BCC Staff Note: You’re reading Part Two in a three-part Grace & Truth blog mini-series on Biblical Counseling and Anxiety. In addition to today’s post by Sherry Allchin, you can read Part One by Bob Kellemen: Facing Anxiety Face-to-Face with Christ. You will also read Part Three, Counseled by the Birds and Flowers by Paul Tautges.
When Anxiety Rules
“Be anxious for nothing…but I’m anxious about everything!”
Does this sound like you or someone you counsel? In Luke 21:26 we read that the last days will be characterized by fear. It certainly seems to me that fear is on the rise and peace and love are out the window in our culture!
Anxiety is a biblical term that encompasses both fear and worry. I like to think of it as the umbrella term. Fear relates to something from the past, perhaps something you will do anything to keep from ever happening again. It drags that event into the present and paralyzes you with fear at least in some way (OCD, perfectionism, people pleasing, panic attacks, general or specialized anxiety are some examples).
Worry, on the other hand, takes a potential happening from the future and paralyzes you in the present as if that were reality. It may or may not ever happen, but the anxiety level is as if it is happening right now, and your thoughts become consumed by it. Worry takes its toll on both your body and soul. It feels very real to you.
Fear torments the fearful, directing you more and more toward protecting yourself from that thing you fear might happen. It turns your focus inward. As anxiety escalates, productivity decreases. A panic attack feels like you are dying right there on the spot. Life begins to revolve around that “feared thing” whatever it might be.
Sometimes, the feared thing is a feared person—pleasing that person, keeping him happy, or making him accept or approve of you. Sometimes it is to fear not getting what you think you can’t live without. It may be to fear a circumstance that you believe you can’t handle. Fear seems to take a life of its own, ruling your life!
When Love Rules!
Perfect love casts out fear (1 Jn. 4:17-21). So often my counselees can quote that verse but have no idea how love has the potential to cast out their fear. They can even quote 2 Timothy 1:7, and assure me fear doesn’t come from God, yet they have no idea where it originates. It comes out more like the proverbial “the devil made me do it!” excuse as if they have no control over their fear or the actions that follow.
So how do we help our counselees, or how do you have victory over your fear?
Think about David and Goliath. There were two armies, the Philistines taunting and threatening while the Israelites quaked with fear. Since emotions are a by-product of how we evaluate our circumstances, the Israelite evaluation that the circumstances were dangerous certainly provoked the emotion of fear! For days Goliath had thundered threats while Saul’s army froze.
Enter David: same circumstances, but a different interpretation (dangerous, but His God was bigger that the dangerous circumstance), and therefore a different action (fight and kill the giant as he had the lion and the bear), and therefore a different emotion (victory, praise and gratitude to God, peace). David’s love for God and for his country produced righteous actions and emotions. The rest of the Israelite army missed the victor’s blessings because of their paralyzing fear. Love changes the focus from self and self-protection to loving and serving God and others. In obedience to Jesus’ greatest command (Mt. 22:36-40) we find release from our fears!
When the Peace of God Rules!
Philippians is a great book to show us how to confidently walk in the peace of God. God is present with us and is committed to perfect us in Christ Jesus (1:6). He gives us purpose and meaning for life and death (1:21). And then Paul tells us how to walk in the peace and joy of the Lord (ch.3-4).
The key to victory over anxiety comes in chapter 4 of Philippians. I regularly take my counselees to this passage to help them evaluate where they’ve gone wrong. Paul begins with a plea to help two women in the church, obviously friends and co-workers with Paul and one another, but who are now in a disagreement. It must have been a public brawl since everybody knew about it and Paul addressed it publically. A major relationship was out of sync. That is the first question I ask, “Are there relationships that should be meaningful and peaceful, but that are now messed up?”
When relationships are right, there is peace, both vertically and horizontally. When out of sync, all must “be of the same mind in the Lord” if peace is to be restored. Sins need to be confessed with repentance and forgiveness to right relationships.
The second consideration in victory over anxiety is learning to pray right (4:6), asking God to supply our needs and then trusting Him to do that according to His will and wisdom, not demanding our own selfish desires (Jas. 4:1-3).
Third comes the attitude of gratitude, thanking Him for His provision even if it is different that what we originally wanted. This right attitude stabilizes our hearts with peace and joy.
The fourth may be the hardest for most of us in the midst of anxious thoughts—right thinking. In Philippians 4:8, we are commanded to think on what is true. Anxious thoughts naturally begin to speculate on what might be true…but might not be! To be worried about an accident that might have been, but no calls to that effect…just no call, period… so anxious thoughts run away with us and we imagine our loved one in the hospital dying.
Or, what is honest, and we are sure someone has cheated us, or been unfair. We begin to believe the worst about someone, sure they have betrayed us…yet no facts to back the speculation. Then we wonder why we are anxious with minds running every direction, uncontrolled thinking and no peace or joy!
Last, Paul concludes by telling us to live out the gospel, the Truth, the things we have learned from him that honor God. When we do those things consistently, the God of peace will be with us.
Right actions lead to right emotions, joy in the Lord and the peace of God ruling our hearts. There is victory over anxiety, and Philippians 4:13 assures us we can live in this victory through the strength we have in Christ.
Tools for Victory Over Anxiety
In 2 Timothy 1:7, Paul gives us three power tools for victory over anxiety. The first is “Power” that comes from the Holy Spirit using the powerful Word to change us into the image of Christ Who knows no fear. The second is “Love” that turns our focus from inward to upward and outward. Then the third tool, “Sound Mind/Self-Control” is commanded and He gives us the ability to put wrong and anxious thoughts out of our mind (2 Cor. 10:5) and to replace those thoughts with Christ-like thinking that is controlled by the Spirit and that is based on Truth (Phil. 4:8). God has already granted every believer these power tools if we will only use them to access victory through Christ over anxiety!
A worksheet I use to help my counselees through anxiety can be found at Biblical Counseling Center’s website. Please feel free to download this and work through it for yourself, or to help your counselees to work through their anxiety. You can also find my fourteen-page PDF study on Overcoming Fear and Anxiety at the Biblical Counseling Coalition’s Resource page.
Join the Conversation
How can love and peace rule over anxiety and fear in your life?