Freedom from anxiety

What do you think is the most highlighted verse of the Bible?

According to Kindle, it’s this:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.(Philippians 4:6-7)

Why do you think that is?

Why would these be the verses people most want to remember?

To me, it says a lot about our craving for peace.

Our longing to be free from worry.

And this verse gives us a clear instruction not to be anxious about anything but to pray.

To ask God for the things we need.

And what will happen when we do this?

We’ll be guarded by the peace of God. A peace that no one can truly understand. Yet we know it’s a peace that can only come from Jesus.

I can see why people highlight this!

Everywhere we go, people are worried.

People crave freedom from anxiety.

We all want peace.

And we’re not just worried.

We’re worried about being worried.

Anxiety itself is often scarier than the problem we’re worried about.

No one likes to feel out of control.

No one likes to feel afraid for the future.

We want peace.

Yet this world feels anything but peaceful most of the time.

We’ve all suffered through life-changing events in the last few years.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a nightmare.

We’ve also seen many natural disasters such as bushfires, droughts, cyclones, storms, heat extremes and floods. Not to mention the Ukraine war further afield.

The past few years have seen people experience:

  • Job losses
  • Isolation & severe loneliness
  • Illness
  • Changing rules
  • Changing relationships
  • And general worldwide uncertainty.

All these things have increased the rates of anxiety and depression.

In the last Budget, the Australian Government said it would allocate $2.3 billion towards a National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Plan.

That’s how big an issue mental illness is right now.

It’s normal to experience a range of reactions following a disaster.

Sadness, anxiety, depression, hyperactivity, irritability or even anger.

And while many of us can recover from one trauma, many disasters take their toll on us.

When there’s one thing after another after another… we feel less secure. Less safe. Less hopeful.

The past couple of years have had a negative impact on our mental health.

It feels like a unique time for our world.

But suffering is not new.

Here in the Bible, in the most highlighted verses – Philippians 4:6-7 – we are told to present our requests to God in every situation.

Why does Paul, the writer of this passage, say this?

When Paul wrote Philippians he was speaking these words into a time of great uncertainty.

Paul is writing this letter from prison. He has been treated badly for sharing the news of Jesus.

And his Christian friends back home are suffering for being Christians too.

He tells the church in Philippi that even though they face persecution and danger, their lives as Christians should be focused on Jesus and not their fear.

He reminds them of when they first became Christians. When their faith was strong.

He tells them not to be discouraged by the hard things that are happening.

In this passage, Paul contrasts anxiety and prayer.

He says God’s kids shouldn’t be anxious about anything.

He is not meaning we shouldn’t be concerned about anything.

He’s not saying we shouldn’t care when bad things happen.

He’s saying that people who love Jesus, people whose true home is heaven, should not be fearful or paranoid.

Why?

Because we can talk directly with God, the maker of heaven and earth.

God has all power and authority.

He is in total control of every situation.

Instead of choosing anxiety, we are invited to approach God with whatever is on our minds.

We are told to thank God for what He has done as well as ask for help.

This does not mean we will live a worry-free life.

It doesn’t mean we’ll never need help from others.

But it is saying that when we have a problem, we need to always start with prayer.

There is another verse in the Bible that talks about what to do when anxiety strikes us:

1 Peter 5:7 says: Cast all your cares on him because he cares for you.

This reminds us that only God can truly give us rest.

If you are weighed down with cares, cast them on God!

Cast all your care on God — not just some of your care.

God wants it all.

And in exchange, He’ll provide you with the peace that passes all understanding.

So when the Bible talks about our “cares” what does it mean?

A care is another way of saying a burden.

Something that occupies our attention.

It might be fear, stress, anger, or grief.

It might be family. Work. Unwanted desires.

Cares aren’t necessarily negative. They are just the things we dwell on a lot.

What do you care most about in life outside of your faith? These are your cares.

Here are some more specific examples:

  • You think a lot about your children. You worry about their future. You might have kids or nieces and nephews who are going through bullying. Or maybe your children are older and have gone through a marriage breakdown. This burdens you. It breaks your heart.
  • Or you might think a lot about money. Worries over your financial future whirr around in your head. Your biggest fear is ending up without a home.
  • Perhaps it’s relationships you worry about. You’re scared of rejection, so you make poor choices in friendships, work relationships or romantic relationships because of this fear.

