Anxiety is probably the most common problem that Kristi and I have helped people with over the last twenty-five years. In our therapy office, in churches, on retreats, and in soul care groups we’ve given care, counsel, and prayer to so many anxious people – including ourselves!

Our Stressed Out Culture

Is it any wonder why we struggle with worry today? In our culture today… We try to do too much in a day. We push ourselves beyond our limits to achieve our goals. We think multi-tasking is good. We drive too fast. We’re information overloaded. We don’t know how to rest and we don’t get enough sleep. We don’t know the meaning of “good enough” or “enough” of anything. We want more than we have. We want better health than we have. We want to be happier than we are. We try to make other happy with us. We seek constant stimulation through entertainment, noise, over activity, adrenaline, or caffeine. And we’re sure that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence and somehow we’ve got to get over there.

So many of us are stressed out and full of worry! Perhaps this is more true than ever in our world today, but people have always had problems with anxiety – even since Adam and Eve, full of guilt over eating the forbidden apple, ran and hid when they heard God walking in the cool of the Garden of Eden.

What about you? Or people you know and care for? Do you struggle with negative thoughts about yourself or worry about issues in your life? Do you suffer with anxiety, guilt, or fear?

What the Risen Christ Said to Me

Jesus says to us: “Peace! Be still!… Peace I give unto you… Do not let your hearts be troubled… My yoke is easy and my burden is light… I have come to give you abundant life!”

And Paul, the foremost disciple of the risen Christ, wrote to the Philippians: “Do not be anxious about anything” (Philippians 4:6).  The whole Bible sounds like this.

Is it really possible to live with consistent peace? Can you and I learn to be free of anxiety and worry? When we’re tempted to worry (as we all are at times) can we learn how to re-direct our minds to trust God?

For most of my life I was hounded by criticisms and pressures, but not anymore! I have learned to connect to Christ, to think on his words and to pray as I go about my day. I have learned to continually submit myself and what I am doing to the Lord.

So now when anxieties tempt me, they usually can’t get a hold on me because my mind is already tuned into God’s goodness and what he is doing in my life. I will share what I’ve learned and how I help people in counseling to overcome their worries with the help of God’s grace.

Understand Your Anxiety

We think we’re anxious because of stress, but we’re wrong. We’re anxious because of our attitude. We don’t worry or become tense and agitated because of stress that happens to us – stress is a natural part of life. Our problem is that we respond to our life challenges by becoming fearful or by fighting against reality. This internalized stress in our bodies is anxiety and it does more to damage our health and our relationships than probably anything else.

Anxiety is considered a secondary emotion because we only feel anxious when we have unwanted emotions like fear, anger, shame, or sadness that we’re trying to get rid of. In other words, anxiety is a control problem. When you or I are anxious it’s because we’re trying to control things: how we feel, what people think of us, or the outcomes of situations in our lives.

People who are anxious usually feel that they shouldn’t be anxious – they’re upset at themselves for feeling like they do, for being “weak” or for needing help. They’re convinced that if they just try harder things will get better. But trying harder rarely makes things better. We need to learn to try differently, to train to become the kind of person who can rely on care from God and others and submit to God in all things and, therefore, be at peace.

Examples of Anxiety
  • A Toastmaster is anxious about his friend hearing his speech and critiquing him
  • A girlfriend is afraid for her boyfriend to get angry at her and tries hard to “make” him happy
  • The single woman who is afraid to go to sleep alone in the dark
  • The man who worries about having enough money to provide for his family
  • A “Superwoman” is the “perfect” wife, mother, Christian, charity league, etc and has panic attacks

Take my A-N-X-I-E-T-Y Test to assess how you are dealing with anxiety.

Analyze the Sources of Your Anxiety

Worry and anxiety can come from a variety of sources. Here are some of the psychological issues that usually underlie worry and anxiety:

  • Too Much Stress. For instance, not setting your limits and boundaries. Also you add stress to your life when you try to do too much.
  • Repressing Emotion. But it’s not enough to just “get it out” – e.g., from trauma, intrusion, hurt.  You also need to seek compassion, internalize comfort, and make changes in how you respond to your emotions.
  • Negative self-talk. What do you focus your thoughts on? What enters your mind in all the in between spaces of the day?
  • Control issues. For instance, trying to make things happen or trying to get people to like you or think well of you.

Walk the Path of Peace with Jesus

Here is a key suggestion for each source of anxiety on how we can learn in that area to guard our hearts and minds in God’s peace (Philippians 4:7).

1.  Live within Limits (De-Stress)

We need to learn to “keep the law” – not legalistically or in our own strength or to earn anything! We want to become the kind of people who obey God from our hearts. The Ten Commandments are still on the books! They add up to love and they are good for us! This includes the Sabbath.

