The secret of a mind set free of anxiety
A study from Philippians chapter 4 on the subject of anxiety; what does the bible have to say on overcoming anxiety, gaining victory over our worry and fears?
In this message I am not attempting to give a lecture; but trying more to paint a picture! The picture I have in mind is that of Matthew 14; the storm tossed disciples in the boat.
In essence this message on anxiety has only 1 point and 4 pointers to that sole point:
To know the peace of God (v7) we must know the God of Peace (v9)
The question I would like to challenge you with is this; does what I am doing / does my approach to my anxiety take me there? If it doesn’t it will ultimately end in futility!
4 pointers to Christ:
1 - Look off to the horizon - Get grounded and founded. Get the eternal perspective on your life.
An eye on the horizon of eternity settles the storm tossed sailor; look at the eternal horizon.
Anxiety thrives on uncertainty and instability.
One of the commonest clinical findings in the history of those suffering from severe anxiety or generalised anxiety disorder is that of instability at an early stage of development.
A chaotic, unstable early childhood environment, in which life is unpredictable, potentially or actually dangerous, at times threatening. The reasonable response to this is withdrawal. The unpredictable nature of the world leaves the person constantly on edge from a very early point in their life. This creates a very uncertain, unstable and unpredictable view of the world. This also leads to attempts to problem solve the unsolvable problem, irreconcilable conflicts, anxiety and uncertainty. This is part of the Avoidance Model of Worry
We need stability – look out at the horizon.
That will probably involve reflection: back on your own experience of God. Ask yourself such questions as:
- How it began - how did that walk with God all begin?
- How he led you - reflect on His guidance down through your Christian life. How did He speak to you. Consider the ways He guided through speaking by the Word of God, in messages preached or the undeniable hand of God in the circumstances of life.
- How he guided and spoke to you
The reality of that relationship with God will be assured and reassured by our encounter with Him through the living Word of God, by the proof of scripture, speaking personally and powerfully and with great personal relevance in the experiences of your walk with God.
Look Around, to the Lord of the Storm; “And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea” Matthew 14:26. These disciples were wiser than we are at times. They not only looked at the storm but to Christ; the Lord over the storm! Christ is sovereign over the waves:
- This is His Storm
- This is His Sea
- These are His Waves
- These are His Waters
Through Philippians Paul does just that:
Chp 1 – what about the Problems of life?
The Lord is walking on the waves: sinners are being saved, saints challenged and encouraged, the Saviour glorified and self blessed.
Chp 2 – what about the Pattern of sacrifice and service and suffering?
This is half way to glory
Chp 3 – what about Powerlessness of Pauls position in the prison?
Would resurrection power be sufficient for that need? Look off to Jesus for that power!
Chp 4 – the extremity of need, the lack of basic provision – supplied by the Provision from Christ
Look Heavenwards (v6)
Prayer is a very reasonable alternative to anxiety! Turn your fruitless fears to productive prayers, believing prayer. Prayer practically becomes an alternative to anxiety. We take the anxiety, we give it to the Lord in prayer and leave it there! Prayer is a ‘but’ (v6) and not an ‘also’ ! Anxiety or prayer; we take the anxiety and turn it into powerful practical intercession.
“Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.” Philippians 4:6
A number of theories of anxiety highlight that worry and anxiety are by and large attempts to to work out what cannot be worked out! An attempt to predict the unpredictable and rationalise the irrational! Instead of attempting the impossible commit it to the eternal!
8 dimensions of thought
Many have come to this verse and noted, accurately that these 8 dimensions of thought are satisfied by Christ and the word of God. This is of course very true. It is rare to hear this verse read in the light of the immediate context however. If the means of freedom from anxiety is a perpetual and uninterrupted meditation on scripture and person of Christ, this would seem to present a very unrealistic standard and perhaps an UNDESIRABLE standard too, in that whilst we are not of the world we are very much in the world and ought to be living in testimony to Christ, shining our light in the darkness of the world. Rather I would suggest that these are 8 dimensions for the minds meditation.
