Battling Anxiety

I know many Christians whose lives are marked by anxiety. In fact, once you get to know them you might even say their defining character trait is anxiety. Money and careers, the people around them, what to do today, it could be anything. A woman might agonize over every word that was said or look that was given while at church. A man might feel like his stomach just got set on fire anytime he considers the future, and what he’s doing with his life right now. And please, don’t mention what the kids are doing and how they’re acting. I can’t. I just can’t, I’m sorry.

Did you know that anxiety and pride very often walk hand in hand together through life? They seem to really love each other, and where one shows up you can be sure the other is going to be hanging around somewhere nearby.

It is absolutely unreasonable, but true. I can remember a time when I felt like I was battling every day with anxiety over my job, my church, and relationships with others. It was crushing to my spirit, and I was left daily feeling drained and empty. A big part of my anxiety came because I didn’t know what to do in this particular situation. My wife came in and said, “you need to reach out to someone and talk about what’s going on with you right now.” And, truth be told, I’m very blessed to have godly, caring people in my life who will listen to me and then speak firm and loving truth that I need to hear

So, in other words, I can’t use the excuse that I don’t know anyone who can help. But you know what? It didn’t matter that I had friends who were literally professionals at helping with this kind of stuff. Pride came sidling up at that moment and slipped its hand into my anxiety’s hand, and squeezed. And they teamed up to direct my thinking.

Because of my pride, the last thing in the world I wanted to do was reach out to someone and ask for help when that was exactly what I needed.

This is what my pride said to my anxiety:  

Forget that.I’m fine. Okay? 

Just give me some space. 

I’ll figure it out.

alone man person sadness

Then I had a whole litany of other excuses:

They’re busy with their own lives and ministries. 

I was just letting off some steam.

I feel better now. 

He’s got his own problems. 

I’m just so tired. 

If I still feel this way tomorrow, I’ll do it then. 

Sound familiar? I bet we could keep going here:

Honestly, it’s not so bad anymore.

I just have to accept that this is life.

I’ll pray more.

Other people are going through worse things.

I could do this all day long. No joke, if I haven’t heard it from somebody else I’ve said it myself.

And my wife listened to a lot of that and then she gave me a long hug, and rubbed my back (she’s smart that way). After that, she said I needed to stop being so stubborn and just imagine what I would tell someone else who gave me all those excuses. I was sitting there saying things I knew were wrong, but my pride wanted to protect my anxiety for some reason.

Why does pride go hand in hand with anxiety?  I know it’s hard to trust others enough to be open about our own failings and our weakness. Believe me, I know how someone can take your weakness and turn against you. So I get that fear, and would certainly argue that you need to carefully consider the people you will open up to about your anxieties.

But wait, there was one excuse I didn’t give yet and it’s the trump card that pride likes to play in these moments.

All I really need is to trust God and be right with Him.

Boom. Can’t argue with that, can you? All I need is the one who can strengthen me to do all things. So, take a step back and find someone else to talk to about their feelings. I’ve got God, all right??

Here’s the thing though- you can argue with that. The Bible tells us a much different story. If all we needed was to trust God and get on with our lives, why’d God give us pastors? And churches? And Hebrews 3:12? And Galatians 6:2-3? And Matthew 18? And… and…do you see where I’m going with this?

All those excuses are just that- excuses. The reality is that, in our pride, we don’t want to face the truth head on- we are messes, our lives might be failures, and we have no clue what to do about it sometimes.  We don’t want to let go of the illusion of control over our lives, because it feels like all we have.

So, Anxiety and Pride walk hand in hand together and they lead directly you to an awful pit of despair and loneliness.

Under protest I did reach out to a couple godly older pastors, and I heard some great encouragement as well as hard truths that I would have to face if I wanted to win any battles I was fighting against anxiety. The hardest truth I had to face was given me point-blank. Instead of being anxious, I needed to start fighting with everything in me to get joyful.

Being anxious is an unbiblical and ungodly way to live your life as a Christian. Even saying that, true though it might be, is incredibly hard and even hurtful for many to hear. Believe me, I know! I’ve been there. There have been times where that statement has made me very upset because I have thought- “it’s not as though I want to feel this way!” But despite how I’ve felt, that statement is still true. And the good news is that there is another reality for those who have been bought by Jesus Christ, and given new hearts- you can be joyful instead.

Joy & Humility

What has helped me is realizing there are two other attributes that walk hand in hand, and they lead you to paradise. I’ve noticed that the Christians who seem to have the most peace and contentment in their lives are the ones whose attitudes are marked by Joy and Humility. They aren’t fighting to hold onto their pride anymore. They are joyful in the fact that they’re redeemed sinners, safe in the arms of their sovereign Father. They’ve faced the fact that they are helpless failures apart from Jesus, and they’ve found peace in realizing they can’t control what happens in their lives, but they can trust the God who controls all things.

These joyful, humble people are looking for wisdom and, more importantly, willing to hear it. They are eager to learn where they are sinning or where they are weak so they can apply the truth of Scripture to their lives even more.

