After 30 years in Seattle, Sue thought she knew how to drive in the rain, but this was different. Here in Central Florida, palm trees bowed and bounced in the gale, while sheets of a downpour obscured everything beyond her headlights. Meanwhile, Sue’s son waited at preschool.As she turned onto the main road, Sue suddenly glimpsed headlights looming on the left, horn blaring. She floored it just in time and, thank God, her electric car sprung out of the way in time to avoid impact. While her vehicle fishtailed, she felt the adrenaline surge, making her fingers tingle. “Exhale,” she heard herself say, feeling her heart lurching beneath her ribcage. “God, thank you!”
Whether driving in a tropical storm or waiting for test results, we’ve all worried. Christians, however, are more likely to feel guilty about doing so. Why? In His mountainside sermon, Jesus urges His followers to trust God for everything, the way a bird waits upon the Lord for sustenance.
Long before Instagram, God knew we humans would get distracted and dismayed over food and clothing, let alone deeper issues of the heart. Yet our Lord says to be anxious for nothing. Is Jesus’ command as simple as McFerrin’s “Don’t worry, be happy!” or does casting our cares on the Lord involve more than willpower?
Five Scriptures about Anxiety
Let’s look at five Bible verses about anxiety using the acronym, “CHILL.”
“I called to the Lord in my distress and he heard me and delivered me from all my fears.” – Psalm 18:7-20
On the run from murderous King Saul, David calls out to God, as is his custom in seemingly impossible situations. He instructs his inner man to put his hope in God, an action that takes deliberate effort when in duress.
David does not wait to worship until his surroundings appear safe, but acknowledges the threats, then shifts his focus from the natural to the supernatural, as “Yes, I am in danger, but God is a shield about me.” Zooming out to the big picture that includes spiritual warfare and God’s sovereignty over it, David reminds his soul of God’s faithfulness in preserving his life against extreme odds.
As a teenager, David fought off lions and bears to protect the family sheep. Later he stepped up to kill the formidable Goliath with a river rock, while the trained (but daunted) armies of Israel, including his big brothers, looked on. Now, years later, David continues to face his opposition head on.
“I lift my eyes to the hills, from whence comes my help.” – Psalm 121:1
The poet-king sings to God, acting opposite the body’s urges to freeze or run away. With consistent training, David’s body responds courageously to formidable stresses as God shores him up from the inside.
We see another example of David garnering spiritual support amid chaos in 2 Samuel 30:6, after the Amalekites razed the Israelite camp at Ziklag, abducting the troops’ wives and children. David’s distraught men considered stoning David; understandably troubled, David withdrew to find “strength in the Lord his God.”
His practice of subduing fear with prayer, self-coaching, and music allowed God room to establish the man who would go on to rule as one of Israel’s most influential kings.
Image the Unseen
Creating images that correspond with spiritual reality is not the same as imagining or pretending, but rather, a way of conceptualizing the unseen, where the epic battle for human souls actually rages. Paul says our “struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, powers and rulers” (Ephesians 6:12).The psalms invoke imagery to help the reader apprehend abstractions like God’s watch-care over us, His wayward sheep. Jesus likewise told stories to convey truth.
In a clever turn of phrase, the Apostle Paul, who used to persecute and imprison Christians, directs the believers in Corinth to take every thought captive, “to make it obedient to Christ.” He tells Roman believers to be “transformed by the renewing” of their minds.
Christians are called not to subordinate our intellect to our shifting emotions, but to redeem our thoughts and feelings with His Word. See how one young man visualized his Savior’s presence and provision, using sanctified imagination.
I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. – Isaiah 42:1
Mark grew up with an alcoholic father who could rage one moment, then pick up his guitar to play Spanish folk music the next. At the sound of his dad’s car rolling into the driveway each evening, Mark found himself slipping back inside his mind, as though zooming down a waterslide, retreating from his father’s mercurial moods.
Years later, an insightful Christian counselor suggested Mark mentally update that looped video clip of helplessly sliding away from the external threat. The next time anxiety mounted, Mark pictured himself atop the waterslide. This time, however, instead of closing his eyes and dissociating, he asked God to dry up the water, lift him from the platform and set his feet on a mountain trail.