The scriptures point to at least 3 aspects of human existence:
Spirit, soul and body (1 Thess 5:23)
Some will tend to simplify it to the body and spirit
Secular psychiatry will acknowledge only Body and Soul, excluding the Spirit, this is a great loss.
Her in Philippians 4 we see that the key to healing the mind lies in the connection between:
Soul and Spirit
Divide these 8 dimensions of thought into 3 groups:
- Define – contain – limit
- Destroy – remove - control
- Deliver – conquer
The goal of Philippians 4, the mind of God in anxiety is far higher in its objective than that of secular philosophy, not that of controlling the anxiety nor of coping with the anxiety but of overcoming and utter destruction of the anxiety.
One of the psychological models of anxiety identifies a basic problem in people trying to cope with anxiety, resulting in people getting anxious about their anxiety! Anxiety means ‘not coping’ with your encounter with the real world. By definition you cannot cope with anxiety! There are only 2 options – to destroy or to be destroyed! To be victor or to be vanquished.
Define – contain – limit
Contain the anxiety; set a boundary for the anxiety – thus far and no farther. Force the anxiety to sit these 3 basic tests! In so doing you will
- Hold the anxiety to account
- Set boundaries for that anxiety
- Gain control over it
When you make this step, sub consciously, consciously you will learn a lesson; that you are not defined by nor controlled by your anxiety; you can and do control it! The only power it has over you is the power you surrender to it! That delivers the death blow to type 2 anxiety!
‘True’ – apply the truth test – break free
So often reality disappoints after all of the anxious expectations conjectured by the troubled mind! Reality so often proves itself unable to deliver on your anxiety!
‘Honest’ – venerable, worthy of worship
We move here into the genuinely spiritual rather than the fake / pseudo spiritual. Time now to lift our eyes from ourselves! Some have discovered the truth of this pragmatically and empirically. On a recent hill walk I noted the presence of a text written on a bridge: ‘I to the hills will lift mine eyes’ – plaque on a bridge on a path out of Muirkirk, near Cairns table! Getting out and looking at something bigger, our own problems so often fall into perspective.
The believer can go better than this and finish the verse:
“I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.
2 My help cometh from the LORD, which made heaven and earth.” Psalms 121:1-2
We are not the centre of Divine purpose! The determined pursuit of this is very important. It is an interesting statistic that 40% of narcissistic personalities develop anxiety. Anxiety goes hand in hand with introspection and self absorption!
“self introspection is when all of our consciousness (attention) is focused inwards on our anxious thoughts and sensations. Instead of focusing and engaging on the outside world, our inner world of thoughts, emotions and sensations becomes the most important thing to us. In fact the outside world often becomes irrelevant especially when we are in the grips if high anxiety” writes one GAD sufferer (Lawrence Gregory)
“you never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete” (Buckminster Fuller)
So many are caught up ‘coping’ with or battling anxiety – moving beyond and above that level brings us to victory.
“I now understand that my awareness was continuously focused on me through nothing more than a habit that I had created…All I had though about for years was e and my inner state and so of course my awareness was always focused there…I couldn’t defeat a habit I could only create a new one and let the old one die away of its own accord.” – Paul David (anxiety sufferer)
How do we achieve this?
- Christ - our ongoing daily relationship with Him
- Scriptures - read, meditate and feed upon them, be guided by them
- Enjoying the word of God for myself
- Service of Christ
- Service of others - take your focus off and your mind off of yourself
- Avoiding being the centre or focus of that activity.
Anxiety is intimately related to introspection, anxiety is often an inward looking attempt at resolving external conflicts.
Hurt and harm triggers in us a reaction to withdraw – a very basic protective reflex. We withdraw and try and reason out what has happened – we worry.