There are so many burdens we carry.

What things are you most terrified of losing?

  • Your marriage?
  • Your kids
  • Your money?
  • Your home?
  • Your friendships?

The things that occupy our minds are our cares.

They are the things we consider most important.

And God wants us to share each of these cares with him. To cast them on his shoulders like a backpack that’s been weighing us down.

We cast our cares on him because we want to keep a God-centred focus on things.

Without a focus on God, we start to worship other things.

We give more time and attention to

  • Our families
  • Our romantic relationships
  • Our work
  • We worry about what people think of us
  • Or what will happen in the future.  

I’m not saying these things shouldn’t take up any of our thinking. But when they take up most of our thinking it’s a sign we’ve drifted from God.

We might value being paid more than we value serving others.

We might allow fear to run our lives instead of our faith.

What we care about in life changes with time.

Children have different cares than young adults.

Young adults care differently than older people.

Whatever stage of life we find ourselves in, the process for casting our cares is the same.

We humble ourselves before God and admit our need for Him.

The best way to cast our cares upon God is to pray.

When we pray it’s like talking to a trusted friend about something that’s on our heart.

The relief that comes from that is wonderful isn’t it?

But with God it’s even better than talking to our favourite sister, brother, parent or best friend.

He’s your Creator. He made you.

And he knows everything about you.

Nothing about you surprises him as he knows it already.

He’s also ready and willing to listen.

We should talk to God even more intimately than we do our spouses.

God cares for us and wants to help us.

Proverbs 3:5-6 says this: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”

When we cast our cares on God we give up control.

In prayer, we surrender.

We shift our focus from what we want to something else.

When we give up control we remember that God can handle anything.

And he can give us strength to face even the worst problems.

“Those who trust in the Lord will renew their strength; they will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not become weary, they will walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)

Isn’t that amazing?

We share our burdens with God because He cares about us.

And he gives us strength to face even the worst of situations.

God will always listen and offer his comfort.

So the question isn’t:

  • Will God hear our specific prayers? (we know he will)

    but
  • Will we share our heart with Him?

I’ve spoken so far about worry, and how we can bring our concerns before God.

But what if you or someone you know is dealing with more than just worried thoughts?

What if you have a more serious condition of anxiety? What can be done?

Well, we know an anxiety disorder is more than just feeling stressed or worried.

While stress and anxious feelings are a normal response to a situation where we feel under pressure,

they usually pass once the stressful situation has passed, or the thing stressing us out has been removed.

Everyone feels anxious from time to time. But when anxious feelings don’t go away

When they happen without any particular reason

Or they make it hard to cope with daily life

it may be the sign of an anxiety condition. 

Anxiety is the most common mental health condition in Australia. On average, one in four people – one in three women and one in five men – will experience anxiety at some stage in their life1. In a 12-month period, over two million Australians experience anxiety2.

There are many ways to help manage anxiety and the sooner people with anxiety get support, the more likely they are to recover

There are different types of anxiety. The most common are:

  • Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD)
  • Social anxiety
  • Specific phobias
  • Panic disorder
  • Or other conditions where anxiety is present, such as:
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

For mild symptoms a health professional might suggest lifestyle changes, such as regular physical exercise and reducing your stress levels. People can also try online e-therapies, many of which are free and anonymous.

Where symptoms of anxiety are moderate to severe, psychological and/or medical treatments are likely to be required.

The important thing is finding the right treatment and the right health professional for your needs.

How can you tell if someone has anxiety?

The symptoms of anxiety conditions are sometimes not all that obvious as they often develop slowly over time.

It can be hard to know how much is too much to bear.

Normal anxiety tends to be limited in time and connected with a stressful situation or event, such as a job interview.

The type of anxiety experienced by people with an anxiety condition is more frequent or persistent, not always connected to an obvious challenge.

Anxiety conditions impact on your quality of life and day-to-day functioning.

