Life in 2023 is difficult. The impact of isolation and the numerous life-adjustments brought about by the recent Pandemic remain poorly understood. Economic realities are causing hardships and despair for many. Political divisions driven by media outlets that champion outrage have caused people to hate one another to a degree unseen in generations. It’s no wonder that anxiety is spreading like a plague and that the suicide rate in many countries is likely so high that the statistics won’t even be reported.
This is challenging enough for the average man, woman, and child. Yet those who’ve dealt with the worst the world has to offer through war, law enforcement, and other security challenges are also suffering. Many feel beat up, run over, and hated based on things over which we have no control.
Those familiar with the Bible will know that dealing with persecution, hatred, and anxiety has always been part of life for Christ followers. Galatians 1:4 makes it clear that we live in an “evil age.” In Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21, Jesus tells us that things will get worse as his return approaches. 2 Timothy 3:1-4 (ESV) echoes this sentiment:
But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.
This pretty well describes where we are now and where we are heading. Scripture makes it clear that Christ followers are by no means immune from the impacts of all this. In fact, since we are striving in God’s power to live godly lives in this Evil Age, it makes sense that Christ followers are more subject to anxiety than those who embrace the ways of the world.
God knows what we face. He knows that anxiety, fear, doubt, and that a sense of foreboding are challenges with which his children have always had to struggle in this world of evil, and that all this will intensify as God’s enemies turn up the heat since even they know that the return of Jesus is drawing ever closer. The good news is that not only does God know what we face, he longs to give us what we need to overcome these challenges.
There are so many places in the Scripture that can encourage us as we face these struggles. There are promises on which we can depend. The question is, will we search out and know these promises and choose to take God at his word by applying them? In other words, will we be overtaken by anxiety, or will we train ourselves with what God has given us to overcome and slay anxiety?
Let’s be clear, no one can live in the “Peace that passes understanding” at all times. We all struggle in this world of evil. And yet, as we choose to draw near, and as we learn to trust in God, we can know peace and joy deep within our souls. This is not a one-time decision. It’s a lifestyle of again and again drawing near to God and seeking to live in His presence. By doing so we can know God’s peace in the good times, and we can trust him to settle our hearts even in the worst.
There are so many passages that speak to overcoming anxiety that we don’t have room to list them here. Perhaps the most well known are found in 1 Peter 5:7, Philippians 4:6-7, 2 Timothy 1:7, Luke 12:25-26, John 14:27, and Psalm 94:19. These all help me as I struggle with anxiety. What temps me the most is to worry about what might happen just around the corner. This is likely based on my being raised in an alcoholic family. The pattern was for things to go well for a while, and then to spectacularly fall apart the minute I thought things were going well. Living this pattern over and over almost makes one think that enjoying the good actually causes something bad to happen, and so enjoyment is subconsciously avoided.
I have a very long way to go, yet in my 40 years or so of walking with God he has graciously taught me a few things about dealing with the anxiety I face. This involves three passages and two realities. Here are the three passages as they appear in the ESV:
Matthew 11:28-30 – Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Isaiah 26:3 – You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.
Romans 8:28 – And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
Those who don’t take God’s word seriously might suggest that these passages are simply words. They are not. These are insights into God’s ways and contain promises that will apply to our lives to the degree that we seek to actually believe them and to live them.
Does this mean that everything will be wonderful? Will we not face disease, will we not face financial challenges, will no one we love be harmed or killed? That’s not at all what these and all Scripture teaches us. What we can know for certain, however, is that God knows what’s happening and gives us what we need to face anything. Knowing that He is with us, that we are not alone, and that we can depend on his promises will help us slay anxiety. We can know God’s peace even in the midst of evil and suffering. We can know deep within our soul that God sees the beginning, the middle, and the end of all things. He promises that He is working all for our good. We will likely not understand this until heaven, yet this is God’s promise and on Him we can depend.
Aside from these three passages there are two realities that help me slay anxiety. First, I have come to learn that God can be trusted. In fact, I suspect that God has allowed suffering in my life in order to teach me to trust him more. This reality, and knowing it, makes all the difference.
The second reality I’ve learned is that prayer offered in faith is powerful and effective. When I pray with doubt, God is often gracious and answers. And yet, when I pray with faith, I sense a degree of peace that truly does pass human understanding. Oh how I need to grow in this! Sometimes I feel like an infant in this reality, yet by God’s grace he is teaching me more.
One of the things God is teaching me is that I need to recognize the temptation to accept anxiety when it first appears. This usually starts with a sense of foreboding. If I let foreboding settle in, it grows into anxiety. On the other hand, if I sense it and pray, God gives me a peace that is real. As I sense the foreboding approach, I often pray, “Father, in the name of Jesus I choose to entrust this situation to you. Please take this from my hands, and allow your peace to calm my heart and mind.” At other times I simply say, “Jesus, I give this to you.”
To me, this is part of loving God with my whole mind, heart, spirit, soul, and strength. For me to allow foreboding or anxiety to settle into my mind is to not love God with all that I am. Again, I am an infant in this and am still learning. I suspect I will be learning until the day I see Jesus face-to-face. And yet, the learning journey can be sweet as I trust in Him.
It’s my sense that the struggles of life and learning to trust God through them creates a depth of love for God that cannot be known in any other way. I suspect that as we look back from heaven on our time on earth we will in some way, though we cannot comprehend doing so know, we will thank God for the struggles. May we see now even a glimpse of what we will know then. Amen!