Using the Word of God to Combat Anxiety: Learning from John Piper

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We welcomed a darling baby girl into our family this past May. All the cliché things about babies you could possibly say are true about this little girl: she has completely captured our hearts, and we can’t imagine life without her.

However, though we are enamored with this little chubby-cheeked cherub, I am going to be real with you: three kids is uber-tough to handle on some days. Afternoons and evenings are particularly stressful when my oldest two get home from school, and I am chasing after a mobile, squealing infant; helping my oldest two with homework; getting dinner on the table; and ensuring all three of my kids get into bed with bodies bathed and teeth brushed. Because my husband is a head coach of two sports, most of my evenings are spent doing this alone.

Usually, the day ends with me standing in the shower escaping for a few moments of alone time to ease the tension that never has really left my upper shoulders since we had a third one. My stress exists because of the number of things I have to do during the day in taking care of three young kids — but in the midst of this kid chaos, I have been attempting to work on a project that I fear will not get done. And that low-grade fear is permeating my days and causing me anxiety.

I read an article recently by John Piper of Desiringgod.org that stated that anxiety is a state of unbelief. I’ve written about how anxiety is caused by fear, but I believe Piper was able to zoom out the lens even further and accurately assess not only the role of fear but the role of unbelief in anxiety.

What is unbelief? Unbelief is essentially not believing in or trusting God and what He says. Fear is unbelief. Behind the fear I am experiencing lies unbelief in the promises God has in His Word concerning the work He has given me. Most of us would say we believe in God and want to follow His ways, but we have trouble trusting His sovereignty and ability to help us in the midst of trying situations where the demands on us are great and our strength feels small.

What Does the Word of God Say About Combatting Anxiety?

To combat the turbulence of this season, I have felt led to turn to Isaiah 26:3. The passage says this: “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on you. Because he trusts in you.” Certainly, we find a measure of comfort in the reading of the words. But if we dig into this passage a little, we discover further help for fretful thoughts and unbelief.

The verse points out that the mind that is “stayed” on Christ will be in perfect peace. It’s important to look at what a mind “stayed” on Christ looks like. I thought before I did any research on the wording in this passage that a mind “stayed” on Christ was fixed on Him. Certainly, that seems logical doesn’t it? If we’re always thinking about God and “stayed” on Him then we won’t succumb to our anxious thoughts, right?

Well, that is not exactly what I found. Certainly, God wants us to think about Him, pray to Him, and meditate on Him. All of those things are good and will help us when we feel anxious. However, when it says here that the mind is stayed on God, the word “stayed” in the Hebrew means “supported by God.” The Hebrew word is “sāmūḵ” and means “upheld” or “established.”

To have a mind that is stayed on God isn’t just to think about God. To have a mind stayed on God is to be supported, established in God’s truth to the point that my mind is literally held up by God. In other words, just as a house sits firmly on a foundation, so my mind needs to be rooted in the things of God. And the verse makes an important connection between the mind at peace and the person that trusts. As the Keil and Delitszch Commentary on the Old Testament says, “Such a mind is thus kept by Jehovah, because its trust is placed in Jehovah.”

What we can conclude is that when we cling to God and what His Word says and ground ourselves in Him, this secures stability and peace in our minds. Piper advocates this same idea in his article (although he uses different Scripture references). Instead of fixing to that which produces anxious thoughts, we can hang onto God’s truth. For instance, in my current scenario, I can switch out thoughts like, “I can’t take this. The kids are driving me crazy. I’ll never get my work done!” In their place, I can say, “I can do all this through Christ who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13). God will help me get this impossible workload done (Philippians 1:6). God has equipped me with all I need to do His work (Hebrews 13:21).” We stabilize our runaway thoughts with truth much like an ancient sagging floor is stabilized by a hefty crossbeam.

An Offensive Strategy to Fight Against Anxiety

So, what if we have spoken all of the right verses and we still have anxiety? We keep speaking them, and we keep seeking the Lord. As Piper explains beautifully in his article, we overcome our struggles not just by speaking truth but by the help of the Spirit who lives inside us. Additionally, he points out that just because we have anxiety doesn’t mean that we should quit the race or think we don’t have the faith of other Christians. It means that Satan has targeted us and thrown “mud on our windshield.” We need to fight back with our “windshield wipers.” We need to fight back with the Word of God and the help of His Spirit. Note what Piper says:

When anxiety strikes and blurs our vision of God’s glory and the greatness of the future that he plans for us, this does not mean that we are faithless, or that we will not make it to heaven. It means our faith is being attacked. At first blow our belief in God’s promises may sputter and swerve. But whether we stay on track and make it to the finish line depends on whether we set in motion a process of resistance. Will we turn on the windshield wipers and will we use our windshield washer? … You deal with anxieties by battling unbelief. And you battle unbelief by meditating on God’s Word and asking for the help of his Spirit. The windshield wipers are the promises of God that clear away the mud of unbelief. And the windshield washer fluid is the help of the Holy Spirit.

