“The name of the Lord is a strong tower;Proverbs 18:10
The righteous man runs into it and is safe”
By Belinda Hansen
Anxiety and I have a long standing relationship. 30 years to be exact. It started when I had a bad accident on the trampoline as a child, which made my seven year old mind realise for the first time that I could die. Over the years it has presented itself in many different ways (panic attacks, OCD, fear, worry, insomnia, social anxiety, self doubt, hopelessness and depression). There have been times when anxiety has taken up residence in my mind somewhat permanently, other times, it’s been a fleeting visit, maybe checking in for a day or two. But regardless of the length of its stay, I know it is never far, it is lurking in the shadows, waiting to knock on the door any chance it gets. I think sometimes, without realising it, I have left a bowl of milk out, the door open a crack, and the welcome mat outside. Much like the stray cat that turned up on our doorstep as a little girl, it just feels easier to let it in rather than shoo it away. But unlike the cat, which did become a permanent resident in our home, anxiety is not cute and it won’t give comforting cuddles. It can, however, become an unwelcome companion that scratches you whenever you try to throw it out the door. All of that to say, I know anxiety well.
Much like the stray cat that turned up on our doorstep as a little girl, it just feels easier to let anxiety in rather than shoo it away
Fortunately anxiety hasn’t been around much lately. But after close to a year since its last proper visit, it recently came back to my door. Not with a polite knock and a “Can I come in?”; instead it came with a wrecking ball – a really big one – and busted down the door completely. I have since been left with this unwanted guest, wondering how long it intends to stay, as it unpacks its bag and prepares to settle in. And in case you are wondering what this unwanted guest would bring, it has brought fear, loneliness, overwhelm, panic, worry, insecurity and a whole lot of tears.
The thing is, everyone feels anxious at one time or another. It is a common emotional response to stress or uncertainty. It can be a short-lived moment, perhaps before giving a speech, which causes sweating and a racing heart but subsides once the anxiety-inducing event has passed. Or, like myself, anxiety can become a mental health illness, becoming an ongoing or not too far away part of life. Either way, anxiety is not fun.
It is evident that we live in an anxiety-inducing and broken world and that has possibly never felt as real (to younger generations at least) as it does now, amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. This virus has swept the globe, taking thousands upon thousands of lives, and leaving many jobless and in financial crisis. At the very least it has left us shut off from the world, friends and family, left alone with nothing but our thoughts. Life has taken on a strange new “normal” and I don’t know about you, but this uncertain time has provoked many questions in my mind about both the present and the future, resulting in some anxiety and moments of fear.
We live in an anxiety-inducing and broken world and that has possibly never felt as real as it does now, amidst the Covid-19 pandemic
So how, as believers in Christ, are we encouraged to manage uncertain times? How do we shoo away anxiety and fear when they come knocking at our door? There are many possible answers to these questions, however, it is important to note here that anxiety is a battle of the mind. So it is in light of this that I want to share two steps that have helped me approach fear and anxiety in both past and present uncertain times. By taking these two steps, we can have hope to overcome our battle with anxiety.
Fill Your Mind with God’s Truth
During times of anxiety, it is really important to stop and think about what we are filling our minds with, because what we fill our mind with and what we allow to flow from it, will often determine how well we manage both uncertain times and the anxiety and fear that can come with it. When we find ourselves fearful or anxious it can be helpful to ask, “What am I filling my mind with most right now? And is it helping me think well in this circumstance?”. For example, when the anxious thoughts began for me recently, I realised that I was filling my mind with fear-inducing articles and news reports, and spending too much time on social media…and no time in God’s word. Was this helping me think well during this time of uncertainty? No. Was it feeding my anxious thoughts? Yes. What we feed will grow, so it is important that we keep tabs on the state of our mind and what we are filling it with.
The best thing we can be filling our minds with (particularly during this time) is God’s truth, and our first port of call must be the Bible. Jesus says in Matthew 4:4, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God”. And we know that “all scripture is God breathed” (2 Tim 3:16), which means that the Christian Bible is the very words of God himself, who both gives and sustains life. This is a very good reason to be filling our minds with the truth of His word.
When we find ourselves fearful or anxious it can be helpful to ask, “What am I filling my mind with most right now?
