Anxiety in today’s world is seen as a mental illness; a pitiable condition of the mind. When someone is in a state of stress, they are looked upon as helpless and innocent. But while sometimes anxiety is an unavoidable, initial, human response to certain situations in life, it is far too often a harbored and selfish emotion, producing pride and distrust in God.
Anxiety as Sin
God commands us multiple times in the Bible to not be anxious.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” – Philippians 4:6
“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?” – Matthew 6:25
“Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?” – Matthew 6:31
“When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour.” – Matthew 10:19
So… if God commands us not to worry, is anxiety a sin? Well, if God tells us not to do something and we do it anyways, that’s pretty much what we call “sin.” So, yes, I believe that there is at least some sense in which anxiety is indeed a sin against God.
The reason God tells us not to be anxious is because anxiety is, at its core, distrust in the Lord. When we sit and worry all day about our distant loved ones, or constantly pace around our room dreading an upcoming speech of ours, we are revealing in our sinful hearts a loss of confidence in our God. If we don’t trust the maker and sustainer of the universe (who loves us deeply) to do exactly what’s best for our lives, then we’ve greatly dishonored Him.
“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” – Matthew 7:11
As Jesus says in this verse, if evil humans know how to supply for their family’s needs, how much more will God supply for our needs? Think about that. Man is a greatly fallen and sinful creature, yet many of us will provide for our families in a heartbeat. Some of us, sadly, will not. But God is far beyond anything man could ever hope to be. He’s God, after all. He tells us that He’ll always give us exactly what we need. How can we not trust Him?
And yet, many times we claim that God doesn’t know what He’s doing. Oftentimes we find fault with His choices of how our lives and other people’s lives play out. We think constantly about whether or not we’ll get that important job we applied for, instead of just letting God do what He sees fit and being ok with that. We let ourselves get unnecessarily worked up over a mistake that caused us to fail a test. We live in states of stress and worry as to how we will get through the next few years, when all God wants us to be thinking about is how we can serve Him to the best of our ability here and now (Matthew 6:34).
Of course, we usually don’t think we’re doing anything wrong by being so worried about life. After all, nobody looks down on that sort of thing in today’s culture, so it must be ok, right? Nope. God commands us to trust Him and to cast our anxieties on Him, because He cares for us (1 Peter 5:6-7). If we continue to hold onto our anxiety and insecurity, we call God a liar when He says that all things work together for good for those of us who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). God cannot lie, and He will most certainly give us what’s best. When we worry, we basically say, “Your will isn’t good enough, I want this to go my way!” to our God. This is wrong. We must put away all of our feeble attempts at gaining control and let God be God in our lives, giving Him the rights to everything we call our own, and being willing to let Him use it all for His glory; no matter what that looks like.
Butterflies and Blood
By now you might be thinking, “Wait a minute, how is being worried a sin?” Well, not many people even consider that possibility nowadays. But as I’ve tried to make clear, anxiety is mainly distrust in God, which is definitely wrong. However, I do think that there are forms of what we call, “anxiety” that are simply human reactions to surprise and anticipation. In other words, not all anxiety is sin. Some of it is natural, and that’s ok. We just need to be very careful not to get the two mixed up.
You’ve probably been there before. You have a big solo or a major performance coming up in the next few hours or minutes. You tell all your friends who ask you if you’re ok that you are, “fine.” You even try convincing yourself that you really aren’t that worried. But then the time comes, and your stomach starts to tighten up. You breathe deep and hope you don’t mess up, all the while thinking that you will. You’re nervous, and you know it. But then everything usually turns out great and you go home wondering what you were so worried about. This is an example of how God designed us. When we know there’s an important responsibility coming up, we get a bit anxious about it. This is not sin. Only when we decide to let that tension fester inside us and control us do we deny God’s loving promises that everything will be fine, and that He will be glorified through whatever happens.
When Jesus prayed in Gethsemane, His sweat “became like great drops of blood” due to the sorrow and distress that He was going through (Mark 14:32-34).
“And being in an agony He prayed more earnestly; and His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” – Luke 22:44
This is obviously not sin, because Jesus didn’t sin. So, what is it? Well, part of the reason Jesus is in the condition that He’s in is because of sadness, not just anxiety.
“And He took with Him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled.” – Mark 14:33
Now, those words distressed and troubled don’t necessarily mean what you might think. The Greek behind “distressed” is describing more of a feeling of amazement and shock rather than anxiety. Jesus was in awe as to what He knew He had to do. The Greek word used for “troubled” speaks to an emotion of dejection or being “full of sorrow.” Jesus clarifies in the next verse that this is indeed what He’s experiencing (Mark 14:34).
So, is this anxiety? In a sense, yes. Feelings of shock and/or sorrow are often related to anxiety. But notice what Jesus did not allow Himself to do with these feelings. He refused to grasp vainly at control of the situation, and instead laid it in His Father’s hands, even though His body was in a lot of pain and tension over it.
“And going a little farther He fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” – Matthew 26:39
This is how we are to handle these types of situations. We are to go straight to God, give our fears over to Him, and let His will be done, trusting that He will use what is happening around us for His glory and our good.
Another example of how not all “anxiety” is bad is found in this verse:
“And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.” – 2 Corinthians 11:28
This implies the burden of the churches on Paul. This does not necessarily imply the prideful, sinful kind of anxiety discussed earlier. In this passage, “anxiety” is merely the word Paul chooses to use in order to describe his awareness of his responsibility in the churches. If we are aware of a task or a job we must complete, that’s not sin. It could become sin if we choose to dwell on it and worry constantly about it, but we aren’t rejecting God’s sovereignty over the situation simply by noticing it.
When we know we are allowing ourselves to slip into a state of mind that dishonors our all-powerful God, we must fight it. It can be very difficult to battle anxiety, but I’m going to share with you the method I have found most effective.
When I find myself worrying about something or not letting a situation be under God’s control in my mind, I recite these verses from Philippians in my brain over and over and attempt to follow them. I would highly suggest memorizing these verses so you can have them whenever you need to defeat anxiety.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:6-7
Let’s take a look here, shall we? First off is that familiar command, “Do not be anxious.” Sometimes it helps just to know that God commands us to not be anxious. We feel that it is a charge to us, and not just an idea we can take or leave. But notice the next phrase there. “Do not be anxious about anything.” This means that nothing is excluded; period. Next come the words, “but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” So, in everything, instead of getting worried, we should let God know our desires and thank Him for what He does for us while we’re at it. Thankfulness, by the way, is extremely important, and should never become a forgotten part of our Christian walk (see my post, “Thank You, God“). Then comes a spectacular promise. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” That’s absolutely amazing. Have you felt this peace? If not, pray hard for it. The peace of God is what we are to pursue when faced with anxiety, and our Lord promises that if we obey His commands found here in His Word, we will receive it.
So next time you hear some bad news, look to God and rest it in His arms, rather than letting it haunt you all day long. When you have a solo coming up, remember Philippians 4:6-7 and claim the promise of peace God gives us! Don’t let anxiety become a selfish retreat from the holy vulnerability of trusting in God, or a complaint that the world isn’t under your control. Let God do His job, and thank Him regularly for doing it so well.
“Say to those who have an anxious heart,”Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.” – Isaiah 35:4
“Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad.” – Proverbs 12:25