Where does the joy come from? It doesn’t come from circumstances, the right job, a spouse, children, or what other people may or may not be saying or thinking. If you’re looking for your joy from those places, you might as well just jump back into the pit of anxiety because you will be there soon enough.

Fight For Joy

I’ve been reading a Psalm a day for the last 5 months, and a pattern has emerged. I call it “David’s Fight For Joy.”

He begins a psalm by telling us about the pit that he’s in.

“Save me, O God! For the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in deep mire where there is no foothold… I am weary with my crying out, my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God.” (Psalm 69)

That’s a pit, for sure. He goes on and on, but then comes to this moment: “But as for me…” (Here it is, David’s fight for joy is on display) “…my prayer is to you, O Lord.” And he goes on to talk about the “abundance of your steadfast love,” and “according to your abundant mercy, turn to me.”

Yes, David is in a pit, and he has enemies that are overwhelming him. BUT, he will fight for faith and joy in the goodness of the Lord.

He goes on and tells us what he will be doing while he’s in this miry pit. He’s not lashing out, or getting desperate.”I will praise the name of God with a song: I will magnify him with thanksgiving.” He’s still in the pit, mind you!

Then he turns to you and me:

“Let heaven and earth praise him, the seas and everything that moves in them.”

He’s in a pit, and his heart wants to give itself up to despair, hopelessness, and anxiety. David refuses however, because he has a reason for joy.

In Psalm 70, he says, “Make haste, O God, to deliver me! O Lord, make haste to help me!”

He’s back in another pit, you see? And he cries out to God for help, but then we see his fight for joy come out again in a bold cry:

“May all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you! May those who love your salvation say evermore, “God is great!”

He doesn’t deny he’s in desperate need, and that he’s hurting terribly. In fact, he says, “But I am poor and needy, hasten to help me O God!” Even still, his battle is against despair and anxiety, and for joy in God.

That’s where our joy must come from. Our joy comes from knowing the God of the universe, and being able to trust in him. One pastor told me: “You’ve got to get happy, happy in Jesus Christ, and don’t let anyone or anything steal that happiness.”

David says, in Psalm 71, that he needs saving from “the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of the unjust and cruel man.”

People are out to get David, in other words. They are speaking against him publicly, they are plotting against him when he isn’t there. That could sum up a lot of the anxieties people have- others are out to get them, whether it’s family, bosses, co-workers, church members, or neighbors.

What does David say? “For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O Lord, from my youth.”And hey, what’s David doing in the midst of this anxious situation? 

“My mouth is filled with your praise, and with your glory all the day.”

If his mouth is filled with God’s praise and glory, it doesn’t have time to complain, to despair, to lash out at others, to gossip, or anything else. David has decided that, no matter the circumstances, he will live a joyful life.

“My lips will shout for joy, when I sing praises to you; my soul also, which you have redeemed.”

David has more reasons than most to be anxious, but he fights for joy instead. Why? Because joy is far better than anxiety. Listen to Paul speaking to the Philippians:

“The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

You have reasons to be thankful, you have Jesus Christ!

Now, it’s easy to say that, but what do you with your anxieties? Fight for joy! Paul has the same idea that David did: if your mouth is busy singing the praises of God, you don’t have time to voice anxieties. And if your mind is busy thinking about the truth and goodness of God, it doesn’t have time to dwell on other things. See how Paul says this to the church: 

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

So, fight for joy instead of anxiety. Like David and Paul, when Anxiety and Pride have come upon you and taken your hand in theirs, pull away and run to the Lord.  And if you’re fighting for joy in God, the one who saved you, the one who owns you, the one to whom you confessed all your sin and pride, then humility comes right up and takes your other hand. 

You’ve got to grab Joy’s hand and hold on as tight as you can. If you’re holding on to a selfless, Christ-centered joy, then humility will be right there with your joy. 

Humility will come up, and say: “What do you have to be prideful about? You’re a slave of God’s. Why are you holding on so tightly to that anxiety and pretending it’s not there? Why not trust God with it, and allow others to share your burden for a while?” Humility allows you to take joy in growing and learning because you don’t have to always have it all together. You can make mistakes, you can be a human fighting for faith. With humility in your life, and the attitude that you belong wholly to God, you can take joy in God’s hand on your life even when it’s really heavy.

Humility allows you to let go of that desperate, white-knuckled, angry hold you have on everything in your life as you try to control it. Humility allows you to recognize that it’s more than okay to admit to yourself, to God, and to others that you are broken, you are hurting, you are confused, and you need help. Humility will gently remind you: “that’s where you have to be to truly understand the Gospel anyway my friend.”

Anxiety and Pride are the easy route, aren’t they? You don’t have to try and be anxious and prideful, trust me. Just let yourself go, and you’ll be prideful and anxious in no time at all. They’ll slip their hands into your hands like comfortable old lovers. 

You’ve got to fight to hold onto the hands of Joy and Humility though. That battle takes place at the foot of the cross of Jesus Christ. Get there, and get joyful!

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