There are few of us who haven’t felt the pains of anxiety. For some of us, it completely overwhelms. Those spiraling thoughts, those panicky feelings, that deep desire to withdraw from the people around us, those regularly disturbed nights, that gastro-intestinal distress – it all crowds in at times, and leaves us feeling exhausted, scared and alone. If you haven’t felt it yourself, you doubtless know someone who has. Anxiety is a significant struggle for many in the local church and the community.

The trouble is that it can be hard to admit to feeling anxious. Often we feel a pressure to just cope”. We frequently ignore the desperately hard experiences, the biological complexity and, sometimes, the life choices that fuel our anxiety. We live in a fallen world, so it should be no surprise that our relationships, our context, our body and our heart all go deeply and painfully awry. But instead we often merely choose to tell ourselves that there are others in the world worse off than us, that we’re just being silly, or that we just need to pull ourselves together and it will all be fine. The trouble is, none of those things really work.

Help from the world

There’s wisdom in the world. Do an internet search on anxiety and you’ll find lots of tips about sharing our feelings with the people around, engaging in talking therapies, making time to rest and relax, taking exercise, eating healthily, being creative, engaging in grounding techniques, taking medication where that is necessary – and those things are important and genuinely help. They may not be the full answer, but by encouraging each other to live wisely, to slow down and get the medical and practical help we may need, we can make a difference to our own lives or help those around us.

"By encouraging each other to live wisely, to slow down and get the medical and practical help we may need, we can make a difference to our own lives or help those around us."

But if we stop there, we miss so much that the Lord has to offer. The sovereign God who made us, knows us, loves us and is leading us through the hard things we face, has so many more rich and precious things for us to know and hear.

Hope from the Lord

Jesus spoke about anxiety because He knew we would suffer in this broken world. Our pain is no surprise to Him and His care for us is strong. The Bible contains a wealth of encouragement to pray in our anxiety (Philippians 4:6) and to trust God (Matthew 6:25 – 34) but neither of those things are put forward as a quick fix. They’re part of a bigger picture – one where the Lord changes us day by day, as we follow Him through the hard things of life.

We’re not supposed to be able to just stop” being anxious – an end to struggling comes in the next life, not this. Nor are we just stuck” in our anxiety – God is at work in us and His love and power are good. There is something better for the Christian, a life where we can gradually learn to persevere through our struggles and mature to be like Christ in our struggles, all to the glory of God.

What might that look like?

In community, we can come to see that God is present. No Christian has to face this life on their own. Far from it. We do so with the One who indwells His people by His Spirit. We can always know that God is close (Psalm 139). He’s not just present though, He’s active too.

The Lord is our refuge, our place of safety in a broken world. He is our King – ruling over all with purposes and plans. He is our Shepherd – leading, providing and protecting each day. He is our Saviour – washing our guilt away, with no condemnation for those who follow Him.

Each of these are beautiful aspects of God’s character and work that give us a strong foundation from which to live our lives. As we let the wonder of these truths settle in our hearts and fuel our relationship with Him (knowing that we can pour out our hearts to Him in prayer, praise, and lament) we find ourselves in a stronger position to pursue change.

"The Bible contains a wealth of encouragement to pray in our anxiety (Philippians 4:6) and to trust God (Matthew 6:25 – 34) but neither of those things are put forward as a quick fix."

Change in our lives

Ephesians 4:22 – 24 reminds us that every Christian has a daily call to take off our old self and put on our new self, as our mind is renewed. That isn’t a trite call to take off anxiety, think happy thoughts and bound into the future on a crest of superficial praise. Rather, it is a reminder that in our struggles we can – fueled by the word, in the power of the Spirit – begin to change.

Each time thoughts such as I’m so useless” pop into our head, we can catch them – taking every thought captive” as 2 Corinthians 10:5 reminds us. We can tell ourselves that such a thought is an old-self thought, because it’s not how God sees us. We can turn to scripture to see just how kind the Lord has been in gifting us (1 Corinthians 12) and how necessary those gifts are in the body of Christ, and in the wider world. We can ask God to help us put on our new self: grateful to God for His blessings and kindness in the ways He has gifted us and called us to serve Him in His strength.

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It’s not a matter of one-and-done. It takes weeks, months, or even years of practice to shift the thoughts in our minds. But little by little, one of the thoughts linked to our anxiety can morph into something more wholesome, biblical and true. In the process, our anxiety begins to change. We can begin to catch a different thought instead.

"This isn’t a trite call to take off anxiety, think happy thoughts and bound into the future on a crest of superficial praise."

Hope in an anxious world

There’s no guarantee of an anxiety-free life on this side of the new heavens and the new earth. Life is fallen – it will hurt. But as we navigate the pain, under the lordship of God, alongside our brothers and sisters in Christ, remembering how loved we are, turning to the Lord in trust and prayer, and engaging in baby steps of change, there is hope. A sure and certain hope from a good and powerful God. So, why not pursue that hope together with others in your church?

This week, and every week, let’s remind each other of the reality of hope in an anxious world.

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