The Christian and Anxiety
By Dr. Brian Allison[addThis]
The experience of anxiety is common and universal. It is not an emotion restricted to the economically deprived or to the politically oppressed. Anxiety is an inescapable part of the human condition, for life on all its levels, from the international and governmental to the domestic and personal, is marked with uncertainty, perplexity, and stress. Many may deny their personal anxiety, or at least the intensity of it (even to themselves) for a variety of reasons, such as, the desire to avoid embarrassment, the sense of pride, the fear of rejection, the threat and unease of vulnerability, etc; notwithstanding, nearly everyone experiences anxiety to some degree. Its occurrence is disturbing and debilitating. Its persistence is crippling. Adler writes, “Anxiety is an extraordinarily widespread trait. It accompanies an individual from earliest childhood to old age, it embitters his life to a marked degree, keeps him from all human contacts, and destroys his hope of building up a peaceful life, or of making fruitful contributions to the world” (Human Nature, 186). As long as daily living is characterized by struggle, strife, and suffering, the anxiety-experience is an inevitability.
The Nature of Anxiety
Anxiety is a mental tension which expresses itself in worry, irritability, apprehension, or uneasiness. The mental tension results either from a sense of uncertainty about future or impending events or from a sense of inability to control one’s environment or state of affairs. Some Scriptural examples illustrate each of these two occasioning conditions. First, when Jesus Christ was about to dispatch His twelve disciples to preach the gospel and to cast out demons, He first instructed them. In the course of His instruction, He said, “But when they deliver you up, do not become anxious about how or what you will speak; for it shall be given you in that hour what you are to speak” (Mat 10:19). The uncertainty about the future engenders anxiety. The disciples were not to worry about preparing an appropriate discourse in their own defense before their accusers or judges. The Lord would provide for their future needs. Second, having travelled to the village of Bethany, Jesus entered the home of Mary and Martha. During His visit, Mary sat at Jesus’ feet listening to His teaching. Martha was engrossed in domestic duties. She was preoccupied with providing hospitality. It apparently became cumbersome, probably because of her conscientious and meticulous manner. Eventually the situation became unmanageable. She lost control and could no longer cope. She complained to Jesus about her sister Mary’s inactivity and apparent disinterest. Jesus replied, “Martha, Martha, you are worried [anxious] and bothered about so many things; but only a few things are necessary, really only one, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her” (Luk 10:41f.).
The sense of one’s inability to control one’s environment engenders anxiety. Anxiety is a natural emotional response of fallen man endeavoring to survive and live comfortably. Dolores contends that anxiety is an emotional response to one’s lack of confidence in his ability to cope with anticipated predicament or calamity (Creative Personality, 61). Sorenson asserts, “Anxiety manifests itself in a dread that something harmful will happen or in a feeling of futility, helplessness, and hopeless frustration, as well as in the usual body changes of fear” (Psychology, 236). Anxiety is a constant reminder of humankind’s appalling frailty and its utter impotence to master its own destiny.
Anxiety and fear, though closely interrelated, are not synonymous concepts. Fear, sharply defined, is both the psychological and emotional response to a sense of being in danger. Fear is basically a survival mechanism in that it promotes self-preservation. Anxiety, however, is the warning signal of one’s increasing impotence to survive. Anxiety “is a component of fear; a special kind, occurring in a special way and reserved for special situational usage” (Gaylin, Feelings, 17). It has been said that anxiety is “fear spread out thin.” Powell describes anxiety as the irrational fear of an unknown object (Afraid to Love, 29). Weatherhead describes it as a morbid mental condition in which are present both fear and desire (Psychology, 203). For instance, one may have a strong desire to articulate his ideas and convictions before a class of peers, but his fear of self-exposure or rejection may prevent him from doing so. The effect is mental or psychic tension.
Quite often, those who feel anxious cannot articulate the reason for their anxiety. The emotional unease often appears to be either unreasonable or unjustifiable. The New Testament substantive translated anxiety is merimna. Its verbal cognate, ‘to be anxious’, is merimnao. The meaning of merimnao is twofold. First, as already defined, it signifies a psychic tension expressed in worry, irritability, apprehension, or uneasiness. Sanders remarks, “The word used by our Lord for anxious care signifies a dividing and distracting of the mind so that it is kept in a state of agitation, unable to give undivided attention to any one thing” (Spiritual Clinic, 11f.). Second, it signifies an emotional tension expressed in a realistic, justified concern. This kind of concern is often evident in relationships of deep commitment. Thus, for instance, the apostle Paul teaches:
But I want you to be free from concern [merimna]. One who is unmarried is concerned [merimnao] about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord; but one who is married is concerned [merimnao] about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the woman who is unmarried, and the virgin, is concerned [merimnao] about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit; but one who is married is concerned [merimnao] about the things of the world, how she may please her husband (1 Cor 7:32-34).
Not all anxiety is pernicious, but rather only certain forms of it. Hyder concurs, “All anxiety or psychic tension is not bad however. A little of it in normal amounts can enhance performance” (Psychiatry, 110). Psychologists, both secular and Christian, generally believe that periodic mild anxiety assists in productivity and performance. Alertness is enhanced, motivation is stimulated, and concentration is heightened. One’s potential and ability are thus more efficiently harnessed. In fact, serious educational and socializing repercussions may result when anxiety is absent (such as typifies hardened criminal behaviour); or when anxiety is excessive (such as typifies sensitive children in a disruptive home).
The relationship between amiable and pernicious anxiety is similar to that of stress and distress. A moderate amount of stress is indispensable to peak performance and success. This fact is particularly evident with the athlete prepared to run a race or compete in a field event. However, the threat to health occurs when the increase of stress is transmuted into distress. This situation may arise with the business executive who has demanding daily quotas to fill and unrelenting deadlines to meet. Inefficiency and atrophy are the natural by-products. The outcome is the onset of serious emotional disturbances.
Christians are not totally immune to anxiety, nor should they endeavor to be. To believe that all forms of anxiety are unbiblical or sinful can cause the Christian needless upset, as well as compounded emotional strain, for the awareness of anxiety may cause further anxious thoughts. The Christian may have a legitimate and realistic concern. Biblical love requires it. As already mentioned, the apostle Paul had this kind of concern for his converts. For instance, he says:
I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain…. My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you; and, For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin. But I am afraid, lest as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds should be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ (Gal 4:11,19; 2 Cor 11:2f.).
