SOURCE: Discipleship Journal/Stacey Padrick
Learn to trust God when anxiety strikes.
“If you ever get caught in an avalanche, dig up!” Mom instructed me whenever I went skiing with my friends.
If I was packing my beach bag for a trip to the ocean, she would remind me, “If you get caught in a riptide, swim parallel to the shore!”
And when I went hiking, it was always, “If you see a mountain lion, wave your arms up and down so you look bigger than you are!”
Whether it was winter, spring, summer, or fall, whether my destination was the mall or the mountains, Mom—with her caring heart—worried about the worst possible thing that could happen to me.
In my family, worry was often an automatic response to whatever we faced—whether it was a new noise in the car engine or what we would serve our guests for dinner. Thus, I had always excused my own tendency to worry as hereditary. What could I do about my genes?
Nature, Nurture, or Sin?
Though I had always accepted my anxiety as a natural part of my makeup, God’s Word challenged me to see that worry has no place in the lives of His children. “Do not be anxious about anything” (Phil. 4:6). “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27). “Do not fret” (Psalm 37:8). “Do not worry” (Matthew 6:25, 31, 34).
I began to see that God does not merely suggest we should not worry; He commands it. But are we as vigilant about not worrying as we are about other things He commands us not to do, such as stealing, getting drunk, or committing adultery? Though I wanted to justify worry as an issue of temperament, Scripture is clear that it’s an issue of obedience. Failure to obey His explicit commands is sin.
Calling worry a sin may sound harsh, but it actually brings great freedom. I no longer see my anxiety as a hereditary trait I cannot control. Rather, I see it as a sin I can choose to resist. Because sin does not have mastery over me (Romans 6:14), I can be set free from slavery to worry.
No Smoke without a Fire
Because my mind so easily gravitates toward worry, I’m not always aware when it begins to take over. A tense back and racing thoughts clearly indicate anxiety, but other signs are more subtle. A lack of joy and lightheartedness, impatience with myself and others, taking myself too seriously, forgetting to thank God for His blessings, difficulty praising Him—all of these signs point to the presence of smoldering coals of worry in my heart. Like a smoke detector warning of impending danger, they alert me to the asphyxiating smoke of worry.
Rather than trying to extinguish the individual fires of worry that encircle us, we must identify the source of the flame. Anxiety is most often sparked by unbelief or doubt in God’s character. When we worry, we’ve unthinkingly questioned His wisdom (that He knows what is best), His love and goodness (that He cares for us and wants what is best), and His sovereignty (that He is able to do what is best).
Worry reveals not only our distrustful thoughts about God but also an unrealistic view of ourselves: that we are ultimately in control; that we are responsible for other people’s happiness (our spouse, children, parents, boss, friends); that we can determine better than God what we or others need.
One morning as I fretted about an important decision in my life, I took a walk to clear my head and talk with God. Across a park lawn, I saw a beautiful golden retriever frolicking alongside his loving master. Oh, I mused, to be as carefree as that dog, to play and run freely, knowing that your master will provide for all your needs.
Even as I thought this, my words convicted me. I sensed God’s gentle voice respond to my heart. “Oh, My precious child, do you not know that I am your faithful Master? Don’t you believe that I care for you more than any earthly master could ever care for his dog? That you, too, can run free of worry? I am thegood Master. Trust in Me.”
Then I recalled a cowering stray dog a friend of mine had found. Even after she adopted it, the dog trembled each time someone reached to pet it. My friend believes the dog was probably abused by its former owner. Likewise, when I allow my heart to tremble in anxiety, what am I telling others about my Master? Most likely I’m communicating that He is uncaring and unfaithful.
Not only is God my Master, but He’s my heavenly Father as well. How much more than a good master does a loving father care for his precious children?
Matthew records Jesus saying:
Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!
Just as a child’s carefree spirit is a testimony of caring parents, so a joyful, trusting attitude testifies to our loving Father.
God wants us to experience release from the grip of worry. He longs for us to rest in His wonderful care for us (Matthew 11:28–30). Here are some ways to douse the fire of worry and stoke the flame of trust.
Take stock of your thought life. Our feelings are often the fruit of the thoughts we sow. If you’re anxious, review what you’ve been thinking about. What thoughts have you been listening to? What have you believed about your circumstances and God’s ability to meet your needs?
