Category Archives: thankfulness

A Biblical Approach to Anxiety

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.”

“What if…”

“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.

Thankfulness vs Unthankfulness

thanksgiving

Have you heard the saying, there is always something to be thankful for? But doesn’t it seem there is always something to complain about? Why is that?

Well, there’s a reason, several reasons actually. For some of the reasons, let’s look into what Psychology has to say. I love Psychology. I didn’t know I loved it until long after I graduated college (I ended up getting my degree in Chemistry, Physics and Math). I find the Psychology behind negativity fascinating. There are two concepts, called the Negativity bias and the Prospect Theory, that say people are more likely to choose things based on their need to avoid negative experiences, rather than their desire to get positive experiences.

Psychologists conclude negative experiences or the fear of them has a greater impact on people than positive experiences. Negative experiences sear to our brain instantly, whereas, positive experiences have to be held in our awareness for more than 12 seconds in order for it to transfer from short-term memory to long-term memory. Psychologists say that unless we are occupied with other thoughts, worry is the brain’s default position.

Complaining is tempting because it feels good, but like many other things that are enjoyable — such as eating a pound of bacon for breakfast — complaining isn’t good for us. Repeated complaining wires our brain to make future complaining more likely. Over time, we’ll find it’s easier to be negative than to be positive, regardless of what’s happening around us. Complaining becomes our default behavior.

Here’s the kicker: complaining damages areas of our brains. Research from Stanford University has shown that complaining shrinks the hippocampus — an area of the brain that’s critical to problem solving and intelligent thought. It’s not an exaggeration to say that complaining leads to brain damage! A few other health concerns: complaining release the stress hormone cortisol, which impairs our immune systems and makes us more susceptible to high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease and obesity. And since we mimic the moods of those around us, particularly people we spend a great deal of time with, complaining is a lot like smoking — we don’t have to do it ourselves to suffer the ill effects.

Taking time to be thankful isn’t merely the right thing to do; it also beneficial for our health. Gratefulness reduces that stress hormone cortisol which improves our moods, gives us energy and substantially lowers our anxiety levels.

Not only is complaining bad for our health, it is bad for our relationships. Complainers repel others with their negativity. Sometimes I don’t even want to be around myself when I’m in a negative and complaining mood. It also influences others to be negative and ungrateful toward God (we can influence our roommates, our families). If that’s not bad enough, it affects our relationship with God.

We hinder our ability to intimately fellowship with God when we complain. Complaining causes us to focus on circumstances and not on God to satisfy us. Ungratefulness hinders our faith, hinders our ability to see God, to see Him at work, and to trust that He cares for us.

Ungratefulness is bad for our health, bad for our relationships with each other and bad for our relationship with God. What does the Bible have to say about it?

Well, the Bible says we will have problems. In John 16:33, Jesus says “In the world you have trouble and suffering, but take courage—I have conquered the world.” We will have problems; don’t ever be surprised by this. But we needn’t lose sight of God when problems come.

Sometimes God will cause problems in our lives because we are losing sight of him. John Eldredge in his book, Journey of Desire, calls God the Divine Thwarter. Sometimes God will thwart our plans on purpose, and this is when it’s easy to complain. (I can’t find a job, I don’t have a relationship, my computer isn’t working, the internet is down, etc…) The first time I really came to understand this concept of God as the Divine Thwarter was back in the early 2000’s. I was first on staff and needed my own computer. My Grandpa, who recently became a Christian and was very excited about me joining the ministry, offered to buy me any laptop I wanted. I got to pick out the specs and nearly everything I wanted (trying to keep it reasonable, of course). I put a lot of time and thought into it, and boy, was I excited to get it. Once it was ordered, I tracked the shipping and counted down the days. And wouldn’t you know the thing was delayed, not once, but twice! And it was June, there wasn’t even a weather issue! Oh, I was frustrated and just wanted to complain. But right around that same time, I first heard the concept of the Divine Thwarter and realized God was thwarting my desire on PURPOSE! I was putting all my hope and joy into receiving this new laptop, and my hope was not in Him. So I confessed where I was at, stopped complaining, and put my hope back in God. Then I patiently waited out the extra days for my computer to come.

We can either focus on God or focus on our problems. Our minds can be filled with only one or the other. It is impossible to thank God and blame God at the same time. There is always something to complain about. There is also always something to be thankful for.

God wants us to give Him our problems, whether caused by Him when He’s divinely thwarting us or caused by the World. We live in a broken world with broken people, and we are hurt & frustrated by it. 1 Peter 5:7 was one of the very first verses I ever memorized. It says, “cast all your cares on him because he cares for you.” Cast ALL your cares on him, because he CARES for you!

There’s a quote by Elizabeth Elliot that I enjoy, “If it’s big enough to worry (complain) about it’s big enough to pray about.” God wants us to cast ALL our cares on Him.

Another familiar verse is Phil 4:6-7 “Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God. And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” We could camp out in this verse for several blog posts. But I’ll just hit a few highlights. Did you know, as a Christian, we have the option to not be anxious? God wouldn’t command it if it wasn’t possible through Him. We don’t have to be anxious about anything. Period. Ever. Period. This is good news, especially for those of us who are prone to anxiety. I know what’s it’s like to deal with anxiety and panic attacks. But God gives us another option. Paul says “INSTEAD, in every situation,” we can pray about it, with thanksgiving. All our cares. All of them. Every situation. With thanksgiving. We can always find something to be thankful for, because there is always something about God to be thankful for. We can be thankful that He is Sovereign, in control of the frustrating situation, that He loves you when someone else was rude, that He is your provider when you are out of money, etc…

And then it gets even better, as we tell our requests to God, with thanksgiving, the peace of God that surpasses understanding (and does it surpass my understanding) will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. I don’t understand at all how it works, but I know by experience personally and through living life alongside people, that His peace comes and it guards our hearts and minds. What a huge blessing! That His peace will guard our hearts and minds instead of them being attacked by anxiety.