The same apostle who said, “Be anxious [merimnao] for nothing” (Phil 4:6), also said, “Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure upon me of concern [merimna] for all the churches;” as well as, “For I have no one else [Timothy] of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned [merimnao] for your welfare” (2 Cor 11:28; Phil 2:20). Not all anxiety is Scripturally repudiated. The anxiety which is repudiated has the element of worry, irritability, apprehension, or uneasiness (pernicious anxiety); and this kind of anxiety is the subject matter of this paper.
A further classification of anxiety may be helpful. Debilitating anxiety is basically of two types, namely, simple and neurotic. Simple anxiety is the temporary emotional tension which most people experience towards life’s pressures and struggles. Neurotic anxiety is emotional tension which has become an ingrained behavioural trait of one’s personality. A neurosis is a fixed emotional disturbance pervading the whole personality. Some neuroses, for instance, are obsessive-compulsive reaction, hysteria, phobia, hostility, neurasthenia, chronic depression, etc. An untreated neurosis may possibly develop into a psychosis, though this development is usually dependent upon hereditary and predispositional factors. Some psychologists believe that anxiety is the fundamental element of all neuroses (Hyder, op. cit., 103f.). Feshbach claims that “neurotic reactions are interpreted as either direct manifestations of anxiety or as behaviours which help avoid the pain of anxiety” (Psychology, 247). Simple anxiety is primarily discussed in this article, though much of what is considered has equal relevance to neurotic anxiety. The intrinsic nature of anxiety remains constant, only its degree and intensity differ. The treatment of neurotic anxiety entails a specialized approach because the anxiety has become behaviourally entrenched. Personality maladjustment may also have to be addressed. The causative factors and the psycho-dynamics underlying the anxiety need to be discovered and investigated, which may require detailed discussion and analysis of childhood experiences and domestic training. People who suffer from neurotic anxiety typically need professional counselling.
The Effects of Anxiety
The costs of anxiety are exceedingly high. The effects are profound and far-reaching. These effects fall into three basic categories: the physical, the psychological, the social, and the spiritual. Let us first consider the physical effects of anxiety. Anxiety results in a whole array of physiological discomforts. One particular manifestation of anxiety can be labeled under psychosomatic symptoms, such as, the common upset stomach, heart palpitations, headaches, muscle cramps, and various bodily aches and pains (Hyder, op. cit., 111). Stafford-Clark outlines an adequate digest of the physical signs of anxiety. He writes: The quality of the anxiety is not essentially different from that experienced by normal people in the face of some appropriate stress. It is accompanied by the characteristic changes familiar to us all; for example, by a raised pulse rated, by recurrent dryness of the mouth, dilated pupils, and by a subjective feeling of distaste for food and of being uncomfortably ‘keyed up’ all the time. Sleep is disturbed in characteristic ways, the patient being unable to get to sleep for hours, tossing and turning restlessly and finally falling into a broken slumber often disturbed by vivid and terrifying dreams from which he may wake tense, sweating, and trembling (Psychology, 93) Sustained or chronic anxiety results in deteriorating physical health. Organic and functional illnesses, ranging from dyspepsia to heart disease, are the long term effects.
Anxiety may also occasion serious psychological disorders. The Scriptures confirm this fact. They read, “Anxiety in the heart of a man weighs it down [depression or severe melancholy], but a good word makes it glad” (Prov 12:25). Initially, anxiety decreases performance by curtailing reasoning abilities, dulling imaginative thinking, and causing general discouragement (Hyder, op. cit., 111). Feelings of disorientation and depression may then ensue. Personality maladjustments are the eventuality. Minirth observes that the manner in which anxiety is handled often determines the type of mental disorder that develops (Christian Psychiatry, 75). Feshbach asserts, “Similar patterns of thinking disturbances can be the result of severe stress, and several investigations see both the marked social withdrawal and the impaired thought process of the schizophrenic as reactions to stress of chronic anxiety” (Psychology, 242). Moreover, anxiety may result in hyperactivity and insecurity in children, which in turn adversely affects academic performance. (Narramore, Encyclopedia, 41).
Anxiety may also result in strained social relationships and retarded interpersonal development. Extremely anxious people may tend to avoid social contact, even with familiar friends, in order to reduce the anxiety level. Social contact tends to generate feelings of uncertainty, suspicion, and uneasiness, with the natural reaction being social withdrawal and alienation. Security and peace are construed as the fruit of separation and solitude. Accompanying this social withdrawal may be the increased dependency on one or two significant figures in the person’s immediate social milieu (Narramore, ibid.). Accordingly, the development of communicative skills and social etiquette may be hampered. Extremely anxious people learn to live by themselves.
Anxiety may also adversely affect one’s spiritual life. Dolores perceptively observes that anxiety “may block the operation of grace in the soul” (op. cit., 61). Zeal and commitment to pray and read the Scriptures, which are the means and confirmation of grace, are noticeably decreased. Spiritual declension is the outcome, engendering a sense of being distant and estranged from God. The joy of one’s salvation is conspicuously absent; and the attitude of gladness characteristic of worship is lost. Accordingly, questions concerning the sufficiency and efficacy of spiritual resources to alleviate the emotional pain may arise in the mind of the sufferer, which eventually may lead to doubts concerning the power, and even the very existence, of God. The consequences of anxiety are clearly devastating and, in some cases, seemingly irreparable.
The Proper Attitude Towards Anxiety
What, then, should be the Christian’s attitude towards simple and pernicious anxiety? Simple and pernicious anxiety contradicts one’s new spiritual nature, as well as denies an essential characteristic of the blessed spiritual kingdom. An anxious mind suggests an excessive reliance on one’s own personal resources and abilities, or on those of another, rather than on God Himself. Pernicious anxiety indicates a lack of spiritual maturity, which can lead eventually, if unchecked, to apostasy. In the parable of the sower and the seeds, Christ interprets the meaning of the seed that fell among the thorns. He teaches, “And the one on whom seed was sown among the thorns, this is the man who hears the word, and the worry [merimna] of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful” (Mat 13:22). The “anxiety of the world” is the anxiety experienced in striving to cope with the pressures and demands of daily living. It is paralleled in the Lukan Gospel by the “anxieties…of this life” (Luk 8:14). An implied contrast is established here between the natural life of this present world and the spiritual life of that heavenly world. Simple and pernicious anxiety is associated with this natural life. The Christian must realize that though he is living in the present world, he is not to be identified with it. His citizenship is registered in heaven (Phil 3:20). He or she is to function not dominated by the “worries of the world” (Mk 4:19), trusting completely in God, being assured that God in Christ Jesus will furnish all of his or her needs “according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:19). God the Father sufficiently provides for all the needs of His spiritual children. God is faithful. As God, He must be faithful.