There in his mind’s eye, Mark could walk downhill with Jesus along on a clear path that, although steep, had switchbacks. With practice, he found staying present with others much more rewarding than giving in to worry. When triggered to fear, Mark asked Jesus to guide him to a mental turnout from the path where he could confer with the Lord in prayer and His Word.
God knows that unfamiliar, complex and evil situations will strain our trust in His goodness. Some Bible verses about anxiety tell us simply not to worry, but many psalms and parables model effective soul-coaching. When we entrust our minds to the Holy Spirit, He promises to lead us into all truth.
Lean on Friends
Two are better than one, for they have a good return for their labor. If either falls the other can pick him up. But woe to him who has no one else to lift him when he stumbles. – Ecclesiastes 4:9-12
Though tempted to hunker down and fret, or to medicate the angst with food, a drink, a joint or a bout of online shopping, call on a friend. Anxiety, as most sins, breeds in hiding, in isolation. As He approached His last week on earth, Jesus asked His closest friends to accompany Him to a garden, to plead with His Father for any other option than the cross. He knew His cadre would fall asleep while waiting, but sought their support anyway.What strength, to face the coming torture without giving in to panic! Jesus knew His Father’s heart for Him and for us, and “for the joy set before Him, endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2). Talking through concerns helps organize your thoughts in a way that affords perspective not readily apparent in private musing. It also reveals inaccurate beliefs and expectations you may have augured for years.
As the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:15) shows, we are all born traders. You have what someone else needs and vice versa. God entrusts each one with ways and means to enrich others, like insight, calm, and humor. Rather than keeping your concern to yourself, speak or write it out.
In so doing, you are allowing another part of the body of Christ to serve you, a form of spiritual isometrics. Your honesty when feeling stressed lays the groundwork for you to lift up your friend when she finds herself overwhelmed. To live well, we need others.
Listen for God’s Voice
“Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. So the disciples came and woke him up, saying, ‘Lord, save us! We are going to die!’ And Jesus said to them, ‘Why are you fearful, oh ye of little faith?’ Then rising up he commanded the winds, and the sea, and there came a great calm. But the men marveled, saying, ‘What manner of man is this, that even the winds and sea obey Him?’” – Matthew 8:24-27
Take Jesus’ disciples, for example, dismayed that He napped while waves flooded their boat. After they rouse Him, He rises to call out the winds and the sea. In a matter of moments, the disciples transition from terror to collective intrigue, having witnessed the power of Jesus’ unparalleled authority in action. These experienced sailors knew a deadly storm. Fear would be normal and adaptive, under other circumstances.
Apparently this was not a typical jaunt across the lake: the Creator of oceans and fishermen shared the deck. In the company of Jesus, anxiety finds no purchase. In reality, the worst that could happen to the disciples is that they drown. Jesus explicitly lays out the priority order: “Don’t fear man who can kill the body, but fear God who can kill the body and soul in Hell.”
In Romans 8:35, Paul, who encountered shipwreck, beatings, stoning, imprisonment, and other near-death predicaments, attests from his experience that believers need not worry. Even if Paul had died in those dire trials, he considers his soul safe from harm.
Believers have a God who is for them. When anxiety tries to spawn panic, stop to listen for the Holy Spirit’s steady voice, always aligning with Scripture, beneath the din of worst-case scenarios. It is with good reason that Peter tells believers to cast their cares on Him: God can handle them!
Because the Holy Spirit, the paraclete, counsels and advocates for believers, ruminating and panic no longer belong in their responses. The Lord knows we are “little faiths” without His empowerment, so He promises, “I will never leave you nor abandon you.” Who else can say that but our God?
The next time anxiety begins to well up inside, remember to CHILL. Call out to the Lord, head in rather than retreating, image the ways God provides, lean on others, and listen for the Holy Spirit’s assurance. You may not immediately feel cucumber-cool, but watch as God incrementally transforms you from worrier to warrior.
“Worried”, Courtesy of Ryan McGuire, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Concerned”, Courtesy of Free-Photos, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Freaking Out!”, Courtesy of Erika Wittlieb, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Stressed Out”, Courtesy of Public Domain Pictures, Pixabay.com, CC0 License