If you’re a Christian, what do you think when you read verses in Scripture that encourage followers of Jesus to not be anxious?
You might think, “Well, how is that possible? I’m not supposed to be anxious, but often I am. Perhaps I don’t trust God.”
Just to be clear, everyone feels anxious at times. In the US alone, mental health research shows that 31% of adults will develop an anxiety disorder at some point in their life. That could be Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or a Phobia. That’s a third of the population!
If you have an anxiety disorder, you know how it can undermine your ability to function well. It may have genetic roots in our bodies, and it can be so entrenched in our biology that medication is necessary to manage it alongside therapy and prayer.
Unfortunately, some Christians teach that it’s a sin to be anxious because Paul says, “Do not be anxious” (Phil. 4:6) and Jesus says, “Do not worry” (Matt. 6:25-34). But that’s a misinterpretation of Scripture which can be confusing and hurt not only people with mental health conditions but every human who sometimes feels anxious or worried.
The issue is when we consider Paul’s words “Do not be anxious” (Phil. 4:6-7) and interpret this to be saying things like: “Ignore or stuff your concerns and just believe what’s true and keep praying. You should not feel anxious if you are casting your cares on Christ. If you feel anxious, you’re not walking close enough to Jesus.”
The problem with this is the poor interpretation of the Greek word merimnao – this word for anxiety means to be totally divided or routinely distracted from the presence of God. It connotes the idea of being disunified in our heart toward God, which robs a person of God’s gift of sound mind.
Paul is writing to the Philippian church and encouraging them to rejoice in the Lord’s presence because He is NEAR. As a result of Jesus being present, Paul reminds them to not be divided or distracted by anything that would prevent them from worshipping their Lord who is near to them.
Instead, if they habitually give their complete attention to God in everything through prayer, gratitude, and requests for their specific felt needs, then the supernatural peace of God will unify and guard their hearts and minds against those things that would otherwise divide their hearts.
This is very different than the visceral experience of feeling anxious. There might be some of this at the root of our anxiety, but that is the part that should be examined rather than thinking there is something wrong with feeling human emotion. Anxiety is an indicator of something else, something that we can ask Jesus to bring to light.
It’s much better to understand that nothing is hidden before the Lord and He knew from all eternity every single experience we would have and still chose us to be His beloved.
If we consider the whole counsel of God’s Word, then we see that when we experience stress in our life and work, when we have conflict in our relationships, when we have pain, or when we’re late and stuck in traffic, whenever we feel worried, afraid, frustrated, or insecure, it’s vital to run to God and express to Him how we feel and why. Then we can hear from Him, and move toward applying the truth of His word to every situation.
Feelings are not inherently sinful.
Anxiety is the visceral experience of an emotion. Anxiety is an emotion characterized by feelings of fear and concern. It can present as a result of sadness or disappointment. Or it can be a result of a chemical imbalance in the brain. Everyone experiences this feeling in their body, but for some, anxiety becomes a mental health disorder because it is acute or chronic.
Denying emotions like fear, anger, shame, or sadness causes anxiety. Psychologically, anxiety is a secondary emotion because it usually involves previously repressed emotions.
We can feel anxious when affected by trauma, abuse, rejection, stress overload, conflict in relationships, and health problems. Some anxiety is because of not setting boundaries, overworking, having unrealistic self-expectations, always wanting more, hurrying, or trying to control people or situations.
What’s important to remember it cannot be a sin because there isn’t anything immoral about feelings. God does not judge us for being anxious any more than He would for being disappointed. Rather, God offers empathy and grace for all the them, anxiety included.
I pray you are encouraged to draw near to Jesus as you meditate on the Scripture, “Do not be anxious” to receive his loving grace for your need.