Do you want to know a secret? You know which tool is the best one to battle anxiety? The one you use! There are a lot of excellent resources on dealing with anxiety. Not any one is the answer to take it away, as only Jesus himself is the answer. What I want to share with you are some tried and true tools I use and teach to battle anxiety. It’s important to remember that it is a battle, and rarely a “one and done” deal. As you keep using the tools, learning to master them, you’ll continue to find more and more freedom from the onslaught of anxiety.
Anxiety has been part of my story since even before I was born. Most of my family members have struggled with anxiety and depression. It’s in our family with a tight grip, but through using the tools God has given us in Scripture, I’ve been able to find more and more freedom, where it doesn’t define my story. I still struggle, even last summer of 2019 I was battling suicidal thoughts. But when I choose to walk with God, I experience freedom.
The following Scriptures provide a solid baseline about dealing with anxious thoughts. I’ll share with you a tool to help make them practical.
Actions (Commands from Scripture):
Phil 4:6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
Rom 12:2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
2 Corin 10:5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
Phil 4:8 Finally, brothers and sisters, 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.
Results (Promises from Scripture):
Phil 4:7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Isa 26:3 You will keep in perfect peace
those whose minds are steadfast,
because they trust in you.
You may be asking, “how do I get there, to the “peace” promised in Scripture?” I’m glad you asked! It starts with changing the “what if’s” swirling in our thoughts.
As kids, did you ever make mud pies and mud mountains? Imagine when you build a large pile of mud into the biggest mountain you could muster and then poured water over the top and watched it run down. If you keep pouring water on it, it keeps going down those initial pathways, creating deeper and deeper ruts. If you want the water to go in a different direction, it’s not enough to just build a little dam in your dirt to stop it. The water will still go down that same rut and break through the dam you made. Our “what if” thinking is like water going down a mountain of dirt. The more we think a certain way, the deeper the rut becomes. It’s not enough to just stop the thinking by building a dam. Our thoughts will build up behind it and eventually break through. We also need to redirect our thoughts. Just as we need to create a new path for the water to go down, we need a new path for our thoughts to go. This is one way to take thoughts captive, make them obedient, and renew them. A tool that helps us do that is changing the “what if’s” to “even if, then God.”
“Even if ______________________, then God _______________________________ .”
To trust God on this level, with the “even ifs” requires us to first know Him.
As we begin to know God, we then love Him, then begin to trust Him, then obey Him (e.g. take thoughts captive and make them obedient to Christ) and that leads us to know Him more, love Him more, trust Him more, obey Him more, etc…
Who is God? He is Creator, Provider, With me, Steadfast, Faithful, my Rock and Security to name just a handful of characteristics.
Here are a few of the “what if’s” I’ve heard from college students in the past couple weeks.
What if I fail these two classes? Instead, even if I fail 2 of my classes, then God still has a plan for my education. Nothing I can do in success or failure can thwart his plans. He will work something else out and I can keep looking to Him instead of looking at my failures or trying to figure it out on my own. God is good, and can only be good.
What if I can’t see my family over break because of COVID? Even if I can’t see my family, then God will carry me and my family through the heartache of being separated. He is the One who comforts because He is close to the broken hearted and binds up their wounds. I will look to Him to provide another time for us to be together, even if it can’t be over break.
What if I don’t have enough energy to get everything done. Even if I don’t have the energy to get all the things done, then God will provide what I need. Maybe it’s the energy, maybe it’s extra time, maybe it’s perspective that they don’t need to be done anyway. God knows all things and He knows what I need and He will provide it, because He is my provider.
Even if my family member won’t listen to reason, then God can get a hold of her heart and create repentance because God is the Creator, and can create something out of nothing, then I can trust Him to create a repentant heart where there is none.
Even if Republicans, even if Democrats, take control of the Senate, and they pass laws I disagree with, then God will still take care of me. He will never leave me nor forsake me. My security is in Him, not in a political party.
When we think about the “what if’s” we are thinking about things that are not currently true. They are things that “could be” true, but the Bible is clear: Phil 4:8 Think about whatever is true. What would the opposite of true be? False. Or Fantasy.
I used to frequently have bad dreams, and shortly after Aurora was born the dreams were usually about some kind of harm coming to her. I had a choice in that moment, to entertain that thought, which I had done and then it will lay me flat in my emotions and ruin my morning, even my day. Or I could declare it not true, declare the truth that right now, in that moment she was currently safe in her crib, and always safe in God’s hands and reject the thought. I’ve done enough “capturing these thoughts” that these bad dreams have more or less ceased, and if they do come, I am super quick to capture the untrue thought and choose to believe truth.
One other false or fantasy thought that causes anxiety: speculation. It’s a big trigger! When I speculate what I think a person is thinking of me, or even speculate a general “them” or “they”, I am not walking in truth or thinking truthful thoughts. Speculation gets us in trouble quick and it’s false. I do not know what a person is thinking unless they have told me.
There’s even a “noble” speculation when we worry about someone else’s situation. I’ll worry about my mom, or my friends’ heartaches, and unless I talk to them, I don’t have a clear picture of what’s going on, or what God may already be up to in their lives. Typically, when I can talk to them and find out how they are really doing, the anxiety lessens because I am focusing on what is true and rejecting the speculation. Take captive the thoughts that are untrue, even if they “could be” true, and choose not to speculate.
In Phil 4:6, Paul says to present our requests to God with thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is one of the quickest and easiest tools to use to capture thoughts and renew our minds. When I’m thankful, it brings me to the here and now. To what is true, pure, right , lovely, admirable, praiseworthy, etc… When we are thankful, it awakens us to God’s presence and begins to replace the anxiousness.
Right now, before you finish reading, I want to encourage you to take a few minutes to practice this. Grab one of the “what if’s” floating in your mind and change it to an “even if_________, then God _______________. Spend some time praying that back to Him. If you get stuck, try thanksgiving
Keep practicing this with one or two of the “what if’s” throughout this week. And you don’t have to do it alone. As useful as this “Even if” tool is, sometimes we need help knowing how to use it. We are currently buying a house, and the situation that caused us to begin this process brought me a LOT of anxiety. I was highly anxious for days, really weeks. It took me hours and days of talking and processing with God, my mentor, and people praying for me and with me until I could finally get to the even if, then God. I’m hoping this tool is simple enough to understand, but I recognize it’s not always easy to use. It takes practice to learn how to use any tool well, and lots of practice to master a tool.