Tuesday, July 24, 2012

There's a Monster in the Mirror: Anxiety


(Previous posts in this series found here and here.)

It's amazing what an expected, justified, and normal part of our lives anxiety has become. Whether presidential elections, bills to pay, social gatherings, taxes, sickness, work, traffic, politics, our weight or hair or skin, friendships, family, church.... even vacations can easily become stressful and cause our hearts to give way to worry!

It seems to me that fear and self-focus are the foundations of anxiety: we either stop trusting God, or we are simply too concerned about ourselves.

And yet God has commanded His people throughout history... Do not fear. Don't worry. Don't be anxious. Fret not. Be strong and not afraid. In fact, this is one of the most commanded ideas in all of Scripture! And yet it's far too easy to brush off these instructions as mere suggestions. Perhaps we recognize God doesn't want us to worry, but do we realize how much our lack of faith in God dishonors Him, even despises His promises to provide for us? Do we treat anxiety as something we have little control or responsibility over?

Obedience--even to these commands--is not beyond our control. It is always possible to do the will of God. We may have some huge obstacles to overcome--namely, denying ourselves and taking up our cross-- but to this we were called.

I'm sure there's a whole world of valid medical issues that I don't understand. I'll leave those things in God's hands, as I'm sure He knows all about brain chemistry, genetics, and abnormal levels of neurotransmitters. After all, He's the one that created us. :) Yet even those plagued by evil spirits and legitimate psychological disorders were still expected to obey God (King Saul, for example). So I don't mean to minimize actual biological problems; I just want to emphasize our spiritual responsibilities!

When I'm honest with myself, I see that my moments of anxiety stem from self-consciousness when I should be conscious of God instead, or fearing men when I should instead be fearing God. It's convenient to have a socially-acceptable label to mask spiritual problems. But let's take an honest look at our hearts during times of worry and anxiety, and let's determine to trust in our Savior for His all-sufficient grace and peace that passes understanding. Let's focus on willing and working for God's good pleasure, and not our own. Let's remember these words from Exodus:

As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!” Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

I challenge us to quiet our souls before God, letting go of our own defenses and desires, and see the deliverance He will bring. We may need to pick ourselves up by the scruff of our neck, refuse to listen to our fears, and turn in absolute trust to the One whose kingdom cannot be shaken. In the words of the writer of Hebrews, we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved!