“Tis the season to be anxious,” or something like that. It’s not just the holidays that cause anxiety. Anxiety and fear are increasingly becoming a way of life. Unemployment and under-employment continue to rise. People continue to lose their homes. The world theater plays out its dangerous acts, with one maniac after another taking center stage. Our own beloved nation is in turmoil. If ever there was a time for fear, anxiety and worry, it seems like it is now. Yet, for God’s people we are called to “be anxious for nothing,” “do not fear what they fear,” and “do not worry about tomorrow.” Either these are outdated truths for simpler times or they are the abiding and timeless principles of God’s Word. I am banking on the latter!
Fear, anxiety and worry are definitely emotions. Worry is a feeling of uneasiness. The word “worry” comes from an old English word meaning to be seized, usually by the throat, shaken, mangled and killed. An unpleasant thought to be sure, but an apt picture of how a disturbing thought can seize us and shake us. Fear is a distressing emotion of impending danger or pain, real or perceived. Anxiety is full on mental and emotional distress caused by fear. In the range of human emotions, this trilogy seems to be most out of our control, or so we think. After all, fear, anxiety and worry are most commonly associated with circumstances beyond our control. But here is a challenging thought: the very emotions we believe to be most outside of our control are the very ones God tells us not to have. To put it another way, God tells us to control our emotions. To take this a little farther, God actually diagnoses our fear, anxiety and worry and gives us the remedy to overcome them.
Not all fear is bad by the way. If I am afraid of getting my hand too close to the blade on the table saw it will make me cautious and I get to keep my hand. If I am afraid of travelling too fast on a snowy Nevada road it will inspire me to drive at a reasonable speed and keep my car out of the ditch. The kind of fear, anxiety and worry that the Bible forbids is not the legitimate fear that keeps us from diving head first off our roof, it is fear about the future, fear of others so that we are people-pleasers, worrying about the cares of this world or of tomorrow. This kind of fear, anxiety and worry leads to more sin (Psa. 37:8b; Isa. 57:11).
The problem with fear, anxiety and worry is that it is ultimately rooted in unbelief. Not fearing God, not believing that He is for us, not trusting His will for our lives and His ability to work things out for the good is the root of fear, anxiety and worry. The way to overcome these feelings that can easily grip us and throttle us is to think rightly. I know we can run to the doctor to get a pill to help with anxiety, but real peace and confidence doesn’t come from masking the emotions, it comes from dealing with the emotions through truth and right thinking. In order to overcome these powerful emotions of fear, anxiety and worry we must know and understand that these things are contrary to what God has made us in Christ. He has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind (2 Tim. 1:7). These emotions are also in opposition to all that God has provided for us and He has provided nothing less than Himself! “The name of the LORD (i.e., His character, who He is) is a strong tower (i.e., a safe place). The righteous run into it and are safe” (Prov. 18:10).
God’s character is good, faithful, wise and sovereign. I can trust Him because He is all that for me! Because He is all that, and more, I can take His promises to the bank; I can cling to them, preach them to myself and pray them back to God. There is real power in the Word of God and knowing “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isa. 41:10). God’s promises can wither fear. God’s promise to be with us can calm our anxieties and relieve our worries. He invites us to cast our anxieties on Him because He cares for us (1 Pet. 5:7). He tells us “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made know to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7).
Our God is sovereign. He loves His people. He cares for us. He is strong. His promises are sure, “Yes and Amen” in Christ (2 Cor. 1:20). He calls us not to be overcome by fear, anxiety and worry, but to overcome them through faith in Him and His promises. When we preach the promises to our hearts and pray them back to God, His peace comes to us. This approach to life does not nullify pain, it does not turn a blind eye to trouble or danger, but it does say, “My God is King, He is for me, He is bigger than my problems or my trials. Why should I fear? Why should I worry? My name is graven on His hand, my name is written on His heart.” Amen.