Truth 6: Expect more peace, as you put your anxieties in God’s capable hands.
On some days, the stress seems to be getting worse, not better. I’m continuing to have trouble sleeping well at night. This past Thursday, as I was tossing and turning in bed, I suddenly imagined a huge, translucent, 50-foot wall to my left. On the other side of it, I could see a mountain of water, which looked as if could burst through at any moment. I don’t know what I thought would happen next—wash me away? drown me? hurt me in some other way? I don’t know if I was awake or asleep, but it was frightening. The dam was about to break, and I didn’t know what I could do to protect myself.
When I feel anxious like this, my peace and joy disappear. I used to bite my fingernails when I was younger. Now, I mostly get tense or freeze up. I have trouble concentrating or connecting with others emotionally. If it gets bad enough (like the other day), I can hardly hold a conversation or look the other person in the eye. We’ve been staying-at-home for nearly eight weeks. While I’m getting used to living this way, and even enjoy the extra time at home and with family, the stress is always there. And, it’s building.
What can we expect from God when so much is frightening or unknown about the future? What can God do for us when our anxiety becomes so great that we cannot function normally and we cannot be the kind of person we would like to be?
Spiritual Truth 6: Expect more peace, as you put your anxieties in God’s capable hands. (Philippians 4:6-7)
The Apostle Paul knew very well that many Christians, in spite of their strong faith, still struggle with anxiety. It’s human. But that doesn’t mean that we have to be prisoners to our worries. So, he offers this fairly simple formula, with the promise that if we follow it, God’s peace will guard our hearts and minds. What is his formula?
Do not be anxious about anything,
but in every situation, by prayer and petition,
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, NIV
If we break down Paul’s guidance into a step by step process, we can easily see what we need to do, whenever we are feeling anxious.
- Recognize that you may be more anxious than you realize. Typically, symptoms include feeling nervous or tense, fixating on something you’re worried about, becoming irrationally fearful, feeling tired or weak, having trouble sleeping, and so forth. If you’re feeling anxious, don’t deny it or try to pretend to be something you’re not. Recognizing your anxiety is the first step toward becoming free from it.
- Reach out to God. When you are in distress, your loving Creator and Savior is there for you. The primary goal of prayer at these times is to get out of yourself and make a connection with God, so that he may lift you out of the black hole of your anxiety. Pour out your heart to him. Seek the comfort that comes from drawing closer to him and resting in his presence, as I discussed in my previous essay.
- Ask God for everything that you want and need. Make a list and tell God what you are worried about and everything you would like him to do. This is not like clutching a rabbit’s foot or rubbing some religious statue or carving, hoping to unleash magic powers or to compel God to do your will. It’s true, Paul assures the Philippians that “my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19), but he does not promise that just by praying you will get everything you ask for. No, what he promises to those who makes their requests known to God is peace.
- Be thankful while you are asking for help. Don’t give all your attention to your worries and wishes in your prayers. Choose to focus on what you’re grateful for as well as on what it is lacking in your life. “Count your blessings, name them one by one.” At our family mealtimes, before we pray, everyone shares one thing they’re grateful for from the day, one way they’ve seen God at work in their lives, or one experience that has drawn them closer to God. It’s a great “upper” to the mood around the table. There always many reasons why we might feel anxious, angry, or sad, so sharing words of thanksgiving breathes some fresh life into everyone’s mind and heart. A good friend told me recently that she is trying to consciously “choose joy” every day, no matter what else may be weighing her down. The attitude we choose makes a difference.
Paul knew very well that if we allow ourselves to dwell on our fears and problems, we will become more anxious, not less. If, instead, we consciously and systematically replace our anxiety with prayer and thanksgiving, the result will be greater peace. As I’ve already said, in praying this way, we should not deny our anxiety. On the contrary, we need to fully recognize the power it is wielding over us and talk to God directly about our all our fears and worries. Likewise, praying with thanksgiving is not just positive thinking or minimizing our concerns (as important as it is to think positively). Rather, this kind of prayer links our spirits with the Holy Spirit, so that we can receive the kind of spiritual help God wants to give us in our distress. What brings us peace is God’s Spirit, who ministers to us through prayer and sets us free from the burden we’ve been trying to carry alone or in our own power.
