As the horrible scene unfolded before me, my worst nightmares threatening to become reality, I held my baby boy — born just seconds prior — and wondered silently what it would be like to raise three young children without their mother.
Half-a-dozen doctors and nurses had rushed into the room. Blood pooled beneath my wife just moments after giving birth. The somber, serious, decisive mood of the medical staff told me how dire the situation was. A nurse forcefully asked my wife to authorize a blood transfusion if lifesaving measures would be needed. The doctors went to work, skipping pleasantries and dispensing with any bedside manner. Their faces and movements revealed the severity of my wife’s suddenly perilous condition.
A tsunami of fearful and anxious thoughts flooded my heart and mind. How would I overcome the grief? What would I say to my 4-year-old and 2-year-old? How would I tell my in-laws? What could God possibly be doing in and through this? Most concerning, would I still trust him if she died?
Our Age of Anxiety
In his mercy, God heard my desperate prayers and preserved my wife. The doctors and nurses were amazing, and my wife was stabilized and recovered. But the fear I felt in those moments was real, and an extreme example of the fears we regularly meet throughout life. The vast majority of our anxiety may not be as severe, but the symptoms are common and familiar. Our chests tighten. A feeling of unease washes over our body. Worrisome thoughts keep us up at night. Panic attacks can cause momentary paralysis. Rising blood pressure exposes our worry.
Exacerbating our normal fears, we live in an age of anxiety, with worry seemingly lurking around every corner. Waves of alarming headlines, social media posts, email updates, and stray thoughts threaten to throw us down a tailspin of trepidation. The “what ifs” are endless: school shootings, cancer, unexplained illness, contracting a flesh-eating bacteria, loss of loved ones, pandemic-related death, financial ruin, violence and riots, raging forest fires, devastation and unrest, contaminated drinking water, broken food-supply chains, nuclear war, global meltdowns, collapsed economies, and a thousand other “worst case scenarios.”
More than ever, we are flooded with information, and much of that information plays on our ungodly fears and anxieties. It can become a playground for Satan’s targeted attacks against us.
So, how can we prepare to face our worst fears? How do we wage war against anxiety?
Anxious About Nothing
Philippians 4:6–7 tells us, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” But how does prayer, supplication, and thanksgiving uproot the weeds of anxiety in our lives? Or to switch the analogy, if fear and anxiety are like the indicator dashboard lights of our soul, how do we identify and address the underlying issues?
The truth of Philippians 4:6–7 is not a mantra that magically undoes anxiety. That’s not how prayer works (or anxiety). Just asking God to take away the anxiety doesn’t necessarily mean the foreboding fog will lift immediately. In addition to its spiritual roots, anxiety can also stem in part from biological or neurological factors beyond our conscious control. While the battle can be more complex, often our anxieties are revealing of our souls and the breakdown between our stated beliefs and the state of our hearts.
So, before we can become less anxious, we need to first recognize that we need God’s help. We cannot fight the battle on our own and in our own strength. The roots of anxiety run too deep to pull up unassisted. We need our Lord’s help in diagnosing our hearts and identifying the roots of anxiety.
Recognizing Anxiety with Humility
The apostle Peter makes an explicit link between humility and relinquishing anxiety:
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. (1 Peter 5:6–7)
According to Peter, to let go of anxious thoughts and fears requires the multistep process of admitting that (1) I am fearful and anxious, (2) I am failing to trust some aspect of God’s character and goodness, and (3) I need his help to cast these anxieties upon him.
In that moment, they needed to admit they were afraid of defeat at the hand of stronger armies with fortified cities. They needed to recall afresh God’s promise to give them the land. And they needed to cast their anxieties upon their Lord by believing his word despite the fear that felt more real.
Faith is believing what God says even when the circumstances seem to say otherwise. Faith is seeing God’s invisible grace as you’re confronted with a real and present danger. The fight to believe that all things work together for good, for those who are called according to God’s purpose (Romans 8:28) is the daily fight to remember that God is wise, good, sovereign, and at work even in the midst of our fears and anxieties.
Deeply Dependent Battle
When we humble ourselves before God, recognizing our weakness, fears, and anxieties, we can begin casting those anxieties before our Lord in prayer, supplication, and thanksgiving (Philippians 4:6–7). In each step of this process, we recall God’s character and promises in our prayers to him. Our prayers switch from “take it away God!” to humble submission and prayerful consideration of God’s character.
Father in heaven, help me to trust you with the uncertainty of this situation. You remind me that I have not been forgotten by you, that you number the hairs on my head, and that I do not need to fear (Luke 12:6–7). Help me to trust that you are in control, that you are with me in the days ahead that feel so uncertain, and that you know what I need even before I ask (Matthew 6:8).
Our requests are not too great for our gracious and generous Father. In fact, often when fears and anxieties light up our dashboard, it’s a needed reminder to meditate on his word, to admit our fears, to share with trusted friends and counselors, to ransack the Scriptures for God’s promises, and to draw near in prayer.
We are not designed to be self-sufficient people. We are needy people who are dependent upon God, his word, and his people to wage war against anxiety.
God Never Frets
As much as it depends on you, wage war on anxiety by targeting the root. Experienced gardeners will tell you that the best defense against weeds is a good offense. Strong flourishing perennials, a well-fertilized vegetable garden, or even thick green grass soak up the nutrients and crowd out the weeds. Similarly, as we uproot anxiety and fear, we must replace it with dependence, trust, faith, and intimacy with Jesus.
Foundational in the fight against anxiety is discovering a deeper joy and satisfaction in God. Not only is he trustworthy, sovereign, in control, and good, but he is the source of our life. Jesus’s death and resurrection are not just a Band-Aid applied over a broken bone, but a splint and cast that holds us firm in the midst of the fear or pain. And in the process of prayer, supplication, and thanksgiving, we do not mindlessly rehearse mantras, but we draw near to a person. We do not get quick fixes for anxiety, but we draw deeper into relationship with the Lord of heaven and earth, who upholds all things in his sovereign hands.
We wage war on anxiety by remembering that we have been brought into union with the triune God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And amazingly, God never frets. He fears nothing, is never anxious, and is never overwhelmed. In his perfect peace, he promises us — his children — perfect peace as well.Isaiah 26:3 says, “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” We wage war against anxiety by tethering our hearts and minds to Christ.
Steven Lee (@5tevenLee) is the Pastor of Preaching & Vision of the North Campus of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, where he lives with his wife, Stephanie, and their five children. He is a graduate of Bethlehem College & Seminary.