If you struggle with worry, fear, or anxiety probably you’re not keeping the Sabbath. Probably you’re too busy, too productive, too distracted and haven’t learned to make ample space to be still and know that he is God (Psalm 46:10).

You can learn how to keep the Sabbath. Start small – perhaps by taking a half hour or hour in a park to walk and pray.

Jesus kept the Sabbath, as did the early Christians. Jesus taught us that the Sabbath was created for us. It’s not about “rule-keeping”! It’s a day of healing! It’s a day of rest in which you do no work, you don’t accomplish anything productive.  It’s a God-blessed, good for the soul day to pray and play with God and friends. This doesn’t have to be on Sunday (resurrection day)! It’s best done in one day, but could be spread out. (Psalm 92 is the “Sabbath Psalm” and Hebrews 4 teaches us about “the Sabbath rest.”)

Put “margin” in your schedule. Allow extra spaces. Plan to arrive early so you can pray and settle yourself before meetings and events – or at least you’re less likely to be rushing and late!

2.  Practice the Psalmist’s “honest faith” with God and “Christ’s Ambassadors” (Don’t Repress Emotions)

We need to learn to trust God and others by opening up our hearts to care, being honest and vulnerable, admitting to and verbalizing our emotions regarding what’s stressing us out or hurting us. (It’s ironic that accepting the reality of an emotional problem and not rushing to “fix” it helps to relieve anxiety.) Praying the Psalms helps us learn to do this.

And as part of receiving care it’s very important to focus on absorbing and agreeing with the compassion offered. To “agree with” someone’s care for you is to smile and say, “Thank you!” It’s to say to yourself, “Yes, I needed that listening.  What a blessing my friend is to me.”  It’s to repeat to yourself words of affirmation or encouragement that someone offers you. It’s to memorize a Bible verse that ministers to your soul and to marinate your mind in it, speaking God’s word to your soul in prayer over and over again. The Psalmist models for us this authentic faith in community and in prayer.

3.  Renew your mind in God’s Word (Overcome Negative Self-Talk)

Scripture Meditation is a powerful resource for overcoming anxiety. Try meditating on Jesus’ teaching about the “easy yoke” in Matthew 11:25-30. Read the Scripture slowly. Let the words of Jesus descend from your mind down into your heart. Let God’s word lead you into prayer and into peace…

Matthew 11 (NIV)

25At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden [the gospel of the kingdom] from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. 26Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.

27“All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

28“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11 (MSG)

25-26Abruptly Jesus broke into prayer: “Thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth. You’ve concealed your ways from sophisticates and know-it-alls, but spelled them out clearly to ordinary people. Yes, Father, that’s the way you like to work.”

27Jesus resumed talking to the people, but now tenderly. “The Father has given me all these things to do and say. This is a unique Father-Son operation, coming out of Father and Son intimacies and knowledge. No one knows the Son the way the Father does, nor the Father the way the Son does. But I’m not keeping it to myself; I’m ready to go over it line by line with anyone willing to listen.

28-30“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

Matthew 11:28-30 (My Paraphrase)

Are you tired from carrying a heavy burden?  Are you worn out from pulling a heavy load all by yourself?

Come to me. Look my arms are open wide to you. See my smile. My heart is for you, to give you my rest, my peace, my life.

Come to me. Don’t try so hard to make that situation work out like you want. Slow down. Take a deep breath. Open your heart to me. Submit to me as I submit to the Father. Enjoy his love with me. Experience my rest of soul.

Come to me. I want to help you to carry your burdens. Don’t pull that heavy load by yourself – let me help you.  Enter into the harness with me.  Let me show you how to pull the plow across the field and get the work done in a good way.  Get in the yoke with me.  Look straight ahead.  Walk in cadence with me. We’ll step together easy and lightly.  We’ll smile in the Father’s love as we bless people in need.

4.  Submit continually to God (Let Go of Control Issues)

The Psalmist also continually submits himself to the Sovereign Lord’s will, rather than trying to make things turn out in his life the way he wants. He Abandons Outcomes of situations to God.

The Psalmist does ask God for what he wants, but then he waits… and waits! And in the waiting he learns to focus his wanting on developing a closer relationship with the Lord rather than being consumed with concern over one of the myriad of lesser blessings we all tend to desire. (It’s another surprising irony that when we deny ourselves we discover true life.) And when he’s angry because he’s been disappointed or mistreated he entrusts his anger to God and his justice rather than seeking revenge or becoming embittered.