Hence, the Christian’s attitude towards simple and pernicious anxiety should be one of disdain and intolerance. This kind of anxiety is foreign, both to his new spiritual nature and to the blessed spiritual kingdom of which he is presently a member. It is foreign to his new spiritual nature because the very presence of that nature necessitates faith in Jesus Christ, with one of its natural fruit being trust in God. It is foreign to the present life in the spiritual kingdom because God is its King, constantly sustaining and caring for His citizens.
Notwithstanding, a psychological footnote to the above statement is necessary. The human being, and the Christian in particular, is just as much a psychological creature as he is a physical and spiritual one. The human constitution should not be viewed as unidimensional. Yet the interrelationship between the psychological aspect and the physical and spiritual aspects are extremely complex and profound. Subsequently, even for the Christian, psychological considerations are in order when treating emotional disturbances. To believe that the only solution for the treatment of emotional problems is spiritual is both naive and harmful. Furthermore, the acquisition of a new spiritual nature neither erases or suppresses one’s basic psychological makeup, nor removes automatically all emotional problems of one’s pre-regenerative state. Accordingly, people who have a predisposition towards anxiety states, because of hereditary endowment and temperament, do not lose this particular predisposition when they become a Christian, though the Spirit’s presence and grace can restrict and significantly minimize its actualization. In spiritual sanctification, maturity is a progressive enterprise which involves the gradual eradication of the vices, not the structure, of the personality. Psychological peculiarities and idiosyncrasies, including predispositions and temperamental tendencies, are altered minimally, if at all.
Moreover, a proper attitude towards anxiety is attained by recognizing some of the reasons for it. Collins outlines four main reasons for anxiety (Anxiety, 19-22). First, apart from a predispositional tendency, people learn through experience to become anxious. The child, for example, realizes that when he or she is defiant and challenges a father’s authority that he or she may receive stern discipline. The anticipation of the discipline, which may be painful, evokes psychic tension. Second, people implicitly learn to be anxious by following the example of others. The mother who is afraid of loud clapping thunder may instill this same fear in the daughter who observes her reaction to it. Third, socialization promotes anxiety. The child naturally learns and adopts the standards and manners of his or her culture and society. For instance, the Western-society child learns that wild animals are not free to roam the streets unsupervised. An occurrence of such action, contrary to his conditioned expectation, may evoke psychic tension. Fourth, learning to think rationally occasions anxiety. The maturing individual can reflect on and analyze his actions and assess the consequences of those actions.
The simple point in these four proposed reasons for the occurrence of anxiety is that different expressions of anxiety are often a learned behavioural response. Accordingly, if anxiety is to be reduced, and even eliminated, then the learned conditioned responses must be recognized and the appropriate measures taken to unlearn them, substituting them with a new set of healthier responses.
The Causes of Anxiety
The psycho-dynamics underlying anxiety are complex. Some psychologists generally describe anxiety as a vague and indirect feeling, having no particular source or fundamental cause. This claim can certainly be challenged. With anxiety there is typically a cause-effect relationship, though the cause may be hidden or misunderstood. Narramore states that severe anxiety may result from the feelings of fear and guilt of a past traumatic event or from an insecure childhood characterized by striving for parental commendation (op. cit., 42). Similarly, Meier et al note that anxiety can be caused by unconscious intrapsychic conflicts, childhood traumas, and fears of either inferiority, poverty, or poor health (Psychology, 252f.).
Anxiety feelings can be either object- or event-related or simply free-floating (Collins, op. cit., 13). Object- or event-related anxiety is apparent when the sufferer is aware of a specific threatening object or situation. Free-floating anxiety has no obvious threatening object or situation. Nevertheless, anxiety always has a cause, either remote or proximate; either direct or indirect. The presence of anxiety is indicative of some psychic conflict. Anxiety is the “emotional overflow” of psychic conflict. It is not exclusively identified with any singular psychic conflict, but rather accompanies most of them. It is not an isolated disturbance in itself, but is “a primary signal of potential [and actual] distress” (Gaylin, op. cit., 39) Hyder believes that there are probably more theories explaining the causes of anxiety than for any other diagnosis in the whole of medicine (op. cit., 109f.).
I believe that the actual causes of anxiety are usually associated with specific faulty mental states. There are basically three major faulty mental states from which derive emotional disturbances. The first of these is guilt. Guilt by its very nature creates psychic tension. Guilt is the sense of personal wrongdoing and being liable for punishment. The guilt may be false or true (imaginary or real, psychological or moral). In either case, the psychic experience and tension are similar. True or real guilt results from the transgression or rejection either of God’s commandments or societally-established law. When a Christian steals or covets, he or she normally senses guilt. False or imaginary guilt, on the other hand, results from the failure to conform to the expectations of others. For instance, a child’s peers may ridicule him because he has played poorly on the sport’s team, though he has performed to his full potential. He may then feel that he has failed his friends. Consequently, he feels guilty. This guilt is ‘unjustified’, for the supposed offense does not involve moral culpability. Some of the secondary mental states attributable to guilt are depression, discouragement, loneliness, insecurity, despair, etc.
Many neuroses have guilt as their central component. Usually the impetus underlying false guilt is the need to please, to win the approval of, or to be accepted by, others. In this connection, Gaylin states that anxiety is caused by a threat to our strength, intelligence, and security; the absence of approval, love, and acceptance; the awareness of our vulnerability (op. cit., 33). The apostle Paul addresses this self-centred motivation. He states, “For am I now seeking the favour of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ” (Gal 1:10). The guilty Christian should thus ask himself or herself a series of questions: What kind of guilt am I experiencing? Is it a justified guilt? What is the cause or reason for the guilt? What is the proper way to view the situation? If the guilt is morally justified, then confession of sin, seeking of forgiveness, repentance, and seeking reconciliation (if necessary) are in order (see Prov 28:13; 1 Jn 1:9). If the guilt is (morally) unjustified, then it should be acknowledged as such, assessed as harmful, and even sinful, confessed to God, and disowned.
