Anxiety is not mere concern. It is not the type of fear that helps us survive in a dangerous situation. It is not concern for the moment that we put our sixteen-year-old behind the wheel for the first time or for our sick child’s health. Rather, it is an ongoing, fearful restlessness wherein we imagine hypothetical circumstances of loss. The anxious one is playing the prophet, as Dr. Ed Welch says, by looking into the possible futures and imagining what it might feel like to lose something we love. Therein, common anxiety develops when we fear losing something we find truly precious. That over-concern spirals into a vicious circle of spiritual—and oftentimes physical—damage.
Jesus expands or verifies this definition in the Sermon on the Mount. If you look carefully at the structure of Matthew 6 where His command appears, you can see that there are a series of familiar commands that come just before: when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know your right is doing (Matt. 6:3); when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases (Matt. 6:7); when you fast, do not look gloomy (Matt. 6:16); do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth (Matt. 6:19). Jesus summarizes all these commands by suggesting that “no one can serve two masters” (Matt. 6:24). Then, the very next verse states, “Do not be anxious” (Matt. 6:25). In other words, the word anxiety is cast in the context of the issue of fearing, honoring, or glorying in some temporal, created reality more than in the Lord. Here, He is suggesting that these wrong practices are grounded in a type of idolatry of reputation and wealth but could be any other temporal desire. Anxiety as a restless, body-numbing fear of hypothetical loss is, according to Jesus, an issue of desiring over-control of our circumstances, of loving the things of this world, including our self-image, more than we ought, and of failing to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matt. 6:33).
If we want to locate that which we fear losing too much, that precious treasure that might cause us to say in our heart of hearts, “If God takes this away, or if this happens to me, then I am done with Him,” then we must trace our anxiety to its deepest roots. What is it that we love more than God Himself?
Alternatively, in 1 Peter 5:7, God calls us to cast our “anxieties upon him, because he cares for you.” We are called to pray our fears and anxieties as soon as they emerge (Keller). Pray that God would ground our hearts in His absolute omnipotence so that we might rest even in the midst of being tossed to and fro by hard circumstances. His promise there in Philippians 4:7 is that the Holy Spirit can indeed give a “peace . . . which surpasses all understanding.” This means that God promises that a Christian can grow into a person of balance even if everything on the outside, every circumstance, is pulling them under the water; in heart, they remain above the waterline. This is a process of growth and sanctification, and there is no quick solution. But, to make a start, cast your anxieties upon Him who cares for you.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on February 17, 2021.