I get anxious, probably way more than I recognize. I’ve been on and off different medications. Anxiety can come from many different places and take many different forms. It can come from our family, our job, people we love (or loath), politics, church, a broken car, just about anywhere. It can take the form of fear, anger, denial, binge-eating/watching/spending/smoking/snorting, isolation, over-compensating, just about anything. We deal with anxiety in ways that are proper and improper, depending on the context. While spending some quiet-time in Psalm 4, I realized that God has a very intriguing, simple(r), and satisfying process to deal with anger and anxiety. Whatever you are doing (or not doing) to deal with your anxiety, I want to help you discover, as I did, these four Biblical steps to help overcome anxiety.
Disclaimer: If you are seeing a specialist and/or taking medication for your anxiety, understand that this article is in no way suggesting that you stop, only to consider adding this to your current process.
What the Bible means by anxiety
Check out Psalm 4:4-5
Be angry, and do not sin. Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still. (selah) Offer the sacrifices of the righteous, and put your trust in the LORD.
Two little verses packed with lots to chew on!
The word translated as “angry” has a base meaning of shaking, or being shaken. Have you ever been in an earthquake? I have. A proper California earthquake. It was really freaky for a kid from Vancouver, WA to feel the whole house swaying back and forth. I was upstairs in a bunkbed at the time and it was crazy. Was the house going to fall over? Was the ground going to open up and swallow everything? (For the curious it was the Big Bear quake of 1992.)
That’s what anxiety is like. That’s what it does to us. Something happens that figuratively shakes our world resulting in us actually shaking with anger, fear, and anxiety. In these two little verses God gives us four simple, though not always easy, steps to overcome the shaking.
Step 1) Feel it, but don’t reel in it.
“Be angry, and do not sin.” Anxiety is not a sin, but our reactions to it can be. God experiences anger. God knows how it feels.
Just ponder that for a moment.
Jesus got angry on more than one occasion but never sinned. Jesus was anxious to the point of actually sweating blood on the night he was betrayed. The fact that God knows how you feel only strengthens your relationship with Him. He can identify with you. That in itself is very cool. It’s OK to feel it.
But don’t reel in it. Don’t keep spinning around in it on purpose because that’s what leads to sin. Your shaking anger might be driving you to do harm to someone else. Your shaking anxiety or fear might be driving you to do harm to yourself. Your shaking depression might be driving you toward that food, or drug, or porn, or, or, or.
Feel it, but don’t reel in it.
Step 2) Meditate and hesitate.
“Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still.“ It might sound counterproductive to meditate, to intentionally think about the thing that is making you anxious. The Hebrew word for “meditate” has to do with an animal chewing its cud. Won’t chewing on the anxiety make you to feel it more and reel out of control? It doesn’t have to. The purpose of chewing on it is to break it down into its parts. The goal here is to identify what is really going on.
- What is it in you that is really being shaken? Finances? Relationship? Pride?
- What is it in or around you that is doing the shaking? Job? Marriage? A scenario where you might be wrong about something and have to make changes?
Once you’ve broken it down, hesitate there for a while. Just wait. It can take a lot of energy and focus to just be still. You aren’t doing nothing, you are doing something.
Meditate and hesitate.
Step 3) Look up and let go.
“Offer the sacrifices of the righteous.” Two things are almost always true when we are experiencing anxiety;
- We are looking down. Our focus is on ourselves in the situation. We imagine, consciously or not, that we have some measure of control as long as we are looking at the situation. We are looking at what is missing. We are looking for what we can do to fix it.
- We are hanging on. Not only are we hanging on to the anxiety and how we are reacting to it, sometimes we are also hanging on to the situation itself. Sin feels good. Sometimes, as twisted as it sounds, we love the drama of anxiety. It feels good and we don’t want to let go of it.
If we belong to Jesus, so does our situation, so does our control of it, so should our response to it. I can remember when my kids would have a broken toy. They would hold on to it, look down at it, and have a meltdown. It didn’t matter what I said or offered to them. When they were in meltdown mode I just had to wait it out.