The second major faulty mental state which may generate anxiety is egoism. The individual suffering from egoism has a preoccupation with himself and with his personal needs. It should be noted that a common trait of the egoistic state of mind is anger. Egoism has two fundamental dimensions, namely, superiority (pride) and inferiority (inadequacy). A superior disposition compels a person to strive for personal attention and to secure the applause and praise of others. His conceit, exaggerated self-love, and his need for recognition often foster an insensitive, judgemental, and even merciless attitude. His behaviour is also potentially volatile. Various examples from the worlds of show biz and professional sports could easily be cited by way of illustration. Some secondary mental states of a superior disposition are hostility, jealousy, hatred, bitterness, resentment, and envy. In contradistinction, the apostle Paul teaches, “For through the grace given to me I say to every man among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith” (Rom 12:3).
An inferior disposition appears to be the more prevalent of the two dimensions in those who suffer from anxiety. An inferior disposition compels a person to socially withdraw and to feel intimidated around people. This person feels unworthy of personal recognition, and even love. He or she even lacks in self-respect. This person feels that anything he or she does is either not right or not good enough. This person views himself or herself as a failure. The child who is continually criticized by his authoritarian mother (for instance, because of an inability to intellectually grasp certain concepts in a particular discipline) may tend to view himself as stupid. Consequently, he may lose interest in academics altogether. He eventually may lose all confidence even in his ability to think. The person with an inferior disposition learns to dislike himself, and consequently believes that others do not like him either. He or she often becomes a perfectionist, which is the path to a very unsatisfying, frustrating, and unhappy life. The person predictably never quite reaches the mark, regardless how hard he or she may try. The secondary mental states of an inferior disposition are depression, discouragement, emptiness, loneliness, insecurity, jealousy, hatred, envy, etc.
The determinant of an inferior disposition is a poor self-image. One’s self-image develops through a combination of various sources. First, self-image develops through the judgements and evaluations of family members and peers. If these judgements and evaluations are negative and deprecating, then the child acquires feelings of guilt, discouragement, and rejection. He gradually learns to dislike himself. Second, self-image develops through social expectations and standards, particularly as these expectations and standards centre around intelligence, wealth, and beauty. The values of society can imperceptibly become personal values, dictating what is of primary worth and importance. Thus, failure to conform to the societal expectations and standards may foster a poor self-image. Third, self-image develops through self-examinations, introspections, and self-criticisms. Some people are minutely analytical, judging themselves according to self-imposed perfectionistic standards. Of course, such standards are often unrealistic. Nevertheless, failure to conform to these personal ideals may advance a poor self-image. Fourth, self-image develops through personal decision-making. Choices of activities, schools, friends, hobbies, jobs, etc., carry with them potentially serious repercussions. Hasty, unthoughtful, or wrong decisions, can trigger an unexpected and undesirable series of events, which may be perceived as directly reflecting on the worth and self-esteem of the individual.
The cultivation of a good self-image begins with self-acceptance. Having made a realistic and honest self-appraisal, one must graciously and willingly accept one’s limitations, as well as one’s strengths, and cease from being so demanding on himself or herself. The Christian can accept himself on the basis that God has accepted him unconditionally in Jesus Christ through grace. Grace, if truly experienced and rightly understood, is able to liberate from the compulsion to win or strive for acceptance from others. Grace, by definition, necessitates and guarantees full acceptance. The Christian is accepted by God, not because of what he or she has done, or because of who he or she is, but because of what Jesus Christ has done, and because of Who He is. The Christian can acquire a healthy view of himself or herself by seriously taking into account the Scriptural appraisal of both human and personal value. The Scriptural appraisal, first of all, is that God Himself has created the human being, and that for His own glory. Each human being is a significant creation with distinct purpose. The Psalmist pronounces:
For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; wonderful are Your works, and my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth; Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them. How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I should count them, they would outnumber the sand. When I awake, I am still with You.
Second, each person is made in the image of God and so, even faintly, reflects God-likeness. Each one is a special creation. Everyone has dignity. Genesis 1:26f. reads: Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Third, each one is ultimately accountable not to people but to God alone. God alone is judge, and not man. The Christian need not fear or worry about the personal and biased judgements of people. The apostle Paul informs, “But to me it is a very small thing that I should be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself. For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord” (1 Cor 3:3f.).
A poor self-image is the soil from which the flower of an inferior disposition springs. Some factors which water this disposition are: 1) an unrealistic view of self; 2) a comparison of one’s self with others; 3) a setting of unattainable goals. Briefly responding respectively to these three factors which are responsible for an inferior disposition, we may say that, first, the Christian needs to appraise himself realistically and honestly, affirming his abilities and talents, as well as recognizing his place and importance in the economy of God (see 1 Cor 12; 1 Cor 4:7). We are to examine ourselves soberly in the light of Scripture. Second, the Christian should realize that comparing himself or herself with others is sinful and blameworthy (see 2 Cor 10:12). This kind of behaviour should be confessed and repented of. God has given to each person as He Himself has deemed fit. Third, the Christian must set goals which correspond to his or her ability and skills (see 2 Cor 10:13; Rom15:18ff.). The person who has two ‘talents’ is not expected, nor responsible, to achieve the same results as the person who has five ‘talents’. The Lord has given to each person his quota of ‘talents’.
The distinction between inferiority and humility is often misunderstood. The Christian is exhorted to assume a posture of humility (Phil 2:3). Yet this assumption does not imply personal inferiority. Humility is not a reflection on one’s personal ability or worth. Humility is simply an act of willful submission (1 Pet 5:5f.). Humility is not primarily a feeling, as often wrongly identified, but rather is a choice to esteem others better than one’s self and to minister self-denyingly to their needs. The Christian is called to be a servant to all, following the example of Jesus Christ his Lord.
The third major faulty mental state is fear. Not all fear is malignant. Instinctive fear is required for physical survival. Morbid fear is pernicious and is characterized by a slavish preoccupation with personal safety and well-being. An immoderate concern over securing (or maintaining) an admirable public image, a respected reputation, a high social status, good health, family welfare, material possessions, etc., may effectuate morbid fear. Morbid fear often arises when an exaggerated value or importance is assigned to these particular objects. The motivational belief is that the procurement of these objects will provide security. The person’s perception, however, has become distorted. Consequently, the threat of loss or damage of these objects may be paralyzing, and even incapacitating. The secondary mental states of fear are depression, insecurity, suspicion, panic, etc. Fear is also the essential component of various neuroses, such as, hysteria, phobia, and paranoia.
