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 love music 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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When You Need to Feel Like God Loves You

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I don’t generally do New Year’s resolutions. However, at this time of year, I see the value in reflecting on the past year and meditating on ways to do things differently in the new year or improve things that aren’t working (even if it doesn’t involve a list).

Just like some of you who may be reading this, I have got some areas of my life that haven’t been working so well for me lately. And thus, when I listened to a Christmas Eve sermon which centered on Revelation 12:11, I decided that I wanted my word of the year to be “overcome.” I know that there are some patterns of behavior that are holding me back. Even as a blogger who writes about healing and spiritual growth, I am ever in process myself. And — just from undergoing some healing these past few years, I know that I don’t have the strength to overcome these areas on my own. And so, I have been praying about these areas and asking Jesus to help me.

One such area I have been in need of an intervention in is in the area of God’s love. I know. I have written numerous blog posts on the subject. However, it’s been an area I’ve struggled with at different intervals of my life because of past events that like to surface, difficult circumstances that make it challenging to trace God’s hand, and lies of the enemy that try to tempt me once again as they have in the past. I’ll just be honest with you: I don’t feel God’s love in a tangible way all of the time even though I can point to ways He has rescued me in my life, comforted me, come through for me.

Recently, I prayed, God, help me to feel your love. Why don’t I always feel it? I then went about my day and forgot I had even asked. On a whim, not even remembering that I had asked this question, I went by the bookshelf and picked up Breaking Free by Beth Moore. These were the words I read on the page I opened:

I continue to see this statement in my mail: ‘I have such trouble really believing and accepting how much God loves me.’ So I began to ask God, ‘Lord, why do we have so much trouble believing and accepting Your love for us?’ I offered God multiple-choice answers to my own question: ‘Is it our backgrounds? Our childhood hurts? The unsound teachings we’ve received? The unloving people who surround us?’ I would have gone on and on except that He seemed to interrupt me — and He had the gall not to choose one of my multiple-choice answers.

As clearly as a bell, God spoke to my heart through His Spirit and said, ‘The answer to your question is the sin of unbelief.’ The thought never crossed my mind. Since then, it’s never left my mind.

Well, let me tell you. I almost fell over in shock. I received this book from a friend about five years ago. I read it then, but I had no recollection of the words that lay before me. In addition, I wasn’t searching out this section of the book or expecting there to be an answer for me within its pages. If anything, the fact that He answered me so readily testified to me of God’s care and love right then.

You see, I had been waiting to feel God’s love, and I do feel it at times. But Moore stresses rightly that His love is something we have to believe, not always just wait to feel.

The Bible tells us this: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

Most of us would have to think twice about dying for someone we love, let alone someone who didn’t even appreciate the gift. Think about it. Jesus died knowing that some of us would be flippant about His act while others of us would reject His offer.

In addition, if that weren’t enough, Jesus didn’t come with pomp and circumstance, putting on airs. He downgraded from the splendor of heaven to dwell with us here. He demanded none of the prestige that was due Him — to offer a way out of the mess that we created.

And if you need one more example of His great love, we need only think back to the creation story where God made us as the climax of His creation. We weren’t an afterthought or on the same level as the animals and plants. He set us above them — to rule over them. We were made in the likeness of God; as one commentator put it – we were made to be God’s “shadow.” He saw fit to give us His own attributes and make us in His own image.

Many of us feel it’s impossible that God would love us because of how others have treated us or because we have have even rejected ourselves, but the painful truth is that when we don’t accept that God loves us, we are participating in unbelief. As Moore argues later in the chapter, “Unbelief regarding the love of God is the ultimate slap in His face. The world came into being from the foundation of God’s love. God nailed down His love for us on the cross. Can you imagine the grief of our unbelief after all He’s done?”

On a much smaller scale, it might be like us presenting our child with a lavish gift and a position to work for us and them saying to us, I will take the gift and the position, but I still don’t feel like it’s mine. We would want to hit them over the head and say, Wake up, dummy! Aren’t you enjoying the benefits of this gift even as we speak and yet you deny it’s yours?

