No matter how much I toss and turn, I can’t fall asleep. My anxious thoughts attack my mind and keep me awake more effectively than coffee ever will. Fruitlessly, I try to rein in my out-of-control anxiety. Meanwhile, the alarm clock ticks the seconds at an agonizingly slow pace. The night inches forward.
Chances are, you’ve probably experienced something similar. Am I right?
Because our world is so uncertain, and our future is veiled, it’s only natural to have fears of all kinds. Even in the best of times, they’re never far from the surface of our consciousness. So, when Jesus tells us not to worry, can he be serious? Does he really expect us not to be anxious when there are so many good reasons to be?
Problems or dangers understandably lead us to be concerned. The next step, unfortunately, is often anxiety. Let’s take the example of the Biblical passage where the storm engulfed the disciple’s boat. Jesus was sleeping, while Peter and the others were furiously fighting to stay afloat. When all hope seemed lost, they woke Jesus up and accused him of not caring about their dire predicament. After calming the storm, he asked them, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” Jesus’ rebuke went to the heart of the matter. He wasn’t upset because the disciples were concerned or apprehensive, but because they didn’t trust him.
Whenever I struggle with worry, I turn to the apostle Paul’s words in Phil 4:5-6, which are a practical guide on how to defeat anxiety. Let’s look at them more closely.
He starts with the command not to worry about anything. As if anticipating numerous objections, Paul goes on to explain how, and this is where we find the key to getting rid of anxiety. We can only defeat it when we replace it with faith, expressed through prayer, petition, and thanksgiving.
I’ve sometimes been so worried about a matter that it weighs me down, sucking all my energy. But when I turn to God for help, thanking him for what he will do in the situation, I’m handing the heavy burden over to him. Relieved, I feel as if I can breathe again. God wants us to trust him and to cast all our cares upon him. His shoulders are much broader and stronger than ours, and he can carry every load that troubles us.
Unfortunately, we tend to act like the disciples did in the storm – we try to handle the problem ourselves instead of trusting God. Finally, when our plight is so desperate that we have no choice, we turn to him in fear and anger, even accusing him of not caring. Wouldn’t it have been so much easier to present our requests to God from the very beginning?
I realize it’s not easy – I struggle with this myself – but we always have the choice to feed our worry or to feed our faith. If we chose the second option, Paul makes a surprising promise. God’s peace will fill our hearts, even when there are no apparent reasons for it. Peace acts as a shield that keeps the anxiety away.
When Jesus tells us not to worry, he is, in reality, calling us to trust him, to turn our lives over to him, to come to him with all our troubles, because he is big enough to handle them.