The Christian is commanded not to be morbidly fearful (Isa 3:1,5; 44:2,8). Grace in the heart enables the Christian to direct his or her thinking, and to set one’s attention on heavenly realities, rather than on earthly concerns (Col 3:1 4). The Christian must confess his or her morbid fear to God and ask Him for sufficient courage. Furthermore, one should soberly evaluate and rearrange his or her priorities. Spiritual priorities should always have precedence (1 Tim 6:8). The Christian must recognize that his or her foremost commitment is to Jesus Christ, and not to self, family, or friends (Rev 12:11). This commitment involves total self-denial, a willingness to sacrifice everything, and even die, for the sake of Jesus Christ (Mat 16:24; Mk 8:34; Luk 9:23). The Christian is one who has died judicially to sin and self in Christ, and now must judge himself or herself to be dead experientially to the same. A definite resolve is imperative if fear is to be conquered. A Spirit-guided life is the best cure for morbid fear (2 Tim 1:9).
These three major defective mental states: guilt, egoism, and fear, may be situational or chronic. If they are situational, then their duration is temporary, if handled appropriately. If they are chronic, then professional counselling may be required in order to discover and examine the causative factors. In treating anxiety (we shall say more about this shortly), the determinative mental state should be confronted and fully explored. The psychic tension is mitigated through the exposure of its underlying cause(s). Gaylin interestingly notes, “Anxiety from other sources can—at least to a certain degree–be alleviated by locating the source of the feeling. Since much of the source of our anxiety is symbolic and irrational, the mere identification dissipates the emotion” (op. cit., 33). In exploring the underlying cause(s) of anxiety, the antecedent perception(s) of any given mental state should be examined. One’s mental perception determines the particular mental state which is responsible for ensuing anxiety. The personal interpretation of a situation/set of circumstances effects a corresponding mental state. For instance, a person may notice after a Sunday church service that a member is looking askance at him. The member’s facial expression may be totally innocent and unself-conscious. However, this person, especially if he is generally suspicious and naturally sensitive, may interpret this facial expression as antagonistic. As a result of that unjustified mental perception, the person may then feel guilty and rejected. He may then begin to scrutinize himself minutely, reflecting upon his present relationships and questioning his past deeds and actions. If this fallacious thinking persists, this person may eventually become depressed and anxious.
Hence, anxiety must be treated indirectly. Narramore asserts that one cardinal therapeutic technique for treating a sufferer of anxiety is to demonstrate the relationship between the anxiety and the threatening situation or object (op. cit., 43). For example, a person may suffer from a rejection syndrome. As a result of the psychic conflict, he may find himself continually anxious, completely unaware that the anxiety is the result of this particular psychic conflict. The sufferer must come to realize the relationship between the psychic conflict and the anxiety. Further, an adjustment of perception or a reframing of interpretation is also critical in correcting emotional disturbances. Adjusting personal perceptions, or reframing personal interpretations, does not result in a masking or denial of the truth of the given situation, nor does it result in a subtle form of self-delusion. Mental adjustment or psychic reframing simply allows for the achievement of a right perspective in order that there may be proper understanding. The ultimate goal is to learn to think biblically. Accordingly, the Christian should interpret his exigencies in the context of God’s sovereignty, providence, and love. The Christian realizes that nothing is permitted into his or her life except that which is divinely ordained. God supremely controls all the events and details of life. All things, both good and evil, are directed by Him for the Christian’s good. Though the Christian may lack insight concerning the reason and purpose of the vicissitudes of daily living, he or she needs to remain confident in the goodness and wisdom of God. He or she needs to view matters positively, realizing that God’s power is incomparable and that His love is everlasting. The Christian must perceive and interpret all happenings and events through a spiritual mind-set (more about this shortly). He or she who achieves right thinking, achieves right behaviour, which also includes right (i.e., healthy) emotional expression. Simple and pernicious anxiety, from a Christian perspective, indicates faulty perception and interpretation.
The Root of Anxiety
The root of anxiety relates to a specific mental orientation. The mental orientation responsible for anxiety focuses on the self (this point relates to egoism). Self-centredness generates and promotes anxiety because this particular mental orientation expedites the realization of one’s incapability to manage some of life’s exigencies unaided. Self-centredness advances self-reliance and self-dependency. The outcome may be an overwhelming sense of impotence and despair. Coping ability and strategies are enervated, and eventually may become dysfunctional. Emotional disturbances and anxiety are the concomitants. The Christian’s mental orientation is to be God-centred, rather than self-centred. He or she is to meditate on the holy character and righteous attributes of God, as well as on His wondrous and mighty works. As the Christian becomes more acquainted and intimate with the knowledge of God, he then becomes less preoccupied with himself. His mental orientation begins to shift, and with that shift is the transmutation of emotional energy.
In addition, an increasing preoccupation with God, through assimilating the truth of Him, naturally nurtures trust which is a biblical remedy for fear. The absence of sound trust in God is one of the main reasons why the Christian feels anxious. Scripture teaches, “You [God] will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You” (Isa 26:3). Scriptural truth which is rooted firmly in the mind spawns strong trust in God. Collins claims, “Anxiety in the form of fret and worry comes because of a sinful turning from God. Instead of acknowledging His sovereignty and pre-eminence, we have shifted the burdens of life onto ourselves and assumed that we alone can handle the problems that we face” (op. cit., 26).
The Treatment for Anxiety
In the treatment of anxiety, as with other emotional disturbances, there are many schools of thought. Many psychologists advocate some form of behaviour modification, such as, relaxation training, thought-stopping, modeling, and behaviour rehearsal (Geiser,Behaviour Mod., 117f.). These techniques may prove partially helpful, but an obvious deficiency with behaviour modification is that the perception(s) and mental state that engender the anxiety may not comprise the fundamental focus or consideration in the treatment. Treatment must be primarily cognitive, not behavioural. The behavioural is usually secondary.