Christians are not exempt from anxiety. We will feel anxious, fearful, panicked in reaction to certain scenarios. However, when we feel anxiety, we have prescription in the Word of God to begin speaking that Word over us and our situation. But simply speaking verses over ourselves won’t necessarily make our anxiety go away.

There are times when we won’t be sure what specific verse speaks to our situation because we are not in touch with the lies getting us off track. Whenever we feel fear that won’t subside, then, we need to pray and ask God for His help and wisdom (James 1:5).

Truly, we don’t need to fixate on feeling bad about ourselves when we feel anxiety. We need to attach ourselves to truth that we can speak to the lies and doubts coming against us. And the more we are in the truth, the more we will be able to discern the lies that show up on our doorstep.

Conclusion:

I wish that I never had to feel anxiety again. I have been freed from certain bouts of anxiety at particular intervals for long periods of time, but it often finds its way back. There have been moments when I’ve wondered: Is this anxiety ever going to stop coming around?

Well, probably not as long as I am living on this planet. However, God has given us an offensive strategy, so when fear comes, we can stabilize unhealthy thoughts with God’s truth. My anxiety has evaporated in this season as I have replaced my worries with His assurances found in Scripture. And — I have let go of my timetable for the project and instead embraced the idea that God’s timing for its completion may be different than I originally envisioned.

What about you? Do you struggle with anxiety? Has there been a time when God gave you a particular verse to cling to that helped you? Share with us in the comments!

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to write music lyrics (that no one has ever seen) and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

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Self-Care: What to Do When You’re Stressed

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It’s been one of those weeks.

You know what I’m talking about. A week where seemingly everything goes wrong.

Your children are particularly whiny and disobedient. You don’t sleep well because your mind won’t rest. You run late to every engagement on your calendar. You’re the mom who forgets to bring the snack when it’s your turn.

And to top it all off, you have a headache you haven’t been able to shake for days.

You know. THAT week.

Well, that describes my past week. A week where I battled moments of depression and abused myself regularly with tirades of, “You suck!”

It’s at times like these when I most crave quiet and rest and time with my Savior.

However, how do you find the time for you when your days are dominated by investing in others from sunrise to sunset, leaving you physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausted?!

This is my current struggle.

When do I find time for myself? Blogging and running are things I enjoy, but at the risk of sounding greedy, here’s my real problem: I want more! I need more!!

I want to start a personal journal — a space where I can clear my head of the mental vomit that has no business being published here.

I would like to train for another 10K — believe it or not.

I want more time to sleep. I want days where I can sleep in and wake up without the assistance of my alarm.

I want to run away to a cabin — alone — and enjoy nature and a good book!

Am I wrong for wanting these things? Am I wrong for trying to make plans to deliberately fit these things into my life?

Are moms not to have time for themselves?

I stumbled across a piece on Facebook where the author talks about how moms always put their needs second to the needs of their children. She states the idea that when it comes to moms’ needs, we will have a turn to focus on ourselves at a later time.

And while that is a noble way of looking at motherhood, I don’t think it’s a wise approach. Moms have needs too. Needs that can’t be put off indefinitely until “later.”

It’s like what the stewardess on a plane says before liftoff when giving instructions in case of an emergency: if you are traveling with small children, be sure to put on you air mask before attempting to secure your child’s mask. Now, consider why that advice is given: because you can better take care of your children’s needs if you have first met your own.

Jesus understood the need for personal time and space.

Luke 5:16: “But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”

Matthew 14:23: “After He had dismissed them, He went up on a mountainside by Himself to pray. Later that night, He was there alone.”

Mark 7: 24: “Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet, He could not keep His presence a secret.”

Jesus needed alone time. It’s something we all NEED. And it’s something I have to make a priority in my life right now.

How do you make time for you?

Today’s forget-me-not: Me.

View Jamie’s original November 7, 2014 post by clicking here.

Jamie Wills

Jamie Wills

Jamie is a high school English teacher, wife and mom. She is a marathon runner and writes regularly in her spare time on miscarriage, running, spirituality and everyday life on her blog -- posting things that God shows her that she doesn't want to forget, or "forget-me-nots." Jamie holds a master's degree in education and sponsors speech and debate at the high school level. Jamie is the mother of three children -- two beautiful daughters, Beth and Hannah; as well as Angel, a baby she lost in August of 2010. She currently resides in Georgia with her family.

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