Dr. Doran recently preached a series of sermons addressing a significant problem in our day: anxiety. This was a timely series and the sermons are filled with biblical and practical guidance for fighting against the sin of worry. You can listen to the sermons here:
The Roots of Anxiety from Matthew 6:24–34
The Right Response to Anxiety from Philippians 4:6–7
The Remedy for Anxiety from 1 Peter 5:6–7
Dr. Doran offered a helpful analogy to evaluate whether or not we are properly responding to the pressures and responsibilities in our lives. There is a beam that we must walk on that means we are fulfilling our responsibilities and responding biblically to the realities of our life. When we face challenges and problems, we can be tempted to fall off the beam into sin on opposite sides.
On one side we can become apathetic or irresponsible, treating legitimate concerns as unimportant and not failing to take ownership of what we are truly responsible for. On the other side we can become anxious and worried, either becoming paralyzed by our problems or acting as though we can change things that only God can. We could consider the beam the place where we are being faithful, while avoiding falling into flippancy/foolishness on one side or fearfulness on the other.
Since both fear/worry and faithfulness/responsibility can flow out of taking your obligations and challenges seriously, how can we know whether we are exercising legitimate concern or care about an issue or we are falling into anxiety and worry? Here are some diagnostic questions to help you discern where you are.
Are you praying about it or just thinking about it?
In both Philippians 4 and 1 Peter 5, God encourages us to pray to him, casting our cares on him, rather than being anxious. One of the clearest signs that we are worrying is that we are not praying.
Are you praying with thanksgiving or just worrying to God?
As Philippians 4 points out, prayers that are the opposite of worry are given with thanksgiving. If we are just listing the things that concern us but are not also expressing our gratitude to God for both how he has helped in the past and how he will work in the coming situations, then we are not really praying but rather worrying to God.
Are you experiencing God’s peace or experiencing ongoing apprehension and dread?
The result of responding to life’s challenges with grateful prayer is that our cares have now been cast on God (1 Peter 5) and the peace of God now guards our hearts and minds (Philippians 4). If instead of enjoying that peace as we work to fulfill our responsibilities we experience ongoing stress, nervousness, hypertension, sleeplessness, etc., then we probably have not truly cast our cares on God (or perhaps have pulled them back on ourselves).
Are you taking steps to alleviate the concern or just allowing it to dominate your thoughts?
As Jesus argues in Matthew 6:27, we are not able to solve our problems by worrying. As someone once said, “Worry is like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do but never gets you anywhere.” If our thoughts and actions are oriented towards solutions, then we are likely avoiding worry. If, instead, we are continually allowing the problem or potential problems/scenarios to play out in our minds, we are probably filled with anxiety instead of trust.
Are you focused on God and his desires or you and your desires/needs?
Jesus sets the faithful Christian in contrast to the anxious unbeliever on the basis of what they are seeking in Matthew 6. Unbelievers run after the physical necessities of this world, but believers seek God and his kingdom first and foremost while trusting God to care for their physical necessities. If we are focused on our career, political preferences, finances, health, family, etc., then we have fallen off the beam into anxiety and fear. But if we take those areas of responsibility seriously while viewing them in light of God’s purposes, promises, and precepts, we can live obedient and faithful lives that are worry-free.