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*** For the Christian with Anxiety is part 9 in a series of posts. If you want to read part 1, click here. You don’t have to read the entire series to understand each individual post, but they are written to be complimentary to each other! ***
Hi, Christian with anxiety. We’re friends! Maybe we don’t know each other, but we totally have the same struggle and the same God watching over us. (So we’re definitely friends.)
The Struggle for a Christian with Anxiety
I don’t know if I’ve ever written a post on a topic quite as difficult for me as this one. Because Christians “aren’t supposed” to have anxiety. We’ve all heard that the Bible says “fear not” 365 times, once for each day. While this may not actually be true, there is no getting around the fact that “fear not” IS in there (many times), and God meant it when He said it. He still means it now.
It’s in there right alongside other difficult things like, “If you love me, you will obey my commands” (John 14:15) and “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 and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).
My anxiety makes me wonder, If I really believe in God or love God, how can I be anxious? I am disobeying His Command; I am guilty. And where is this peace Jesus promised me? I’d love to not let my heart be troubled. JUST SHOW ME HOW, JESUS!
I couldn’t tell you the number of times I have prayed to be delivered from anxiety. How can He possibly accept me if He is Holy and I am failing so miserably, over and over and over? If He wants me to be successful at “do not fear” why won’t He help me? Doesn’t He know that this is beyond me? Is God not listening? Is He not even real?
There is an ugly, ugly battle between my anxiety and my faith that, on one hand, seems to have no possible solution.
In my sin and my humanness, I blame God for His lack of attention to me and I blame myself for my lack of faith. (I have been told before, by well meaning people, that my anxiety is certainly a lack of faith.)
Or maybe my anxiety is an attack from satan. Maybe he is targeting me this way because he knows that I can’t be useful to the Lord when I am so consumed in my own “stuff”. (Actually, I believe that there is some truth in this sometimes, I’ll come back to that.) But what about all that “resist the devil and he will flee from you” stuff?
Sometimes it feels like I can’t possibly be a Christian, because a “Christian with anxiety” sounds to me like a “vegan with a meat addiction”. Go around all day saying you’re vegan if you want, and buy the t-shirt, but if you eat that steak perhaps you’re not actually vegan. Maybe you just like the idea of it.
But on the other hand. ON THE OTHER HAND.
Perhaps I am human, in a fallen world, with an ever-loving and ever-understanding God. Perhaps I am human, in fallen world, where nothing will ever be perfect until Jesus comes back and makes it that way.
Perhaps I can’t focus only on the Holiness of God.
Perhaps the reason that Jesus stresses that you, as a Christian, are a work in progress is because you are a work in progress. (And that includes a Christian with anxiety!) He actually doesn’t expect perfection from you – because He knows you are incapable. Even Paul, PAUL, had this problem… In Romans he wrote “For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.” Romans 7:18-20
So it sounds sort of bleak. No matter how hard we try, we are going to fail sometimes. But don’t ever quit reading after the depressing verses! He goes on to say:
“So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Romans 7:21-25
Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
When I focus only on the Holiness of God, and leave no room for His Wisdom, Grace, and Mercy to work in my life… then of course it looks bleak. But God is not only Holy, He is also forgiving and loving… and it doesn’t matter that I struggle to reconcile those two sides of God. He delivers us.
There are a few religions out there that DO focus only on the Holiness of God, leaving no room for grace, requiring you to “work” your way to heaven. Well, I wouldn’t be getting there if I had to work my way there… I could try, but I would fail. I have no doubt. (Anxiety is just one of the many aspects of myself that has given me that impression, by the way.) By grace alone, God accepts me, anxiety and all.
I don’t think that this excuses us to dwell in our anxiety, or to paint it as Ok. I think we should be constantly rebuking it, constantly pushing back against it.
Did you read my anti-anxiety “trick” in part 7 of this series – Do Not Feed the Fears? I believe this is one very particular way that God would like us to deal with anxiety. He even says things l like “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Philippians 4:8 and “…we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” 2 Corinthians 10:5
As long we are moving towards Christ, even in our anxiety, He will stand there with open arms. I am confident of this.
So what about all my unanswered prayers?
I did say, earlier, that I couldn’t tell you the number of times I have prayed to be delivered from anxiety. (Or the number of times other people have prayed for me.) So how can I come to a positive conclusion about God if He seemed deaf to my prayers and allowed me to struggle with my fears for over a decade? The Bible is FULL of promises for answered prayer.
“This is the confidence that we have in Him that if we ask anything according to Your will, You will hear us.” I John 5:14
“Therefore, I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they shall be granted unto you.” Mark 11: 24
“Ask, and it shall be given to you: seek and you shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you.” Matt. 7: 7
“And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked of Him.” I John 5: 15
I suppose there was a time when these verses only made me feel frustrated or desperate, and not reassured. But I suppose now too, that was a time when I knew even less about God than I know now. (Which still seems like not much, in the grand scheme of things to be known about God.) I know now, that sometimes God answers prayers with miracles; the things you ask for in faith are granted instantly and there’s no other explanation except that God answered your prayers.
I also know now that sometimes God answers your prayers slowly. A little bit at a time, almost indistinguishably.
I don’t know, but I suspect, that perhaps God does this on purpose because He sees more benefit to us this way. Take for example, what Paul says again, in Romans 8:18-30. He starts by saying “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us….. (then he says lots more important things regarding our time here on earth. Read it.) He finishes his thoughts by stating “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
The big take away for me there is that we are recognized as suffering and assured that God is working for our good.
