Editors Note: This article is written by BCC Counselor, Dr. Lucy Ann Moll as part of our series on Pursuing Peace. In this series, our counselors are unpacking how to find peace in all areas of your life.
Is it possible to live anxiety-free and in peace? To be “anxious for nothing,” as the apostle Paul mandated us believers (Phil. 4:6, NKJV)?
In his book Anxiety: Knowing God’s Peace (P&R Publishing, 2019), Paul Tautges defines anxiety as a distracting care – “to have our minds and our hearts in two worlds.” This distracting care diverts our attention from the eternal Lord to temporal, earthly concerns. Anxiety not only divides our minds, but also weighs us down.
We can also describe anxiety as the emotion of uncertainty. Sometimes, it reveals itself as a conglomeration of nagging worries. Nothing horrible or deadly, more like a swarm of mosquitoes than an agitated rattlesnake.
At other times, anxiety is a debilitating panic. It can feel like a knife stabbing you in the chest with every breath, or like a lump in the throat, or sweaty palms, or wobbly Jell-O knees, or any number of uncomfortable, unwanted body sensations experienced when we’re highly stressed. It can also show itself as fear of man or any number of other expressions of anxiety.
Whether nagging worries, or debilitating panic, or any other expression of it, anxiety has powerful and negative effects on the body. We’ve all experienced it personally.
Peace through understanding anxiety’s effects
A pressure is first evaluated in the mind. “Do I have enough money in the bank to cover the $200 water bill?” If we check our account and it has several thousands in it, we relax. But if there is only a measly $20, our pulse may quicken and our thoughts may scurry like mice, looking for an answer to our financial conundrum.
When anxiety persists (and often it does in today’s chaotic times), it can have negative effects on the body: muscular tension, headaches, gastro-intestinal problems, and so forth. When left unresolved, anxiety may lead to depression and other negative emotions as well as phobias, panic attacks, and compulsive behaviors. (Since some of these problems may have an organic, physical cause, it is always wise to consult a health practitioner.)
When I’m mildly anxious, my upper shoulder muscles often become tight and a tension headache may ensue. If I ruminate on whatever is bothering me into the evening, insomnia is my probable bed companion. Sometimes I stress-eat chocolate.
If my anxiety goes way beyond nagging worries and has catapulted into panic, a horribly frightful and often recurring experience I’ve described in Help: I Get Panic Attacks (Shepherd Press, 2019) and in this blog article, “The Truth of a Panic Attack,” then my bodily sensations may include a racing heart, perspiration, numbness of fingers and toes, feeling faint, and a sense of doom.
With anxiety, we’ve each lived it, hated it, and wished it gone, yet it hangs like chains around our hearts.
In Psalm 31, David describes the interconnectedness of the body and the mind, and he nails the solution; that is, turning to God: “But as for me, I trust in You, Lord, I say, ‘You are my God.’” I encourage you to invest a few minutes in reading it and meditating on its truths.
Peace through the renewing of the mind
A mind renewed by the truth of God as revealed in Scripture is the only lasting antidote for anxiety and other negative emotions. Tautges counsels, “Ultimately, security and peace come from the Lord—from knowing and trusting the character and love of God. So don’t let your anxiety lead you away from God. Run to Him today.”
Indeed, a right view of God will replace anxiety with peace.
Lisa came to counseling for anxiety. As I heard her story, I learned that she had been an excellent student and a rule follower. It was important to her to please her parents and her teachers. Now married, she desired to please her husband too. When she received his approval (or at least not his disapproval), she felt good. When she feared that he wasn’t pleased, her anxiety ruined her day. She became extremely introspective and also irritable, trying to figure out how to get her husband’s favor.
As you probably gathered, the root problem of her anxiety was the fear of man, specifically her husband. She wasn’t afraid of him in the sense that she thought he might hit her. Rather, she feared his disapproval.
Proverbs 29:25 says, “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe.”
In counseling, she learned to be resolute in doing what was right in the eyes of God, not in the opinion of her husband. This also required some uncomfortable conversations with her husband. Ephesians 4:15 calls us to speak the truth in love. As Scripture renewed her mind, she determined to take a leap of obedience and to trust and obey God. She took to heart 2 Timothy 1:7— “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and discipline.”
Peace through an actionable plan to overcome anxiety
The Bible urges us to renew our minds (Rom. 12:2, Eph. 4:23). But how does this happen, this renewing of the mind? This is a common question among anxiety-plagued Christians who are seeking a biblical solution. Let us consider these four parts.
First, right belief.
Overcoming anxiety begins with the right belief about the goodness and greatness of God, and our relation to Him. He is the Creator, we are the created. He is the Potter, we are the clay. Consider studying the attributes of God. A good study Bible would be helpful in this endeavor, so are books on this topic by A.W. Tozer, Arthur W. Pink, and (more recently) Jen Wilkins.
Second, right thoughts and desires.
What we believe is the foundation for our thinking. “As a man thinks, so he is” (Prov. 23:7). Our thoughts are a reflection of who we really are.
Third, do right.
Our actions flow from our beliefs and our thoughts. Even though it is difficult, we must not let our emotions rule us. God calls us to live by faith, not our feelings.
Fourth, feel right.
When we “do right,” that is to trust and obey God as His beloved children whom His Spirit guides and empowers, we will feel right. We have the peace that comes from a renewed mind.
Example: When the shepherd boy David brought lunch to his older brothers who were part of the Israelite army cowering in fear (1 Sam. 17), he took stock of the scene. He viewed the giant Goliath as a tiny, annoying gnat in comparison to the almighty God whom he served. In the presence of all gathered, he declared to Goliath, “You come to me with a sword, a spear, and a saber, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of armies, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will hand you over to me. (17:45-46a, NASB).
We all know the rest of this story. David killed that giant with a sling and a stone, and the victory belonged to God.
David displayed right belief > right thinking/desire > right action > right feeling. How can you and I do the same? Recall Paul’s admonition in Phil. 4:9: “As for the things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”
I hope this description of anxiety and God’s solution to it have given you more insight into how to respond biblically when nagging worries, debilitating panic, the fear of man, or another expression of fear assails you or a loved one.
We can gain more empathy for those who have anxiety. We can remember that God gives us His solution for overcoming it and finding peace. What is a practical and Godward action step that you can take today?