in that sense anxiety is sinful and it reveals something going on in my heart that isn’t right.
This type of anxiety is sinful. It’s rooted in our desires for security outside of God. And that’s the anxiety we should repent of.
A Surprising Opportunity
But anxiety always gives us an opportunity. It gives us an opportunity to reflect on our hearts, it gives us an opportunity to turn to our heavenly father and receive his compassion. It gives us an opportunity to turn to our saviour and experience his empathy and love. And it gives us an opportunity to turn to his word and to turn to him in prayer.
Often the way we process anxiety is by turning to God.
So, as you prepare for anxiety, keep these things in mind. Fear and distress are not inherently sinful, godly concern is often appropriate, anxiety reveals the desires of our hearts and when it’s sinful it does need to be repented of. But often the way we process anxiety is by turning to God. And let’s think about that process in a little more detail now.
5 Steps To Help Process Anxiety
As I mentioned, here is a worksheet you can download. I would encourage you to work through this in a personal way. The big idea is this: that anxiety is replaced with peace as we relate to God in prayer.
Anxiety is replaced with peace as we relate to God in prayer.
The way we process anxiety is not mystically, or just cognitively, it is relationally: we process anxiety in relationship with God.
The process below is based on what David Powlison has said, I have made a few adjustments, and he provides a few helpful action steps:
1) Name your cares and concerns.
2) Listen to the God who cares.
3) Talk to the God who cares.
4) Meditate on the God who cares.
5) Act wisely today.
Let’s go through these quickly.
1. Name Your Cares and Concerns
So name your cares and concerns. When you get anxious it can feel amorphous. It can feel like this huge undefined cloud of concerns. But actually, although it can feel infinite, anxieties are finite. And naming what they are, writing them down, articulating them, can help you to identify what those are.
So that’s name your cares and concerns.
2. Listen to The God Who Cares
Secondly, listen to the God who cares. What does God say to anxious people? It’s worth going to scripture and finding out. Matthew 6, Luke 12, the book of Psalms, there’re multiple places in scripture where God speaks to his anxious people. And as a father has compassion on his children, so our heavenly father will have compassion on us. So listen to him. Listen to what he says to you by reading his word.
3. Talk to The God Who Cares
Having listened to him then talk to him. Talk to him about the things you’ve identified. Talk to him about what he has promised you in his word. And it’s in this step that we really start to interact with the Lord relationally and bring our cares to him knowing that he cares for us. Delight in his love for you.
Talk to God about the things you’ve identified. Bring your cares to him.
At this stage, as well, you may recognise there are some aspects of the anxiety that is rooted in sinful desire. If so, that needs to be confessed and repented of. But a lot of the concerns and distress you might have aren’t sinful and what you need to do is just rejoice in God’s covenant love, delight in his promises, and rest in his purposes.
4. Meditate on The God Who Cares
The fourth thing is meditation. We need to meditate on the God who cares for us. Meditation is about taking a truth from scripture and fixing it in your mind.
Meditation is about taking a truth from scripture and fixing it in your mind.
When we get anxious, often, we have a worry that is fixed in our minds. And it’s kind of like on a video loop and it just keeps coming back again and again. When we meditate, what we’re doing is that we’re taking a truth from scripture: a promise, something wonderful, something life affirming, something beautiful about who God is, and we are fixing it in our minds and we’re meditating on it. We’re using it as a basis for prayer and we’re rejoicing.
So meditation is an absolutely critical part of battling anxiety.
5. Act Wisely Today
And then finally, wise action. What do you need to do today? What are your responsibilities today? It’s easy to feel overwhelmed with the multiple things we need to do. But what’s on your plate today? Can you prioritise that? And can you do that today?
Name your cares and concerns, listen to the God who cares, talk to the God who cares, meditate on the God who cares and act wisely today.
It’s an Ongoing Process
This is not a simple process that you just do once and then you leave behind. This is something all of us need to be doing all the time.
Have a look at the worksheet. I’d encourage you to process it personally and prayerfully. Maybe share it with a friend, talk to a friend about it. And may God bless you as you trust him in these uncertain times.
It’s not necessarily sinful to feel anxiety as a Christian. Kyle Johnston shares 5 steps that enable us to work through these feelings relationally with God.
TOPICS COVERED – Click on the timestamp to go straight to this section in the video:
– Anxiety Is A Common Emotion (0:15)
– What Anxiety Is & Isn’t (0:48)
– God Has Compassion; Jesus Can Empathise (1:25)
– Godly Concern Is Appropriate (2:18)
– When Is Anxiety Sinful? (3:30)
– Anxiety Presents a Surprising Opportunity (4:30)
– 5 Steps To Help Process Anxiety (5:10)
— 1. Name your cares and concerns. (6:00)
— 2. Listen to the God who cares. (6:25)
— 3. Talk to the God who cares. (6:52)
— 4. Meditate on the God who cares. (7:36)
— 5. Act wisely today. (8:20)
“Fear and distress are not inherently sinful and it may surprise you that God’s response to our weakness and our frailty is actually a response of compassion.”
“Some anxiety reveals that my priorities are wrong. Something else has become more important to me than God... That’s the sort of anxiety we should repent of.”
“Anxiety is replaced with peace as we relate to God in prayer.”
OTHER TGC AFRICA CONTENT ON THIS TOPIC
This Is (Not) How Your Heart Functions
You Don’t HAVE to Worry
Helping Anxious Children to Trust God