The Spiritual Antidote For Anxiety
I didn’t start writing this with the Corona pandemic in mind but after I woke up this morning and saw the world was melting down, I decided this topic was even more timely than I first thought. Even though this is a particularly anxious week I want to emphasize that the principles in this blog are timeless and transcend the spectrum of disaster and catastrophe both to the individual as well as the world.
People by nature are anxious creatures. We fret over the past; we fret over the present and we especially fret over the future and all scary unknowns that lie in wait patiently. Personally, I can remember a time when I dealt with anxiety so crippling, I was unable to drive the same route I always drove. I would literally drive a longer route just to avoid certain stretches of highway to the confusion and bewilderment of the unlucky passenger that was along for the haul. It didn’t feel like a casual choice to me but rather I just couldn’t overcome the anxiety I had when I was on those roads. I lacked the will power to drive them. It seemingly defied reason and logic but my reasons were my reasons and a story for another day. I imagine there are many other scenarios with different variables that would allow some of you to relate to my story. I’ve had friends that walked into grocery stores before the anxiety monster attacked and they would have a full meltdown preventing them from leaving. I showed up on one such occasion to give my friend a ride home and they could offer zero discernable reasons for the episode.
That’s one of the troubling aspects of general anxiety. To suffer such an attack yet being unable to discern a cause explaining its origin is maximally troubling. The inability to explain its existence can sometimes add to the insufferable effects it has on our mental well-being as we’re forced to endure the struggles it brings. I’m not a mental health expert and I don’t want to lump everyone into the same category or even try to claim that I have a universal solution to every category of anxiety. What I do want to provide is a basic introduction to the spiritual antidote for anxiety. An antidote that’s available to all people through common grace both regenerate and unregenerate alike, the very thing that cured my own issues with anxiety. Let me stress that where common grace has been bestowed on all people allowing for healing and peace to both Christians and Non-Christians, my advice is exponentially more helpful to the Christian that walks with Christ and rests in the authority of scripture.
If we look to the most common remedies suggested by the world around us, we find a multitude of solutions offering to numb the effects of anxiety mostly delivered in the form of tiny little colorful pills. I don’t have a problem with the general principle of medication but what if the root cause of most anxieties wasn’t a physical or biological issue? What if our general anxiety had a spiritual root? A root that lay beneath a tree of distrust and weakened faith? A tree that didn’t mature in the light of the God’s sun but rather was grown in a world of cheap synthetic light claiming to be equal to the light it’s imitating. I submit to you that God has provided men a spiritual medication for anxiety. A medication that when compared to all others leaves the others appearing as cheap substitutes never close to the power and effectiveness of the real thing.
The solution to the problem of anxiety has always been and will always be trusting in the providence of God. The idea for this little blog came to me while reading the chapter on “Providence” in Thomas Watson’s “A Body Of Divinity”. Here is the quote that sparked the thoughts that led to my own simple reflection on anxiety’s antidote being God’s goodness and sovereignty.
“without the wise providence of God there would be anxiety and confusion in the whole world, just like an army when it is routed in scattered. The providence of God infuses comfort and virtue into everything we enjoy. Our clothes would not warm us, our food would not nourish us, without the special providence of God. And does not all this deserve your admiration of providence?”
I’m not a super bright guy and I’m not trying to write anything that’s exceedingly intelligent. I am wanting to remind my friends, acquaintances and fans of Through The Black fans of the simple theological truth of “providence” that has been all but been forgotten in the modern evangelical climate. You either believe God is in control of all things or you don’t. I’m going to pull heavy from the previously mentioned book “A Body Of Divinity” here because it was used as a means of grace in my own life during my own uncomfortably anxious period. So, if anybody finds this helpful then thank God for his holy scripture as well as his servant Thomas Watson for being obedient and writing such a helpful book.
Watson’s definition of providence simply put is “God’s ordering all issues and events of things, after the counsel of his will, to his own glory”. This isn’t to be confused with the idea of God’s decrees. Whether by decree or permission nothing can happen outside of what God has already foreordained, but this is not providence. Providence tells us that not only is God sovereign over all things that happen, but he’s even organized each and every one of them thoroughly in a predetermined order to bring glory to himself. Watson goes even further to praise God’s abilities by lovingly referring to his providence as the “Regina Mundi” “the queen and governess of the world: the eye that sees, and the hand that turns all the wheels in the universe”. The one who built this place still manages it with more tender love and skill than we can imagine.
