It is seemingly unprecedented and unimaginable that the whole world could be experiencing an inordinate amount of stress today. While stress affects each of us differently, the article that follows is an attempt to address this everyday human emotion in a reasonable and biblical way.
Disease is a word we often use to describe an illness, an impairment of some kind. The prefix of the word is actually “dys,” which means “not.” We could say that a disease is when the body or the soul is literally “not at ease.” Stress and worry create mental, emotional or physical tension. What occurs when this tension is ongoing and is generated many hours over a course of many days? Some medical practitioners believe our bodies attempt to absorb this tension; however, the body is not built to handle long-term stress and will eventually begin to break down.
Proverbs 12:25 rightly reveals that an anxious heart weighs a man down. A good question to start with could be, “What are the areas of my life that I normally find myself becoming worried, stressed or anxious about?”
Francis Chan in his book, Crazy Love said, When I am consumed by my problems – stressed about my life – I actually convey the belief that I think the circumstances are more important than God’s command to always rejoice. Worry implies that we don’t quite trust that God is big enough, powerful enough, or loving enough to take care of what’s happening in our lives. Stress says that the things we are involved in are important enough to merit our impatience, our lack of grace toward others, or our tight grip of control. Somehow the stuff in my life is exceptional. Both worry and stress reek of arrogance.
To simplify this thought, Mark Batterson in the book The Circle Maker asks, “Are your problems bigger than God, or is God bigger than your problems?”
The Psalmist David actually requested of the Lord to check his heart for anxiety in Psalms 139:23 where he asked God to, “Search me, O God and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.” Why did he want God to do this? David knew that anxiety and stress puts a limit on our belief and our ability to trust God.
Seven causes of stress
- A state of worry and a high need for control: In Luke chapter 10, Jesus looked at one serving Him and expressed, “Martha, Martha…you are worried and upset about many things.” If the Lord looks at you and says your name twice, you know you’re about to hear some “better change your life” words. I think Jesus was saying, “Relax, Martha, be who you are, but trust me. I can provide; there is a time for everything.”
- A lack of faith: We can become anxious when we lack faith for our needs. (See Matthew 6:25-30.)
- The loss of boundaries (also connected to the loss of control) provoking insecurity: If children feel safe, they will venture away and explore. If children are feeling insecure, unsafe and worried, they will cling to their parents. How were you trained as a child? Were you trained to be worried, to be in fear or to be friends with anxiety? Were the boundaries unsure, leaving you to find your own boundaries? Was your home and your family a safe place or a place full of the unknown and unexpected?
- Not knowing the heart of God as your heavenly Father: Psalms 46:10 tells us, “Be still, and know that I am God.” When we do not know the Father’s heart toward us, we will never be able to be still. Until we discover the truth of what our Father is thinking of us, we have every reason, perhaps, to be in a state of worry.
- A lack of trusting God: Did you know there is a “Do not worry” command in the Bible? Psalms 37:1-8 commands us to not fret, but trust, delight, commit, be still and refrain from anger. At the core of anxiety is a lack of trust, perhaps learned from the lack of boundaries; the lack of loving parents; not knowing the truth of faith or not walking in the revelation of the love, acceptance and approval of God. Scripturally, to walk in fret, worry and stress is to walk in the absence of trust.
- A lack of protection and security: When I was a child, we not only had fire drills; we had bomb scare drills. It was the height of the cold war and Americans feared the Communists would drop “the bomb” on us at any time. In primary school, we were prepared for this as the teachers instructed us to place our heads under our desks. Those were some pretty powerful desks! As adults, we still need protection, thus we have laws to govern our societies and boundaries in the word of God enforced by loving leaders of faith – spiritual moms and dads. When husbands fail to protect and understand the principle of protection, wives will find themselves dealing with anxiety. If we as men are not walking in the governmental authority the Father has called us to walk in, we might be standing by and becoming a direct cause of anxiety within our family. When we as husbands and fathers hear from God and act in a scriptural manner of godly authority and covering, our wives and our children will be less anxious, more at peace and more secure.
- When fear overrides faith: Where fear is present, love is absent. Where there is a presence of love, fear is absent. The two do not dwell together in any sense of harmony. Listen to Job 4:14,” Fear and trembling seized me and made all my bones shake.” An actual physical manifestation of fear was present. I John 4:18 reveals, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”
How can we define anxiety? It is a state of uneasiness; worry; an abnormal fear that lacks a specific cause. Here is an excellent biblical definition: Deuteronomy 28: 64-67 says, “And the Lord will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other, and there you shall serve other gods of wood and stone, which neither you nor your fathers have known. And among these nations you shall find no respite, and there shall be no resting place for the sole of your foot, but the Lord will give you there a trembling heart and failing eyes and a languishing soul. Your life shall hang in doubt before you. Night and day you shall be in dread and have no assurance of your life. In the morning you shall say, ‘If only it were evening!’ and at evening you shall say, ‘If only it were morning!’ because of the dread that your heart shall feel, and the sights that your eyes shall see. This scripture gives us a pretty descript picture of anxiety. As well, Proverbs 12:25 reveals that an anxious heart weighs a man down.
Considering some answers to stress and worry
I am convinced the answer to stress and worry is found in one word: trust. Here are some ways to grow trust in your life.
