Why are we anxious?
The mental health charity Mind comments
You may worry about the future. Sometimes, if you feel you are not in control of many aspects of your life, you can start to feel anxious about events beyond your control, such as the threat of global warming, of being attacked, of developing cancer, or of losing a job.
After a while, you can start to fear the symptoms of anxiety, especially feeling out of control. This sets up a vicious circle. You may feel anxious because you dread feeling the symptoms of anxiety, and then you experience those symptoms because you are having anxious thoughts.
What does the Bible say about anxiety?
Paul in Philippians 4 commands (yes, commands) Christians not to be anxious. He writes
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
The great news for the Christian is that in the gospel God gives us the resources to help us combat anxiety. It is not easy and it is not automatic but Paul tells us that we can live lives as God’s people free form anxiety. There are two truths taken together that are crucial to beating anxiety.
1) The unshakeable conviction, that as a Christian, God loves you and has adopted you as his child not because of your life (your goodness, obedience, etc.) but because of Jesus’ perfect life lived for you and his perfect death for your sins. God has never accepted you and adopted you because of your performance but entirely on the performance of Jesus and that never changes.
2) The sure knowledge that the God who loves you in Christ is sovereign over every detail of your life.
That knowledge has to be appropriated in times of anxiety. The antidote to anxiety is to take our fears and worries to the sovereign God who loves us and hand the future over to him. Alex Motyer in his commentary on Philippians writes;
In prayer, anxiety is resolved by trust in God. In thanksgiving anxiety is resolved by the deliberate acceptance of the worrying circumstance as something which an all-wise, all-loving, and all-sovereign God has appointed.
Prayer takes up the anxiety-provoking question ‘How?’ –How shall I cope? –and answers by pointing away to him, to his resources and promises. Thanksgiving addresses itself to the worrying question ‘Why?’ – Why has this happened to me? – and answers by pointing to the great Doer of all who ever acts purposelessly and whose purposes never fail.
What is the fruit of prayer?
When you turn moments of stress and anxiety over to the sovereign Lord in prayer, then and only then, can you be free from anxiety and discover the peace of God. The peace from knowing he is in control even when we are not.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
The third installment on our series on work, stress, anxiety & the gospel. Today an opportunity to consider whether a time might come where the best way to deal with a difficult work situation is to move on. 14 useful questions to guide you;
How can I tell if I should persevere or leave my job?
Is it having a negative impact on my family that would be quickly removed by a change of job?
What is this job doing to me spiritually? No amount of job-satisfaction can possibly compensate for spiritual damage.
What is likely to happen if I do nothing about it for the next week, month, 6 months?
Is the stress leading to sin? Worry, or worse!
Is the stress leading to illness? Physical, emotional, spiritual
How is stress affecting my performance at work? Am I no-longer capable of doing this job well? Am I motivated enough?
How is stress affecting my witness at work? Is it obvious to all that I just don’t want to be here. Although there are other godly ways of staying and dealing with attitude issues it might be right to leave.
What are the alternatives before me? Eg. Resign, sign-off sick, take a different role in the same firm, etc.
Is it easily avoidable? Ie Am I the primary cause of the stress in which case how should I change the way in which I work?
Are there opportunities for witness that make it worthwhile to suffer stress? (Maybe we are all in the same situation and I can be a help to others, etc.)
What would I say to someone else if they were in my situation?
What spiritual support have you sought? Are there ways of being helped through it by the church?
What does my church-leader think?
Following on from an earlier post on work & stress here is part 2 on worry, stress & work.
What is the difference between stress and anxiety?
It’s quite normal in conversation to use the ideas of stress and anxiety interchangably as if they were either one and the same thing or necessary partners in crime but it’s important that we see that they are really very different things. Stress is a reaction of mind and body to increased pressure (Jago Wynne) and a normal experience that comes from living in a fallen world. There is nothing inherently sinful or wrong about feelings of stress and we saw that both Paul and Jesus experienced stress in the work God called them to do.
Worry is an attitude of the mind. In the context of stress we can worry before, during and after times of stress. It is an attitude and response to stress. Jago Wynne summarises it this way – When we worry, we are stressed in the present about some event that may, or may not, happen in the future.
