To The Christian With Anxiety

To The Christian With Anxiety
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. Philippines 4:6-7

Don't be anxious about anything? "God, is that even possible?"

Have any of you ever felt that way? I'm not sure what's going on in your world, but I regularly feel the financial burden of today's world, with bills to pay and kids to raise. I know others are navigating relational troubles, health challenges, work stress, and inflation. Have you seen the price of eggs lately?

Is it possible to live in this world without feeling anxious? When you open a news app, the entire world is falling apart, and nobody seems to like each other. Then we have the presidential debates which are beginning to heat up. We live in a world where simply picking up your phone is the spark you need to ignite the gasoline of anxiety inside us.

Anxiety and Depression Association of America

If you are resonating, you’re not alone. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the US, affecting 40 million adults (19.1% of the population) age 18 and older every year.

  • According to the ADAA, anxiety disorders affect 31.9% of adolescents between 13 and 18 years old.
  • In fact, one study shows that 91% of Gen Z age group report consistent and significant levels of anxiety associated with stress.
  • My own church took a poll and reported 90% felt high levels of anxiety over the last two weeks.

Spectrum of Anxiety

I will address anxiety from a spiritual position, and I want to admit that it is undoubtedly complex and many of us experience varying amounts of anxiety.

  • For some of us, it would be an occasional, often minor, sense of uneasiness and discomfort. Stress could be related to an upcoming test, a presentation, or a social situation where you come in and you feel like you don't fit in, and you feel awkward. Like when you meet someone but keep forgetting someone's name right after they've introduced themselves, and then try to avoid using their name in the conversation for fear of revealing your forgetfulness. Anxiety is a minor issue for some people. It is not always significant.
  • For others, it may be crushing and debilitating, with a persistent sensation of dread or shortness of breath. You feel your heart rate rising, you feel like the walls are closing in, and you can't function normally.
Wherever you are on the spectrum, I simply want you to know and feel that God cares about you. He genuinely cares about you and wants to help.

What Does The Bible Say About Anxiety?

Let's explore an inspiring example of a godly leader who faced anxiety and learn valuable lessons from his experience. If you have your Bible handy, turn to 2 Chronicles 20, where we'll delve into the story of one of the greatest kings, Jehoshaphat, who ruled over Judah in Israel's southern kingdom.

📸 Picture this: Judah was facing a dire situation as enemies closed in on them. While I won't go into all the details, Jehoshaphat, a highly respected ruler governing a prosperous nation, found himself confronted by the Moabites, Ammonites, and even the Meunites, all coming together to wage war against him (verse 1).

What makes this story so relevant to many of us is the way it mirrors the pressures and anxieties we encounter in our own lives.

Just like Jehoshaphat, we can usually handle challenges when they come at us one at a time.

  • Dealing with a demanding boss, for instance, might be manageable on its own.
  • Even facing a broken-down car or financial difficulties individually can be handled with some effort.
  • And let's not forget the stress that can arise from a struggling marriage.

But what happens when all these burdens converge and hit us simultaneously? It's like starting a diet and it's 🍩 Day at work—talk about overwhelming!

Jehoshaphat's predicament serves as a powerful reminder of the overwhelming anxiety we can experience when multiple stressors pile up. It's during these moments that our mental and emotional resilience can truly be put to the test.

Just as Jehoshaphat found a way to navigate through his challenges, we too can find practical solutions to cope with our own anxieties.

Below, we'll explore the strategies employed by Jehoshaphat and draw insights that can help us deal with overwhelming anxiety in our own lives. Whether you're facing a barrage of problems or simply looking for tools to handle everyday stress, the lessons from Jehoshaphat's story will provide guidance and encouragement.

Anxiety is not a sin or a sign of a moral failing.

In fact, look at Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane before he was about to die. During his time on the cross, Jesus knelt and pleaded with God, "God, is there any other way?" He knew what would happen and said, "If there is any other way, may this cup of pain be removed from me?"

  • Agony: A profound, anguish-inducing suffering. In anguish, he sweated actual droplets of blood. Then he bowed to God's will.

Anxiety is a symptom, not a sin. Anxiety is a signal, not a sin.

For example, we drove the boys to school this last week, and the car started beeping at us. We are a single-car family, so blinking lights are a big deal. Luckily, only the tire pressure was low on one of the back tires. My car didn't do anything wrong. The signal indicates something is wrong with the car; it is a symptom of a problem that needs to be addressed, identified, and repaired.

In the same way, if you're experiencing anxiety, it's not a sin; it's a warning sign.

And I want to give you three points when that warning sign goes off.

It's Time To Pray

It's time to go before God, to seek God, and to give our worries up and cast them over for God to carry them.

In 2 Chronicles 20:3, Jehoshaphat did just that. He was terrified. Another version says he was alarmed. He's being attacked on three sides, so he took his burden to God, prayed to God, and begged the Lord for guidance. "Show me what to do." And he ordered everyone else in Judah to begin fasting.

Anxiety isn't a sin, it's a signal telling you turn to God, it's time to pray.

Let me show you his prayer. It's a powerful prayer.

"Lord, the God of our ancestors, are you not the God who is in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. Power and might are in your hand, no one can withstand you."

Watch his faith.

"If calamity comes upon us, whether the sword of judgment, or plague or famine, we will stand in your presence before this temple that bears your Name and we will cry out to you in distress, and you will hear us and save us."

Did you know you can pray like this?

When you feel anxious, overwhelmed, or don't know what to do, you can cry out to God like that. You can be fancy, "Oh God, the Lord of our ancestors." You can do that. Or you can do what I do and you just say, "Help! Help! I don't know what to do!"

You won't believe what happens when you pray like this.