Worry takes the place of prayer: We cannot worry and pray at the same time. Worry says I have to do something about the circumstances while prayer says I cannot change circumstances, but God can. That’s why the scripture is so clear to us in Philippians 4: 6 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” And what does God say He will do?
“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding (we won’t understand how we can have peace in the midst of a storm – just as Jesus slept through one), will guard your heart (that area David wanted tested) and your minds (the area where worry lodges itself to take the place of trusting God) in Christ Jesus.” (v.7) There is no peace in a state of worry.
Trust – How to build and grow trust vs. growing anxiety
- Know God’s word and implement it into your life – (Implement = meditate, memorize, put on 3×5 cards, post it on your mirrors, write it down over and over and pray the scripture into your spirit) Sample scriptures: Jeremiah 17: 7,8; Psalm 37: 1-8; Psalm 46: 1,7,10; Isaiah 41: 10,13; Luke 10: 42; Luke 21: 14; Matthew 6: 25-34; I Peter 5: 7 – “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.” Knowing God’s word has a calming effect. To discover God’s thoughts through meditating on His word will allow our spirit to speak His thoughts to our mind. If we go to a scary movie we’ll observe people screaming and lowering themselves in their seats. If we go to a violent movie people can become agitated. If we listen to music we label as irritating, we will find ourself becoming irritated. Anxiety breeds anxiety; wrong thinking breeds wrong thinking. Read and meditate on the truth of God’s word and it will calm us, reduce stress, bring life and build Christ.
- Anxiety and worry are basically built on the lesser story while God might be working on the greater story. We tend to get all worried when we do not have the finances for a bill that is due – lesser story. God may be using that present lack of finances to build faith for the greater story of His provision. We tend to worry and become self-consumed when our car will not start and we begin to tell ourselves that if our car won’t start, we’ll be late for work and if we’re late for work we will have our pay docked or our boss will be upset – lesser story. God purposely has our car delayed in starting because He is protecting us from an accident on the highway – greater story. What does it boil down to? Trust. Do we trust Him in all areas of our lives even when life is unpredictable?
- Obedience to God’s Spirit of Truth – Is it disobedience to be filled with anxiety and not trust God? (Remember worry says, “I trust me” while faith and obedience say, “I trust God.”) We must come to this conclusion or we’ll never be serious about change. John 14: 15 reveals that He knows how much we love Him by how much we are willing to obey Him.
- We change from our spirit to our mind and not our mind to our spirit – Romans 8: 5-9 tells us we are spirit, soul and body. Lasting change is made by God speaking to our spirit and then our spirit revealing to our mind the necessary changes. It is not our mind to our spirit. We need God’s Spirit in our spirit controlling our minds and not our minds controlling our thoughts, emotions or actions. Information and knowledge will grow our minds. Nutritional food and exercise will grow and keep our bodies in good health. But when the truth is received in our spirit by His Holy Spirit, our belief system begins to change. How does that happen?
- From changed belief to changed behavior – Beliefs -> Thoughts -> Feelings (reactions) -> Actions. This unique formula describes what Romans 12:2 teaches us, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Are we telling ourselves the truth? Often anxiety is built on a lie. That lie housed within a memory has been with us so long that we can actually begin to perceive it as truth. How does it work? It works through the law of attribution.
The law of attribution is simply that which we attribute to be stressful, anxiety-filled will be! Sometimes this is built on truth, but more often it is built on a lie. I once met with a counselee who was fearful to drive over bridges, afraid the bridge would collapse. Was this fear built on truth? No, but deep within his memory bank it was a truth to him from a negative personal life experience. Anxiety is a present feeling or reaction because we tell ourselves anxious thoughts or believe lies that create anxiety. Let me add that not all stress is negative. Sometimes we feel stress and it motivates us to complete a task or to not look at a pornographic picture. It is a signal and what we do with it is up to us.
6. From fear to faith and trust – We must settle Romans 8:15 in our hearts, “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And we cry Abba, Father.” A spirit of fear is not from God. (See II Timothy 1:7.) One day Jesus and His disciples got into a boat to cross a lake. A storm came and began to sink the boat while Jesus slept. The disciples cry out for the Lord to help them and He calms the storm and then says,” Where is your faith?” In other words, why fear, have faith.
Psalm 112:7 reveals, “He will have no fear of bad news; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord.” Why? Verse eight tells us, “His heart is secure; he will have no fear…”
Anxiety is up to us. It is our choice. There are levels of anxiety – some more severe than others. We can go to a doctor’s office for medication. Medication will treat the physical and mental manifestations, but it will not treat the core beliefs, the memories or the lies.
Someone once said that, anxiety is not trusting God for your future and depression is not trusting God for your past. Obviously, it’s not that simple, but God desires to teach and reassure us so that we can trust Him for our past, our present and our future. There are no anxious ways within Him or His kingdom. If he has everything under control and we are His, then at the end of the day we can pray, cast all our worries and anxious thoughts upon Him and go to sleep. (See Psalm 4:8.) I just don’t see God in heaven wringing His hands in total anxiety while mumbling, “Oh my word, what am I going to do now…are you kidding me…how can I get through this mess?”
Armed with a bit of truth and perhaps more faith, look back over your list. Are our anxieties comprised of areas in our lives that have not occurred as yet? Most anxieties that we walk in never materialize. Can we pray over this list and give it all to our heavenly Father?