Counsel for the Anxiety-Ridden (Part 2)

August 3, 2016

Jeff Forrey

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Jeff Forrey

In this post we continue exploring how a biblical counselor might help someone struggling with anxiety, like Amy, whom we met in the last post:

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.

In addition to the possible responses a biblical counselor might have that we explored in the last post, here are some more:

Amy Could Be Reminded: Replace Worry with “Godly Thinking”

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil. 4:8 ESV).

This is a familiar verse for those of us who’ve been believers for a while. If this is true of Amy, once again you need to be sensitive to her receiving it as “a failed benchmark” in her life. Acknowledge the challenge, but also help her appreciate how Paul’s wording suggests that God really is at work in the world. Let me explain what I mean.

Why Philippians Matters to Amy

The Philippians were experiencing opposition from their neighbors—probably with the support of the Roman officials. In addition, the Philippians were dealing with unrest within their fellowship. Two prominent women—Euodia and Syntyche—were at odds with each other. Finally, the people had heard that Epaphroditus, the man they sent to deliver supplies to Paul, had fallen gravely ill.

Help Amy See God Working in His World

Within this confusing mix of conflict, persecution, and uncertainty, Paul tells the Philippians to “reckon” or “take into consideration” whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, or commendable. He does not want them to narrowly focus on opposition from outside the church or on the imperfections inside the church. Instead, he encourages them to look around, because if they do, they will see the Lord at work, somewhere, in some way.

What Amy Tends to See

People, like Amy, who tend to be fearful and worried are also masters at spotting potential problems. Their “inner radar” picks up even the slightest possible threats around them. But along with that, they fail to notice what is positive around them. If Amy takes Philippians 4:8 to heart, she will be able to bring much-needed balance into her perceptions about the world around her. God is still in charge of His world!

Help Amy See All That Is Positive

If Amy is familiar with this verse, you should make sure she understands that Paul’s choice of words includes both “religiously” significant terms and more broadly recognized terms of approval. Meditating on a psalm or a favorite hymn could be described by the terms in Philippians 4:8. And so could a colorful sunset, a Monet painting, or a walk in the park. Thus, “taking into consideration” whatever is true, honorable, just, etc., might also involve other sorts of engrossing, worthwhile activities. For example, Amy might plan out her meals for the week and then her grocery list to make those meals. She might call her church to see how she can volunteer. Or she might write letters of encouragement to people she knows. There are probably unlimited profitable activities she can plan and do.

Homework for Amy

So, you could recommend Amy create a “Think and Do” card. On one side of an index card, she can write this verse. On the flip side of the card she might list ten to fifteen items or activities that would fit the adjectives Paul uses in Philippians 4:8. When she is particularly tempted to worry or fret, then she can use the card as a prod to broaden her perspective and look for how God is always up to something good. For that, she can rejoice and be thankful.

Amy Could Be Reminded: Cast All Your Cares on the Lord

“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Pet. 5:7).

If you were to quote this verse to Amy, she might respond with something like, “Yeah, I’ve done that” (with the implication, “What else you got for me?”). Don’t let her dismiss Peter’s counsel so quickly. Talk with her about the context within which this counsel was first given. When Peter wrote his first letter, he also set out to encourage believers who were experiencing “fiery trials.”

Why 1 Peter Matters to Amy

Peter refers to his readers as “exiles,” and it may well have been the case that these believers had been expelled from Rome. If so, not only were they feeling the effects of persecution, but they were also facing the numerous challenges of reestablishing their lives in a foreign land. For readers in these difficult situations, Peter writes, “cast all your anxiety on the Lord; he cares for you.” If Peter thought this counsel was appropriate for people experiencing such intense suffering, then it is not appropriate for us to lightly dismiss it.

Throughout his letter, Peter wanted to encourage his readers to persevere through their trials, like Jesus had. Jesus walked the kind of path they walked; He also walked the kind of path Amy might walk: a path that includes people’s negative opinions or reactions toward her. Jesus trusted His heavenly Father with his life—and death. So must Amy. She needs to meditate on the fact that the Lord cares for her. She is not alone. He will not forsake her.

Wrapping Up: An Action Plan for Amy

Fear, worry, and other “heart sins” can be very difficult to work with. They are not as noticeable as behavioral sins, and they can be hidden for a while. They are also insidious: they can creep up on us and cause trouble before being recognized for what they are. Working with these counselees will involve coaching them on monitoring and replacing unbiblical thoughts and desires.

In Amy’s case, I might use the following approach:

  1. Share reflections on 1 Peter 5:7 and its larger context. This would give me opportunities to reflect on God’s character as well as give me opportunity to put Amy’s trials into a broader perspective. (See my last post for a discussion of this passage.)
  2. Use the Philippians 4:8 passage to create an ongoing homework assignment: the “Think and Do” card mentioned above.
  3. Finally, if needed, 2 Timothy 1:7 might be used to help motivate her toward godliness as she thinks about the future—a future that will unfold according to the plan of her heavenly Father.

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

Join the Conversation

As I said earlier, there is more than one approach to counseling people like Amy. What approach might you use?