Counsel for the Anxiety-Ridden (Part 1)

August 1, 2016

Jeff Forrey

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Jeff Forrey

In this post and the next we will how you might proceed with counseling those who struggle with anxiety. Let me introduce you to “anxious Amy”:

Amy can no longer remember a time when her mind was “at rest.” She really thinks she needs to get a job, because there are rumors that her husband’s construction company might have to lay off workers.

She used to work at a grocery store, but was glad when her husband wanted her to quit and be a stay-at-home mom. As a cashier, she often was flustered by customers with complaints or questions that she did not know how to answer.

She tried to avoid working the checkout lines as much as possible; stocking shelves was much “safer” to her. But now she might have to do it all over again, and she feels like it will be one hundred times harder! She wonders if you have any advice.

How would you counsel Amy? Would you:

  • Remind Amy that God has not given us a “spirit of fear”?
  • Tell Amy to replace her worrisome thoughts with whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, or commendable?
  • Remind Amy that her nervousness just seems magnified because she’s been away from working outside the home for a few years
  • Show Amy where Peter writes about casting all our cares on the Lord, because He cares for us?

There is rarely only one way to proceed with a counseling case. Each of the possibilities above may be used at some point with Amy. Let’s look at what we need to keep in mind about each approach. Then we’ll explore how to prioritize the counsel.

Amy Could Be reminded: God Has Not Given Her a “Spirit of Fear”

“God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim. 1:7 ESV).

Not all fear is inappropriate or wrong. Proverbs 27:12 (ESV) states, “The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it.” However, when fear keeps us from fulfilling God-given responsibilities, or if it results from a lack of trust in God, then it is wrong. As Paul writes to Timothy, he is concerned that Timothy not give in to the wrong kind of fear. Amy also faces this temptation. In addition, you can explain to Amy that “spirit of fear” might be better translated “spirit of cowardice” so that she understands Paul is not condemning hesitation; he is condemning wholesale defection from doing God’s will.

Don’t discourage her

If you remind Amy of Paul’s admonition to Timothy, you should present it with a degree of tenderness. Paul intended his comment to encourage Timothy, but for someone like Amy, it can be perceived as a criticism or indication of failure. She might think, “If God has not given us a spirit of fear, why isn’t it true of me?” If this happens, explain that Paul is simply reminding Timothy that if we step out in faith, God will enable us to do whatever will honor him.

Be sensitive

The importance of sensitivity to people like Amy was highlighted by Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:14 when he says to “warn the idle/disruptive” and “encourage the fainthearted.” Amy would fall into the second of Paul’s categories. You would need to monitor her emotional responsiveness closely to see if she starts to erect a wall with you. For this reason, telling her that her nervousness is only magnified by having been out of the workforce may be true, but it is unlikely to be received as helpful by her, especially early in counseling. Later, this observation might be raised, but it must not be a substitute for addressing what Amy’s anxiety reveals about her.

Amy Could Be Reminded: Follow Jesus’ Example in Scary Situations

Doing what honors God won’t always feel comfortable and easy, but it will be possible. Amy might be encouraged by remembering Jesus understands the challenge of honoring God in the face of suffering. Remember His experience in the Garden of Gethsemane?

Jesus prayed about whether there might be any way other than going to the Cross. Clearly He was uncomfortable about facing this trial in His life. But He was ultimately willing to trust God and follow His will. Whenever we embark on a new, unusual, or particularly challenging task, there can be a nervousness that is uncomfortable. On the one hand, that is merely a result of our bodies gearing up for whatever we might face. This is not wrong. On the other hand, the problem that could emerge is that this nervous energy arises from a lack of trust in God.

Amy Could Be Reminded: Fear of Man Will Be a Snare

Amy’s experience is typical of what Jesus called “worry,” which is a fear of what might happen in the future and is fueled by an inadequate trust in the Lord (Matt. 6:25–34). In part, her worry takes the form of the “fear of man” (Prov. 29:25). In Amy’s case, fear of man occurs when she feels like she is being negatively evaluated by others. She becomes too wrapped up in responding to what others say (or what she imagines they would say), and this interferes with her ability to function well. Thus, she gets caught in the “snare” of fearing man.

Amy needs to learn how to shift her focus from what others might say or do to what the Lord says is true about her and the situations she faces. This will take time; you could begin the process by helping her identify what it is about others’ opinions that draws her attention. As she comes to realize what the “draw” is for her, then she can meditate on the value of what God says to her. One passage that addresses this is Philippians 4. In our next post, we will unpack how Paul’s counsel to the Philippians might be used with someone like Amy.

Note: This post originally appeared on: (on May 5, 2016).