Is there anything more insidious than anxiety? Often it starts with a small seedling of a question: “What if…”
What if my child’s bruise is something more?
What if this extra charge on my debit cards puts me in the hole?
What if my employers aren’t pleased with my efforts?
What if my marriage doesn’t work?
The questions are incalculable and consuming. “What ifs” give way to increasingly desperate thoughts:
How could I possibly move on?
Where in the world would I get the money?
What am I going to do?
Before we know it, we’ve created an entirely new world that hasn’t actually occurred but we are confident it will. Sadly, we allow this future fantasy to dictate our present reality. We fail to live in confidence because we fear assuming too much; we expect the worse so as to be surprised by the best (instead of the reverse). I say “we” because anxiety is our shared experience as humans. I’ll share some of my own anxieties with you:
Am I doing enough as a father and a husband?
Am I hurting or helping the church?
Am I right or wrong about this/that doctrine?
Is my ministry effective?
These are but a few of the stresses that sometimes daily assail me. Of course, we call it anxiety and stress because we’d rather not use the real word: fear. Fear of the unknown produces speculation; fear of the known produces bitterness and cynicism; fear of the past produces doubt; fear of the present produces anger; fear of the future produces despair. Fear greets us with its toothy grin around every corner. It isn’t simply under the bed, but in the car, in our food, in our medicine, and in the neighbor’s house next door (who we really don’t know that well).
This battle with fear shouldn’t surprise us. One of Jesus’ most consistent laments for the early disciples was how little their faith was and how quickly they chose fear (Matt. 6:30; 8:26; 14:31). We are no different. We begin the day with our eyes fixed on Jesus, but not long after stepping out of the boat we sink in an ocean of anxiety. Is there any hope of finding some anchor, some buoy, that will keep us afloat when the waves of stress filled doubts come crashing down?
Scripture seems to imply there is; that stress isn’t something we are destined to constantly combat, but conquer. We are commanded to not allow fear to reign in our life (Matt. 6:25-34), and our desire to obey compels us toward such—but how? By anchoring our faith in the unwavering promises of God. When scripture calls us out of fear, we are counseled to focus our attention on the character of God and his word. Here then are 5 promises from God to combat stress in your life.
I know you (Matt. 10:30). Whether we realize it or not many of our fears originate from our belief that God has forgotten us—or maybe that he never really cared in the first place. Is God really aware of the anxiety that fills my heart when my child is admitted to the hospital for testing? Does he really know the doubts and the lack of self confidence I experience on a daily basis? If he really knows my weaknesses, how could he possibly still care?
The answer Jesus gives is incomprehensibly comforting: No one knows you better, and no one loves you more, than God. His knowledge of you is deeply intimate: he knows the exact number of hairs on your head. He knows the number of freckles on your arm. He knows how many times you’ve scraped your knee. He knows how many tears you’ve shed, how many times your heart has been broken, and who has disappointed you and how deeply. He knows, even before you do, what circumstances are going to stress you out. Nothing about you surprises or disillusions God. Faith in God’s microscopic knowledge of your life is a great tool in combatting daily anxiety.
I care about you (1 Pet. 5:7). Yet it isn’t simply God’s knowledge of us that grants comfort, but that his knowledge is coupled with great affection. Peter’s counsel for the anxious spirit is to throw our stresses God’s back, allowing Him to shoulder their weight, “for he cares for you.” This is an immeasurably assuring thought for my anxiety. Do we really believe—have genuine faith—in the fact that God cares for us? Maybe we should begin the day by reminding ourselves of this truth: God knows me and God loves me.
I will take care of you (Matt. 10:31-32). Provision is another stress inducing thought. How will I provide for my family if I lose my job? Will there be enough money in the bank at the end of the month? Am I putting enough back for retirement? Into these fears God gently reminds us, “I know you. I know what you need. I will take care of you.” The walk of faith is about learning to more fully trust in God’s provision; to pray for daily bread and trust that He will provide.
I am with you (Matt. 28:20). When my children have a nightmare, or they are going to the doctor/dentist, or dealing with some frightening situation, the one statement I make to them that gives them the greatest comfort is simply, “Daddy is here.” My presence brings them great assurance. They may still endure difficult circumstances, but they know they aren’t alone and this alleviates their fear.
God speaks into our crisis by practicing the ministry of presence. He is the God of comfort who calls us to his side (2 Cor. 1:3-4). One of my most consistent prayers for the past few years has been that God would grant that I live with a greater conviction of His abiding presence. Jesus has promised, “I am with you.” Do we trust him? Do we believe?
I will never leave you (Heb. 13:5-6). Some friends are present when times are good, yet leave when circumstances become too difficult—not God. The promise of God’s presence persists even the most difficult of circumstances. It is in the context of financial lack that the Hebrews writer reminds us that the presence of God remains even in our poverty. That is, even when we have lost all earthly treasures, our greatest treasure—the presence of God—remains. In our most stressful circumstances, where we feel we have lost the most, our hope remains untouched. God will not abandon you in the midst of the storm; he remains with hand outstretched to pull you into His presence.
None of these promises are quick fixes for our struggle with anxiety. They aren’t a magic pill we take and quickly feel the effects. They require us to walk by faith and not by sight. Sometimes, these channels of trust in God’s person and provision are only crafted when we walk through the valley time and time again. But one day, if we continue to place our faith in Him, a dawning awareness will graciously arise: that “I will fear no evil, for you are with me.”