Anxiety is a terrible thing. It makes us feel unprotected and vulnerable. Today, you’ll never run out of information and opinions on anxiety. Add to that the many therapies that are said to manage those episodes of fear and anxiety and it can be a confusing mess.
Fear and anxiety is usually the result of overthinking coupled with a diminished faith in God. In other words, we focus exclusively on our problems or challenges, and because our faith is weak we simply give in to fear and become overwhelmed by it. So the key to overcoming fear is to bring thoughts and concerns under control and to build up faith.
Let's start with controlling thoughts. This is challenging, especially when we have a history of allowing our darker thoughts to run free. But thankfully God has given us the fruit of His Holy Spirit, one of which is self-control. (Galatians 5:23)
But the thing we need to realize about the Fruit of the Holy Spirit is that they don't just magically or automatically become active in our lives. There is a need on our part to allow these characteristics of God's Spirit to have a greater place of control in our lives. That means through prayer and meditation on the Word I have to invite the Spirit to help me master my thoughts and ponderings.
But we do this not just by controlling the negative thoughts. We must also fill our heart with thoughts that are uplifting and edifying. Remember the promise given to us in Isaiah 26:
You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Isaiah 26:3 (ESV)
Notice the requirement for this perfect peace: a mind stayed on God.
So what kinds of thoughts should an anxious person be thinking about? The Apostle Paul has a suggestion:
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. Philippians 4:8 (ESV)
Your Own Worst Enemy
I said earlier that anxiety is, in part, the result of a diminished faith in God. But that doesn't mean worriers have no faith. They do! It's just misplaced.
I find that those who struggle with anxious thoughts actually have a lot of faith — it just in themselves. They trust their own fearful thoughts more than they trust the Word of God. In other words, they choose to trust their anxious thoughts above and beyond God. And that is precisely why God gave us this well-known passage in His Word:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.
Proverbs 3:5-6 (ESV)
The exhortation here is to reject the thoughts and understandings that originate from self — and trust the Lord instead. This requires a conscious effort to say to oneself, "My thoughts cannot be trusted. My fears are not reliable. My heart is deceitful and always thinks the worst. I choose to focus my thoughts on God's Word and believe His promises instead."
Don't Forget Repentance
There's one more element of breaking free from anxiety which must not be neglected, and that is repentance. People who struggle with anxiety are usually so familiar with this aspect of their lives that they don't see it as sin. But fearful and anxious thoughts are the opposite of faith, and when we give in to fear we are missing the mark.
I don't say that to generate feelings of guilt, but rather to highlight that God has given a means of dealing with our sin, and finding His wonderful forgiveness. This comes when we bring our fears to the cross of Christ and confess them for what they are — sin. So when fearful and anxious thoughts surface, bring them quickly to Jesus and confess them as wrong and contrary to His will.
Remember this glorious promise from God's Word:
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9 (ESV)
Before you battle your inner fears, make sure you've brought those sins before the cross, and found God's faithful forgiveness. You will be in a much better place to get on the road to restoring your heart to a place of peace.