How To Handle Anxiety (As A Christian)
Scripture: Matthew 6:25-34
It has been said that my generation suffers from an unprecedented amount of anxiety. Some of this is brought on. Some of it, however, is beyond our control. Regardless of what the exact statistics are concerning my generation and anxiety, it is important to remember that anxiety was never part of God's plan. This includes both self-induced anxiety, which Jesus speaks of here, as well as anxiety disorders, which is by definition beyond the control of the person with the disorder. While an anxiety disorder typically does not go away when someone wants it to, it is possible to alleviate self-induced anxiety. It is also possible, of course, for someone to have both an anxiety disorder and self-induced anxiety. While Jesus is here speaking about those who bring unnecessary anxiety upon themselves, the solution to both anxiety disorders and self-induced anxiety should be grounded in God. To ground the solution anywhere else is to seek a solution where there is none.
In this passage of Scripture, Jesus commands his disciples not to be anxious. Paul echoes this sentiment in Philippians 4:6-7. Anxiety cannot build us up as believers. It only tears down. It brings unfounded worry and fear into our lives concerning things and events that may not even take place. It does not contribute anything to our spiritual growth. This is why Jesus here commands us not to bring anxiety upon ourselves, as the context indicates. Neither Jesus nor Matthew appears to have been speaking strictly of anxiety disorders, which are legitimate mental health conditions. While Jesus would have been aware of such things, he does not appear to be addressing them here. Matthew would have likely been completely clueless as to what an anxiety disorder was. Either way, this is not what is being spoken of in this passage.
Jesus ties this command not to be anxious to his command about storing our treasure in heaven and not serving two masters. This may seem like a strange thing to connect to the command against unnecessary anxiety. However, it really isn't. The core message we should derive from this connection is that God takes care of those who serve him. In this passage, Jesus is putting anxiety in perspective. God is bigger than our anxieties and the things that cause them. God will take care of us. We tend to worry over small things that are no threat to God's plan for our lives. God is bigger than any problem that we could ever even potentially face, so there is no need to worry or be anxious. None of this is to say that the disciples of Christ will simply get everything that they want. Rather, it means that God will provide us with what we need. It is important that we see this distinction.
Jesus goes on to give two illustrations from nature. Each of these examples highlights a character trait of God. The first example that Jesus gives is the fact that God provides food for the birds. If God provides food for the birds, will he not also provide for his servants? The answer, of course, is a resounding, "YES!" This example shows that God is our Provider, and that he has the ability, as well as the desire, to give us what we need.
The second example that Jesus gives is of the lilies of the field. Jesus makes it clear that even one of the greatest kings of Israel, Solomon, was not adorned like the lilies of the field. Does this mean that God cares more for flowers than for people? Of course not! God did not refuse to clothe Solomon. The emphasis should be on the fact that the lilies are here today and gone tomorrow. God still wraps them in a beautiful exterior. This example shows that God cares for even the smallest details. There is not even one small thing that we cannot entrust to him.
After these two examples, Jesus restates his command, except that this time he includes the examples that he just gave--food, drink, and clothing. Jesus contrasts his disciples with the Gentiles, those who were not part of the Jewish covenant community. To his Jewish audience, to be a Gentile would largely be synonymous with being a pagan. This shows Jesus' concern that the disciples not be like the pagans, as he has mentioned before in this same sermon (see Matthew 6:7, for example). We are to be a distinct, holy people if we are to be disciples of Christ. Jesus also ties this command to his exhortation in verses 19-21, where he states the same principle concerning the Kingdom of God, only in different words. We are to seek God first. This is the only way that we do not end up serving two masters, which will bring us even more anxiety. This is not a promise that no Christian who is wholly dedicated to God will ever face anxiety. Rather, it is a claim that a Christian can avoid unnecessary anxiety by dedicating themselves to God and not being torn between God and something less. Finally, Jesus makes it clear that tomorrow has enough trouble of its own. Why should you stress yourself out by worrying about it today?
Before I close, I want to make it clear what Jesus is not saying here. Jesus is not saying that we should never plan because we don't know what tomorrow holds. This is not something that we can validly draw from this text. Jesus is also not saying that those who serve God will never face trouble. Instead, Jesus essentially tells the disciples that they will face trouble in verse 34. However, this trouble does not have to be unnecessary. Finally, Jesus is not saying that we should expect provision to fall from the sky. Jesus does not expect us to be idle because of the trouble we see around us or the situations that we could possibly face. If anything, it seems that Jesus expects the opposite.
This post addressed unnecessary anxiety that individuals bring upon themselves. However, there is one more group that I mentioned at the beginning of this post: those who have an anxiety disorder that is beyond their control. I happen to fall into this group. If you would like to know how I handle my anxiety disorder as a Christian, I have included a recent video that I have done on the topic. Hopefully, you will find it helpful.