When I was unexpectedly diagnosed with an illness, a wave of worries flooded my mind. What about all the plans I had? How could I ever support myself with these health limitations? What about my dreams for my future? My anxiety revealed my belief that this illness had somehow slipped by God’s watchful eye.
But the Father’s still, small voice addressed my fears, reminding me of His perspective: “Yes, this illness does change your plans, but not Mine. It in no way changes My will for you.” Though my health had changed, God’s sovereignty over my life had not.
Focus on the truth. After we’ve identified any distorted beliefs, we must respond to them by looking intently at the truth of Scripture. We’re engaged in a battle against a very crafty spiritual enemy who continually attempts to saturate our minds with doubts about the Father’s character. Satan knows worry distracts us from what God has for us, so he drives us to work things out our way and steals our joy in the Father. We must use the armor of God—especially the belt of truth, the shield of faith, and the sword of the Spirit (Ephes. 6:13–17)—to cut through the web of lies that can entangle our souls.
James wrote, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). Repent of surrendering to worry, submit your mind to God, and resist any spirit of anxiety. Ask God to protect you from worry, to guard your heart and mind with His peace (Phil. 4:7). In faith, claim this promise Paul gave his youthful protégé Timothy: “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline” (2 Tim. 1:7).
I have also found it helpful to “act in the opposite spirit” when anxiety threatens to overwhelm me. For example, if worry drives me to hurry, then I purposely slow down. If worry tempts me to complain, then I intentionally thank God for what He is doing.
When I was looking for an apartment in the tight San Francisco housing market, I gave in to complaining and fretting after weeks of viewing undersized, overpriced units. Recognizing my doubt, I started thanking God for the place He was preparing for me in His perfect timing. I now write from a wonderful home He handpicked for me.
Practice Scripture meditation. “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you” (Isaiah 26:3). Keeping our mind steadfastly fixed upon God is critical when we’re tempted to worry. Meditate upon the passages of Scripture that describe God’s character: His loving-kindness, power, faithfulness, goodness. Meditate also upon verses about peace and rest.
Picture yourself putting your worries in a little gift box (or a big box, in my case!), tying it with a bow, and presenting it to God at the foot of the cross, an offering of faith to Him. Let these words of Jesus settle into your soul: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).
No matter how unceasingly worries may assail you, choose to listen to His Spirit of peace and not to a spirit of anxiety. Think of worry as a ringing phone—and don’t answer it. Allowing peace to rule instead of fear is a daily, sometimes hourly, choice we must make.
Dwell on what you know. Most worries revolve around dwelling on what we don’t know: “How will I have enough money to pay for car repairs? What will I do if I’m laid off? How will I find an affordable house in such a tight market?” Instead of fixating on anxiety-producing unknowns, we can use the same energy to focus on what we do know: “God will meet all [my] needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19). “God is . . .[my] ever-present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). “The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me” (Psalm 138:8). “I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted [including all that I deem precious] to him for that day” (2 Tim. 1:12).
After the man I dated for four years ended our relationship, my mind whirled with fears of the unknown. I had to stop and remind myself what I knew about God.
Though I do not know if we will ever be reunited, though I do not know if I will ever be married, I do know that God is good. I do know that He is faithful. He knows the desires of my heart, and I know His plans are to give me a future and a hope (Jeremiah 29:11).
Cast your cares on God. David wrote, “Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall” (Psalm 55:22). Recently, when I faced a problem that tempted me to worry, an image flashed into my mind. I pictured myself sitting on one side of a perfectly balanced seesaw. As a load of worry came my way, I could receive it, allowing it to pin me to the ground. Or I could cast it on God, who sits on the other end of the seesaw. As I chose the latter, God took upon Himself the weight of my worry, and I was lifted up.
As I rest in my Father’s tender love for me, I can more readily cast my cares upon Him. If He is gracious and compassionate toward His children, if He knows when even a sparrow falls (Matthew 10:29), if His thoughts of me are as numerous as the grains of sand (Psalm 139:17–18), surely He cares for my concerns even more than I do! When I reflect upon how perfectly He loves me, His perfect love casts out my fears (1 John 4:18).
God wants us to live free of worry. He liberates us from worry as we entrust control to Him, consider His character, and choose to cast our cares upon Him (1 Peter 5:7).
“Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way” (2 Thes. 3:16).