Introduction

The scripture urges us not to be anxious about anything (Phil. 4:6). Yet you will agree with me that nearly no week goes by when we do not worry or have concern over one thing or the other.

In today’s world of hustle and bustle, daily rush through the traffic, pressure to meet deadlines, mounting bills to pay, other commitments, there is little surprise that many of us are faced with much stress and anxiety. This is the cause of many health problems including stomach ulcer, heart problems, obesity and suppression of the immune system.

In October, the opposition party launched an attack on the government for the rising cost of living. As if to make the point, right in the middle of that debate, an energy company announces an increase in the prices of gas and electricity that will be passed on to consumers. In the same month, we have seen the price of water bills go up while the salaries of most public workers remain the same. Much of this trend is driven by an irreversible trend of urbanisation and globalisation in much of our world today. We live in an age of anxiety.

The result is that many people feel they have ‘lost control’ over the affairs of their life, leading to more fear and stress. This phenomenon feeds into a cycle of anxiety.

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is a common human response to threatening situations. Most of us are familiar with the butterfly feelings in the stomach or tensed muscle feeling we get before sitting for a driving test or attending an important interview or before we deliver the all important talk to a public audience. Since Cannon’s first proposition of his “fight and flight” mechanism of the human body to deal with threatening situations (Cannon N B, 1929), we have come to understand that some form of stress or the perception of a threat is not necessarily a bad thing. It is anxiety that makes us study well before an exam or to protect ourselves from an oncoming vehicle. Our appraisal of a dangerous situation can help us to remove ourselves from harm’s way.

It all comes down to our perception of threat. If we perceive or judge a situation to be threatening or we think we do not have the ability to handle the situation, we will experience more anxiety. On the other hand, if we feel in control of the situation or judge it as non-threatening to our well being we will experience less anxiety.
Anxiety as a Disorder

Anxiety can however become a pathology or sickness, requiring treatment. For an individual living daily with an anxiety disorder, the experience is more severe, prolonged, often lasting for months or years. It may occur, even in the absence of a threat and interferes with one’s ability to carry out normal day to day activities. For example, someone suffering from agoraphobia may become recluse at home for years, unable to go out shopping, take their children to school or even visit friends and family.

Anxiety disorders can be broadly defined into three areas. These are generalised anxiety, phobic anxiety and panic disorder (Michael Gelder et al Psychiatry 2005). Often anxiety and depression go hand in hand, creating a mixed anxiety-depression state. The bible puts it this way “Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs it down.” (Prov. 12:25a AMP).

Although the symptoms of anxiety are specific to each disorder, generally speaking anyone suffering an anxiety disorder will experience some form of physical symptoms including rapid heartbeat, chest pains, shortness of breath, rapid breathing, sleep problems or insomnia, muscle aches and pains such as headache, psychological signs such as mind racing, feeling on edge or restlessness, impatience or excessive fear or worry. Anxiety disorders can also lead to certain behaviors such as avoidance or repetitive compulsive behavior for example, repetitive checking.

Through much research in the fields of medicine, psychiatry and psychology, there are treatments for people who suffer from anxiety disorders. These include short term treatment of severe anxiety with anxiolytics (such as Valium) which can be prescribed by a local General Practitioner (GP). These are often for short term use only as people can easily become dependent on such medication. There are also psychological treatments such as Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) which is proven from research to be effective in the treatment of anxiety and depression.

A Biblical View

As Christians, we are not only citizens of the kingdoms of this world. We also belong to the kingdom of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. The bible states that “He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love,” (Col. 1:13). In His Kingdom, God has given us access to additional resources over and above what is available to us here on earth. These resources/inheritance are made available to us through the overcoming and victorious life that Christ won for us at the cross of Calvary (2 Cor. 10:4 and Eph. 1:18).

God’s Word Gives a different Perception

Going back to the importance of how the ‘perception of threat’ can mediate or shape our experience of anxiety, there is an interesting illustration of this account of the scriptures in Numbers Chapter 13. Before entering into the land of Canaan, God commands Moses to send twelve men as spies to the land of Canaan to carry out a reconnaissance survey of the land. All twelve spies witnessed the promise of “a land flowing with milk and honey” but they also witnessed the threat of giants in the land (verses 27-28).

On return from the land of Canaan, we are told that ten of the men discouraged the heart of the nation, by concluding they were unable to take it because of the threat they witnessed in the land. At the same time, we learn that two of the men, Joshua and Caleb were adamant that they were able to overcome the threat of giants and to take the land. Why? These two reckoned that because God spoke beforehand to give Israel the land, it did not matter the extent or size of the threat.

It is interesting to note that while the ten men, who brought back a negative report, looked to themselves and their resources, the other two turned their sight away from themselves, preferring to look toward God and His resources as they faced the challenge of taking the land. They counted that in themselves, they were inadequate to face the formidable challenge of giants but with God they were able to overcome. This seems to be the secret of their rather defiant attitude in the face of the odds. There is enough going on in this world to make the heart of men fear, grow timid or become troubled as Jesus warned us in John 16:33. Things would be different, if only we will turn our eyes away from ourselves to Jesus, not only author but also the finisher of our faith.

It must be said, that the attitude of the two men, Joshua and Caleb does not come naturally to us as humans. In our natural human state we fear and panic when we are faced with the prospect of bad news or a threat to our well being. Only this week, after returning from a journey, we soon discovered that there was no running water in the house, much to our dismay (this is obviously not a common occurrence in a developed world). We began playing over in our minds the various scenarios that could result from a shortage of water in the next few days. Within minutes of our conversation, two of our neighbours (obviously in a state of panic) came ringing our door bell in succession, to check if we were also experiencing water shortage. It is recorded in the first book of the bible, Genesis Chapter 3 that the reaction of the first man Adam, after his fall into sin was fear. He began to hide and conceal his inadequacies.