An apt analogy
One time, when my elder son was only about six years old, he got very sick. Every time we tried to give him some water to drink, he would vomit it up. We watched him get weaker and weaker as the day went on. The doctor advised me to bring him in to the hospital, but I thought I could nurture him back to health. As it grew dark, I made my bed on the floor next to his. I kept thinking that if he could only fall asleep, he would recover. But it wasn’t to be. I would doze off, only to be awakened by his coughing and restlessness, over and over again.
As it became clear that he would not be able to sleep or keep any liquids down, I became more and more worried. Finally, in desperation, I called his doctor one more time, who again implored me to bring him into the emergency room. This time I listened. When we arrived, at 2 or 3 a.m., I put the nearly lifeless body of my son into the doctor’s arms. The doctor took one look at him and then quickly admonished me, saying, “You should have brought him sooner.”
How foolish I had been! I risked the life of my son. Instead of getting him the help he needed, I chose to simultaneously fill my mind with false hope and stew in my anxiety. I was stuck in my way of thinking and behaving. He and I were both paying the price.
I have thought of that night many times over the past 28 years. It was a real lesson to me about how to handle serious medical problems. More important, it’s been a continual reminder to not try to carry all my burdens and anxieties on my own shoulders. When I finally put my son in the doctor’s care, I felt great relief. I didn’t know for sure if my son could be saved, but I knew that I had gone to the best possible place for help. (Thankfully, he did recover and is now a very healthy 33 year old man.)
Spiritually, my experience became an apt analogy for how to handle all my worries and serious concerns. Today, whenever I notice that my anxiety level rising, it’s a call to prayer. Just as I gathered my son in my arms that one frightening night, when he was so very sick, and took him to the doctor, I now routinely scoop up all the things I’m worried about and put them into my Father’s hands. And time and time again, I soon feel relief and freedom from my distress. The peace I have known is just as Paul described. It “transcends all understanding” and guards my heart and mind from the crippling power of overwhelming, all-consuming anxiety.
How are you handling your anxiety these days?
The Apostle Paul’s instruction to the Philippians are words for you, too.
- Acknowledge your anxiety.
- Reach out to connect with God, even if you can only say something simple like, “Father, help me,” “Jesus, take my burden,” or “Holy Spirit, set me free.”
- If you can pray more specifically, share all of your worries and concerns with God. Ask him for everything you want and need. Give him all of your burdens…and leave them in his hands.
- Consciously replace your anxiety with thanksgiving as you pray. Count your blessings. Let yourself feel grateful for what is good in your life. Choose joy.
As we have said repeatedly in this series, you cannot know what God will or will not do with your requests. But that’s not the point here. When you are weighed down by anxiety, Paul says, gather all of your worries and put them into the loving hands of your heavenly Father. Draw near to God, count your blessings, and lean on him to support you in ways that only he can do. This is the pathway to true, abiding, inner peace.
You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast,
because he trusts in you.
Trust in the LORD forever,
for the LORD, the LORD, is the Rock eternal.Isaiah 26:3-4
Next week: How your anxiety can teach you what you most need to know
Help us spread the good word! To reach more people who need biblical and practical words of encouragement in the midst of the COVID-19, global crisis, we are translating these essays into 10 different languages spoken in various parts of Myanmar, India, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). If you have been touched or encouraged by one or more of these essays, please help spread the word by sharing it with others, and by supporting our efforts to reach more people by making a donation to Faith, Hope, and Love Global Ministries, today.
CONTEXT: I CREATED THIS ESSAY SERIES IN RESPONSE TO THE COVID-19 GLOBAL CRISIS. EACH ESSAY EXPANDS ON THE PRACTICAL SUGGESTIONS OFFERED IN THE SPIRIT-LED LEADER: NINE LEADERSHIP PRACTICES AND SOUL PRINCIPLES (HERNDON, VA: ALBAN INSTITUTE, 2005), PAGES 184-90.
- The first photo, with ocean waves, Tiko Giorgadze via Unsplash
- Photo of Tim praying with Burmese family ©Jill Geoffrion, www.jillgeoffrion.com
- Jackson, Wyoming photo, Timothy Charles Geoffrion, www.thiswalkinglife.com
Copyright © 2020 Timothy C. Geoffrion, Wayzata, Minnesota. All rights reserved to the author, but readers may freely download, print, forward, or distribute to others, providing that this copyright notice is included.