Other psychologists employ some method of escapism, such as, denial, avoidance, rationalization and narcotism. This method has serious drawbacks as well. First, to deny the anxiety is tantamount to self-deception. Such an exercise is clearly detrimental. For instance, to deny the contraction of lymphatic cancer, when such a diagnosis is irrefutable, neither retards its spread nor reduces its carnage. Second, to avoid the thought or feeling which arouses anxiety is both onerous and irresponsible. Again, unawareness neither cancels nor mitigates the detrimental effects. Contrived escapism and simplistic “psychologizing” are very harmful. The mental exercise itself is anxiety-producing and leads to morbid introspections and mental strain. Unless the causative factors, as well as the occasioning situation/circumstances, are discovered and examined, the emotional disturbance will persist. As Osborne observes, “The only creative solution is to seek out and remove the source of anxiety” (Understanding Yourself, 61). Third, to rationalize anxiety, though somewhat helpful, may also be harmful. The anxiety may simply become masked, and hence becomes elusive and vicious. Fourth, to narcotize anxiety through alcohol or drugs is only a temporary solution which introduces a new set of problems. Also, the anxiety is not really treated, but momentarily concealed; and delay in treatment often creates complications. Anxiety is self-perpetuating. Narcotism is a popular approach simply because relief is spontaneous and pleasurable.
Some direction for the treatment of anxiety has already been furnished above. Further elaboration and suggestions are now offered. In treating anxiety, Christians require more than merely the sharing of Scriptural verses, though this may be helpful. As already argued, anxiety is dependent upon one’s mental state. Therefore, treatment for anxiety must begin with a confrontation and analysis of the mental state responsible for the anxiety. This approach, of course, will include a consideration of one’s perception and interpretation of the situation(s) occasioning the mental state.
First, confrontation involves self-consciously addressing one’s thinking. It consists of self-consciously turning inward on one’s thoughts and observing them in as objective a manner as possible. It is seeking to identify the commensurate thoughts of the experienced anxiety. For example, an aspiring young minister may become extremely anxious days before he is to preach. This anxiety may be more than simple “stage fright”. His mental state, though unconsciously recognized (which is often the case), may be one of fear. He may be fearful of not being impressive; fearful of rejection; fearful of appearing inadequate. Confrontation is the mental act of being honest and courageous with oneself.
Analysis is a more complex process than confrontation. It involves the critical examination of one’s mental state with a view to the understanding of its origin, justification, and validity. For example, in feeling anxiety, one may recognize that he is harbouring guilt. He should ask himself why he is experiencing guilt or what has occasioned this guilt. It may be that he didn’t shake a fellow church member’s hand on Sunday or that he asked a rather simple question in the Bible class. He then should ask himself whether it is right to feel this guilt, whether he really committed a wrong. In the first case, he may not have had a real opportunity to shake the member’s hand and thus should not feel guilty. In any event, he is not obligated to shake the person’s hand every Sunday. Hand-shaking is an expression of brotherly fellowship and not one of mere religious duty. In the second case above, he may have asked a question to which he didn’t know the answer in order to clarify a point or enhance comprehension, and thus he should not be concerned about other peoples’ evaluations. He apparently is seeking to learn and grow. In the two cases cited, the person probably shouldn’t feel guilty. Next, he should ask himself what would have been the proper way to perceive and interpret the situation (i.e., God’s way). In these two cases, the guilt is false and thus should be rejected. His thinking is faulty. His mental state is unjustified. So, analysis involves a close and intense investigation of the dynamics underlying and shaping one’s mental state in order to evaluate the propriety of such a state. The origin of such a state may find its roots in some childhood experience, rendering analysis complicated, and professional help may be needed at this point.
Analysis allows one to assume a particular mental position (an objective one) in order to correct a faulty mental state which has arisen. Often when one confronts his or her thoughts and recognizes the commensurate thoughts of the experienced anxiety, he or she simultaneously recognizes the origin of the mental state (if the anxiety is situational). As mentioned, Narramore claims that in therapy for the anxious-stricken, it is important to demonstrate the relationship of the anxiety to a particularly threatening situation, as well as to guide the counsellee himself into a self-realization of the same (op. cit., 43). Hence, in this two-fold process of confrontation and analysis, it would be beneficial for the sufferer to discuss his or her anxieties with a close friend or with a competent associate. Honest, transparent communication is very therapeutic.
This exercise of ‘confrontation and analysis’ should be viewed as a special kind of self-examination. This procedure allows for an object-subject relationship to be established between the sufferer and the anxiety (with its causative factors). The sufferer, rather than remaining indistinguishably one with the anxiety, being “caught up” by it as it were, is able to stand over and against it. This psycho-positioning in itself diffuses some of the force of the anxiety, but more importantly, it initiates a dissipating mechanism. The sufferer is now able to become somewhat emotionally removed from the experience itself, establishing a quasi-objective situation in order to evaluate the validity and origin of the anxiety itself, as well as the justification for the occasioning situation giving rise to such anxiety.
This “objectivizing”—moving from a subjective relationship with respect to the anxiety (and its occasioning situation) to a quasi-objective relationship to it—is critical for the effective treatment of anxiety. Ignorance simply perpetuates the condition, and may even intensify it. Self-understanding is at the core of mental health. Only on the basis of self-understanding can the edifice of self-adjustment solidly stand. The simple, fundamental principle which the preceding argument implies is: Get your thinking right; you get your behaviour right, which also includes your emotions. The emotive is secondary; the cognitive is primary. The emotions merely reflect or express thoughts and perceptions. Emotions are not isolated and independent entities. They are necessarily dependent upon how and what one thinks. Treatment, therefore, must be primarily cognitive. Emotional disturbances must be treatment indirectly by directly treating one’s cognitive state.
Accordingly, with the stages of ‘confrontation’ and ‘analysis’ achieved, the stage for ‘transformation’ is set. In order to overcome anxiety, the Christian needs a change in his or her thinking patterns and attitudes. The Scriptures describe it as being “transformed by the renewing of [the] mind” (Rom 12:2). This transformation is achieved through the assimilation of Scriptural truth along with the personal application of the same. The Christian should be progressively growing in the experiential knowledge of God. The Christian should be constantly learning, beyond the mere theoretical level, about God’s gracious and purposeful providence, His unlimited and incomparable power, His everlasting and unfailing compassion and love, etc. These truths must become pivotal to his or her thinking. These truths should provide the basis and backdrop by which life’s perplexities and exigencies are to be approached and managed. The Christian will then begin to discover experientially, and to appreciate significantly, that God the Father is personally and vitally interested in him or her. So the Scriptures affirm:
Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? But if God so arrays the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will he not much more do so for you, O men of little faith? (Mat 6: 26,30).