What is the relationship between stress and anxiety?
The key reason we need to appreciate the difference is that stress at work is often unavoidable but worry about work is always avoidable. It might be helpful to think of the relationship between temptation and sin in general. Jesus was tempted but without sin. So we might be tempted to sin as we glance at an attractive person as we walk along the street but we then make a choice to turn a situation of temptation into a sinful response when we lust after that person. We might be tempted to gossip about someone when we get asked a nosey question about them but we choose to sin when we give the information being sought.
So when it comes to the relationship between stress and anxiety Jago Wynne comments;
As Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount, he drew a division between two groups of people. Not a division between those who faced stressful situations and those who don’t, because we all face stressful situations. The challenge is that Jesus says, when it comes to the area of worry and stress, many of us who think of ourselves as very religious and Christian actually act just like those who are not Christian.
What should we do with worry?
4 things to understand;
1. Worry is usually sinful
We really do have a choice as God’s children not to worry that must be true because Jesus commands us not to worry about some things. So in Matthew 6:25-34 he tells his disciples I tell you, do not worry about your life before going on to give at least four reasons not to worry! More on that theme at an earlier post When worry becomes a way of life.
When we worry we demonstrate what someone has called a ‘practical atheism’.
2. Worry can spiritually destroy you
If we do allow stress to turn to anxiety and worry it can be spiritually very harmful, even fatally so. When we start to obsess about our work so much so that it becomes the focus of our thinking the burden can become overwhelming and it will be a huge distraction from our key priority – our relationship with Christ.
Jesus said in Matthew 13:22 The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful.
And in Luke 21:34 Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap.
We need to understand that not only is worry sinful but it is a danger to us.
3. Worry about the right things
Maybe it is a surprise to you to hear that Jesus’ concern is not that we shouldn’t worry but that we should worry about the right things. Only if we stop worrying about the wrong things can we choose to worry about the right things.
Growing in our godliness is about being free from wrong concerns precisely so that we can be concerned about the right things.
Paul certainly knew what that felt like. In 2 Corinthians 11:28 writes And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Paul felt under a daily pressure in his work and it led to anxiety. This sense of ‘anxiety’ flowed from reports he received about the churches he had founded such as the Corinthians themselves. His anxiety was godly and profitable in that it led him to pray and work for their salvation.
Jesus warns us all in the sermon on the mount not to worry about life (which includes our work) but to give our attention to seeking first the Kingdom of heaven. We should worry when that is not our number one priority.
4. Worry should drive us to Christ
Stressful situations such as the daily pressure of work lead us to a place where we quickly become conscious that we have run out of resources to cope. The purpose of stress, like all temptation is to drive us to Christ.
The apostle Peter urges us to Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.
When stress leads to anxiety we must give those anxieties to God.
Two more posts to follow; 1) managing times of stress and 2) when should we persevere in our work & when should we leave our job?
Last Thursday we looked at our second in a series of 3 seminars on issues relating to work. Posts on the first session ‘work & ambition’ can be viewed here and here. Here is the first of three posts on coping with stress and anxiety.
Work & anxiety
What does a man get for all the toil and anxious striving with which he labours under the sun? All his days his work is pain and grief; even at night his mind does not rest. This too is meaningless. Ecclesiastes 2:23
1. Stress can be defined as ‘the reaction of mind and body to increased pressure’ – Jago Wynne
2. Although it can have positive effects it is usually a negative response to pressure. It can lead to anxiety, depression, physical illness and ultimately to a feeling of being overwhelmed and unable to cope with work.
3. Stress affects pretty much everyone at some time and is now the most common cause of sick leave from work.
A. Stress and work – a brief Bible overview
1. Stress has its origins in God…
We only experience stress because we live in a world subjected to frustration by God (Romans 8:20-23). That’s why your computer crashes!
We experience stress because we now live in a world in which work in particular is affected. In Genesis 3 we remember that work now has a downside ‘Cursed is the ground because of you.’
