Be anxious but do not sin
by Gini Crawford, MSW
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We are told in God’s Word not to be anxious, yet in reality, we live in a world where about anything can bring on anxiety. Think of what’s happening globally. With the melt down of financial institutions, and the political unrest, along with the reality that most governments are making things worse, who wouldn’t be distressed unless they are living in uninformed bliss? A city not too far from where I live, is ranked second in the world for kidnappings, with only Mexico City having more. If that fact doesn’t give you a healthy fear along with a sense of uneasiness, you are probably in denial.
I know some of you right now are thinking, "Hey! We are told by God in Matthew 6 and Philippians 4 not to be anxious. So what do you mean by saying, 'Be anxious but do not sin?' Isn’t all anxiety sin?" I will answer this question in the rest of this devotion, as well as share some insights about anxiety and how to deal with it from God’s perspective.
Let’s define anxiety from a psychological and physical point of view, so we are on the same page when it comes to what is meant by it. A simplistic definition of anxiety is: Anxiety starts in the mind when we perceive something as fearful; this makes our body prepare for danger which includes symptoms of anxiety. Anxiety is an emotion that can have feelings of nervousness, being tense or jumpy, unpleasantness, irritability, restlessness, a sense of uneasiness, dread, panic, and so on. These feelings are often accompanied by physical symptoms. The symptoms of anxiety can be so slight you hardly feel them, or so intense you feel like you will die, such as a panic attack. Fear is very connected to anxiety, because when you are fearful you are probably anxious. In other words, what is fearful to you (such as your child getting hurt) is your anxiety producing source.
Here are some everyday examples of anxiety. It’s those butterflies in your stomach as you gave that oral report. It’s the uneasiness you feel when someone dislikes you or you think they do. It’s the restlessness you feel just before a tennis match. It’s the feeling of nervousness you get when you realize your painful stomach problems are back. It’s the dread you feel when you need to deal with your abusive father. It’s the pounding in your heart when you realize some man has been following you in a dark parking lot.
I think you would agree from the above definition of anxiety, everyone has been anxious. So it won’t surprise you to hear, Psychology says - if you are human you will be anxious. Yet, did you know God’s Word pretty much says the same thing? Let’s go to His Word to understand anxiety from His point of view, and learn how to deal with it.
In Job 21, anxiety is clearly defined for us through Job’s honest reaction to his suffering, and his hard experiences.
When I think about this, I am terrified; trembling seizes my body. Job 21:6 (NIV)
Job in this verse literally explains to us how anxiety begins and acts in us. He was saying, anxiety seized him every time he thought about his terrifying experiences. If you aren’t familiar with the book of Job, here is a summary of his nightmarish experiences. Job lost all his earthly wealth; all his children were killed all at once; and he was smote with sore boils from his head to the sole of his feet.
PS – If you do a study of words that describe symptoms of anxiety, you will see how commonplace anxious reactions are in the Bible. All through the Psalms - King David talks about his distresses and so on (Psalm 55:5).
We need to understand when anxiety started, so we can clearly understand where it comes from. Anxiety started with Adam and Eve and the first sin. We know this from Genesis 3:10. This verse tells us what Adam and Eve felt like after they had disobeyed God and brought sin into the world.
And he [Adam] said, "I heard the sound of Thee in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself." NASB®
The Hebrew word – afraid, is the key to understanding where anxiety came from. Zodhiates (in his Complete Word Study Dictionary of the Old Testament, pg. 2323) says that two types of fear are described by this Hebrew word: (1) the emotion and intellectual anticipation of harm, what one feels may go wrong and (2) a very positive feeling of awe or reverence for God. I think it is evident from the context – afraid in Genesis 3:10 is the first type. Have you ever thought how horrible it must have been for Adam and Eve, to have only felt positive emotions such as happiness, and then instantaneously to feel anxious - fear and so on? Talk about a nightmare experience! I know all about anxiety and it still throws me off.