The truth is that now, looking back over my life and my experience with anxiety, I can see God at work answering my prayers. Slowly. He taught me how diet can affect anxiety, He taught me about which supplements to take (and provided me the financial ability to have them). He got me to a gym (believe me, this is not something I would have chosen for myself) and taught me how exercise can help with anxiety. He blessed me with an understanding family and an amazing therapist who helped me learn not to feed the fears.
All the while I was dealing with anxiety, the Lord was teaching me and changing me. In ways that, because of who I am, I doubt I would have changed or grown if I had been miraculously healed overnight. First I had to wrestle with whether or not I could believe that God was real.
Then I had to wonder if He is actually a God I wanted to know. Testing the waters of how much I could trust Him took years… and is still a work in progress (I doubt any of us ever get all the way there on this earth).
When I was doubtful of God, He showed me grace and revealed Himself slowly. Over and over my anxiety drove me into the arms of Jesus, in ways that I don’t imagine much else would have.
I read lots of books. Books that I would never have read, if not for anxiety, which helped to me gain understanding of God that I probably wouldn’t have gained otherwise. When I couldn’t understand why God would allow me to have anxiety if He was real, I read The Case for Christ and The Case for Faith. When I couldn’t believe that God was someone I wanted to know I read If God is Good. (Besides the Bible, If you never read any other books in your life, these three are the ones you should read.)
I believe the Bible is the only book we need, and that there is nothing further that books written by people can teach us… but there is so much more to the Bible that I want to understand more fully and so many things that are contextual that are beyond my level of understanding. I find that Biblically sound books can help us understand what the Bible is saying, and as long we don’t place greater trust in what any book says that what the Bible says, we should read.
I DO think we should be very careful that the books we read are Biblically sound. I believe all the ones I have mentioned here are, and I respect these authors as men who seek God. If you question whether or not a book is Biblically sound, skip it. Love Wins by Rob Bell comes to my mind. I wouldn’t read that one.
And what about satan? Is he the cause of my anxiety?
Maybe. I don’t know enough to say much about this, so I need to tread carefully here. But I believe in demons, and I believe that as the father of lies, satan certainly would like to see you suffer crippling anxiety. (Anxiety, when the Lord says “do not fear” is a lie. It’s like we are hearing “you can’t trust God”.) I am certain that satan is the cause of some anxiety and that you should not ignore the possibility that your anxiety is from satan.
For years I wondered at the verse in the Bible, “resist the devil and he will flee from you”, because I felt like I was resisting the devil… but he wasn’t fleeing. But that’s not the full verse. “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” James 4:7. This is a commandment A and then blessing B verse. I was only focusing on B, wondering what I was doing wrong… when the answer was there all the time. Submit yourself to God.
I’ve met with many pastors and preachers and prayer warriors over the years to have my anxiety prayed away. Even though I’ve never experienced miraculous “faith healing” I still think that all this praying was crucial to my learning to live well with anxiety, and that it was part of the slow process of getting free from it. Each person I met with also brought me a new learning experience about God and taught me things I didn’t know.
A few stand out to me. I had a meeting with a baptist preacher once, who says he no longer does exorcisms because they are unnecessary. Prayer and the power of the name of Jesus is enough to drive demons away. I read the book The Bondage Breaker on his advice and it was amazing and fascinating. He also advised me to ask forgiveness for some occultic books I had read (that I didn’t realize were occultic).
Someone else suggested to me that when I feel terrible unexplained anxiety I should read the Bible out loud. “For the word of God is living and active.Sharper than any double-edged sword, it pierces even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12. The Bible is the living word of God, as though He is speaking. Demons are afraid of God and God has power over them.
“I told Your disciples to cast it out, and they could not do it.”…When He came into the house, His disciples began questioning Him privately, “Why could we not drive it out?” And He said to them, “This kind cannot come out by anything but prayer.” Mark 9:18b, 28-29. Even the most difficult demons can be cast out by prayer.
I wish I knew more, and I could say more about this. I think it’s alright that I don’t know, because God does, and that’s what matters. I defenitly would encourage you not to forget that satan is real, and he is really here, lying to you and wanting you to live in anxiety. Do not let him win.
And if you’re not a Christian?
I just have to say, if you’re not a Christian, and you’ve read this far… maybe you’re looking for something. Don’t give up! Get in touch with me if you have any questions about this post. I believe you need Jesus, and maybe God is using your anxiety to show you that. (I did not say God is giving you anxiety. I said using your anxiety. Different!)
If I had to choose between a life with anxiety that comes with a deeper faith in God and a life without anxiety, as hard as it is, I would still choose a life with anxiety. Because a life with no faith in God is a life going nowhere.
Phew! This was a long post, because I feel like I could write forever about being a Christian with Anxiety… and edit it forever, and it’s time to just hit publish I think, and pray that God will get it where it needs to go.
I know that my anxiety feels like I’ll never win, but I have learned that feelings aren’t what it’s all about, and it has taught me to be confident that “there is more mercy in Christ than sin in us” (- Richard Sibbes). Do not stop praying, do not stop turning to the Lord in your anxiety. He doesn’t get tired of hearing about it.
Read Part 1 of The Ultimate Guide to Living (Well) With Anxiety
Read Part 2 – Understanding Anxiety Disorders
Read Part 3 – Understanding Panic Attacks
Read Part 4 – Anxiety and Diet
Read Part 5 – Natural Supplements for Anxiety
Read Part 6 – What can Exercise do for Anxiety?
Read Part 7 – Do Not Feed the Fears
Read Part 8 – Talking About Anxiety
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