Monday, May 26, 2008

How to Overcome Anxiety

Anyone who has hung around an evangelical congregation (or church-related group) for any length of time has heard the exhortation not to worry, and the passage from Philippians 4:
Don't be anxious about anything, but in prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ.
Philippians 4:6-7 (approximately)
So does this work? Well, yes and no. You see, the same Apostle Paul who wrote that also wrote this:
And apart from other things there is the constant pressure every day of my anxiety for all the congregations. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?
2 Corinthians 11:28-29
What's going on here? Is this one of those contradictions that Bible-haters are always looking for? (No, but they should look at Proverbs 26:4-5.)

Or, to take another easy one, is a different Greek word used? Well, one (μεριμνᾶτε "to be anxious") is a verb and the other (μέριμνα "anxiety") is a noun, but they're talking about the same thing.

I think one passage ("Don't be anxious") is the goal, the "vision" if you like. The other ("my anxiety for...") is more like confession. You know, like Romans 7:19, "For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do--this I keep on doing." So if even the Apostle Paul couldn't overcome anxiety, how are people like you and me supposed to? I mean, there isn't a 3-step plan or anything, is there?

Well, sure there is -- there are probably dozens of them. But they don't work! Or they take a lifetime to complete. I won't reprise my How to Overcome Anger posting but I think the way I try to deal with anxiety is:
  1. Tell God what I'm concerned about and ask him to take care of my children (or whatever) -- if applicable, ask him to fulfill one of his promises, etc., and maybe pray with someone else about that.
  2. Remember (like Psalm 77:11-12) what God has done in the past.
  3. Fellowship -- along the lines of #1, getting encouragement from brothers and sisters in Christ (like Hebrews 3:13) to help me hold on to hope and courage.
  4. Continue doing #1-#3 for 20-30 years, and repeat as necessary.
One day, those of us who have trusted Christ will be in his presence and we'll have no need to worry about anything. (I'm not encouraging you to rush toward that day though!) Until then, I think we have to be patient with ourselves and with each other, encourage each other, pray for one another.

And not blandly quote verses when someone is anxious about something.

By the way, when I'm worried about something, I usually am not real happy when somebody who doesn't know my situation just quotes Philippians 4 or Romans 8 to me. And I hope I don't do that to others. If I do it to you, would you please remind me of what I've written here? Thanks.

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