Statistically, we know that many of us suffer from anxiety. It’s a prevalent issue of our day and we didn’t want to ignore something so pervasive on our blog. However, we strongly encourage anyone struggling with anxiety to talk to a biblical Christian counselor (here are a few places to find a counselor near you: biblicalcounseling.com, www.aapc.org, www.aacc.net) and a medical professional about your feelings. Sometimes anxiety is a biological issue that cannot be fixed without medication. We will be discussing anxiety from a biblical perspective while not denying the biological aspect.
When we think about the holiday season, many of us are filled with dread. We begin to worry about the social situations that come with celebrations, about old wounds that are often brought out with the Christmas china, about all. the. things. that “have” to be done for everyone to have a good time. We stress eat gingerbread men and have trouble sleeping at night thinking about all the what ifs and things that might be said or might not be done. Anxiety is exacerbated by the holiday season, not that it’s a walk in the park anytime of year.
The good news is that there is hope for the anxious—even in December. The Bible commands us not to worry, not to fear, not to be anxious over and over. And since it is a command in Scripture, we know that with Jesus, we can obey (1 Corinthians 10:13; Philippians 4:13; Romans 6:1-13). What hope that gives us! Barring a medical issue, this means it is possible for us to not become consumed with anxiety.
Anxiety is a major part of my own journey. Mine was not caused by anything biological, but by a sinful habit of trusting in my own meager capabilities over God’s sovereignty, goodness, and love. It sounds silly when I put it like this, but essentially I believed I was doing more to help my circumstances, my thoughts, and those around me by worrying about things than God could and would do. I believed the lie that I was in control and that I needed to be in control.
While I still slip easily into worry and fear—it’s one of my go-to sins—I now have the tools to overcome these thoughts with the truth of God’s Word.
Ephesians 4:20-24 teaches us that as new creations, we can learn to put off old habits as we put on truth.
But that is not how you came to know Christ, 21 assuming you heard about him and were taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to take off your former way of life, the old self that is corrupted by deceitful desires, 23 to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, the one created according to God’s likeness in righteousness and purity of the truth.
The “former way of life” Paul teaches about here is the life we had before Christ, prone to sin and trust in ourselves rather than in God. These verses outline a three-step process to change. Notice I did not say this three-step plan was “easy” or “simple” or “painless.” This three-step process will be difficult, confusing, and painful at times. Sanctification can be like that.
First step: take off your former way of life. Essentially, stop worrying! Wait, wait! Don’t stop reading. I know that is like saying, “Stop breathing!” or “Stop being!” for some of us. The best way to start this step is by just noticing your worry and fear and anxiety. When you feel anxious, notice it. Ask yourself why you’re anxious. What are you worried about? It often helps me to write this down, but you may want to say it out loud, to God or to someone else you trust. I often feel ridiculous when I answer this question honestly.
For example, one time I was planning for a church event. I couldn’t stop worrying about it. I didn’t know who was coming or how many people were coming or what we would do if more people came than I had planned for and so on. I had asked these questions over and over in my mind, losing sleep over the whole thing. I finally realized how bad it had gotten, took a deep breath, and asked, “Why am I worried about this?” Then I asked, “What would happen if the worst case scenario happened?” The worst case scenario in this situation was just that people would not get food and perhaps not visit our church the following weekend. But I didn’t know if either of those scenarios would happen. I had no way of knowing.
Which leads us to the second step: be renewed in the spirit of your minds. During this step, confess your worry to God. Tell Him what you’re worried about and ask forgiveness for living with a spirit of fear. This does not mean you have to be “over it” or that you will never worry again—you might even still be worrying. Ask Him to help you to trust Him with this circumstance. Philippians 4:6 tells us to go to God in prayer instead of being anxious.
In the instance above, I confessed to God that I was spending too much time thinking about the worst case scenario. I confessed that I lacked trust. I realized that God knew how many people would come to the event. He already knew that! I could trust Him to provide. If in my humanity, I forgot something, I knew He could still use the event for His glory and our good. I thanked Him for being a Provider for His people.
Finally, put on the new self, the one created according to God’s likeness in righteousness and purity of the truth. We combat lies with truth. Typically, when I am anxious about something, I’m anxious about things that are not true, at least not yet. I’m worried about what might happen instead of relying on the One who is in control. If we’re honest about our fears, we will most likely find this to be true about all of them.
After I confessed my worry to God, I thought about what was true. The truth is God is the Provider (Matt. 6:26-27). The truth is God works all things together to bring me into His likeness (Rom. 8:28-29). The truth is God is sovereign over all (Col. 1:16-17). The truth is God knows everything (Matt. 10:29-30). Sometimes I write down the truth and other times I simply meditate on them—dwelling on who God is instead of what is worrying me.
When we do these these three steps, we replace one thought for another. We swap them out—we trade the lies for the truth. In thinking on what is true (Phil. 4:8), we don’t have the time or capacity to think on what is false.
I said that this three-step process was not easy and I meant it. It can be difficult to be confronted (even by the Holy Spirit) by what you fear. Sometimes the worst case scenario is much, much worse that a few people not getting snacks at a church event. Sometimes, if we’re being honest, it kind of feels good to worry. It feels like maybe we have a little bit of control. As if by worrying, we are helping.
And the bad news is that this is not a one and done kind of process. It’s continual, but we do get better at it. Practice makes things easier, even when what we’re practicing is applying God’s truth to our fears. I’m constantly asking myself, “What is true?” What is true is always found in God’s Word and never in my fears.
Elizabeth Hyndman is a Content Editor for LifeWay. She holds a degree in biblical counseling from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Elizabeth reads, writes, and tweets from her home in Nashville, and she sips chai lattes every chance she gets.