By Vince Miller, desiringgod.org.
Anxiety is one of the most predominant forms of mental illness today, plaguing both young and old, showing up as post-traumatic stress syndrome, obsessive compulsive disorder, even phobias and generalised anxiety disorder.
We all struggle from time to time, whether as a way of life or due to particular circumstances beyond our control. It brings about physical reactions like shaking, increased heart rate, shortness of breath, sweating, frustration, and anger. Even depression can be linked to a series of anxieties we experience in life.
Culturally, we are a nervous wreck, and no one is immune to it.
Jesus Heals Anxious Hearts
My struggle with anxiety started early. As a child, I experienced vivid dreams that made my heart race. Even thinking of them today brings on certain emotions. The night terrors came on suddenly and without escape. I was trapped for half an hour after waking, held captive in terror.
Eventually, a counsellor helped me to break free from those dreams. But as an adult, anxiety returned in the form of insomnia. Some nights I wake up completely drenched in sweat. An average night’s sleep for me is about four hours. I wake up at two, three, four in the morning and never go back to sleep.
Over the last 20 years, I’ve read the text of Matthew 6:25–34 hundreds of times, as I have not only wrestled with the anxiety, but also with embarrassment and shame for having the struggle in the first place. There, I discovered that Jesus cares about our anxious hearts. And he teaches us how to direct our minds and hearts in order to please God.
Jesus Shifts Our Focus
Understanding the fears bedded deep within being humans, Jesus starts the discussion with a bold command, then adds reasoning we can all grasp.
“Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:25–26)
Look up. There are five hundred million hungry birds flying around. They don’t sow, reap, or gather into barns and yet your Father in heaven knows their need and feeds every single one of them. If God feeds animals, essentially his pets, will he not feed you?
You, whom God created in his image. You, whom he designed to be unique from the creatures of this earth. You, within whom he has placed his spirit. Look up and remember that he cares for you and will provide for you. God designed you, knows you, and wants to guide you into a fruitful and productive life.
Jesus shifts our focus to the “more” in life — what our hearts crave. There is a different kind of life we experience in fellowship with our Creator that is supernatural. That’s where our lives become more than “food and clothing”.
“Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” (Matthew 6:27). The minutes, hours, days, or even years we expend being anxious amount to wasted, stolen time. Concerns about natural things regarding our bodies, health, retirement funds, politics, drought and crime are matters for God. He will be concerned about them because he cares for you, and wants to guide you into living a fruitful and productive life.
What Our Worry Says About God
In verse 30, after continuing to prove the care and love of God, Jesus calls out our anxiety by saying, “O you of little faith.” The hard truth is that when we are anxious, we demonstrate lack of faith. We don’t trust God and instead take control, somehow believing we can take better care of our lives than God. It’s as if we say to the Creator of the universe, “I don’t need you, because I have to figure this out.” Then our hearts and minds circle and spin like hamsters on a treadmill. But we are worth more. Even when the situation seems unbearable, we can trust God.
We can go to him with our worries, even when our hearts feel unsettled about our marriages, children, jobs, retirement, health care, and so on. Even when we doubt, we can acknowledge our sin. Faith turns to God and accepts what’s been given, asking him to use whatever circumstance we encounter for his good and glory, and to refine us into his image.
Practise the Shift
Then, near the end of the passage, Jesus calls us to change our hearts by shifting focus. “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (verse 33). He tells us to move our minds from the worries of this life to issues of greater importance, to shift our focus to eternal values.
Breathe. Trust. Transfer your anxiety to God and place your concern where it belongs: on the things of God.
It is difficult to practise, but this is the road to supernatural living. When the mind is focused on what God is concerned about, anxieties dissipate, and God provides us with what we need.
I used to hate being an anxious person. Now I don’t mind it as muchbecause in those moments when I wake at two or three o’clock in the morning in a cold sweat, my mind racing, concerns of money, the future, those who depend on me overflowing, I roll off my bed and onto my knees in prayer. I practise this shift every time my anxiety strikes. I ask God to transition my anxieties from the things of this world into the things that God is concerned about.
And there in those moments I fight the war that God has called me to fight as a man of God.