How can anxiety and faith live side by side comfortably? One of them has to wither while the other grows. I believe if all men held their anxieties to the fire of these biblical principles those anxieties would burn fertilizing the growth of a Godly faith that’s strong and capable of withstanding the elements. I’m going to quickly give you 5 of Watson’s points from the end of his chapter. These are the very points and scriptures that settled deep into my heart and mind allowing me to find joy even in an ever-present suffering.
Point #1: “Admire God’s providence”. Without God’s providence the world would be nothing but confusion and anxiety. The fact that any enjoyment exists at all is a blessing and proof of God’s merciful hand generously allowing us the pleasure. Find joy in all the good things God gives and never take his generosity for granted. Have you thanked him today for both your hands, your ears, your feet, the food you ate or the clothes you have? Whatever good things we have today, we weren’t owed any of it, but here they are ours to enjoy because of God’s goodness.
Point #2: “Learn quietly to submit to divine providence”. To grumble at God’s providence is equally as sinful as denying its existence. When men have rebelled and attempted to exercise their own sovereignty in matters of life and government, God in his providence, has allowed them to fail and bring harm to not only themselves but also those around them. He shows us by allowing this that he alone can do such a thing and it’s in our best interest to submit to his mighty power. Watson says “Let us be content with God running the world; learn to acquiesce in his will and submit to his providence. Does any affliction befall you? Remember God sees it is that which is fit for you, or it would not come.” See also Psalm 39:9.
Point #3: “You that are Christians, believe that all God’s providence shall conspire for your good at last”. Providence is hard to understand and often we will be unable to know God’s mind fully in the matter. The effects of God’s providence can be draining and sometimes painful beyond words. It is the very promise of God that all things work together for the good of those he’s called that provides a hope and a joy that no man can take. See Romans 8:28. Experience in this life has shown us that painful means are sometimes necessary for beneficial gain, this is a fact. Watson says “Therefore, Christians, believe that God loves you, and that he will make the most cross providences to promote his glory and your good.”
Point #4: “Let it be an antidote against immoderate fear, that nothing comes to pass but what is ordained by God’s decree and ordered by his providence”. No matter what evil plans men carry out, their abilities will never go further than God’s providence will allow. If this is true, then why should we spend a single moment anxious about their deeds. We are allowed and even encouraged to be righteously angry with the evil in this world, but never should we be anxious about it. When the world assaults us with its evil attacks, always remember that we serve a God that can split the sea in order to provide safe passage at any moment he chooses. See Exodus 14. No evil runs unaccounted for or unrestrained in some heavenly capacity. Martyn Lloyd Jones in a sermon on the eternal decrees of God once said “The sinful actions of men come under this great and eternal decree of God. Now let’s be clear about this. In view of what we have already agreed about the holiness of God, and the character of God, we must say this at once. God does not cause evil in any sense or in any degree. He doesn’t approve of evil, but He permits the wicked agents to perform it and then overrules it for his own wise and holy ends. Or take it like this if you prefer. The same decree of God which ordains the moral law that prohibits and punishes sin, the same decree also permits sin, its occurrence, but it limits it and determines the precise channel to which it shall be consigned and the precise end to which it shall be directed and overrules its consequences for good. God decrees the moral law which prohibits sin and punishes sin, yes but He also decrees that sin is to be permitted, and He even puts that sin into a channel and determines its direction and overrules it all to bring His own great ends to pass”. I don’t fear evil because I know the one who set the length of its leash.
Point #5: “Let the merciful providence of God cause thankfulness”. Our ability to live is found in the providence of God alone. Our money, our food, our clothes, our friends are given out of the hands of a generous God. See Deuteronomy 8:18. He stewards his creation and even gives these graces to those that hate him continually. How much more blessed are we who have grown up under the umbrella of the gospel with the gift of faith to receive it. To live in a land where the gospel thrives, and bibles written in our native tongue are given away by the thousands each day. How blessed we are to live in a time of prosperity built by God’s grace, the blood of martyrs and the church before us that stood firm and proclaimed the goodness of God to each new generation God raised up. Don’t let anxiety weaken your trust in God’s abilities and goodness. Stand on the authority of scripture and tell each new trouble how big our God is. Anxiety can never thrive when we delight in the providence of God. One day all the troubles will make sense but for now we stand with Christ in our hearts and a joy that no man or trouble can stael. Glory to God who keeps us, sustains us and loves all those he chooses to smile upon.