God’s word gives us hope in uncertain times. Hope for our present and for our future. When we fill our minds with God’s truth, we grow in our knowledge of who God is, and when we know who God is we are better able to trust Him and His word. By filling our minds with the word of God, we learn that God is faithful, God is for us, God is with us, God is trustworthy, and that God is sovereign, among many other truths. This brings the believer a hope and a freedom that can only be found in Him. We learn that we do not need to fear in uncertain times, because God is in control and constantly at work, not only for His bigger plan for humanity and the world, but for every believer. Paul tells us in Romans 8:28, “and we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” We need not to mistake this as a ‘get out of trial’ free card, but as believers we can take comfort in the nearness and work of God in our lives. Jesus said to His Jewish followers, “…”if you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’” (John 8:31-32). In Christ Jesus we have freedom. We have been liberated from the bondage of sin and death. And we can be sure of this because His word says so. This gives us reason every day to be thankful, joyful, and hopeful. Filling our minds with the truth of God is good for us, and for the state of our minds. It helps us grow in our understanding and trust of God, giving us a healthy way to respond to uncertain, anxious times.
Take Captive Every Thought
When we fill our minds with the truth of God, we not only mature in our faith, but we also create an archive of ammunition to fire at anxious and fearful thoughts when they come knocking at the door.
It can be easy to run to every other distraction when we find ourselves in a place of anxiety, especially in the technological world of 2020. The hours can slip by unnoticed, watching Netflix, scrolling social media, playing computer games, and so on. Although these things are not bad in and of themselves, if they are our sole tool for managing anxiety and uncertainty, we are likely to find ourselves worse off in the long run. Now, I’m not saying don’t watch Netflix, don’t worry. But in my experience, not addressing anxious thoughts with God’s truth (particularly if they are ongoing), often results in further toxic thinking, an unresolved internal angst, and ultimately prolongs anxiety’s stay.
When we fill our minds with the truth of God, we create an archive of ammunition to fire at anxious and fearful thoughts
At times I am the master of distraction, pushing anxious thoughts down with a good T.V. show. But when the stillness comes, which it eventually does (often at 2am), those anxious thoughts are there to greet me. I have learnt, over a long time, that the most powerful tool that helps me manage anxiety and fear is taking every thought captive and making it obedient to Christ (2 Cor 10:5). This looks like stopping anxious thoughts in their track (I simply say out loud, “stop”) and replacing it with truth from God’s word (having scripture written out and kept handy can help in this moment). I do this as many times as it takes for God’s “voice” to become louder than anxiety’s.
My encouragement is, instead of running from anxious thoughts, like I have so many times, take time to recognise them for what they are (unwanted guests of the mind) and replace them with God’s truth. And this won’t be so hard, because we will have been filling our minds with God’s word, right!? So when anxiety comes knocking at the door, we must remind ourselves of God’s truth. Here are a few truths from God’s word that help me:
When you feel: Remember God’s truth:
Alone God is near. Heb 13:5, Ps 145:18, Ps 139:7-12
Afraid God is bigger. Heb 13:6, Ps 27:1, Ps 91:1-2, 2 Tim 1:7, Is 41:10
Uncertain God is sovereign. Phil 4:4-7, Phil 4:11-13, Col 3:1-4, Heb 13:8, Phil 1:6
Hopeless God is faithful. Ps 24:7, Ps 121, 1 Jn 5:4-5, Jn 14:1-4, Rom 8:38-39
Anxious God is peace. Phil 4:8-9, Col 3:2, 2 Cor 10:3-6, Jn 14:27, Matt 6:25-34
God has not called us to a life of anxiety and fear. He has said, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:6-7). Then in verse 8 in the context of anxiety, He says “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” It’s as though He’s literally saying, “Fill your mind with the good thoughts! Take captive the bad thoughts!
Growth comes when we stand in the anxiety, facing it head on, knowing that God is with us in that moment
As followers of Christ we have hope and a firm foundation to stand upon in times of uncertainty and anxiety. God knows we are inclined to become fearful and anxious, but He has called us to run to Him in the midst of it, He is our “..refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). In my experience, growth comes when we stand in the anxiety, facing it head on, knowing that God is with us in that moment. We may not feel Him, and we may not feel an immediate change, but over time, the more we greet anxiety with the word of God, the shorter its visits can become. Anxiety is a battle of the mind, and overcoming it is a matter of faith. We must arm ourselves with the knowledge of who God is and what His promises are to us, by filling our minds with the truth of His word, and then trust Him. Then we can take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ, replacing anxious thoughts with God’s word.
Next time anxiety or fear comes knocking at the door, know that we have the almighty, powerful one true God on our side. The truth of God’s word is a powerful weapon against this unwanted guest; let’s use it!