It appears to me that the natural tendency or default direction of our thinking as humans is often toward the negative aspects of our experiences. Our minds seem to want to dwell on the negatives rather than on the positive side of the events in life. Much speculation in the news is largely focused on the doom and disaster of events. This is why in Cognitive Behavior Therapy (mentioned above), psychologists will spend hours with people in therapy, in an attempt to help them change negative ways of thinking. The underlying philosophy being, how you think can affect the way you feel and in turn how you behave. A positive mindset means we will feel different and therefore behave differently.

God wants to change our thinking too! In Romans 12:2, the bible states “And be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” He wants to replace our fearful way of thinking with His way of thinking: He wants us to know that with Him nothing is impossible; that those who put their trust in Him become immovable like mount Zion; that we can have confidence in His everlasting arms to keep us from falling. All these He will do if our mind is fixed on Him.

The Peace of God instead of Anxiety

The King James Version of Isaiah 26:3 states “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind [thoughts] is stayed on thee because he trusted in thee.” There is an inheritance of peace for each child of God, in Christ. One of the things that this verse in Isaiah clearly implies is that there is an individual responsibility for each follower of Christ before they can enter into this inheritance of peace from God. The Christian who will enjoy the peace of God must have their mind fixed on Him. In other words, the major pre-occupation and focus of their thoughts must be Jesus. His mind must routinely dwell on Jesus, His nature, His majesty, His faithfulness and His unfailing love. As one dwells more on God this way, this begins to affect the perception of themselves, their abilities and the view and evaluation of their circumstances. In today’s busy world, this is a challenge, but not an insurmountable one. I often ask myself, whether King David was not busy enough as a king and yet it seems to me that he made time for the word of God as evidenced in Psalm 19:7-11. I believe it is more a matter of priority than of time. We often make time for the things that are important to us.

Do not underestimate the power of the Word of God in your life.

The bible qualifies the peace that God gives by comparing it to the peace that can be obtained from this world. God’s kind of peace is described in Paul’s letter to the Philippian church in Chapter 4:6-7 as the peace that surpasses all understanding. The New Living translation explains that the experience of “God’s peace is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand…” In other words, it cannot be apprehended or appreciated with the natural human mind. Little wonder then that Karl Marx, judging the effect of the Christian faith through the limited lens of communism, refers to it as “the opium of the people”. The peace that God gives is not dependent on positive external circumstances. The bible helps us understand that this peace is borne within the follower of Christ as a result of the kingdom of God that dwells within them. The peace of God is not earthly but comes from heaven, God’s dwelling.

In fact the bible goes further to explain that the peace that God gives to the follower of Christ is the nature and character of God Himself, “the fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5:22). As the believer lives and abides in Christ on a daily basis, he is gradually shaped and formed in the same character of God. As a result the peace of God envelopes his heart and becomes a part of his daily experience in life. In the Amplified Bible, Philippians 4:6 explains that the peace of God garrisons or provides a safeguard for the believer’s heart and mind as they take worries and concerns to God in prayer. “Oh what a peace we often forefeit”, as the hymn goes. Jesus said “In this world you will have tribulations (much trouble) but be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33). In the same verse, He provides the key to this overcoming victory, saying “These things I have spoken to you that in Me you may have peace.”
God’s Love Provides Emotional Security

I have come to realise, the reason many Christian’s live in a perpetual state of anxiety, fret and restlessness, falling short of the state of peace that God provides is because they do not have the assurance of God’s love. The bible says God is Love (1John 4:16) and He has committed Himself through the new covenant, ratified by the shed blood of Jesus Christ, to lavish His forgiveness and love on all who accept His sacrifice on their behalf. It is important to realise that this love of God is not the natural love between a man and woman, friends or family. This love is Agape and does not depend on what the other person does. Therefore the love of God did not depend on anything we did to earn it but all that Christ did on our behalf. Thus the bible aptly expresses God’s Agape love to us in Romans 5:8 that “…while we were yet sinners [and undeserving of God’s love] Christ died for us.” – the righteous for the sins of the unrighteousness.

God has provided us with the evidence of His love and care for us on the cross. If there was any time at all that you doubted how much God loved you, I dare you to turn and look at the crucifixion of Jesus, God’s only Son on the cross, for your sake. If God could go to this extent to demonstrate His great love toward us, if He was able to sacrifice His only Son out of His love for you, what else does He need to do to prove or show you how much He cares about you and each worry or care that you have? (Rom. 8:32).

Often our view of God’s love toward us is blighted by the ‘storms of life’ that ‘rock our boat’. However what we may fail to realise is that no matter how fierce the storms we may find ourselves in this life, it does not change the love of God toward us. The love is God is unfailing, enduring and steadfast. Note this, if God’s love for Jesus Christ, His beloved Son remained constant as He agonised alone on the cross, His love for you remains constant, no matter what you face.

In this, God provides us assurance of His love by comparing it with that of a mother. Most mothers reading this article will possess a unique understanding of the special bonding relationship that nature provides between them and their offspring. Even then, God says a mother can abandon or forget the child that she gave birth to. Yet God says He will never abandon His own. And to even provide further reassurance of this He says He has engraved (as people tattoo images on their bodies today) His children on the palm of His hand. In this, God casts for us a marvelous picture of the treasured place that we occupy before Him and how He constantly watches over His own (Isaiah 49:15).

Oh, that the eyes of our understanding may be enlightened, that we may know how deep and wide and the depth of the Father’s great love toward us! Amen.

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