Peace for an anxious heart

  • Tanya Ling
  • 11 October 2017

Throughout my life, I have always found things to be anxious about. Sometimes they are illogical fears; other times they are more ‘legitimate’ concerns. As Christians, we are commanded not to worry—however, as anyone who has experienced anxiety will attest, this is much easier said than done. 

Philippians 4:6-7 provides valuable instruction for those struggling with anxiety:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 

But what if you faithfully obey this verse and yet your heart is still racing, your mind is still whirring, and you just can’t ‘turn off’ the worry switch?

I have been in this situation many times, and there are four questions that help pull my heart into line. If you’re fighting anxieties that threaten to get the better of you, use these to keep yourself grounded in reality and counsel your heart with the truth:1

1. Is God sovereign?

Psalm 139:16b says: “In your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me”.

You are not accidentally in your situation. The circumstances that spawned your anxiety have not escaped the attention of our God. In fact, our circumstances (and any unfavourable outcomes) are sovereignly given to us by God. We need to remember that he has determined them all, and that we should submit to his plan. 

This may sound difficult to accept, but there actually is comfort in knowing that our paths are pre-laid and that God is never caught out by where they turn.

2. Is God powerful?

In my experience, anxiety often comes from wanting to manage and manipulate things I have no ability to control. Whether it’s a health outcome, financial problem, or even someone’s opinion of me—there’s often not much I can do about it. Anxiety can therefore be a great reminder that even though I’m not powerful enough to change my situation, God is! We have a God who spoke the world into being, can calm the wind and the waves, and can raise the dead. Whatever situation you are facing, he is limitless.

Anxiety should humble us and bring us to our knees before God, asking for his help. As Christians, this should be our attitude and response to any situation in life, so if anxiety leads us to do this, then it is actually a blessing. We can learn to follow the instructions of 1 Peter 5:6-7: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you”. 

3. Is God faithful?

In times of anxiety, it can be easy to doubt God’s goodness to us. Reminding ourselves of God’s faithfulness can steady our heart in moments where he may seem far off.

Think through the difficult situations you have faced in the past. Remember the ways God helped you then, and the ways that you experienced his hand at work. We can see throughout the Bible how God has always been faithful to his people and his promises. He has promised to never leave or forsake us, and that nothing can ever separate us from his love (Rom 8:38-39). Whatever happens, God will be with us and help us through it.

4. What can I thank God for?

This question is probably the hardest to answer when in the grip of anxiety. Our minds are pre-occupied with our pressing worries—being thankful is not high on the priority list. But I’ve included it here, not only because we are told to be thankful in all circumstances (1 Thess 5:18), but because I personally have found it helpful in realigning my heart when I’m fretful and my mind is doing circles. 

So what is there to thank God for in times of anxiety? Hopefully the first three questions have given you some ideas! No matter what is going on around us, God’s character is consistent, and will always provide us with reason for thanksgiving and praise.

Perhaps there are aspects of your anxious situation that are reason to give thanks, such as a caring friend or the support of family. It might be the fellowship of your church family, or something that God has encouraged you with in the Bible. It could even be giving thanks for a lesson that he is teaching you through the trial. 

If nothing else, my fallback prayer is this: “Thank you, God, for this new opportunity to trust you and to see your provision”.

Even if I can’t see any reason to give thanks in my present circumstances, I can know and trust that he is at work, and that he will show me his faithfulness once again.

You may have counselled your heart with these questions, and yet still find that the anxiety persists. If that is the case, that’s okay! Experiencing the “peace of God” doesn’t always look like a chilled-out Zen person. The promise of Philippians 4:6-7 is that our hearts and minds will be guarded in Christ Jesus. If we are rooted in the hope of the gospel and the truth of God’s character, there is a deep, unshakeable peace and confidence, that every Christian has, that can never be taken away. If we are prayerful, and choose to continue trusting God, our circumstances or anxiety will not shift us.

We can say with confidence and full assurance:

The Lord is on my side; I will not fear.
What can man do to me? (Ps 118:6)

1. If you are struggling with a clinical anxiety disorder, then seeking the professional help of a psychologist is another wise choice to make.