Anxiety and the believer
This article is for the faint-hearted. There are some people who always remain calm when faced with the prospect of a challenging situation, be it a school or college exam, a hospital or dental appointment, or a summons to an employer to discuss ‘your position’.
Having experienced all of these scenarios, I confess to sometimes becoming somewhat stressed — symptoms include a nervous stomach, irregular sleep patterns and heart arrhythmias.
A mature Christian friend recently wrote, ‘I can really sympathise with you. I hate going to the Dr and Dentist — glad to know someone else with the same problem. We are “fearfully and wonderfully made”.’
I had a dental appointment for a difficult extraction, so was determined to approach it in a biblical way and made some notes which formed the basis for these thoughts.
We are all psychologically different, yet the believer must reconcile this fact with the many injunctions in the Scriptures that we should not worry or be anxious.
The opposite of being agitated is being still. David wrote: ‘Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways’ (Psalm 37:7). The sons of Korah echoed this thought: ‘Be still, and know that I am God’ (Psalm 46:10).
Zechariah had good news for Judah following 70 years of captivity under God’s anger: ‘Be still before the Lord, all mankind, because he has roused himself from his holy dwelling’ (Zechariah 2:13).
Whatever our disposition, we must begin by being still before the Lord, accepting his providences, and looking to him for deliverance. We must remember that God has an unfailing love towards us: ‘The eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love’ (Psalm 33:18).
He also has the power to control people and situations to bring about his purposes. Jesus ‘said to the waves, Quiet! Be still! Then the wind died down and it was completely calm’ (Mark 4:39).
Do not worry
Believers might not worry, as those without hope, but they can be concerned that they may be subjecting themselves to the procedures of those they know little about and, following some revelations in the media, may occasionally suspect varying degrees of incompetence.
After making the best choices available to us, we must make a practical use of the teaching we have received on the sovereignty and omnipotence of God. Whether others are highly skilled or not, God can overrule any situation to achieve his plans for us.
Jesus tells us, ‘Do not worry about your life … Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?’ After all, if God feeds the birds and nurtures the wild flowers — which are free from any worry about the future — ‘are you not much more valuable than they?’ (Matthew 6:25-34).
Note that Matthew 6:30 ends with ‘O you of little faith’. Little faith is the root cause of the problem — this is not saving faith so much as abiding trust in God’s loving care for us. This is what I had to wrestle with, in the prospect of this problematic dental procedure.
Jesus commands us, ‘Do not worry about tomorrow … Each day has enough trouble of its own’ (v.34). We need grace to obey and grace to be given the inner peace and assurance that God will carry us through the difficulties in our path.
Of great help in attaining an inner calm is firstly a consideration of our Lord’s love for us. On the night before his crucifixion, Jesus was thinking more of the needs of his disciples following his departure than his own dreadful suffering which was just a few hours away.
He comforted them by saying, ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me’ (John 14:1). The remedy for their anxiety was faith and trust in God and in the Lord Jesus Christ.
This would not be easy to obtain, so, in John 17, Jesus prayed on their behalf and for all believers through the ages, ‘Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name’ (John 17:11). The apostle Peter, who was to be martyred, could later say, ‘Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you’ (1 Peter 5:7).
The apostle Paul was prepared for whatever situation he encountered. ‘I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus’ (Acts 21:13).
He was not only ready for whatever trial lay ahead, but he also had a sure hope. Addressing Timothy from his prison in Rome, he could say, ‘I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day — and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing’ (2 Timothy 4:7-8).
We have seen how Paul had demonstrated a strong faith in and honour for the name of the Lord Jesus. He had a sure hope in his inheritance in heaven and, above all, a love for both God and man (1 Corinthians 13:13).
If we can face trials with faith in Christ and be a good witness in adverse circumstances, then we can say with Paul that ‘our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all’ (2 Corinthians 4:17).
Paul’s secret is revealed in the following verse: ‘So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal’.
With that perspective on our own situation, the problems which so disturb us will assume their correct proportions; our fears will subside; and if by these trials we can learn through Christ to ‘be still’, then it will have been our ‘best ill’.
Just before he was martyred by being burnt alive, John Bradford could encourage his young fellow martyr John Leaf with these words: ‘Be of good comfort, brother, for we shall have a merry supper with the Lord this night’.
For many years previously, Bradford had spent much time in studying the Scriptures, praying on his knees, and doing good deeds among poor people and prisoners. He was focused on God and eternal issues, and he was given peace and joy to the end. He could say with David, ‘I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears’ (Psalm 34:4).
I too was given an inner peace the day before the dental appointment, in September 2013. I remember walking from the car to the surgery, then talking and answering questions as if in a dream.
When I fully recovered consciousness, I was on a trolley in the Royal Gwent Hospital in Newport. My jaw was aching and most of the tooth was missing. This had never happened before, either to me or the dentist, who assumed I had suffered a mini-stroke.
A scan the following day showed no abnormalities, and I tested myself with the Daily Telegraph cryptic crossword and completed most of it. The next day I was discharged, after being declared fit to drive by the neurologist. Apparently I had transient global amnesia.
Things do not always turn out as we have planned, but I was given peace and strength and family support. It was a great source of comfort to know that God was in control and watches over us, as the Good Shepherd cares for his sheep.
Be still my soul: the waves and winds still
His voice who ruled them while he dwelt
(K. von Schlegel)
Nigel T. Faithfull