Anxiety and worry are distress responses to the circumstances of life in this fallen world. In many cases, anxiety and worry are simply the result of sinful fear driven by unbelief and a desire to control the outcomes of life. However, Scripture does distinguish between sinfully acting on anxiety and taking the burdens of our souls to God in prayers. There is also a right concern for what concerns God and a proper sense of the burdens of life. In addressing anxiety, Jesus and the Apostles give believers numerous theological rationales and practical truths to help them overcome sinful fear. Our knowledge of God and belief in His promises constitute either the cause or cure of our sinful anxiety. Doubting God’s love, wisdom, and protection results in our attempts to take the matters of life into our own hands. Joy, thanksgiving, and trust in God, on the basis of His love demonstrated in the saving work of Christ, are the ultimate remedy to our sinful fear and anxieties.
Adam brought all sin and misery into this world when he disobeyed God by eating of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. His disobedience was an act of distrust. All who descend from Adam by ordinary generation are subject to all the miseries of life in this fallen world. No one is guaranteed safety and security from hardships, trials, and disappointments. Rather, fallen humanity is susceptible to all the natural and moral calamities of life—even to death itself and eternal punishment after this life. One of the miseries of this life in this fallen world is having to face painful or unwanted circumstances. By nature, we are inclined to respond to the unexpected and uncertain by living in sinful fear and anxiety—worrying about what might happen.
Anxiety and worry are the result of fear—the fear of man, the fear of loss, or the fear of the future. Anxiety and worry most commonly occur when we allow our minds to fixate on all possible disastrous outcomes. At the root of fear is self-love and pride. Self-love leads us to pursue self-protection and security. Self-protection results in fear and anxiety when we conclude that we lack more than we want or when we consider all the possible outcomes of the uncertain circumstances of life. The trials of life have a tendency to reveal unbelief and anxiety in our hearts. The fears and anxieties of life are heightened by constant exposure to and analysis of natural disasters, war, and calamities in a media-driven culture. Believers must guard their minds and hearts from the external means by which the unbelieving world stokes fear and anxiety.
When we are anxious about the circumstances of life, we tend to try to control the various aspects of life. Our anxiety may tempt us to overwork, act unjustly in financial matters, manipulate relationships, embellish our accomplishments, or be overly preoccupied with our diet, exercise, education, or saving. Sometimes, believers even dismiss sinful anxiety under the notion of carefulness or good stewardship. Jesus summarized the problem of anxiety when He taught His disciples not to worry. In Matthew 6:25–33, He said: “Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? . . . Do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.”
Scripture gives us God-appointed remedies for sinful anxiety and worry. The psalmists often expressed the anxieties of his heart while teaching us how to cast those anxieties on the Lord in prayer (e.g., Ps. 16:1–2; 23:4; 27:7–8; 31:10–15; 55:22). In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught His disciples to consider the way that God cares for the flowers and the birds of the air (Matt. 6:25–33). If the lesser things of creation are subject to the ongoing and intricate care of God, how much more should the children of God trust that their heavenly Father will care and provide for them? In fact, believers are the only ones who have access to the God of heaven to provide for and protect them. When we trust in the love, wisdom, and protection of our heavenly Father, we can walk into the uncertainties of life with peace and joy. The Apostle Paul taught that prayer and thanksgiving are remedies to sinful anxiety. Additionally, the community of believers is a God-appointed aid to alleviate the sinful anxieties of life. Believers are called to assist the brethren by bearing their burdens.
We must carefully distinguish between forms of anxiety based on what we do when our hearts are weighed down with cares or fears. There is a sanctified response to anxiety—a right concern for the things of God in the lives of the people of God. Jesus demonstrated how not to sinfully act on anxieties to in the garden of Gethsemane. When facing the prospect of being cut off from the presence of God on the cross, He pressed through His anguish of soul by trusting His Father. The Apostle Paul also experienced an Apostolic anxiety when he spoke of his restless spirit for the well-being of the church. Additionally, there may biological issues with a person’s nervous system that results in a physiological anxiety. Accordingly, we should acknowledge that anxiety can be complex in origin and seek to show charity in addressing this subject.
Fear and anxiety are not necessarily sin—that Jesus was anxious before His suffering upon the cross proves this to be the case. Fear of pain or danger is quite natural. Yet in the midst of Jesus’ anxiety in Gethsemane, He nevertheless trusted His Father to see Him through the horrific ordeal to come. Jesus may sweat drops of blood, but He drinks the cup of wrath to save us from our sins. Remarkably, Jesus is an example to us when we are afraid, and His suffering and death removes any guilt we may have for doubting God’s promises or for fearing His approach or purposes. Jesus died for our all sins, including all sinful fear.
There are steps toward peace, but they are a little different than the steps we take in following a recipe. These steps are all personal. Know the God who comes near, expect the better manna, and walk before him in humility. Don’t give up on the pursuit of peace. Peace will make you feel better, which is a good thing, but there is something greater at stake. In a world where true peace seems impossible, we want to be ambassadors who say that real peace is available to us only in the Prince of Peace. This, indeed, will bring glory to God.
We are blessed to have the truth of God’s Word, which includes all His wonderful promises. Worried about finances? The truth is that ‘my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus’ (4:19). Worried that you won’t have the strength to carry on? The truth is that ‘I can do all things through him that strengthens me’ (4:13). If you are feeling lonely, isolated, or neglected, the truth is that ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’ (Heb. 13:5). Instead of worrying, spend some time plumbing the depths of this new way of thinking.