Many have said we live in the most anxious culture the world has known, yet we have it easier than any other time. We find ourselves continually under stress and facing anxiety, and some statistics report that 18% of Americans are affected with anxiety disorders accounting for $42 billion annually spent on relief, treatments, and diagnosis.
We could take a rather dogmatic focus on this and assert that because the apostle Paul says to “be anxious for nothing” (Philippians 4:6) that people suffering from this have a lack of faith and need to draw close to God. However, I believe Paul would greatly shame Christians who use this as a tool to assault someone in such a manner.
Paul’s comment is referring to general fears in life, not diagnosed anxiety disorders. Though fellow believers with this should come to Christ in prayer for strength, Paul would never condemn them for struggling with anxiety.
In his series Anxious for Nothing, Heartland Senior Pastor Dr. Nathan Joyce discusses three practical truths for believers to understand as we face and battle anxiety - whether diagnosed or situational.
“Sometimes it is the lack of joy, not the abundance of stress, that is weighing us down.” The words joy and rejoice appear in the Bible over 300 times (depending on the translation). One Greek word translated “rejoice” is χαίρω, literally meaning to “experience God’s grace and be conscious of it.” This is honestly difficult to do, but to have joy is different than being happy. As one writer summarizes, “Joy, on the other hand, is true contentment that comes from internal factors like our faith in the Lord. True joy is everlasting and not dependent on circumstances… happiness is fleeting because it often depends on things outside of ourselves, but true joy is eternal because it is based on our relationship with Jesus Christ.” Because of this we can focus our energy on drawing closer to Christ rather than circumstances.
“Joy is a habit we intentionally practice.”
It has been said that it is not just our emotions that shape our behaviors, but our behaviors that shape our emotions. This indicates that we should be focused not only on how we feel emotionally, but also our actions, which produce emotions.
“Unfortunately, most people think of joy as an emotion that strikes us resulting in a passive waiting for joy,” pastor Joyce says. “But Paul commands us to rejoice always, indicating that rejoicing is a habit we choose to do regularly since we are commanded to do it always. It is true that joy (emotion) produces rejoicing (behavior), but it is also true that rejoicing (behavior) produces joy (emotion).”
“The source of Christian joy is Christ, not circumstances.”
Milton Friedman once remarked, “If you put the Federal Government in charge of the Sahara Desert, in five years there’d be a shortage of sand.”
To take his comment and alter it to fit our discussion: If you put our circumstances in charge of source of joy, in five years there will be a shortage of joy. Putting circumstances in charge of our joy is equivalent to using joy and happiness interchangeably—both fluctuate with life affairs. But if our joy is anchored in Christ, then our faith remains steadfast in Him because He will “never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6). As Martin Luther once said, “We are saved by faith alone, but not by faith that is alone.”
Whether we are dealing with anxiety because of our diagnosis or our situation, we should always remember that our problems are of importance to God because we as His creation are of significance to Him.
As theologian Wayne Grudem once wrote, “To be significant to God is to be significant in the most ultimate sense. No greater significance can be imagined.” Paul promises us that the “God of Peace” will give us the “peace of God” if we bring our circumstances to Him in prayer. On our behalf, Christ made peace with God so we can have the peace of God.