In addition, as previously mentioned, God-centredness must become the orientation of the mind. This procedure is not merely positive thinking, but biblical thinking which, by nature, is positive. The apostle Paul instructs:
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you (Phil 4:8,9).
However, the acquisition of a God-centred frame of mind is not instantaneous, but is progressive through consistent meditation on the Scriptures. The progressive acquisition of God-centred thinking is directly proportional to the reduction of self-centred thinking. Self-centred thinking is essentially existential or individualistic in nature. It is thinking which tends to exclude, and thus dishonour, God. Self is the central and ultimate concern in the understanding of daily living. Self-centred thinking is a form of idolatry and spiritual rebellion against God. The anxious Christian, therefore, must confess and repent of his or her fetish of self. He or she must denounce one’s selfish desires and aspirations. In attempting to overcome self-centredness, the Christian should nurture the holy conduct of love. Love, by definition, is outward-oriented (1 Cor 13:4-8). The focus of concern should be people and their needs. With this outward direction of mind, anxiety is significantly reduced. Perfect love virtually knows no anxiety. Moreover, in transformation through the renewal of thinking patterns and attitudes, the conscious, deliberate rejection of anti-Scriptural thoughts is crucial. The indwelling Spirit, and the power made available through grace, enable the Christian to monitor and regulate the content of his mind, though not absolutely. The Scriptures record, “We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor 10:5). The Christian needs to learn to think with biblical sobriety and realism. Imagination should be kept in check, for imagination plays a dominant role in the generation of anxieties and worries (White, Way of Release, 33). The Scriptures are to guide and govern thought-content. An effective way to contend with anti-Scriptural thoughts is: first, recognize them; second, acknowledge disapproval of them; third, disown and mentally dissociate yourself from them; fourth, displace them with Scriptural teaching and verses.
Transformation through mind renewal, especially in combating anxiety, also involves the mental resolve to commit potential and actual anxiety-provoking situations to God. The apostle Peter encourages, “Casting all your anxiety upon Him [God] because He cares for you” (1 Pet 5:7). The Christian must consciously detach himself from his distressful circumstances, recognizing that God is in complete control and has the resources to handle any emergency. This mental resolve to commit the matter to God, or this conscious detachment, is neither self-manipulation nor irresponsibility, but rather is an act of true spirituality. With the realization of one’s own impotence in the midst of overwhelming or unmanageable situations, there is the expression of child-like trust in God Who ever remains faithful. This expression of dependency on God is well-pleasing to Him. The Christian purposes in faith to rest in the sovereignty of God, letting God be God. The Christian, of course, squarely addresses life’s problems. He or she endeavors to make wise decisions and to implement the appropriate course of action. Yet having done this, he or she should commit the consequences to the Lord, submitting to His revealed will, knowing that ultimately matters will work out for God’s glory and for his or her own good (Rom 8:28ff.).
This mind renewal, particularly in reference to anxiety, also entails cultivating a proper mind-set. This mind-set is characterized by two perspectives. First, there must be a present perspective on issues. Many anxieties stem from the assumption of a future perspective which is conducive to uncertainty and doubt. The Scriptures teach, “Do not be anxious then, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘With what shall we clothe ourselves?’ Therefore do not be anxious for tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Mat 6: 31,34). Each day has its own set of concerns and problems, and some of them are quite pressing. The emotional energy required for the handling of these daily concerns and problems should not be diverted or projected. This kind of behaviour results in precipitated and unnecessary emotional depletion. The concerns and problems of tomorrow, of course, will still be there when the day arrives. Therefore, a “double emotional expenditure” for the same concerns and problems is both senseless and fruitless. The Christian must discipline himself to train his mind to be currently-focused, though future-aware. In this connection, Minirth et al propose a constructive and interesting technique. They advise:
Set a time limit on your worries. Many individuals have been programmed all their lives to worry about something. One way to stop reinforcing bad programming is to limit the amount of time spent each day in worrying. Many individuals worry every moment of every day. Their life is one of constant misery and they are continuously in emotional pain. The authors have found a very simple (yet seemingly profound) technique that has helped many such individuals. We encourage them to set aside a definite period of time each day, such as fifteen minutes in the evening, to consider and ponder whatever their particular problem might be. Then, anytime during the day when the issue comes to their mind, they simply say to themselves, “Self, I cannot consider that issue right now. I will consider it later during the designated time period, but I refuse to consider it at this moment.” By doing that they set free much of the mental energy that would otherwise be wasted in worry and would also reinforce their bad programming and add to their depressive mood. People waste many hours worrying about things that never happen. In Matthew 6 we are exhorted not to worry about future events and to handle one day at a time. Christ stated that each day has enough trouble of its own without borrowing from the future. Worrying is a choice and the apostle Paul said, “Do not be anxious about anything” (Phil 4:6). In summary, we need to live one day at a time and, if worries continue to intrude into consciousness, to use the simple technique of putting aside a limited time for pondering the issue. (op. cit., 254f.).
Second, there must be a universal perspective. The Christian should examine, analyze, and assess matters and events within the larger scope of the eternal kingdom. Narrow-mindedness and an unreasonable preoccupation with details provoke anxiety. Excessive attention given to life’s details, failing to evaluate them within the larger setting, results in a misconception of what constitutes real value and true significance. Scripture directs one to raise his sights and to adopt a higher perspective. Jesus states, “For this reason I say to you, do not be anxious for your life, as to what you shall eat, or what you shall drink; nor for your body, as to what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body than clothing?” (Mat 6:25). While the Christian is not to neglect attending to life’s mundane matters, he or she should have one’s priorities right. The preoccupation of the Christian should be God and His spiritual kingdom. Jesus teaches, “But seek first His [God’s] kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you” (Mat 6:33). Again, this conduct is neither self-manipulation nor irresponsibility, but true spirituality.
The result of a renewed mind ought to be a life of Biblical obedience. Such a life is conducive to an anxiety-free state. Biblical obedience guarantees the favour and blessing of God. The Christian acquires an increasing sense of the presence and power of God, which unquestionably serves as a shield and antidote against anxiety. From a psychological (and spiritual) point of view, the renewed mind, shaped by Biblical truth, is foundational to overcoming anxiety.
