How to Deal with Anxiety - Riverside Indonesian Fellowship

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Bible Study 2021
How to Deal with Anxiety
If we look at the New Testament and the record of the life of Jesus and we ask this question, what negative advice did Jesus utter more frequently? The answer is simple, because this particular commandment was uttered so many times by Jesus that it was way ahead of whatever is in second place. And if you are thinking now in your mind, racking your brain, let me help you, it is “Fear not.”

In fact Jesus says it so often, that at times we miss the significance of it because it seems as if every time He encounters His disciples the first thing He says to them is, “Fear not” or “Don’t be afraid.” He says it so often it becomes almost like a greeting. Instead of “Hallo,” or “Shalom,” He is saying, “Don’t be afraid.” And I’ve wondered many times why Jesus did that so often.

And I suspect that it has something to do with His intimate knowledge and understanding of the frailty of our human makeup, because we as people tend to be fearful. We tend to struggle with anxiety. Now there is a word that is often misused in our vocabulary. You hear somebody say, “Oh, I’m so anxious for Christmas to come.” And what they are saying really is that they are eager.

They are joyfully anticipating this coming event. But what they actually said when they said they were anxious is that they have some kind of fear about the arrival of Christmas. And so the term anxiety is often used as a substitute for the word eager, when in reality, the term anxiety refers to a spirit of fearfulness or worry, or apprehension about something that lies in the future.

Everyone in the world has fear. We don’t always fear the same things as other people fear, but we all experience anxieties, and we all experience fears. I’ve often said as a minister that people go into a hospital it doesn’t matter how insignificant the procedure is that they face, there’s some kind of anxiety level that must be dealt with in the patient. It’s just human nature to worry about one’s physical well-being.

Anxieties can become intense so that the fear level in our personalities can rise to the status of a phobia. And a phobia tends to be a kind of fear that paralyzes us in one way or another. Recently I read a study that indicated the ten most widely experienced phobias among American people. And listed in those ten most frequent phobias list were things that included acrophobia, which is the fear of heights.

Xenophobia which is the fear of people that are different from ourselves, claustrophobia, the fear of being in closely confined areas. But the number one fear on the list was the fear of speaking in front of a group. And I looked at that and I said, “Well, I can relate to that, because I have to do that quite frequently, and I can’t imagine ever having the experience of anticipating speaking without anxiety.

Some people are so terrified by it that they are just simply unable to do it at all. But again, we have all these different kinds of anxieties, and these do relate to our relationship with God. Let me turn your attention to a portion of the Sermon on the Mount where I think everybody has heard at one point or another, but we don’t spend much time talking about it.

Matthew 6:25-34, “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are?”

27 Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? 28 “And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, 29 yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. 30 And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you, oh you of little faith?”

31 “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat or drink or wear?’ 32 These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. 33 Seek first the Kingdom of God, and live righteously, and He will give you everything you need. 34 “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough.”

Long before I read the Bible for the first time, I was familiar with this passage in Scripture, because it was one of the favorite passages of my father. And I heard him quote it again and again, particularly at the dining room table. He would use the old version, “Be anxious for nothing, take no thought for tomorrow, what you should eat, what you should drink, what you should put on.”

The facts is we do worry about tomorrow. And our concern about tomorrow often provoke a spirit of anxiety within ourselves. I think Jesus gave this sermon to a mixed audience of men and women, but it has particular relevance to the men who heard it. In our own culture, I saw a report from a psychologist that said that one of the most gripping anxiety for the average man that they never speak of.

They talk about sports, they talk about business, but they don’t open up and reveal the fears that they have, thinking it’s basically unmanly, or something of that sort. And this gripping anxiety is the fear of failure to provide for his own household. This is a problem specifically to married men, and those who have children. Because the moment a man says I do, he takes the burden of caring for the family.

And even though we have changed much of the cultural structure where many women are in the workplace, still the man is to be the provider and protector of the family. Another phenomenon from the world of medicine is the strange ratio of nightmares. Men have twice as many nightmares as women. Why? Again, the consensus is that it is rooted in this particular anxiety that the man carries with him.

I’m sure that women have their own distinctive sets of anxiety and worries that they have to be concerned about, related to the care of their offspring, of their homes, and all the rest. But when Jesus focuses His attention on this problem of anxiety, He is talking about the basic necessities of human life, and the concerns and anxieties that we bring to bear on these provisions.

Will I be able to feed my family tomorrow? Will I be able to cloth my family tomorrow? And Jesus says, “Don’t think about tomorrow.” He doesn’t say, don’t think about providing or don’t be prudent.” In other parts of the Bible we are told that somebody that does not provide for his family is worse than an infidel. We are supposed to be wise, prudent and disciplined in providing for our family.

So Jesus is not saying don’t careful plan and provide for your family. He is against our spiritual attitude with respect to these endeavors and responsibilities. He says don’t worry about tomorrow. You do what you have to do, but at the same time, tomorrow is in the hands of God. And it is really our fear of the future more than anything that drives anxieties, fear and worries.

