May 7, 2014 Broadcast

How to Deal with Anxiety

A Message by R.C. Sproul

What causes you anxiety and unrest? The thought of harm coming to your child? A stock market crash? Death? Many people have fears and phobias that can be diagnosed and dealt with. Others do not know the source of their anxiety, they simply know that nearly every aspect of life includes some inner turmoil. So how can we rid ourselves of these crippling weaknesses? In this message, Dr. Sproul gives insight into the different types of anxiety, and explains how to deal with them.

From the series: Dealing With Difficult Problems

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Further Study On This Topic

  1. article

    Uncontrollable Anxiety

  2. devotional

    The Antidote to Worry

  3. devotional

    Dealing with Anxiety

Uncontrollable Anxiety

Burk Parsons

In the middle of writing my column this month I deleted what I wrote and have started over because I just received word from one of my closest friends that his wife, pregnant with their long-awaited second child, might be experiencing a miscarriage. My heart is overwhelmed with sorrow not knowing what the future holds for them. As I write, my friend and his wife are on their way to the doctor’s office. Having experienced the miscarriage of our first child years ago, my wife and I can empathize with our friends. Those who have experienced the loss of a child not-yet-born know the fear and anxiety I’m speaking of. Words fail us as we try to express the pain of such loss. As a man, a friend, a pastor, I have few words of wisdom for him as he seeks to comfort his wife and as they both seek comfort from our sovereign Lord.

As believers, we don’t question God’s sovereignty — quite the opposite. We don’t worry because we have forgotten the most basic tenet of theology, namely, that God is God — sovereign. We worry knowing full well He is sovereign, yet in our self-absorbed kingdoms we often forget that it is an eternally gracious sovereignty toward those reconciled to Him through Christ.

As we live before the face of God each day with real reasons for real anxiety, we can rest assured that His sovereignty (not ours)- — His control (not ours) — His faithfulness (not ours) — is our only real hope in this sad world. For that which He creates He sustains, that which He authors He perfects, and that which He begins He completes. And whether we are comfortably numb to our anxieties or fully aware of them, it is neither our acceptance, control, nor rationalization of them that will free us from our self-created, self-controlled, self-contained prisons of anxiety. We will only be free when we become as dependent on God as the birds of the air that our heavenly Father feeds and whose songs lift our eyes heavenward when we hear them sing, “Son of Adam, don’t worry for tomorrow, cast all your cares on Him, for if He cares for me, how much more does He care for you?"

The Antidote to Worry

Having told us not to store up earthly treasures (Matt. 6:19–24), in today’s passage Jesus anticipates an objection to His teaching. Sure, some may think, it is easy to tell us not to pursue earthly treasures, but we need money and other goods to meet our needs. Will we not worry if we do not go after such treasures? After all, how will we afford to eat, buy clothes, and so on without money?

Our Savior’s answer to this unstated problem is simple: “Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on” (v. 25a). In the examples that follow, Jesus shows us why we need not fret about such things. But before we get into these reasons, note that Christ is not here commending a lackadaisical approach to life in which we expect everything to fall into our laps. Nor does His teaching release us from the duty to feed our families. Scripture is clear that we should be industrious, just like the ants (Prov. 6:6–11), and that anyone who does not provide for his family is worse than the unbeliever who does (1 Tim. 5:8). Even so, toiling away out of fear for the future is not the same thing as God-glorifying labor.

Life’s pressures invite us to worry incessantly about tomorrow. Yet Christ says divine providence makes this anxiety foolish. Birds do not worry, they sing, and still they find food each day without sowing or reaping. We as God’s image-bearers have more worth than they and can be all the more confident that He will feed us as well (Matt. 6:26; see Gen. 1:26–27). “The lilies of the field” neither toil nor spin. Their life and worth is so limited that they are fuel for our fires, yet their glory is far greater than Solomon’s. Since the Father provides for these, He also will provide for us, His beloved people (Matt. 6:28–30).

Far from compounding our anxiety, making God’s kingdom the center of our lives frees us from anxiety. If we seek this kingdom first, He will meet all our needs (v. 33). Those who serve Him wholeheartedly and live out the ethics of God’s kingdom will share what they have (5:42; 6:1–4), and thereby our Father will meet our needs through our efforts and the generosity of others. We need not worry about tomorrow, for God always takes care of His own (Ps. 37:25). 

Dealing with Anxiety

Despite our attempts to create security for ourselves with savings, insurance, a strong police force, and so on, we cannot eliminate the fears plaguing our society. The potential dangers of terrorism, various diseases, rising crime rates, natural disasters, and so on bombard us daily, making it impossible to escape our culture of anxiety.

Such fear is nothing new; people have always found something to be afraid of. Some have phobias regarding heights, snakes — you name it. Surveys routinely tell us that the number-one fear of most Americans is the fear of having to speak in public. 

Whatever the catalyst may be, all of our fears manifest our apprehensions about the future. If we fear heights, we are afraid that we will fall at some future point. Extreme weather frightens us because we know it might cause great destruction or death, moments or years from now. We cannot control or predict what is coming, and that is what terrifies us most of all.

Jesus knows our tendencies toward anxiety, and that is why we find “fear not” coming from His lips on many occasions (for example, Luke 12:32). Yet persistent fear is fundamentally linked to a lack of faith, and so Jesus rebukes us in today’s passage for worrying incessantly about what tomorrow will bring. If God cares for the birds and the flowers, aspects of creation with less worth than humanity, certainly we can trust Him to provide for us in the future (Matt. 6:25–33). We are not to worry about tomorrow, for we can trust our Father to take care of it (v. 34).

Jesus is not telling us that we should not plan for the future, as Scripture commends prudent measures to deal with what may come (Prov. 21:5). The problem comes when we place confidence in our own machinations (Luke 12:13–21). We fear the future because we trust in our own abilities, and then we realize that we have no real power over what lies ahead of us. However, the Lord holds the future in His hand (Prov. 16:1, 9), and we must trust Him for our security. God does not promise us a life free of trouble, but He does pledge to be with us always, and He will not break this promise (Matt. 28:16–20).

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