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Overcoming an anxious mind

Courtesy of Skip Heitzig
Courtesy of Skip Heitzig

The COVID crisis has ravaged our communities, spreading more than merely physical sickness. With shutdowns and job loss along with restrictions on our normal lives, it is no surprise that half of U.S. adults have experienced high anxiety.  Anxiety can make us feel hopeless and stuck, especially when there is no clear end in sight to the pandemic and no easy solution to our problems.

But we should not believe the lie that there is no way out of this trap.

The problem of anxiety is one Paul the apostle was well-acquainted with as he offered two of the most hopeful, anxiety-curbing verses in the Bible in his letter to the Philippians:

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Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7).

It’s easy to read those verses and think, “Well, that sort of approach to anxiety is nice, but it’s naïve and unsophisticated. My problems are just more complex than that.” Though these verses may be simple, they are not simplistic.

God is not complicated. That is not to say He is always easy to understand in His words or actions, but His nature and character are always consistent. We, by contrast, are sometimes one way, sometimes another, depending on circumstances or our mood or whether we’ve had our morning cup of coffee yet. God’s not like that. He is always who he is.

And the statement Paul made here is grounded in God’s unchanging character and nature. So, yes, it’s simple — but it’s also needful. So many of us live much of our lives trying not to worry but worrying anyway. We tell God what we need, and then we bite our nails over whether He will provide. We believe He exists, but we’re often not convinced He loves us enough to really help us. We hold onto only certain bits and pieces of the truth, leaving us stuck in a world of anxiety.

In Jesus Christ, God has given us what we need to overcome anxiety.  We shouldn’t be anxious for anything. That’s God’s prescription for our anxiety.  Paul wasn’t saying to kick back and be lazy. He wasn’t telling people, “Just chill — it’ll all work out somehow.”  Jesus said we shouldn’t give anxiety a foothold in our minds. It’s unhealthy, unbecoming and unproductive. But how do we put the prescription for the problem into action? Through prayer.

So how should we approach prayer? First, prayer is worship. And if you start worshiping, you’re going to find your worries diminishing, because you are focusing on God’s greatness rather than on the thing that’s worrying you. When you’re tempted to worry, worship instead.

Paul then mentions supplication, a word that implies strong crying, even begging. It’s more emotional, engaging the heart’s deepest desires and asking God for something relentlessly. This is more familiar territory for most of us. The default setting of our prayer life is pleading with God when something goes wrong. We must ask God wholeheartedly.

The next step is to pray “with thanksgiving.” It’s easy to thank God for obvious blessings. It’s not so easy to thank Him when the cupboards are bare and the bills are overdue. It’s even harder during a pandemic, whether we are sick, jobless or simply discouraged by the change of routine. Whatever trial you find yourself in, stop to think and then thank. Think about what God has done for you in the past, and thank Him for his promise to walk with you through this trial now and use it to grow your faith.

Finally, after prayerful worship, supplication and thanksgiving, Paul said to “let your requests be made known to God.” God might say “yes.” He might say “no.” He might say “maybe” or “wait.” If your request lines up with His will, He might act immediately or His answer might take a while to unfold. However He chooses to respond, your part is to ask, seek, and knock, being persistent but reverential.

God does not promise us an easy path, but through prayer we can overcome our anxious minds. Being anxious for nothing, prayerful in everything and thankful for anything sets the stage for the promise:  “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).

*This article was adapted from “Overcoming an Anxious Mind,” a lifestyle booklet by Skip Heitzig.

Skip Heitzig is the senior pastor of Calvary Church in New Mexico and is the author of numerous books and publications. His radio and television broadcast, Connect with Skip Heitzig, is available throughout the United States and around the world.

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