Dr. Caroline Leaf, an author, and according to her website: a speech-language pathologist, cognitive neuroscientist with a BSc, Master's, and PhD in Communication Pathology in Logopaedics, with a focus on cognitive and metacognitive neuroscience.

So I'm going to shoot straight with you, I have no idea what she is, but she's brilliant. And check out what she discovered.

"It's been found that in 12 minutes of daily focused prayer over an eight-week period can change the brain to such an extent that it can be measured on a brain scan. Not only does prayer touch the heart of God, but prayer changes the chemistry of your brain."

Let me tell you why this is good news. It means our brains are not fixed; that’s good news because sometimes my brain goes to the wrong places and likes to stay there.

But we live in a time when science has demonstrated that the brain can change and that we can even modify it, which is known as neuroplasticity, as we discussed in the last post. Essentially, the more you think about something, the more often you can think about it.

God created your brain in such a way that it can be transformed depending on what you concentrate on. Prayer can touch God's heart and change your brain's chemistry. 

Here is another place science and the Bible say the same thing.

The word in scripture most often translated as anxiety is the word “merimnao. (mer-mn-owe)” And this word literally means dwelling or pondering on fearful or anxious thoughts. It is an image of meditating on the negative. In other words, some of us are training our brains to be anxious. That's what we're doing. We're ruminating; we're rehearsing.

We're training the neural pathways in our brains to focus on the negative.

Thinking about what could go wrong is natural, but prayer is not natural.

Prayer is supernatural. And while it may be natural to think about what could go wrong, supernatural prayer breaks the cycle. It breaks the cycle. It takes our mind off of what we are afraid of, for God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love, and of a sound mind.

It's not a sin. You're normal if you feel anxious. It's a signal.

Take it to God.

Take it to God.

Take it to God.

If it’s big enough to worry about—It's big enough to pray about!

It's Time To Pause

12 ...We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you. 13 All the men of Judah, with their wives and children and little ones, stood there before the LORD. 2 Chr 20:12-13

I don’t know about you, but I am a doer.

I don’t think. I am building the plane in the air, trying to learn as I go.

I go, I fail fast, I reflect, and I go again. I try to accomplish so much because if I can stay ahead of everyone else then nobody will catch the drift that I feel like a fraud and don’t actually know what I am doing. I don’t know how to lead, I don’t know how to teach, I don’t know how to study, I don’t know how to be faithful.

You see how neural pathways work?

My motto is don’t just stand there, do something! And God is screaming back at me, don’t just do something, Payton. Stand there.
10 ...Be still, and know that I am God. Psalm 46:10

So, Payton, you’re saying we should just be praying and not doing anything else? And God makes us feel better?

Sometimes. He does it sometimes. And sometimes, it takes longer.

  • Sometimes he points you to a Bible verse that renews your mind.
  • Other times, he helps you change your diet to improve your whole body's chemistry.
  • Other times, he helps you find a doctor who looks at your situation and realizes that a prescription can normalize the chemicals in your brain.
  • Other times, you do deep therapy with someone who looks into the trauma you've been through and helps you name it, face it, forgive it, and heal from it.

Although it might take place immediately or over time, God is always the source, the architect, and the final product. Tell God about it, slow down and seek him, and he will guide you to a solution.

Here's where things take a turn in the story.

While they waited the Spirit of the Lord came on a guy named Jahaziel and take a look what he said, vs. 15 “Listen, King Jehoshaphat and all who live in Judah and Jerusalem! This is what the Lord says to you: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s.”

For someone right now maybe this is God’s word for you. "Don't be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God's.

“Go out and face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you." he continues.

When you’re anxious, or afraid, or overwhelmed, these are signals, not sins. They are blinking lights on the dashboard and, from a spiritual standpoint, we begin with prayer and taking it to God, then we learn to be still and pause, and then. . .

It's Time To Praise

Watch how this story ends. . .

Jehoshaphat prayed [and I'm paraphrasing here], "God, we believe you. Even if we face calamity, you will deliver us, because you're always faithful." He paused, he stood there. And then he did something really weird. . .

I wouldn't have run this play in my limited knowledge of warfare. But what he did is he sent the worship team out on the frontlines, and their weapons were instruments. You had the tambourine lady screaming war chants next to that guy with the skinny jeans who sits and beats on the musical box. (look at vss 21-22).

In my world, I'm sending Dwayne The Rock Johnson, Chris Hemsworth, Jason Momoa. But Jehoshaphat sends the equivalent of  Casting Crowns, Chris Tomlin and Lauren Daigle. Like wut.

And the worshipers went out and started praising God before there was a victory, and by some miracle, the enemy forces that came to attack the people of Judah turned on each other and destroyed themselves. God did a miracle. This isn't a story in the Bible, it is just a miracle upon miracle. There were dead bodies everywhere, there was so much pillage it took them three days to get it.

Here's the point.

They didn't praise just after the victory; they praised before the victory.

It’s easy to praise God when all the anxiety is gone, right? That’s easy. But it takes faith in the moment when you’re hurting to lift up praise to God. When you’re feeling overwhelmed right now. When the walls feel like they're closing in around you today. It takes faith to give praise, to sing out that God is so, so good.

29 The fear of God came on all the surrounding kingdoms when they heard how the LORD had fought against the enemies of Israel. 30 And the kingdom of Jehoshaphat was at peace, for his God had given him rest on every side. 2 Chron 20:29-30

I wouldn't claim to know everything you are facing in your life. I talk with a teenager yesterday whose mom is going through her first round of chemo and is beginning to lose her hair. I'll tell you what I told her: life sucks sometimes. But God is worthy of our praise in the high and lows of life.

When the blinking lights of anxiety go off.

  • It's time to pray.
  • It's time to pause.
  • It's time praise.

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Learn about the misconceptions around mental health in the church and why Christians can and do struggle with mental health in this 5-part blog series.