Regardless of whether we are an optimist or a pessimist, sanguine or melancholy, hope filled or in despair, none of us are immune to the challenges and trials that life brings. The outward circumstances of life squeeze us and constrain us to reveal what we are on the inside.
Anxiety is one of the things that can unexpectedly ooze out of us when stressful situations squeeze us. Clearly, there are some external situations which can cause us actual physical harm. Our heightened awareness of the potential danger in those situations is a blessing that allows us to remove ourselves or others from the source of potential threat or harm.
What exactly is anxiety?
But for many us, we exhibit anxiety that is based on what we perceive may happen or could happen and we see our circumstances through the lens of any fear and doubt that we are carrying.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines ‘anxiety’ as ‘an abnormal and overwhelming sense of apprehension and fear often marked by physiological signs, by doubt concerning the reality and nature of the threat, and by self doubt about one’s capacity to cope with it.’ Interesting… anxiety is strongly connected to doubt and the unknown.
This anxiety might be short lived. But many people, even Christians, live captive to ongoing anxiety. In no way do I wish to minimize the issue for people suffering from chronic anxiety, but it is important for us to consider what the Scriptures have to say about anxiety as we seek out what help they offer us – especially as they can silence the doubts.
Sober and Hopeful
The Apostle Peter (the disciple who assaulted the High Priest’s servant with a sword at Jesus’ arrest and then vehemently rejected Jesus three times….yes, that Peter) writes to some of the pastoral leaders in the early Christian community telling them,
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. Be sober-minded; be watchful.”
1 Peter 5:6–9 ESV
Peter starts with the exhortation that we should first humble ourselves before God. This means we need to acknowledge our weaknesses and anxiety and our need for God’s help. It may sound obvious, but pride can cause us to feel ashamed to confess our weakness. In the previous verse, Peter reminds us that God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. When we humble ourselves before God we position ourselves to receive his grace.
Secondly, Peter instructs us to cast our anxieties onto God in the knowledge that God cares for us. It is very difficult to entrust God with our fears and doubts if we don’t actually believe that He cares for us! We must settle the issue of God’s goodness in our own minds if we are to proceed with dealing with our anxieties. Peter is actually using an idiom here that means we should give over the responsibility for our anxieties to God and then trust him with them. We must apply ourselves intentionally here. Through prayer and trust in God’s care for us, we give to Him what we cannot carry in our own strength.
Thirdly, and connected to this, is Peter’s exhortation to be sober-minded (literally don’t be drunk with anxiety). Another way of saying it is to be well balanced and self-controlled. To use one of Paul’s phrases, we take every thought captive!
In my own life, I have discovered that I frequently experience anxiety when I start imagining ‘what if’ scenarios without God in them. Any ‘what if’ scenario that isn’t full of hope can lead to this line of thinking. If I am not diligent, I can easily default to imagining the worst case scenario. I realize at that moment, that I am not exercising any faith or trust in my God. So, I have to give my fears over to Jesus in prayer and ask Him to show me how He might want me to see this situation with Him featuring in it! That is usually when hope enters! What I am describing is a battle that takes place in our mind: between fearing the unknown versus trusting Jesus is Lord in this present circumstance and He will continue to be my caring Lord of my future.
Let me pray this over you.
“Heavenly Father, I thank You that You care for us. Show us any area of our lives where we have believed a lie about You, that is contrary to Your word. Please forgive us and show us the truth about Your caring nature towards us as your sons and daughters. We choose to humble ourselves before You and to entrust You with our anxiety. Help us to be well-balanced in our thinking and to have faith to believe that You are Lord over our future circumstances. Amen.”