Much space has been afforded to the discussion of mind renewal in the treatment of anxiety, but another consideration, which is as equally as foundational and imperative, is the practice and cultivation of prayer. The Scriptures teach, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:6f.). It is usually the accumulation of small frustrations and irritations that trigger and aggravate anxiety. The Scriptures teach that every anxiety which is experienced, regardless of how insignificant it may appear, along with the occasioning situation, is to be presented to God in prayer. God is concerned about all the particulars of the Christian’s life. This fact implies that the Christian is to pray constantly and consistently; and not simply making requests, but making requests in the atmosphere of praise, adoration, and thanksgiving. All true prayer begins with God. As the Christian consistently approaches God in prayer and petition, God promises His incomprehensible peace; peace that defies human analysis and description. This peace will stabilize the emotions and compose the mind. It guarantees a quiet, unflustered disposition. It should be noted that the receiving of this peace is not dependent upon, nor identified with, the receiving of that which is requested. What is promised is not the removal of our distressful circumstances, but rather the sustaining grace in the midst of those distressful circumstances.
A qualifying remark, albeit, is in order. Many Christians pray to God for relief and comfort, but do not seem to enjoy this guardianship of peace. The promises of God are never automatic. Though they are graciously given, they are always provisional. Certain conditions must exist before the promises are realized. For instance, the Christian knows the blessing of God’s forgiveness, if he himself has a forgiving attitude (Mat 6:14f.). Subsequently, there are two possible reasons which prevent the experience of God’s incomprehensible peace through prayer. First, there is the lack of faith. The Scriptures record, “And without faith it is impossible to please Him [God], for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Heb 11:6); and Jesus taught, “Truly I say to you, if you have faith, and do not doubt, you shall not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea’, it shall happen. And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you shall receive” (Mat 21: 21f.). Many Christians struggle at this very point of faith. They fail to be impressed with the reality of God and of His kingdom.
Hence, to remedy a weak faith, the Christian must deliberately present Scriptural truth to his mind through meditation until the objective truth becomes internalized, until the content of Scripture becomes his or her natural way of thinking. Faith is simply the personal acceptance of God’s revelation of truth, thereby owning it as one’s own truth. This exercise of addressing and internally rehearsing Scriptural truth is not positive thinking, but rather renewed thinking. The truth is not being created, but rather is being recognized and appreciated. Biblical faith has an intellectual or knowledge basis. It is never viewed as being solely subjective or blind.
The second reason for the forfeit of God’s peace through prayer is a lack of perseverance. God is a discerner and judge of the true state of the heart. Perseverance in prayer reveals a healthy spiritual state. Prayer is to be meaningful and God-exalting, and not merely self-directed, if divine blessings are to flow. Also, prayer is to be a process and habit, and not merely a single act, if divine promises are to be realized. God reveals Himself at His appointed time, when the heart and mind have been duly prepared. This requires perseverance. The Scripture reveals, “Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you. For the Lord is a God of justice; how blessed are all those who wait for Him” (Isa 30:18). Moreover, perseverance in prayer strengthens faith, for true prayer is nothing less than confronting the reality of God, which, as mentioned, prepares the way for God’s realized promises. Christians do not persevere because they have strong faith; they have strong faith because they persevere. Incidentally, an emotional benefit accompanies this spiritual exercise of prayer. Anxiety is partially relieved when opportunity is provided to vent inner tension. Prayer has cathartic effect.
Another consideration in the treatment of anxiety is the maturation of life in the Holy Spirit. This step really embraces the two preceding ones (mind renewal and prayer). The Christian must mature under the superintendence and guidance of the Spirit of Christ, Who has come to indwell him or her at conversion. The life of the Spirit must be revealed in one’s desires, decisions, affections, and thinking. The Christian must submit completely to God’s will as revealed in the Scriptures and must yield totally to Him as Lord. Thus, one’s life must be characterized by immediate obedience to God’s directives and commands. Life in the Spirit of God simply means that one is experientially dead to one’s self—total self-abandonment—and spiritually alive and yielded to God. To live in the Spirit, to walk after the Spirit, is to hear spiritually the voice of Jesus Christ through His Word and subsequently to obey His commandments. Life in the Spirit is life in submission to God’s will. His Word must dwell in our hearts. In this spiritual condition, there is a freedom from emotional disturbances, such as anxiety, for the fruit of the life of the Spirit is then manifested. The apostle Paul informs, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5:22f.).
In addition to the preceding treatment for anxiety, there are some practical steps which may be adopted in order to maintain control over anxiety (Hyder, op. cit., 113ff.; Minirth et al, op. cit., 254f.). First, changes should be made concerning the anxiety-provoking situation(s). For instance, if one is anxious about arriving at work on time, then the clock should be possibly set 30 minutes earlier. Second, a list of daily duties and responsibilities should be made, preferably with the more exacting and demanding duties listed first. One should list only what he or she believes may be accomplished that day. Third, there should be a schedule of periodic breaks and recreation times for each day. Even walking briefly outdoors can be invigorating. Fourth, sufficient sleep each night is required. A healthy body contributes to a healthy mind. Fifth, a program of regular exercise should be adopted. Physical exercise is paramount. Exercise advances stamina and stability. Sixth, one should learn to “talk through” his or her frustrations and problems with a close friend. Again, honest, transparent communication can be quite therapeutic. Seventh, vacations should be taken regularly, and they should be a complete change from daily routine. Eighth, regular medical check-ups should be scheduled. Anxiety can have a biological or chemical basis. Ninth, one should adopt the practice of listening to melodious music. The right kind of music has a soothing and beneficial effect. Tenth, one should develop a good circle of friends. Learning to socialize has psychological benefits and rewards. One acquires a sense of belonging. Also, a good support system is indispensable for emotional well-being. Eleventh, a hobby should be undertaken. Interest and enthusiasm release positive and well-directed energy.
Anxiety is not a necessary evil. The Christian can be free from pernicious anxiety and its debilitating, destructive effects (1 Cor 10:13). Anxiety contributes absolutely nothing to either the resolution of problems or in the addressing of serious concerns. Jesus Christ has purchased both peace and joy for us through His cross, and He has promised to us the same. This legacy is certain (Jn 14:27; 16:23f.). The situation in which the Christian is afflicted with anxiety is not only anomalous, but is also contradictory. The Christian is called to a higher plane.
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© Brian Allison, 2010[addThis]