THE GOSPEL & ANXIETY

casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you
1 Peter 5:7

That’s a word we’ve heard a lot recently – anxiety. Whether we are speaking about a global pandemic like COVID-19 or about just the general course of life in the 21st century, we can’t seem to escape the reality that people are anxious. This is true now more than ever; anxiety disorders are now the most common mental health disorder, affecting about 1 in 5 Americans. Beyond the data from mental health experts, there is a palpable sense in which anxiety seems to be extensively impacting us more and more. 

We can easily see this at play in our hearts. We worry about every aspect of our lives from our finances to our children’s education to how we will care for our parents as they age. If we desire to detach from some of the concerns of our world, we are quickly met with a barrage of information competing for our attention and controlling our perceptions, all conveniently delivered to the smartphones in our pockets. 

Chances are that you’ve felt anxious today. Whether you’ve wondered how COVID-19 will impact your family in the long run or you stayed up last night laboring over that argument you had with a coworker, you probably feel this to be true far more than you might like to admit. But what does the Bible say about all of this anxious living? Consider these words from Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount:

“Therefore I tell you, 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? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
Matthew 6:25-34

I love how simply this idea seems to confront not just a strong emotion but an entire way of being that so often entangles our lives. Jesus says, “do not be anxious” about the very things we direct our lives towards achieving: what we put in our mouths, what we put on our bodies, and where we lay our heads. In this picture of Heavenly blessing, our hearts are drawn to the idea that God is providing all that we need as a people of “value” to Him. How can we not feel a sense of comfort and relief from all the worry we carry on our shoulders? Yet, the reality we see rarely reflects this picture. Why is it so difficult to actually take hold of this freedom from anxiety in our daily lives?

When we arrive at this passage in 1 Peter 5:7, we see this simple instruction: cast our anxiety on God because He cares for us. This is a nice (and true!) idea all on its own, but I think the surrounding context tells us everything. Go back and read the verses leading up to v.7 and the verses following it. Does it seem strange that in the middle of this conversation about humility, we get this reminder that we can turn over our anxieties to God? It might seem a strange fit, but I think we will find that our humility (or lack thereof) before God determines everything about our battle with anxiety.

v.6 says that as we are humbling ourselves before God, we do so – as the Greek suggests – by way of casting our anxiety on God. In other words, we humble ourselves by casting our anxiety on God. We cast our anxiety on God as an act of humility. That means, therefore, that when we grapple with our anxieties by our own power, we do so out of a heart of pride. As Tom Schreiner says, “Worry is a form of pride because when believers are filled with anxiety, they are convinced that they must solve all the problems in their lives in their own strength. The only god they trust in is themselves.” At the core of all our anxieties, fears and worries is this issue: anxiety is just pride in disguise.

anxiety is just pride in disguise

What’s more, anxiety is a dangerous version of pride because it masquerades as genuine care and concern for ourselves and others. It is often difficult to differentiate a mother who is sinfully anxious over the health of her child from one who simply cares for her child’s health. It is difficult to take on the instruction not to worry about what we we will eat and what we will wear because (hopefully) you ate and wore clothes every day this week. We often can’t distinguish what is pride taking root as anxiety because our lives are governed by the principle of meeting our own needs, doing things our way, and getting what we want.

But anxiety becomes a sinful expression of pride when it drives us away from a radical dependence on God. When our our thoughts are captured by a perceived need to control the circumstances and dictate the outcomes, we can be sure our hearts have drifted from a simple trust in and dependence on God. At the base of our struggle with anxiety isn’t a hard life or difficult circumstances; the enemy in our anxiety is our own sinful, prideful hearts. We might say we need God or that life is too much to handle (I think I hear a lot more of that one, FYI), but we functionally live as though the opposite as true.

However, there is good news for the anxious heart. This isn’t just a lesson on how wicked our prideful hearts are or how much more we should keep trying. The invitation of this passage is actively and intentionally cast our anxieties on God. Why? Because he cares for you. If you’re anything like me, that might be the hardest part of all of this to believe.

Several weeks ago, I got a call from my wife that I needed to be at a doctor’s appointment with her. We set a time, I made plans to be out of the office that afternoon, and soon we were in the car on the way to the appointment. We get to the office park, take an elevator to the sixth floor, she fills out her paperwork, and we make our way back to the exam room. I shifted around nervously, barely hearing what the doctor was saying until I heard what might be the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard. After what seemed like an eternity of silent waiting, I heard my baby boy’s heart beating for the very first time.

In that moment, I’d never felt more loved and noticed by the Father. The care and concern in my heart for my son’s health, safety and security pales in comparison to how the Father loves and cares for me. My desire to shepherd Him into a full and Christ-exalting life won’t hold a candle to how God has and will continue to guide my every step. My desire to give him all that he needs will never match how God is richly blessing me with everything I need. What place does my son have for anxiety? Absolutely none. He will need nothing and want nothing that is in my power to provide. What place do I have for anxiety when my Father in Heaven will do that and abundantly more?

Anxiety is a learned dependence on self, matched with either an exaggerated belief in our ability or a recognition of our inability. We need to unlearn this bad lesson and start trusting, resting and knowing God more. God isn’t a cold, impersonal force. He’s a Father who loves us. God is not hateful or indifferent to our struggles. He desires to intimately know us and He hears us when we struggle. Giving our anxiety to God makes sense because He cares for us. The gospel invites us to squarely face the brokenness of our lives and recognize that there is redemption in Jesus Christ. My invitation to you is to rest is the sufficiency, ability, merit and provision of God our Father in and through His Son, Jesus Christ. Recognize your need for Him in a radical way, unlearn some distrust in His care, and in that find rest from what burdens and breaks you.

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