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Fight Anxiety with the Presence of God

Anxious people consider themselves prophets.

They excel at imagining worst case scenarios and creating litanies of ‘what if’ questions. The thought life of the anxious person is like a dryer with a broken heat setting—the clothes tumble around and around in endless rotation but never change their state.

I know this because I have been this person and I continue to fight against fearful thoughts. But God has helped me and is helping me. He has shown me life-changing truths in His Word that provide a way of escape from cyclical anxious thinking and offer the peace I so desperately need. And because His Word is for everyone, He can help you too.

The Lord Is not with Me

Anxious people who believe in God and trust Jesus for their salvation often affirm the truth that God is near to his children and that he is in control of the universe. But their thoughts are often at odds with the truth their lips profess.

Someone who excels in imagining worst-case scenarios and can create 10 fearful “what if” questions on demand is someone who functionally believes that God stands far-off and does not tangibly involve himself in the details of his or her life. And life without God’s aid is a fearful thing.

Anxiety has teeth because even our craziest fears are realistic enough that we know they could happen. Our homes really could burn to the ground. We really could get hit by a car or die in a plane crash. We could lose our jobs. Our children really could be abducted at the playground or never trust in Jesus and be saved. Our spouses/parents/best friends really could get cancer. We could get cancer. These things really do happen and those of us plagued by anxiety struggle to get past these possibilities.

Although many of these scenarios are somewhat far-fetched, anxiety still tumbles around in our minds and leaves us distracted, on edge, binge eating, over-exercising, hyper-vigilant, panicky, or unable to sleep. We get expensive home monitoring systems, we avoid busy roads, we save (hoard) money, we don’t let our children play outside, or we obsessively monitor our health.

We exert control in an effort to allay our fears and to say to ourselves that nothing bad will happen because we won’t let it. We play God. And we’re not convinced that he’s near and we suspect he might not help us.

But in our efforts to make sure that nothing bad ever happens to us or to those we love, we grow weary, our fears multiply, and we find ourselves consumed by anxious thoughts day and night. We aren’t in control and we know it. No amount of our energy and effort can guarantee that bad things won’t happen. We were never created to bear the load of all the possible sufferings we may face in this life, but to lean on the one who can.

The Lord Is at Hand

As I have struggled with anxiety, I have been struck by God’s Word and how it acknowledges the fearfulness of life. Adam and Eve’s child was murdered. Job suffered unimaginable loss and excruciating physical disease. Abraham and Sarah longed for offspring and lived for decades in the pain of infertility.

The Israelites were chased, surrounded, and conquered by enemy nations. David had spears hurled at him by his employer and king. Jeremiah was thrown into a well. John the Baptist was beheaded. Early Christians were stoned to death. Jesus was crucified. The Bible tells us a story of great suffering, pain, loss, heartache, deferred hopes, tragedy, and betrayal.

Thankfully, these sufferings don’t have the final word.

Scripture makes it clear that while we will face fearful things in life, we are not alone. Psalm 46:1-2 beautifully captures this truth: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.”

In these verses, the Psalmist describes the terrifying chaos of an earthquake and testifies of God’s presence and sufficient protection in the midst of it. Despite the crumbling of mountains before his eyes, the Psalmist says that God is his refuge and help and, in that reality, he is at peace.

It is essential for the anxious person to cling to the truth of God’s presence, affirmed throughout the entirety of the Bible. Philippians 4:5b-6a declares this truth: “the Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything….”  

The reality of the Lord’s presence ought to comfort us. But his presence isn’t just a comforting pat on the back—his presence is peace-giving because he is in control, a truth that Psalm 46 also declares: “The nations rage, the kingdom totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts” (Psalm 46:6); “He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire” (Psalm 46:9).

In the midst of chaos on earth, the Psalmist boldly declares God’s superior strength—the God who spoke the world into being can also by his word destroy any nation, any army, whether they are armed with spears and chariots or chemical weapons and nuclear warheads. God is in control.

Because we live in a world that this God created and continues to control, the Psalmist in Psalm 46 goes on to tell us that we are safe and therefore can be at peace: “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth! The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress” (vv. 10-11).

God’s presence and power are our fortress, our safe place, and are sufficient reasons for us to be at peace, despite the fearful things we have experienced, or plausibly could experience in the future. God is present in our chaos and God is in control even when our circumstances seem otherwise.

The Bible doesn’t say that we won’t face scary situations or suffer pain and loss, but it does promise that God is with us and that nothing will come to pass that he doesn’t control in his perfect love and perfect wisdom. If he allows any of our worst-case scenarios to realize, he promises to be our fortress and to give us his strength, his comfort, his peace. He will never leave or forsake his children—not in this life, and not in eternity future.

Trust in the Lord

So, anxious saint, when you feel the billows of fear rising up and you are tempted to put your thoughts on tumble dry, stop and remind yourself that there is no place you will ever go where God is not present or in control: “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there you hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me (Psalm 139:7-10).

If God is with us and in control, we can trust him to help us every day of our lives: in infertility, in being fired, in chemotherapy, in watching a rebellious child move away, in lost investments, and in any other fear-inducing circumstance.

We are held secure by the maker of the universe in all circumstances. He is trustworthy with our lives and the lives of all those we love. He sent his son to be our ark in the rain and in the flood, protecting and preserving us through all of life and through the coming wrath of God’s judgment. We will be kept today and every day on this earth until the Lord chooses for us to draw our final breath. And then we will be kept for all eternity.

What then do we have to fear?

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