A stronghold is something we lift up and attach ourselves to — whether that be a thought pattern or an action. But ultimately, that thought or action opposes God’s Word. Unbelief of God’s love can become a stronghold. To demolish the stronghold of unbelief of God’s love, we need to tear down the lies that He doesn’t love us or that we are unlovable and replace that with belief in God’s truth declared in His Word.

In a project I have been working on lately, this idea has continually popped up in the Bible stories I have been studying: the path of belief versus unbelief that God offers. Often, God surprises me with His answers. They don’t always seem that logical. Rather than 2 + 2 = 4, the answer is instead 23 or squirrel or the color blue. I wouldn’t think that belief is the key to experiencing God’s love.

Eve, when tempted by Satan in the Garden of Eden to eat the fruit, did so because she entered into disbelief. She stepped away from believing God had her best in mind (when He warned her not to eat the fruit) and believed that God was holding out on her by placing a restriction on that fruit, even though God had done everything to prove otherwise by placing her in a lovely garden with all of her needs met. It didn’t matter what she felt at the moment. The truth, whether she believed it or not, was that God did love her and had forbidden her from eating the fruit because He was protecting her. The truth remained even when she stepped out of belief and aligned herself with Satan and got out of alignment with God.

The Bible tells us that we are dearly loved by God (Eph. 5:1,2; Col. 3:12). Dearly loved means that we can be rooted in a deep, unwavering belief of God’s love that permeates our every action. Ultimately, all of us need a conviction of God’s love to operate in His power and will — because otherwise we will fall into unbelief on the days we don’t feel like His love is there.

How about you? Do you struggle to feel God’s love? 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 love music 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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What It Means to Walk by Faith, Not Sight

WHat It Means to Walk By Faith, not Sight

Thomas is one of those characters in the Bible I never really connected with. His story I knew was one placed in the Bible to show me why I shouldn’t doubt, but I never saw myself as Thomas-like.

Therefore, I didn’t know how much like Thomas I was until recently when I recalled his words to Jesus after a particular doubting incident of my own.

A Situation Where I Doubted

At the beginning of last summer, after my husband received a job offer in a neighboring county, Keith and I felt that we were to put our house up for sale and move. Not too long after our house went on the market, we got an interested buyer. Except the situation with this buyer was very unusual.

He showed up without a realtor or an appointment to see our house. He simply walked up to our front door and rang the doorbell. I was sitting on my bed when I heard the door. I had been praying a few moments earlier about our house sale, but I didn’t expect a person to show up during the prayer session.

I was scheduled to leave with my children in a short time to go to a party — and my hair and makeup were not done (so it could not have been a more inconvenient time). However, when the doorbell rang, I thought to myself, “I bet it’s someone who wants to see the house.” I remembered hearing a story by a pastor of a time when her house was for sale, and she had the unusual experience of a person driving by, stopping, and then deciding to buy the house.

Without getting a message from heaven like a scroll rolled down from the clouds, I had a knowing inside that this was what was happening. Therefore, with a plain face and hair askew, I raced down the stairs and opened the door to talk to him. He stood there with his high school age daughter and explained that he had recently divorced and was looking for a house.

He didn’t ask to come in, but I invited him to do so because my husband had just pulled up. He walked through the house, and I gave him my realtor’s information. He contacted her shortly after, walked through the house one more time with my realtor, and told her he was interested in putting in an offer.

Our realtor was skeptical of this buyer because he didn’t have an agent and had showed up in such an unusual manner. However, she agreed to write a contract for him. After she had written the contract, she became even more skeptical as he did not sign right away but instead took several days to look into financing. In the meantime, we had another buyer express an interest in putting in an offer.

The night we knew we had another interested buyer, our first buyer announced that he had his financing worked out and wanted to go forward with signing the contract.