2. Stress is exacerbated by our sin and the sin of others
The sin of others impacts our lives. Pride, selfish ambition become evident in work-place bullying, cultures of overwork, etc.
Our sin, particularly when we make work or what we derive from work our idol, means we choose to work in unhealthy, unsustainable ways and we put unfair and unrealistic pressures on ourselves.
3. Stress finds its resolution in Christ
In our culture we are given all sorts of remedies for stress. But if ‘Stress originates in God’s righteous punishment, and only he is able to deal with it.’ Rodney Green
It makes sense that we should therefore look to him rather than to coping mechanisms to relieve feelings of stress. Restored to a right relationship with God through Christ we can now find rest in Christ. ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.’ Matthew 11:28 .
4. Stress can have a God-given purpose in our lives
As Christians much stress is as a result of circumstances thrust upon us. How can we trust a sovereign God in times of stress and work?
Stress is not sinful in and of itself. It can infact be a godly reaction to circumstance. A sense of feeling overwhelmed becuase of trial, temptation, suffering, etc., is in no way wrong.
Reading Paul’s own account of stress directly as a result of the work that God gave him to do in 2 corinthians 1:8-11 and we find him describing himself as ‘under great pressure’ and ‘beyond our ability to endure’ so much so that he ‘despaired even of life’. Paul was certainly no super-hero immune from daily pressures. But through a time of trial he could testify that God had allowed him to endure so that he ‘might rely on God.’
Stress as an experience of suffering in a fallen world is common to all and God allows his people to suffer times of pressure so that we might not rely on techniques, breathing exercises, stress balls, etc. but on God himself.
The greatest encouragement for us when we go through difficult times at work is that it is Jesus himself who knew what it was to be stressed because of the work that God gave him to do (John 17:3). In the garden of Gethsemane we remember his experience of anguish (from the Greek word agonia) and we remember his response – prayer. He took his stress to God and God met him in his need. We are told that he experienced God’s grace through the ministry of an angel.
5. Stress will finally be gone!
Romans 5:2b-4 shows how suffering has the purpose of creating hope in our hearts. It works out character, perseverance and finally hope for the future. Whatever our struggles in a world of stress we do know that one day they will be gone and in the new creation work will be free from the effects of sin and judgement.
Next post: Worry, stress & work. What is the difference between stress and anxiety?
Worrying in one form or another costs the British economy £5 billion a year. Non-work related stress, anxiety and depression account for more lost days at work than any other form of illness in all but manual workers.
But perhaps more alarming than any statistic is that according to Martyn Lloyd-Jones if you are a Christian ‘The result of worrying about the future is that you are crippling yourself in the present.’ Worry is in essence practical atheism. It is the failure to live in the world as we know it to be ie a world in which we are known and loved by a heavenly Father.
In his book Studies in the Sermon of Mount Lloyd-Jones devotes five chapter to the subject of worry from Matthew 6:25-34. The last chapter is entitled Worry: It’s causes and cures in which he tackles that curious verse, v.34, in which Jesus says ‘Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.’ It’s the best chapter of all and in eight pages Lloyd-Jones gives us some great wisdom on worry.
What Jesus says to us when worry is a way of life.
To make sense of why we worry and what we need to do with our anxieties Lloyd-Jones starts with commenting on Jesus’s words ‘each day has enough trouble of its own’. The antidote to worry is not to live under the illusion that ‘it might never happen’ but to recognise that in a fallen world Jesus does not offer us a trouble-free life rather a worry-free life.
Our Lord seems to picture life like this. As a result of the Fall and sin there is always a problem in life, because when man fell, he was told that henceforward he was going to live and eat his bread ‘by the sweat of his brow.’ He was no longer in Paradise, he was no longer just to take the fruit and live a life of ease and enjoyment. As the result of sin, life in this world has become a task. Man has to labour and must meet trials and troubles. We all know that, for we are all subject to the same tribulations and trials.
A life liberated from anxiety doesn’t come from avoiding troubles (for how can we) nor in pretending they won’t come our way maybe by constructing some kind of prosperity gospel. The solution Lloyd-Jones says is this to know how to face them. Continue reading »
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