Is there any help and hope for the anxious this Christmas season (or any other time of the year)? The answer for the Christian is an emphatic yes. One such place where we find help and hope is in 1 Peter 5:6-7: Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you, (7) casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you.
Let’s consider first the reality of anxiety. Notice that Peter assumes the reality of anxiety in the life of every believer. He doesn’t say “if you are anxious about something, cast that on the Lord.” He doesn’t say, “if you have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, cast it on the Lord.” He’s writing to all the believers living as exiles in Asia Minor, and by extension to all believers today. This is not a sometimes problem for some believers, but an everyday battle for every Christian. Anxiety is part of what it means to be human in a fallen world. In his book Running Scared, Ed Welch writes, “Fear is natural to us. We don’t have to learn it. We experience fear and anxiety even before there is any logical reason for them.”[i]
The word “anxieties” means care, worry, burden, load, or trouble. It’s the word Jesus uses to describe the seed that fell among thorns and was choked by the “cares of the world.” (Matthew 13:22, Mark 4:19, Luke 8:14). He uses it again when Martha comes to Him complaining about Mary’s lack of help around the house: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things” (Luke 10:41). Paul uses the word to talk about the daily pressure of his anxiety for the churches in 2 Corinthians 11 and in Philippians 4 he tells Christians there not to be anxious about anything. But perhaps the most famous use of this word in Scripture comes in Matthew 6 in Jesus’ sermon on the mount:
“Therefore I tell you, 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. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? (26) Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? (27) And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? (28) And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, (29) yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. (30) But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? (31) Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ (32) For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. (33) But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (34) “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matthew 6:25-34)
Perhaps you’ve been under the impression that following Jesus means the end of anxieties for the Christian. Absolutely not. There would not be so much in Scripture devoted to our anxieties if they were not a common enemy in the Christian life. You’ve probably heard that the most repeated command in the Bible is “fear not.” I would suggest that if anything Christians have more things to be anxious about.
The question is not “am I anxious?” but what am I anxious about? Some of you may be anxious about finances. How am I going to have enough money for Christmas? Or forget Christmas, how am I going to have enough money to pay my bills this month? Others may be anxious about your health. What if I get Covid-19? What if I already have it but don’t know it? What if I have cancer? What if I have a heart attack? What if the doctor missed something when he ran that test? Or maybe you’re anxious about someone you love. What if my spouse gets sick? What if my parents get in a car accident? What if my kids stop loving me? Some of you are anxious about what you see on the news. What if President Trump doesn’t stop fighting? What if he does? What if the pandemic gets worse? What if the economy crashes? What if the vaccine has an unforeseen side effect? Or maybe you’re anxious about uncomfortable situations. What if someone I don’t know tries to talk to me after church? What if I join a Fellowship Group and I don’t like it? What if I hurt someone’s feelings? What if they don’t like me once they get to know me? Or perhaps you’re anxious about spiritual matters. What if I’m wrong about God and the Bible? What if I’m not really a Christian? What if I’m deceived?
Once again, Ed Welch is helpful here. He writes, “Any time you love or want something deeply, you will notice fear and anxieties because you might not get them. Any time you can’t control the fate of those things you want or love, you will notice fears and anxieties because you might lose them.”[ii]
I believe that every sinner is intimately familiar with anxiety. You may not have a diagnosis, but you know what it is to be anxious. It may not affect you the way it affects someone else, but it affects you nonetheless. My wife Holly and I are rarely anxious at the same time or about the same things, but we’re both affected by anxiety. To be honest with you, one of the things that caused me great anxiety last week was studying this passage about anxiety. What if I say something hurtful? What if, out of fear of saying something hurtful, I neglect to say something helpful? What if I’m overly simplistic? What if I’m too complex? Everyone is anxious about something.
God’s Word supplies help and hope for anxious exiles. But first we need to understand the reality of exile anxiety. The question is not “am I anxious,” but “what am I anxious about?” But there’s no help or hope if we stop here. In fact, some of you may simply be feeling more anxious because I gave you something new to be anxious about. Or, perhaps, you’re feeling anxious because you don’t know what to feel anxious about and that unsettles you. So come back tomorrow to discover what God’s Word says about the root of anxiety.
[i] Edward T. Welch, Running Scared: Fear, Worry, and the God of Rest (Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press, 2007), 19. [ii] Welch, 28.