Social anxiety is often the consequence of detachment, social withdrawal from previously difficult or challenging situations. Herein lies one of the key problems with the secular approach to tackling anxiety; mindfulness promotes detachment! Very appealing to those who already have developed that as a strategy for coping! This may help you to live with your anxiety, to tolerate your anxiety but it will hardly allow you to triumph over your anxiety!
It is a commonly observed pattern for a person to withdraw from a problem outside; perhaps as a consequence of trying to resolve the problem and yet being unable to do so, that results in anxiety and anxiety promotes further introspection We must break out of the cycle.
“A man wrapped up in himself makes a very small parcel” (John Ruskin)
Paul breaks out of that cycle in Philippians; by seeing the hand of the Lord in all things in each chapter.
‘Just’ – the test of righteousness I must apply to my anxiety and thoughts!
Apply this just / righteous test to both the CAUSE and the CONSEQUENCE of anxiety. I have noticed that with anxiety many voluntarily surrender control to that anxiety. Anxiety is a neurosis and not a psychosis – we retain capacity and accountability for our actions. This is a critical boundary, we are in control, we have not 'lost our mind.' It is here that we must draw a line in the sand! There are some places you will not go!
Many who are anxious are persuaded that their anxiety justifies unrighteous behaviour – it doesn’t – we remain accountable! As a believer I am constrained by the demands of righteousness, there is a boundary line you cannot cross! A young woman working in a call centre during the COVID pandemic became anxious about catching COVID at work. She does not want go to work, ‘in case’ she catches the infection, and yet she fully expects her employer to support her financially and for others to cover for her as well as carrying there own burden!
Let us draw a line here of justice and righteousness; it will yield tremendous dividends!
- You will not be unjust
- You will grasp this – there is more to you than your anxiety!
- You regain control
It is one of the most empowering and liberating steps that a person can take is to break out of the confines / boundaries set by their own anxiety and takes back control. I can and have taken back control of my anxiety. I am in control! My anxiety is not in control! There is far more to my soul and spirit than my anxiety.
Consider the story of David and Goliath. In 1 Samuel chapter 17 Saul, and the armies of Israel were all controlled by their anxiety and ultimately acted unjustly. They failed to challenge the aggressor and failed to honour and defend the name of the God of Israel. David broke through that anxiety and that made him great!
Apply the TRUTH test to the CAUSE of the anxiety – this can yield the final fatal blow to it:
A woman with a triple whammy of social anxiety, alcohol misuse and eating disorder, seen for many months at therapy and made very little progress, weight down and staying down with a BMI of about 15. As the therapeutic relationship built up and trust increased, the story began to unfold. She was the youngest child, a girl with older brothers. Her mother was an alcoholic. Her father absent from the family home. As a child she was constantly put down, told she was useless, blamed for anything that went wrong. Food supplies at home were limited due to the absence of the father and the alcohol abuse of her mother. The boys in the family were fed, she went hungry. On day she stole some cheese from the fridge. Her mother found out and convinced her that the cheese she had eaten was in fact laced with poison. She would die! As she grew up she hated my mother. She was glad when her mother finally died and "I was rid of her." The healing process began when finally I challenged her with: "You’re not rid of her! Do you want to be like her? You are doing to yourself what your mother did to you." Is what your mother said about you true? You have raised up a family, held down a job, looked after a sick family member. You have succeeded far better than she ever did with life. You are a success. The criticism of her mother and the basis of all of her anxiety ultimately did not stand the TRUTH test. Just because someone / many people say or claim something does not mean that it is either just or true!
2 - Destroy – remove – control
‘pure’ – holy – compromise on holiness – anxiety
3 - Deliver – conquer
‘praise; - turning to Christ – what can I give thanks for in this situation? Consider:
- Psalm 23 - Thou art with me – Presence
- Take my yoke upon you and learn of me – Discipleship
- Thy grace is sufficient for me – Power
- Trial of your faith – Spiritual Progress
- Christ likeness – 2 Co 4
- Cf. 2 Corinthians