Living with Anxiety and Winning
Someone has said that people live their lives “crucified between two thieves—the regrets of yesterday and the anxieties of tomorrow.”
The word worry means ‘to be torn in two.’ And that is exactly what anxiety does—it tears us apart. Our bodies might obediently go in one direction, but our minds are somewhere else. The result is that we live with tension; we cannot sleep and we cannot enjoy the present moment. Worry causes us to work against ourselves and hinders our fellowship with God.
Don’t you wish that you could worry say, from 8:00 pm to about 8:30 pm, then turn it off and get a good night’s rest? But we can’t seem to prevent worry from returning to our minds. We have no control—or so we think.
When speaking to His disciples, Jesus gave us three reasons why we should not worry, and then three reasons why we don’t have to worry. First, He says that we should not worry because of who we are. “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matt. 6:26). If He takes care of the birds, will He not take care of us? Don’t miss Jesus’ point: when we worry, we diminish our value!
Second, we should not worry because it is useless. “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” (v. 27). Worry is like putting on the brakes and stepping on the gas simultaneously. It would be worth it if it added to the length of our life; but in fact, it might diminish it.
Third, we should not worry because of our testimony. “For pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.” (v. 32). When we worry we act like the pagans who do not know the Heavenly Father. Two people get cancer, one is a Christian, the other is not. How tragic if the Christian accepts it no better than the pagan!
But how do we overcome worry or anxiety? Three words in this narrative will help us. First, there is the word, Father. We find it more difficult to trust our Heavenly Father than our earthly father, because our Heavenly Father is less predictable. Our earthly father would prevent us from having cancer and accidents if it were within his power to do so. But our Heavenly Father does not. Does that mean that He loves us less?
No, our Heavenly Father loves us with a perfect love. But He is willing to allow us to experience loss and pain for a greater, eternal good. Please believe me when I say that your Heavenly Father is trustworthy. He loves you and will do right by you!
The second word is faith. “O you of little faith,” Jesus said. Our faith must be developed; we must believe that God is not only powerful, but good. Faith is built through an understanding of God’s promises.
Finally, the last word is first. “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (v. 33). Worry reminds us of all those things that we have not yet given to God; or we could say that our worries point to those things that we have placed ahead of God.
By entrusting ourselves to our Heavenly Father, we no longer have to be ‘torn in two’ by the events of life. They have been transferred from our hands to His, and with that, we can be content.
In today’s troubled world, we all struggle with anxiety. We asked Pastor Lutzer some questions about coping with anxiety, and we present his answers to you here with the prayer that they will be useful in your life.
Q: Do you think there is more anxiety now than at any other time?
A: No, I do not. Perhaps there is more anxiety in America, but people have always had something to worry about. It is just that here in America, those of us who have enough to eat and have good health, have lived without a lot of stress. That is changing because of the breakup of the American home, the economic uncertainty, the fear of terrorism, etc.
Q: What do you say to the person who is in the midst of crisis, such as dealing with a fatal disease?
A: There is no easy answer to these kinds of painful situations, yet we must be convinced of two facts. First, that these matters are in God’s hands and second, that God is good.
I believe that as Christians there must be a transfer of our problems from our shoulders to God’s. This transfer must be made consciously and daily. “Casting all your care upon Him for He careth for you.” This does not mean that we will never have another worry; it does not mean we will be free from emotional pain, but it does mean that we have the confidence that God is there for us, today and tomorrow. The peace that God gives and the emotional pain of loss can exist within us simultaneously.
Of course part of the answer—a big part—is for the body of Christ to step in at the time of need and crisis. God uses His people to fulfill His promises.
Q: I know many people who pray and pray and are never free of anxiety…what is wrong?
A: You are right. People don’t understand that prayer—begging and pleading with God—might only be giving us one more opportunity to rehearse the many things that make us anxious.
Suppose you were on an airliner and you asked the flight attendant to check on the pilots to make sure they have not fallen asleep as the plane goes across the ocean. She/he would not only be exasperated with you, but suggest you go outside and play! Why? Because your request would be an insult to the airline, the pilots and crew. How much better for you to simply relax and say, “I have committed myself to this airplane and have reason to believe that the pilots I have never seen can be trusted.”
By constantly bombarding God with pleas to do this and that—to take care of one thing or another—we often also insult Him. What we need is not more words sent in His direction, but a genuine transfer of our anxieties to Him. We are with Him on the plane, so to speak, and we have to trust that He will take us wherever He wills.
Q: Can you help us—help me—make a commitment like that?
A: Yes. One more illustration: there is a story I heard about a woman who was carrying a heavy suitcase. She was so glad when she saw the bus come; she paid the fare and then stood in the aisle holding up the suitcase. Someone said to her, “Why don’t you put the suitcase on the floor?” to which she replied, “I am so thankful that the bus is carrying me…I can’t expect it to carry my suitcase too!”
If you are a Christian, you are on the bus. God is taking us en route to His heavenly kingdom. There is simply no reason for you to carry the weight that is already in God’s hands anyway. You must put down the suitcase. Since the governments of the world will be upon Christ’s shoulders, He most assuredly can bear up under our trials!
The best way to do this is to pray and make the transfer. For some this is very difficult because they have nursed their anxieties for so long. But we must simply ‘give up’ and lay our burdens at the feet of Christ.
So pray and say, “Lord Jesus I transfer ___________ to You. I refuse to accept its weight on my heart and mind. I yield, I put down my suitcase for You to take care of it as You will… and I will abide with Your decision.”
Q: And if the anxiety returns?
A: You reaffirm your decision to leave it with God. You do not welcome the anxieties back, but reject them in the name of Jesus, breaking the power of the devil who has kept you bound.