Symptoms can include:

  • panic attacks, racing heart, tightening of the chest.
  • Or it might look like quick breathing, restlessness, or
  • catastrophizing, or obsessive thinking

Anxiety might make you avoid situations that make you feel anxious.

This can affect your studies, your work or your social life.

You might be asking how all this relates to what the Bible says about worry.

What can a Christian do if they have an anxiety disorder?

There is a difference between the sin of anxiety and the mental health disorder of anxiety.

Anxiety is both a mental health issue and a spiritual issue.

Billy Graham once said: “At its best, anxiety distracts us from our relationship with God and the truth that He is “Lord of heaven and earth” (Matthew 11:25). At its worst, anxiety is a crippling disease, taking over our minds and plunging our thoughts into darkness.”

The first step to becoming free of anxiety is to give your life to Jesus if you haven’t already.

Once you’ve taken this step, the next is to practice fixing your thoughts on Christ and his promises. (John 14:2-3).

In the battlefield of our minds, we are to practice awareness of our thoughts and take them captive. 

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:8-9.

Focus on things that ease your mind. Not things that give you more stress. Christian books and movies can be added into the mix, for example. Instead of always watching secular, non-Christian stuff.

If the media you’re consuming is distracting you from your Christian walk, ditch it.

But getting back to anxiety…

It’s important for Christians to understand that anxiety changes us.

It changes our perception.

It challenges our physical bodies.

We know there is no logical explanation for adrenaline pumping through our veins as though we’re running from a Zombie Apocalypse.

We know that we’re to pray through our worries.

We know to go to God and rest our thoughts on Christ.

We know there is a battlefield in our minds and bodies.

We know it doesn’t make sense.

We can, however, ask for prayer.

We can ask our trusted Christian friends to pray. We can ask for help. 

The sense of impending doom is beyond exhausting.

But we do have an anchor.

While feelings make us shaky, Christ is our lifeline.

Anxiety crops up when we least expect it. It happens when we’ve put too much on our plates. Anxiety can creep in when we pile on the hustle, the busy, the doing, the too much, the too many yeses.

God didn’t design us to be on the go 24-7. He designed us to be still in his presence. To stop striving and fighting.

To acknowledge who He is and be in awe of him.

We need to prioritize our time with Him and listen to what our bodies need.

Rest, exercise, a good bedtime routine, getting eight hours of sleep, and eating healing foods.

This is how we war against the battle of anxiety. 

There are three professionals you need to meet in order to combat anxiety. Your doctor, your counselor, and your pastor. Once you’ve visited your doctor to find out if it’s a chemical imbalance in your brain, the next step is your Pastor for spiritual guidance, accountability, and prayer.

Anxiety focuses on the what ifs of life – what if I never find someone to settle down with? What if I lose my job? What if I make a mistake?

But God responds to the what-ifs with a “remember who I am”

He is faithful to us. He is perfectly good and completely loving. We can trust him more than anyone or anything. And he is with us everywhere, at all times.

He reminds us that he created the world we live in.

With his own hands he stretched out the heavens.

He is much bigger than any worry or mental health condition.

And he is with us, in every season, every step of the way.

“But now, this is what the Lord says…Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine.” ~ Isaiah 43:1

Instead of living lives where we try and control everything, we must seek to hand it over to God. We can’t run the world, but God can.

Instead of focusing on what we can’t change, focus on what God can do. And who God is.

Worship him in your moments of fear. Where everything feels out of control.

And thank him for what he has done.

Don’t be afraid to seek help for yourself or someone you love.

Ask for God to guide you towards help and healing.

He will be beside you all the way.

Lord, our minds can be battlefields but you already have the victory.
You are Lord over all.
You know we live in a broken world where fear is real.
You know the things that occupy our hearts.
The things we’re scared of.
The things we want so desperately to control.
But we can’t do this life in our own strength.
We need you.
We need your strength.
We need your help.
Please be with anyone today who deals with worry or clinical anxiety.
If it’s us, may we seek help. If it’s someone we know, may we be a help to them.
Help us to take all our broken parts and bring them to you for healing.
In Jesus name, Amen

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