Many times my time alone with God starts out with a list of worries. My concerns and complaints are the loudest things in my head and I can’t concentrate on anything else, and they get louder the less I am trusting God with them. So, in humility and trust, I give each one over to God. Some are easy, some are hard. Especially with the hard ones, I need to remember and believe that He is God, He is Good, His heart towards me is good, and He can and will take care of each one of my concerns in His way and timing. After this time of surrender and being thankful for who God is, my heart can be still and I can actually live out Ps 46:10 to “Be Still and Know that I am God…”

If you continue on after the verses in Phil 4:6-7, into verse 8, Paul says “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.” I thought it was interesting to look at the opposite of each of the things in this verse.

    • True                       False (Fantasy)

Whatever is true. Frequently I will have bad dreams, and now that I have a daughter, they are usually about some kind of harm coming to her. I have a choice in that moment, to entertain that thought, which I have and it will lay me flat in my emotions and ruin my morning, even my day. Or I can declare it not true, declare the truth that she is currently safe in her crib, and always safe in God’s hands and reject the thought. The same with fantasy. As a single gal I used to daydream about whichever boy I had a crush on. I could entertain the fun daydreams, which would get my heart and longings for relationship going, or I could choose to stop the daydream and trust God with my heart and desire. When I entertain a fantasy, I’m not thankful to God for where He has me, and I quickly become ungrateful, wishing for the fantasy to become reality.

The same choice applies to each thought on this list. The enemy will CONSISTENTLY try to throw a negative thought our way. Don’t grow discouraged at what he throws your way. You have an incredible option as a Christian to reject it, to turn to God, and think about the list Paul gives us. Let’s keep going with our list.

    • Nobel                     Ignoble (dishonorable in character or purpose) Such as complaining about a professor, boss, coworker, roommate which is dishonorable to them.
    • Right                     Wrong
    • Pure                       Dirty
    • Lovely                   Ugly
    • Admirable           Unworthy
    • Excellent              Poor
    • Praiseworthy      Blameworthy (we can either blame God or thank God)

phil 4 9 adrienne
Phil 4:8 by Adrienne Holland

When we are thankful, it awakens us to God’s presence and overshadows all our problems. Giving thanks fills our minds with God’s goodness and power rather than our anxieties. When we thank God for what he has done, it reminds us of who God is and what he can do in our lives. The more we thank God, the more confident we become in Him and the less the enemy can discourage us.

 

The Psalms are filled with shouts and songs of Thanksgiving to God. A common theme with thanksgiving in the Psalms is this is how we enter God’s presence:

Psalm 95:1-2 Come! Let’s sing for joy to the Lord! Let’s shout out praises to our protector who delivers us! Let’s enter his presence with thanksgiving! Let’s shout out to him in celebration!

Ps 100:4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving 
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.

We enter God’s presence through Thanksgiving! How cool is that?!

There’s a thought from Jesus Calling, November 1st that I thought was encouraging. It said along the lines of: Don’t be discouraged by the difficulty of keeping your focus on God. It’s a lofty goal to continually be aware of His Presence. He is delighted by your desire to walk closely with Him. He is pleased each time you initiate communication with Him. He notices the progress you make. When you wander into negativity, don’t be surprised or alarmed at how easy it is to be negative. Our world is rigged to distract us and to bring us down. We live in a broken world. But each time you plow your way through the massive distractions to be thankful to God, you achieve a victory. Rejoice in these tiny triumphs!

We are in constant need of help. We hate that, because it’s not the American way. Exactly! It’s God’s way, he designed us with limitations and designed us to need Him. He wants us to come to Him with our neediness! Paul says in Phil 4:11-13 I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. We are familiar with the end of this verse, but did you catch the context? Paul learned to be content/thankful, rather than discontent/complaining. He learned. It’s a journey, even for Paul. And if it was a journey for him, it’s also a journey for us. It’s possible for us to be content and not complainers.

Another verse that shows God will give us the desire and the ability to be thankful is Phil 2:13-15 Paul says, “for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. Do everything without grumbling or arguing,  so that you may become blameless and pure…” The ability, as well as the desire, to be thankful comes from God.

We also need each other. Just as a complaining person is contagious, so is a positive person. Be around contagious people! Be that kind of person. Community is necessary to live with thankful hearts.

positive-cat

I have also noticed a trend that thankfulness and song are often woven together.

Ps 69:30 I will praise God’s name in song 
and glorify him with thanksgiving.

Colossians 3:15-17 (NCV) Let the peace that Christ gives control your thinking, because you were all called together in one body to have peace. Always be thankful. Let the teaching of Christ live in you richly. Use all wisdom to teach and instruct each other by singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Everything you do or say should be done to obey Jesus your Lord. And in all you do, give thanks to God the Father through Jesus. Did you notice that the command to sing is sandwiched between two verses on thankfulness? Thanksgiving is the fuel for our worship.

I encourage you to spend some time today praising His name in song, and let Him fill your mind so your worries, problems and complaints cannot. Enter His presence through a time of thanksgiving & praise.