We don’t worry ever about what happened yesterday. We don’t have to worry because yesterday is over. We may worry about the consequences of what happened yesterday and how they will work out today or tomorrow. But once the moment has passed, our anxiety about it passes with it. So we understand that the focal point of our worries and anxiety is always the future.

It is always about what has not yet taken place. And there is nothing to fear when it is over. We are anxious because we don’t know how difficult or painful, or troublesome the problem we face tomorrow will be. Now when Jesus said not to be anxious, not to worry, and He says you can’t add any size to your body by worrying about it, worry does not solve any problem. He rebukes them of having little faith.

Why does God do that when it is our nature to worry about things that could happen to us? And many things that happen to us are worthy of fear? Because there are painful things that we may experience. And not all of worries go unrealized. David said, “The thing I feared most has come upon me.” And yet the pain that he feared the most is something that hurt him for many years before it happened.

We have been told that the coward dies one thousand times, but the courageous person dies only once. The coward goes through the experience by worrying about it and being frightened about it, many, many times before it actually happened. Most of the time when we worry about things, when they happen, they are not as bad as we thought they would be. God gives His grace to us when we need it.

So theologically and spiritually it is the question of the relationship between the future, our fears of the future and our faith. Jesus said, “Why are you worried, you of little faith.” Our worries and anxieties really do come from a lack of trust in the promises of God. And we all have that. We all have faith, but our faith is limited, and sometimes our faith does not get us past the anxiety.

We are afraid that God will not do what He promises He will do. Or, on the other hand, we may be afraid that He will do what He promises. That is what scares me about God, is that because God calls us to live in a world that is filled with trouble, and He says in the world we will have tribulation, and we will have affliction, and we will have suffering. That is what scares me, is that His word will come to pass.

But what we should not forget is that God promises His presence and His grace to sustain us in the most difficult of human experiences. And Jesus is saying, “You don’t have very much faith if you are gripped in anxiety. And your lack of faith is a lack of faith in the promises of God.” God says, “Trust me for tomorrow. Trust me with your life.” And that is what it means to be a Christian.

I have to trust God not only for what I eat and what I drink, and what I put on, but I have to trust God for how I will die, when I will die, where I will die, and what will happen to my family and all the rest when I die. I have to trust God for the future. The simplest cure, which is simple to understand but difficult to apply, is that we need to immerse ourselves in the Word of God.

Because nothing dispels fear more quickly than the reinforcement and our understanding of the promises of God and the knowledge of the presence of God. But we are afraid that He won’t be there when we need Him, or He won’t do what He said that He would do. Now, there are all different kinds of anxiety, and they are related to the future, and I am going to distinguish among three types of fear.

The first is an objective specific fear, such as a phobia. And there are specific ways to deal with them. But different from that kind of fear, there is another kind of fear that is what philosophers talked about, the experience of angst, which they define as a nameless fear. It is where you are pacing around, your stomach does not feel good and your hands are shaking. You have an anxiety attack but you don’t know why.

This has to do with being frightened in general. The existential philosophers don’t look optimistically at what tomorrow will bring. Modern man feels as if he has been thrown into a chaotic world. He has no meaningful beginning. He has emerged from the slime and he is moving as the clock ticks every moment to his annihilation. We are suspended between birth and death in a state of meaninglessness.

From a Christian perspective, this nameless anxiety may be more deeply rooted to what I’m going to call the third kind of anxiety, which is called restlessness. And this was addressed by St Augustine. His prayer in his book of the confessions says, “Oh Lord, You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You.” Now restlessness is a kind of fear.

Restlessness is the manifestation of a particular type of anxiety. It is nameless but he said, “That anxiety, that restlessness is rooted in our basic estrangement and alienation from God, because our lives are out of whack if we are estranged from God. And being outside fellowship with God is an intense and powerful motivation to fear. We fear not only the creator, but we fear His creation.

We begin to fear life itself, because we are not really in fellowship with the author of life and the Lord of all life. And the only I know of to get over this is what Augustine said, “Our hearts are going to stay restless until they find rest in you.” This is what Jesus gave to his people. He said, “Let not your hearts be troubled. You believe in God, believe also in me. In my father’s house are many mansions.

I’m going to go and prepare a place for you, so that where I am, you will be also. So don’t be afraid of the future. Don’t be afraid of tomorrow, because I’m taking care of tomorrow; that God is the God of tomorrow. I’m leaving now, but I’m leaving something behind. I’m going to give you an inheritance. And what was it? Peace I leave with you. My peace I will give to you.

Not as the world gives. Let not your heart be troubled. In other words, the peace that Jesus is talking about here is the opposite of restlessness. It is a calmness of spirit that comes when you are in fellowship with God, and you can trust him for tomorrow. He is the one who conquers fear. At the same time we have this advice, “Don’t be afraid.” We are also called to encourage one another as Christians.

And what does it mean to encourage one another? It is helping another person to find courage, because we all need courage. What is the one necessary ingredient to have courage? We need to have a relationship with God so He can give us His Holy Spirit to give us that courage. The Holy Spirit is working in us to give us that restlessness, but at the same time He is also the Encourager that we need, Amen?

© 2017 Ferdy Gunawan

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