4 WAYS TO FIGHT ANXIETY
by Trevor DeVage
Have we ever lived in more anxious times than these?
First the pandemic kept us at home and filled us with fear as we watched the daily rising death toll, reported grimly from every media outlet. Instant homeschooling, isolation from loved ones, improvised home offices, or (worse) lost jobs created tensions that persist.
And then came riots in the streets of neighborhoods nationwide: burning, looting, hatred shouted by both blacks and whites. Even my suburban black friends often don’t feel safe taking a walk or driving through their own neighborhoods. And, if you’re like me, you may wrestle with what to say and how and when to say it in order not to foster controversy.
If any of this creates anxiety for you, you’re not alone. I thought about that last week as my daily Bible reading plan pointed me to 1 Peter 5:5-9. (I knew God had something for me to learn when the devotion I read that morning, unrelated to my reading schedule, “coincidentally” quoted the same verses!)
Here we discover God’s ways for dealing with anxiety, something the persecuted Christians receiving Peter’s lesson needed to hear. We need to ponder it too.
1. STAY HUMBLE
“Humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up” (v. 6*).
Humility’s presence leads to anxiety’s absence.
I’ve discovered I’m most anxious when I try to manage my world by myself. I’ve been trying to work from my own power for a long time, and it’s never—never!—been enough. As difficult as it is to admit, I must acknowledge this: I’m not in control. God wants to help me navigate my uncertain future. As Peter advised, “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you” (v. 7).
Doing this requires humility. It means admitting I don’t know for sure what to do or say. It means realizing I can’t change most circumstances or any other people. All I can do is bow before God and ask him to change me. Too often I’ve been too proud to do that, and as a result my anxiety has remained.
2. STAY ALERT
“Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.” (v. 8).
I’m convinced this warning is first for Christians, not nonbelievers. Satan already has those outside the church, but he’s looking around for weakness in the family of God. If he can take out the weakest, he’s gained a foothold to damage or destroy the stronger.
Sunday someone handed me a card that quoted this verse. At the bottom, my encourager wrote, “The devil’s roaring like a lion, but he ain’t got no teeth!” I smile when I read that. It reminds me of a teenager in a lion outfit entertaining people at King’s Island. The lion may roar, but inside is a harmless kid just working ‘til quitting time.
Satan won’t quit, but notice he prowls only like a lion. He’ll back off when we stand firm. His strength is nothing compared to the one we serve, the “lion of Judah” (Revelation 5:5) whose power can keep us standing. That leads to the next strategy.
3. STAND FIRM
“Stand firm . . . , and be strong in your faith” (v. 9).
See what Jesus did: He never let the devil’s temptations move him to abuse his power for his own purposes or to upend God’s plan for sending him to earth (Matthew 4:1-11). He could have killed those who came to arrest him. He could have out-argued Pilate in his mockery of a trial. He could have unleashed an army of angels on the soldiers who beat him. He could have called for God to end his suffering on the cross. Instead, he submitted to God’s will, he stayed alert to the devil’s notions, and he never wavered from the purpose God had given him. He stood firm.
Although none of us has endured what Jesus faced, many are buffeted by the chaos swirling through their world or inside their hearts. Peter encourages us to strengthen our faith so we have a foundation for standing firm. You can do this in two simple ways: Meditate on Scripture (read for transformation, not just information). And ask others for support. Again and again, the Bible reminds us we’re not alone; God will work through his people to lift us up and help us stand. (And if that’s difficult for you, go back to Point One, above. Other Christians are eager to help you, but they may not know your need if you won’t ask.)
4. ALWAYS REMEMBER
“Remember that your family of believers all over the world is going through the same kind of suffering you are” (v. 9).
Every time I’ve traveled internationally, I’ve returned home realizing my problems aren’t as big as I thought they are. Until we’ve seen our “family of believers” proclaiming Christ under the threat of death, until we’ve realized how they must confront hostile governments simply for the right to preach the gospel, until we’ve witnessed the oppression of poverty and disease that’s a part of daily life where they live, our definition of suffering is incomplete.
And so I pray for Denford Chizanga and Joshua Baah-Binney and the church planters in the Dominican Republic and my friend Ajai Lall who leads a far-reaching ministry in India. When I look at how they stand firm in the midst of crushing challenges, I realize that my suffering is small and my problems should not undo me.
And whenever I’m facing the obstacle I think is a really big deal, I always hear from others who say, “We’re with you.” When I sink into my pity parties, inevitably I receive a call or a card like the one my friend handed me Sunday. And I remember I’m not alone.
If you’re suffering from clinical depression, of course you need professional treatment in addition to these four bullet points. But for all of us, Peter’s encouragement is at least a start. We need not be defeated by anxiety.
*I’m quoting from the New Living Translation in this post.