To some extent everyone deals with anxiety. Afterall, we are not living in heaven. Today we deal with the curse of sin in a fallen world and earn our keep by the sweat of our brow. Storms do come and the threat of sunny skies turning dark and threatening naturally produce apprehension in our spirit.
How are we to navigate such living conditions? How are we to even think about tomorrow with such threats looming from many different directions? How can our spirit remain calm in the face of potential problems sure to arise as we travel through life? How will basic needs be met and why should I not worry about my future?
The key passage in the Bible that addresses the broad subject of anxiety is found in Matthew chapter six. The teaching of Jesus in this chapter provides the antidote for a troubled spirit. His teaching on anxiety and worry provides the framework through which we can calm our spirit and find rest for our souls.
Let’s begin at verse 24 of Matthew chapter six as Jesus addresses this problem:
“24 No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.
25 Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?
26 Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?
27 Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?
28 And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:
29 And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
30 Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?
31 Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?
32 (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.
33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
34 Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”
Notice in v25, v27, v28, v31, and v34 our Lord’s reference to worry. The expression “take no thought” is talking about worry. And of course, anxiety is the emotion experienced as one chews on thoughts related to the perception of problems coming against us. Often those perceptions are unfounded as they never materialize in the real world.
With that said, let’s expand our definition of anxiety. I am quoting from Josh McDowell’s handbook on Youth Counseling in which he provides a helpful quote from Dr. G. Keith Olson on the definition of anxiety. He states:
“Anxiety can be defined as the experience of unrest, apprehension, dread, or agitated worry. It has been described as a fear in the absence of real danger, or a fear of something that is not clearly understood . . . Anxiety, fear and worry form a complex system of emotions that make clear differentiation between them quite difficult. (Those suffering from anxiety) tend to overestimate the negative or threatening aspects of a situation while drawing attention away from the positive or reassuring aspects.
The person is left feeling uneasy, concerned, restless, irritable and fidgety. Too much anxiety can produce severe, even crippling, effects.”
It is normal for anyone, including Christians, to experience moments of anxiety. It is also possible for anyone, including Christians, to find themselves in a season of anxiety. This is exactly why Jesus addresses the issue in Matthew chapter six. He knows we may face any number of circumstances with the potential of gripping our spirit with worry, anxiety, and fear.
However, his teaching is designed as an antidote for anxiety. Careful attention to his teaching has the power to free the mind and heart from anxiety. We will apply our Lord’s teaching to our personal lives in a moment, but first let’s pause to consider several underlying causes of anxiety.
Biblical counselors point out the following causes:
- Unmet needs
Now keep in mind that everyone is different. So, some people are not triggered easily by these causes, while others are triggered very easily by these causes. Furthermore, for some people it will take more than one of these things to be in play before they experience some level of anxiety.
Let’s consider the potential of “threats” as a cause of anxiety. In his volume Josh McDowell notes: “Anxiety producing threats come from perceived danger, or a threat to one’s feelings of self-worth. For example, anxiety may be caused by rejection or harassment from a peer, in the case of children the possibility of parents divorcing, or any number of real or perceived threats.”
Keep in mind these causes confront all ages in different ways.
Next, conflict contributes to anxiety. For example, a desire both to do something and not to do it. Decisions, especially ones that have clear consequences either way one goes, are a potential source of anxiety.
Next, fear contributes to anxiety. There are all sorts of fear. Fear of failure, the future, sickness, death, and fear over perceived things. Such fears can build up in one’s mind and create extreme anxiety—often in the absence of any real danger.
Next, unmet needs contribute to anxiety. Fear over the lack of food, clothing, and security contribute to anxiety.
I am sure you can identify with these underlying causes of anxiety.
Now, as we consider the Biblical perspective on anxiety keep something in mind.
The Bible addresses the problem of unnecessary worry, and it addresses subjects of legitimate concern. The Bible does not teach us to ignore the identifiable problems of life. For example, to ignore danger is foolish. A moment of appropriate anxiety over real potential for harm is normal and necessary.
However, in Matthew chapter six the Lord is addressing the problem of unnecessary worry. His teaching empowers us to overcome excessive, illegitimate worry. With that said, let’s return to Matthew six.
Please take careful note of the end of verse 25. Jesus says life is “more than.” With this teaching our Lord is compelling us to hit the “reset button.” We need to maintain a proper perspective on life. If our perspective on life amounts to nothing more than the pursuit of things, then we are setting ourselves up for anxiety.
The pursuit of material things always creates a batch of anxiety. While the Lord is not teaching us to be haphazard about work and doing what we can to provide for ourselves, we must not allow unrest in our spirit caused by a lack of faith in God.
We need to recognize pursuit of the necessities of life has the potential of squeezing God out of our thinking. As this occurs one suddenly finds himself alone with his thoughts. In the absence of faith in God one thought leads to another until anxiety is ignited in the heart.
Jesus’ rebuke in verse 30 contains the antidote for anxiety. We must develop faith in God. The faith we need to calm our troubled heart comes from knowing the Lord in a more intimate way. It is impossible to have a troubled heart when your mind is fixed on the character and goodness of God.
Look at verses 31 and 32. our heavenly Father knows we have need of these things! Anxiety is fostered by a lack of confidence in the provision of a loving heavenly Father. Lack of confidence in the Lord may be due to age, or in the case of adults, it may be due to the neglect of walking with the Lord. My advice to you if you want a greater measure of the peace of God ruling in your heart is threefold:
- Learn to cast your cares on the Lord in personal, heart-felt prayer
- Reassure your heart with the promises of God
- Allow the Holy Spirit to speak guidance into your circumstances. Listen for his voice and he will show you the way. Let him carry the burden of TOMORROW!!!
Look again at verses 33 and 34. Verse 33 is basic to a life free of anxiety. Seek the Lord first and seek practical righteousness; never allow the experiences of life to deter you from those two priorities.
As the Father adds what we have need of, he will make us to lie down in green pastures and walk beside still waters! Revisit Psalm 23 and meditate on the truths revealed in those six simple verses. Remember, Jesus says to have faith in God. Like sheep totally dependent upon their shepherd, we must learn to find our rest in him.
Whenever you find your heart troubled by worry of any kind, it is time to fix your mind and heart on the goodness and faithfulness of God. You can either continue to “chew” on the perceived problems of tomorrow, or you can choose to meditate on the Lord. Why not “chew” on the promises of God? Why not “chew” on the Word of God which reveals the character and faithfulness of our Provider?
As we learn to rest in the Lord anxiety of heart will subside until our spirit is as calm as a glassy sea. Such an inner life of peace is not a mere dream. It is the possession of those who make the Lord their confidence. It is the possession of those who hide themselves underneath his wings and find rest in his everlasting arms. Amen.