However, my agent advised holding off on letting the first buyer sign the contract until we learned what the second offer was going to be. When she gave that advice to me, I felt conflicted. I had felt all along that God had brought us the first buyer (after all, he did show up while I was praying!), but I experienced doubt. Maybe we had just gotten this person interested in the property so that the other buyers would feel more urgency in submitting a contract, I rationalized. And, without giving the matter the proper attention it deserved and seeking an answer in prayer, I followed my realtor’s advice and waited for the second offer.

When the second offer came in — at full price — I again felt uneasy, but I signed the paperwork and agreed to an inspection time for the second buyer. From a worldly standpoint, our decision to go with another offer wasn’t unusual in the real estate world. But I didn’t feel good about it the whole time. I was hesitant. I felt that we were doing the first buyer wrong by not even letting him know that we were getting another offer in. And, boy, did we get burned.

The people who put in the better offer retracted it after the inspection, and our first buyer was no longer interested unless we lowered the price of the house (which we were unable to do to his specifications).

Suddenly, we found ourselves with no buyers, and the Promised Land that was waiting for us on the other side of the move got snatched away. We had to let go of the house we had put under contract. This meant losing some of our earnest money and saying goodbye to the exciting prospect of walking into the blessing God had for us there. I was disappointed because we had picked out a new construction home and were going to get to pick out the colors, floorplan, and features of the new home.

But all of that fell apart.

From a financial standpoint, the timing of the house sale would have been perfect because we had a set amount of money in savings rapidly dwindling — and we had just enough to put down on the house we wanted to buy.

And God let us walk through the consequences of my doubt. Afterwards, we did not sell our house right away. In fact, we plodded through several more months of showing our house, waiting for another offer. Because of my lack of faith, I listened to the advice of others over God’s advice. Inside, I had not trusted that God was looking out for us and had brought us a legitimate buyer. I wanted to see what the results would be before I took a chance on this person.

Like Thomas, I wanted to touch the scars rather than just hear that they were there.

A Second Chance: Stepping Back Into Belief

Because God is loving and gracious, He did not leave us in the wilderness of waiting forever. I confessed my unbelief and apologized for my doubt and felt His assurance that our house was indeed going to sell.

A few months after we lost both offers, we got another one in. Although we did not end up in the house we wanted initially, we were able to find another house in the same neighborhood with an identical floorplan. It certainly wasn’t easy to wait for another offer, and we suffered emotionally and financially, but God still allowed me to walk into His promises despite my unbelief.

Similarly, Jesus did not leave Thomas to his doubting. Instead, He went to him, showed him His scars, and said, “Do not disbelieve, but believe” (John 20:27, ESV). Ashamed of his lack of faith in the moment, Thomas fell to the floor and exclaimed, “My Lord, and my God” (John 20:28, Benson Commentary).

Even though Thomas faltered with a weak faith — Jesus did not turn away or punish Thomas but instead offered Thomas another opportunity of faith. And perhaps that kindness on the part of Jesus was even more heart-wrenching to Thomas than a sharp rebuke would have been.

Only after showing him the scars did Jesus gently reprove him with the words, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” With His words, Jesus showed Thomas that his “demand for the evidence of the senses was a step backward, a resting on the less, not on the more, certain. His Master would have him retrace that step, and become one who rests upon the intuition of the Spirit” (Ellicott Commentary).

In other words, Jesus made it clear that it is better to walk by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).

Walking by faith isn’t easy. It requires rejecting advice that appears like common sense and going with a still small voice that counters the louder voices around you. It requires stepping out and making a decision before seeing any tangible results.

It may require choosing an unconventional buyer rather than a buyer who looks better on paper.

But to do so is to be “blessed,” says Jesus. To embrace “the evidence of things not seen” before they are seen (Hebrews 11:1). However, even if you are hesitant and a doubter like me or Thomas, God offers you the opportunity to step away from your doubt back into belief.

I pray for you that if God tells you something, go with it! Even if it appears illogical, or it is awkward and hard, just do it! He wants to bless and prosper you, but He also wants you to believe He can make it happen. And if you have missed an opportunity to step out in faith, ask God to forgive you. In His grace, ask Him how you can step out once again.

 

 

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 love music 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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