Is anxiety ever a good thing to experience? There are 4 areas where anxiety could be called good for us. (1) Anxiety wakes you up to face a threatening situation or gets your adrenaline going (fight or flight). If your house is burning down your mind should scream, “Get out of the house because you will be burnt.” This thought rightly puts you in a panic, so you haul tail it out. (2) As a Christian you should get anxious if you are thinking about sinning, or have already sinned. This is because you should have a healthy fear of disobeying God (which Adam and Eve didn’t seem to have). This anxious fear should scare you away from sin!
For I confess my iniquity; I am full of anxiety because of my sin. Psalm 38:18 NASB®
(3) Anxiety keeps you on your toes, so the Spirit can lead you to do what is right. Your 12 year-old son needs to take a bath and change his clothes before he goes to church. The only reason he does is, he gets afraid and starts getting nervous about being restricted for a week. (4) Last but not least, anxiety makes me close to God because only He can quiet my anxious thoughts, no matter what they are from.
Say to those with anxious heart, "Take courage, fear not. Behold, your God will come …but He will save you.” Isaiah 35:4 NASB®
One of the main struggles of anxiety is, we can’t always get away from what is making us anxious. Here are some fear producing circumstances that are not for the most part sin, but unfortunately you can’t easily get away from them to stop your anxiety. (1) Genetic source: Research has shown some people are genetically more prone to anxiety; this seems especially true for some women. (2) Medical source: Health problems can lead to high levels of anxiety - such as cancer, lupus, arthritis, thyroid problems, infections and so on. I struggle with anxiety a lot more since I have been in menopause. (3) Substance source: Certain substances can induce anxiety - such as alcohol, caffeine, legal or illegal drugs. (4) Traumatic experience source: Anxiety can be a major struggle in your life after a hard experience, until you learn to deal with it. A rape victim can have many fearful triggers that will set off anxiety. An example - years ago, a woman was raped in a park, and every time she goes near the place, she gets a feeling of anxiousness. (5) Relational source: Some people you can politely avoid, but most relational sources you can’t or shouldn’t. I have found when some people make me anxious it’s not always their fault, but my sin (such as pride) might be what is sparking my nervousness.
If you are struggling with a high level of anxiety, it would be a good thing to see a trusted doctor. There are a lot of medicines that can help you, as well as counseling. If you need medicine, it is a gift from God because it helps your body bring down your high level of anxiety so you can deal with it through God. What is happening when you are highly anxious is: Your mind and body get determined to get away from the fearful source (fight and flight) that is causing you those harsh anxiety symptoms. But you can’t! So it’s like a vicious cycle. Your mind and body keep dealing with those symptoms, which makes it hard to deal with anything else. PS As you would any decision in your life, prayerfully ask God what to do or not do with your anxiety.
When is anxiety a sin in our lives? All anxiety comes from sin, whether it is our sin, other people’s sin against us, or living in a sinful world. Remember Genesis 3. We need to bear in mind anxiety in itself isn’t a sin in our lives (by the definition of anxiety). It is the mind’s and the body’s reaction to the sinful world we live in. This type of anxiety we will call reaction anxiety. Yet, anxiety can become sin when we deal with our reaction anxiety in an unbiblical way!
Anxiety becomes sin when we allow the source of our anxiety (or what is scaring us, distressing us, worrying us, stressing us, or putting us in a panic) to control us, instead of letting God control us. What I believe happens when anxiety becomes sin is, our mind and body are reacting to a fearful source, which is reaction anxiety. But then for various reasons we forget to go to God with our anxious thoughts, or we don’t trust God to get us through whatever is making us fearful and thus anxious. This scenario becomes sin. We will call this anxiety - sinful anxiety (Psalm 37:3-5 & Proverbs 3:5-6).
Let’s take a look at a person who has reaction anxiety but isn’t particularly sinning, and another who is. The first person has lost her job and can only make her house payment for 3 months without a job. This scenario would naturally make anyone feel distressed or worried. However, she knows what God’s Word says, so she decides to pray, and mentally tell herself to trust God every time she starts to get worried. The other person has lost her job too and can only make payments for 5 months. This person knows what God’s Word says, but does not figure God could really help her, so why bother Him. She gets worried every time she thinks of her plight, and feels like she is drowning with the fear of not having the resources.
