As someone who has struggled with anxiety, I know how terrible it can be. The irrational fear and the emotional weight are almost unbearable. Not only do you battle fear, but you also battle the fear of fear. And as a Christian, I know it can be worse because we, of all people, know that we have nothing to be afraid of. Yet, the struggle is real, and the effects can be debilitating. So, I’m writing this post with the aim to help those who may be struggling with anxiety right now. I have been through it (and still battle it at times) and I hope that the lessons I have learned in the heat of battle may be of benefit to you. Therefore, in this post, I will present ten principles to help you fight anxiety. It is my prayer that these will help you gain victory over your anxiety.
First, realize that you are not alone. Many believers struggle with, or have struggled with, anxiety. The Devil wants you to think that you are the only one who struggles with this and he wants to isolate you to maximize your fear and shame. He wants you to think you’re alone, but you’re not. The truth is that godly people experience fear too. The Psalmist says, “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you” (56:3). Paul was afflicted with “fear within” (2 Cor. 7:5) and even “despaired of life itself” at one point (2 Cor. 1:8). Scripture is replete with admonitions to fear not, which would make no sense if this was not a common temptation for us. So, understand that you are not the only one in this struggle.
Second, acknowledge your anxiety as sin and confess it to your loving, forgiving Father. Be honest with it. And trust that when you confess your sin, he is faithful and just to forgive you and to cleanse you of all unrighteousness. Yes, even if you have to do it “70 x 7” times.
Third, remember the gospel. Your fears do not disqualify you for grace; they are the reason you need grace. Remember we are saved by what Christ has done, and nothing else. Trust in Christ and his work on your behalf alone. The more aware you are of your sin, the more thankful you should be for your Savior. Again, the Devil will try to twist this on you. But remember, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). And the gospel is the path we walk, not just the gate we enter. By the way, if you are struggling with faith, be honest with it. Pray like the man in Mark 9:24, “I believe; help my unbelief!”
Fourth, investigate the sin behind the sin of anxiety and confess it to God. If you’re anxious, there’s almost certainly an underlying reason, and it almost certainly involves failing to believe a truth or promise of God. For example, if I get anxious when I drive over bridges, then it may be that what I’m really anxious about is the thought of the bridge collapsing and my own impending death. So, I need to confess my fear of death, and then fight that fear with the truth of Christ’s victory over death and the fact that I have eternal life in him. So, pray and ask the Lord to reveal to you the root of your anxiety. Think deeply about it. Then, go to the Scriptures. Look to overcome the lies you’ve been deceived to believe with the truth of God’s Word.
Fifth, understand that you are in a spiritual battle. We have an enemy that wants to disrupt our lives and steal our joy. He is called “the accuser of our brothers” (Rev. 12:10). He will lie to you, tempt you, and try to get you to question both God’s character and his Word. And he’s really good at it. But you need to remember that “he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). Put on the “full armor of God” and fight the enemy’s lies with God’s truth. Recognize that you are in the midst of a spiritual battle and you need spiritual weaponry to fight and overcome.
Sixth, don’t trust your feelings; trust the objective Word of God. (This is the anti-Star Wars principle.) Your feelings, and even your own thoughts, are not trustworthy. You need an objective truth and that objective truth is God’s Word. What he says about himself and about you is the truth, and that is what we need to believe and trust. Even if you have to type these truths out in big, bold letters and pin them to your wall so that they are always before you, do it. Don’t trust what you think. Don’t trust what you feel. Trust God and his Word. You may think that God could never forgive you for what you’ve done, but that thought contradicts God’s truth. You are forgiven in Christ (Eph. 1:7). You may feel like you lack peace, but that feeling contradicts God’s truth. You have peace in Christ (Rom. 5:1). You may think that God is punishing you, but that thought contradicts God’s truth. You have no condemnation in Christ (Rom. 8:1). You may feel like you are under God’s curse, but that feeling contradicts God’s truth. You are blessed in Christ (Eph. 1:3). You may feel like God is angry with you, but that feeling contradicts God’s truth. God loves you in Christ (1 John 4:10). So, don’t believe in yourself. Don’t trust yourself. Trust God’s objective Word. (Read this blog by Jon Bloom. It was incredibly helpful to me: http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/when-you-re-in-a-spiritual-storm-trust-your-instruments.)
Seventh, surrender to God’s will. If you discover that you fear death, then confess it, fight it with truth, but also surrender to God’s will. If it’s God’s will to take you home, then let God be God. You can trust him to always do what is good and what is best for you and what most brings him glory. Pray like Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36). (I wrote a blog about this prayer if you’re interested: http://providenceswfl.com/blog/a-model-prayer-in-tough-times/.)
Eighth, focus on today (Matt. 6:34). I know it sounds like a cliché, but take it one day at a time. Ask God to give you grace, courage, strength, and all you need for this day. And then do it again the next day. And the next. Learn to depend on God daily. When you start peering into the future, you can easily get overwhelmed. Avoid the temptation. Focus on this day and trust that the Lord will meet your needs down the road as you need him.
Ninth, practice the spiritual disciplines. Spend time in God’s Word daily. Read the Psalms. Read the Gospels. Study the character of God. Spend time in prayer telling God exactly what you’re feeling and what you’re going through. Cast your cares upon him because he cares for you (1 Peter 5:7). Struggle in prayer with God until he blesses you, like Jacob did (Gen. 32:26). Get a hymnal and sing hymns to God, out loud and a cappella. Attend weekly gatherings of the church. Be among the people of God and under the teaching of the Word of God. Do these things even when you don’t want to, especially when you don’t want to. Remember that you are in a spiritual war and the enemy does not want you exposed to God’s means of grace. The key to victory is knowing God, and these things will help you in that endeavor.
Lastly, tenth, seek biblical counseling. Get help. You can’t do this alone. You may just need the counsel of a pastor or a good friend. But get it out into the light and let the body of Christ minister to you. Don’t let pride hold you back. Confessing that we need help is just confessing that we are sinners still in need of a Savior.
One more thing, though I don’t encourage the use of medication, I want to make it clear that medication is not the unpardonable sin. In fact, medication can be a good thing, a God thing. Medication may provide you with the temporary relief that you need to get your thinking right. The temptation will be to depend on the medication instead of on the Lord, but this is not inevitable, especially if you have others who are praying for you in your struggle. So, use with caution, use as a last resort, but use if you believe it is necessary.
Anxiety is terrible, but it is not the strongest thing in the universe. God is. Put these principles to work. Look to your Savior. Trust in his immeasurable grace. And rest in his love for you, despite all your weaknesses and failures. Know that he will never leave you or forsake you. And despite my list here, please know that the answer to anxiety is not a list of dos and don’ts; it’s a vibrant relationship with the God who loves you and who has saved you in his Son (John 17:3). Hopefully, these principles will assist you in that. Now, “may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (Rom. 15:13).
The following are some Scriptures that I posted on my wall:
Romans 5:1; 8:1, 29-30
Psalm 18:30; 23:3; 27:14; 46:1-2; 56:3; 73:26; 86:15-16
Job 1:21; 13:15; 19:25-26
John 14:15; 17:3
2 Corinthians 3:18
1 John 4:4