Daily I use the Psalmist’s prayers to help me to live out his authentic faith in which he cries out to God. Many of his Psalms read like journal entries and help me to get in touch with and admit my own emotional struggles. And the Psalmist shows me how in the midst of my troubles I can give thanks for the Lord’s goodness to me and speak his words of love to myself.

Each day I also use the Psalmist’s prayers of submission to help me to get into Jesus’ easy yoke. One of the ways that Jesus himself learned to submit to the Father and to stay in the Father’s easy yoke was through praying the Psalms. He prayed the Psalms everyday and he recited them frequently. For instance, one of my favorite prayers of submission is Jesus’ adaptation of Psalm 31:5, which he used during his suffering on the cross: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46).

Real-life prayers of submission like Jesus’ cross prayer are the best way to eliminate anxiety. Jesus found this so important that he put submission right in the heart of the Lord’s Prayer – even before petitions and confession of sin – with the words: “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).

You Can Be Worry Free Like the Birds!

The “Path of Peace with Jesus” is about growing in our faith in him. But what is faith?

“Faith” means to trust God. Faith does not primarily refer to believing the right doctrines. It’s a relational interaction of relying upon God’s love and power in the moment. Jesus said we should look at the Father’s care for birds to increase our trust in him (e.g., Matthew 6:25-34). Because of God’s care for them the birds are care free! Why aren’t we?

Said the Robin to the Sparrow

“Said the Robin to the Sparrow:

‘I should really like to know

Why these anxious human beings

Rush about and worry so.’

Said the Sparrow to the Robin:

‘Friend, I think that it must be

That they have no Heavenly Father

Such as cares for you and me’”

(Piece of doggerel or funny verse, quoted in Streams in the Desert, October 10, and credited to Elizabeth Cheney)

Surely you’ve sang the hymn, “His Eye is on the Sparrow.” Do you know how it was inspired?

Civilla Martin, wrote it in 1905. She and her husband developed a friendship with Mr. and Mrs. Doolittle. For 20 years she had been confined to a wheel chair. She wheeled himself to and from her activities and was a bright, happy, hopeful Christian who brought inspiration and comfort to others. What was her secret? How could she be worry free?

Mrs. Doolittle simply replied: “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me.”

The simple beauty of Mrs. Doolittle’s faith inspired Civilla to write her hymn which has inspired untold thousands of people in the last 100 years not to worry, but to trust in our Heavenly Father’s constant care.

Imagine being Mrs. Doolittle, sitting confined to a wheelchair but smiling anyway as she stands in the kingdom of God and sings with love for her heavenly Father.

Consider whatever troubles you in your life today. Bring it to your heavenly Father and to Jesus. You are welcomed to be a part of the kingdom of God!  Sing with joy!

His Eye is on the Sparrow

Why should I feel discouraged, why should the shadows come,
Why should my heart be lonely, and long for heaven and home,
When Jesus is my portion? My constant friend is He:
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

I sing because I’m happy,
I sing because I’m free,
For His eye is on the sparrow,
And I know He watches me.

“Let not your heart be troubled,” His tender word I hear,
And resting on His goodness, I lose my doubts and fears;
Though by the path He leadeth, but one step I may see;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

Refrain

Whenever I am tempted, whenever clouds arise,
When songs give place to sighing, when hope within me dies,
I draw the closer to Him, from care He sets me free;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

Refrain

My Worry-Free Living Prayer Project

Honest prayer and submission to God really works! Some time ago I experienced a disappointment. I put my heart into preparing something and then I was told it wasn’t needed. I felt hurt and frustrated. I started to become anxious so rather than ruminate over the situation or become resentful I talked to God about how I felt (and I might add that I shared this with Kristi).

Then a simple prayer of submission came to me: “Lord, your will, your way, your time.”

Again and again I prayed this over my disappointment, deepening my submission to God in this matter in three fundamental ways:

  • God’s will for me is always good and can be accomplished when I am mistreated or experience hardship
  • God’s way for me to follow is always good and it focuses more on my character formation in Christ than the accomplishments or blessings I may want
  • God’s time for me to receive what I seek is always good and it usually requires that I wait longer than I want

I have used this prayer of submission as an Abiding Prayer for myself and others countless times since.  It helps me follow the holy advice I received in spiritual direction from a Benedictine monk: “Relax in the yoke of God’s providence.”

Your Worry Free Living Prayer Project

To become free, or mostly free, of worry you need to do some soul work. You need to practice something you’re read here. For instance, one of the things I’ve suggested that you could work on is to try meditating on Scripture, using one of these Bible Prayers to Live Worry Free. These little prayers make it easy for you to take the word of God deep into your heart and carry it with you all day. You’ll grow in the peace of Christ!

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