Be aware, our source of anxiety (a fear) could be from sin in our life. An illustration: My source of fear which makes me slightly anxious is -whether my teaching and writing are encouraging, thought-provoking and growth inspiring to the reader. This isn’t an unreasonable fear, but it is sin because this thought tells me I am relying on my abilities instead of doing what God wants and relying on His Spirit to touch others through what I am doing. Do you see a pattern that lack of trust in God leads to sinful anxiety?
Below are 4 principles from scripture that will help you deal with anxiety! Dealing with anxiety through God’s methods can set you free from sinful anxiety, and lessen reaction anxiety in your life.
1. Transform the mind - Since reaction anxiety starts in our minds, we must start dealing with it there.
Since anxiety starts in the mind, it just makes sense that if we change our way of thinking, our anxiety will change. So as a Christian how do we change or transform our minds to calm our anxieties? God’s Word! When our minds are grounded in His Word, this will allow us to have His way of thinking about the world and its disquieting and fearful influence. This certainly will lead us to have more of His peace, which will calm down our anxiety in our lives.
Jesus is talking:
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled (emotion that causes the mind to be disturbed) and do not be afraid... I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. John 14:27 & 16:33 (NIV)
Knowing God’s Word will allow our minds to filter out the world’s lies that make us fearful, and to replace them with God’s truth that gives us peace of mind.
When our minds are busy thinking godly thoughts, it will get our minds off what is scaring us, distressing us, worrying us, stressing us, or putting us in a panic, and onto reality from God’s perspective. One of the world’s lies that floats around in my head is, “You are useless,” which can lead to anxiety. If I was thinking with God’s truth, I would think, “God tells me in Psalm 139 that I was created by Him for His purposes.” This godly thought makes me feel encouraged, instead of anxious.
Apply to your life. What lies of the world do you struggle with that make you fearfully therefore anxious? What Bible verse could you use to quiet your anxious fear? I have found if I am willing to allow the Holy Spirit to lead me as I read and study His Word, He guides me to verses that calm my fearfully anxious thoughts.
2. Trust God – The key to stopping sinful anxiety or calming reaction anxiety in your life is, trusting in God. What you should be doing is, first and foremost, relying on God to get you through whatever is making you fearful and thus anxious, instead of relying on yourself, or whoever, or whatever.
You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast (supported or upheld), because he trusts in You. Isaiah 26:3 (NIV)
It is evident that trusting God is essential when dealing with anxiety because of the Hebrew definition of trust. Zodhiates (in his Complete Word Study of the Old Testament, pg. 2304) says trust means – to attach oneself, to trust, rely on, confide in, feel safe in, be confident in, secure in. It has the idea of confident hope in God and not constant worry. It is relaxing in the fact God is in control; He is our security and not what the world offers. When we truly trust in God, He will make us feel safe and secure and therefore not fearfully anxious (Psalm 37:3, 5; Proverbs 3:5; Isaiah 31:1 & Jeremiah 17:5-8).
Let’s take a look at Matthew 6. In this passage there are numerous times God tells us not to worry, but to trust and seek Him concerning what we need. Looking at this passage should help you to know what to do when you are fearful about something so you won’t get anxious.
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear…. Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?'… your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow (the what ifs…), for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Matthew 6:25-34 (NIV)
Here is an example of trusting in God from Matthew 6:25-34 so you can zap your anxious thoughts. Our nation will probably have another terrorist attack. This thought makes my mind think, “Oh no, what if that happens or that or that…how will we get water if the electricity is off in Tucson and so on.” As I think these things, of course a feeling of fearful anxiety starts pervading my body. But then I remember what God’s Word says. So I think, “God knows what we need and will provide it. He doesn’t let the birds die of thirst. I need to remind myself (moment by moment if need be), to trust Him instead of freaking out. He will lead us, as we seek Him.” Can you relate? (PS He has led us to store extra water and food.)