I knew it was fixable. It had broken before and I knew how to fix it. All that they had to do was to look up at me and hand it to me. They had to let go of the broken thing that they loved and their control over the situation that was making them anxious. They had to, in a sense, sacrifice it by letting it go as though it were dead. Sound familiar?
Look up and let go.
Step 4) Walk on worry-free.“And put your trust in the LORD.” This is the tricky step for two main reasons:
- You aren’t trusting the LORD until you’ve given Him the thing to which you are hanging on. That’s difficult.
- You need to be fully aware of the fact that He might not handle the situation in the way that you think it should be handled. That can feel impossible.
In order to walk on worry-free, without the anxiety, to walk on steady and level, you have to have given all of it to the LORD without any consideration as to how He is going to handle it.
Most of the time, what we do in terms of sacrifice is more of a “Let’s Make A Deal” scenario with God. We say, “God, I’m going to give this to you, and I will give you all the glory and credit for fixing it, but only if you resolve the situation according to my plan and to my satisfaction.”
That’s not how it works. We either trust God entirely or not at all. To trust Him with everything, except this one part, is to not really trust Him.
As queasy as letting go of the control of the outcome makes us feel (which can be more anxious that the situation itself) the sense of release and relief is as much, if not more, exhilarating!
How to know you’ve don’t it right
Have you ever had to carry something ridiculously heavy for a ridiculously long time? On a group mountain backpacking trip in high school I once had to carry someone else’s entire pack because they had hurt their ankle. All of my stuff plus all of their stuff. When we got to our site and I put all of that down, I felt lighter than air! I felt like I could jump over the trees. It was amazing.
When you trust the Lord with all of it, even the outcome, that’s what it feels like. Having that feeling is how you know you have put your trust in the LORD.
Walk on worry-free.
Get to steppin’
This is possible. It can be done. What is making you anxious? Is it a one-off situation that will eventually resolve itself? Do you struggle with recurring anxiety because of ongoing life “stuff”? Take a moment and look at the four steps.
- Feel it, don’t reel in it.
- Meditate and hesitate.
- Look up and let go.
- Walk on worry-free.
Where are you, and what do you need to do next? You can, and will, get to Step 4! And now you know. (And knowing is half the battle! GI Joe!) Sorry, nostalgia moment.
There is a flip-side to these life-shaking moments: when we walk through steps like these our relationship with Jesus is made stronger and more real each time. Close relationships, whether they are with God or with other human-types, are strengthened through hard times. Having said that, there are things that you can do to prepare yourself for them in advance. You can daily build up your relationship with Jesus apart from trials and tribulations. Sadly, a lot of us don’t. I’d like to help.
Spending time with Jesus
What if you had a way to spend time in prayer and in God’s word, and you knew that each time you could hear from God and that He heard from you? More than that, what if you did this in a way that resulted in God moving through you in the lives of others? That’s what happened to me and why I wrote this post.
This time with God is often called “quiet times” or “devotions.” There are dozens of ways and resources to help people do this. Over the course of 20+ years I haven’t found one method that worked flexibly or consistently for me. So I took the parts I liked from others and made something new.
This is not a sales pitch or a commercial. In fact, using this exact process is what led me to my discoveries in these verses and prompted me to write this post! I got so excited by what God showed me that I wanted to share it with others.
The Desert Island Bible Study consists of five simple steps. I’ve created printable PDFs you can use to fill in as you go. I’ve also created an Evernote Template and a plain text file you can copy and paste into whatever app you like to use to make notes.
There is a brand new Facebook Group for people using it to share and encourage one another. I’m really excited for what God is going to do through this. Once you’d downloaded the Bundle and read through the instructions feel free to join the group.
I’d love to hear from you!
[reminder]Which of the four steps is the most challenging for you? Can you remember a time when you’ve experienced Step 4 before?[/reminder]