When we know God’s truths and act upon them we are then relying on the unchanging and eternal God instead of the world’s ever-changing ups and downs. God tells us in 1 Peter 5 to cast or throw our anxiety on Him, because He is concerned about us. We cast our anxiety upon Him by mentally relying on Him and His Word to calm our fears.
Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7 (NIV)
I believe if you are trusting God, you might still suffer with reaction anxiety, but you will not suffer with sinful anxiety!
Apply to your life. Sometimes I am trying to rely on Him but my source of anxiety is screaming in my mind to be afraid and therefore nervous, such as when I gave blood for the first time. (Giving blood turned out to be a blessing, so that fear was unfounded, like many can be.) I want to trust God with my fearful circumstance, but it seems I just default to feeling uneasy or worse. Do you find yourself in the same predicament? What do we do then? Ask God to show you if you are trusting in Him with your reaction anxiety? Ask God to show you if your anxiety is sin.
Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way. Psalms 139:23-24 NASB®
If you are relying on Him, then keep persevering with God and ask Him to help you to calm your reaction anxiety. God gave me Isaiah 35:4 one time to help me. But if you are not relying on God then your anxiety is sin. Ask God to give you the desire and strength to trust Him instead of freaking out. If your fear is a sin such as, you lied and are fearfully anxious you will get caught, then ask God to forgive you (1 John 1:9). And ask God to give you the desire to do His will so you will not be fearful over your own sinful doing..
3. A lifestyle of prayer – I believe the only way you can truly rely on God is to know Him through His Word and stay connected to Him through prayer. Philippians 4:6 makes it very clear, to stop sinful anxiety and lessen reaction anxiety, you need to pray about everything.
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. NASB®
This verse is telling us that to be able to deal with anxiety and its fearful source in a godly manner, we need to be people who trust in God enough to talk to Him about everything. We need to also be thankful, even for what makes us anxious, such as your mother-in law. If prayer is our way of life along with being thankful, it tends to gets our minds off of what is distressing us and onto God who has abundantly met our needs (Philippians 4:19).
Apply to your life. At least for me, when anxiety hits, it drives me to want to talk to God. How about you?
4. Our greatest example of how to deal with anxiety is Jesus - Yes, Jesus had reaction anxiety (at times) because He was human. Yet, He never had sinful anxiety! So it just makes sense to follow His example of dealing with reaction anxiety. And to also pursue His example concerning trusting God, so we can fight sinful anxiety as it starts in our mind.
The best example of Jesus handling reaction anxiety is just before He is arrested in the garden of Gethsemane. Let’s look at Luke 22:41-46.
And He withdrew from them about a stone's throw, and He knelt down and began to pray, saying, "Father, if Thou art willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Thine be done." Now an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him. And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground. Luke 22:41-44 NASB®
The Greek word agony in Luke 22:44 refers to trembling excitement and anxiety produced by fear or tension before something hard. In this passage, it is very clear Jesus had the physical symptoms of anxiety, such as sweating.
Since Jesus’ sweating was abnormally intense, I believe this meant His reaction anxiety was extremely strong. This state probably caused His mind and body to be in a panic state, so that He felt like He would die from His anxiety. As many of you know, Jesus did go on to literally die for us on a cross a day later after much suffering (Luke 22-24).
However our God, who took on human form for us, allowed Himself to experience the worst reaction anxiety a person could experience, even though He easily could have avoided it or stopped it, but instead endured it for you and me. Since Jesus endured extreme reaction anxiety for you and me… let us run to Him with our reaction anxiety as well as our sinful anxiety, knowing He will give us mercy and help so we can be conquerors in our battle with anxiety (Romans 8:26-39).
Now that we know what we have—Jesus, this great High Priest with ready access to God—let's not let it slip through our fingers. We don't have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He's been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. So let's walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help. Hebrews 4:14-16 (Message)
Apply to your life.Luke 22:41-44 gives us howJesus handled His reaction anxiety in a godly manner. Summarize these verses with emphasis on how Jesus dealt with His reaction anxiety.
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