What Jesus Wants You To Do With Your Anxiety
Rev. Dan Shaw
“Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.”
C. S. Lewis
“Fear makes men forget, and skill which cannot fight, is useless.”
Phormio, Athenian General
Fear is derived from something so deeply ingrained in human development that we scarcely can ascertain even shallow levels of its origin. That is, we are completely unaware, and robotically obedient, to deep, hidden, forces that are controlling almost every feeling and action. We may think that we are afraid of spiders, or heights etc., but in truth, there is a subspiritual entity, or entities, that dwell very deep in the spirit that manifests in ways that we cannot cognitively reach or even have awareness. This explains why one can be quite fearful, and thus riddled with anxiety, even when there is not an object at present to fear! Hence, the inscription at the temple of the Greek god Apollo (600 B.C.) admonished would be worshipers to “Know Thyself”.
Fear, therefore, that has no consciously named object, but nonetheless is quite operative, produces a restlessness that is most commonly labeled “anxiety”. However, anxiety can also possess an object, but almost always in a vague, opaque sense. Anxiety is full of uncertainties about the object, and tends to be future oriented. “I have to do ___ tomorrow”, “what is going to happen if___”, “I don’t have time for ___”, “I’m so busy”, etc. Fear may have a present object in reality, however it morphs into anxiety when it becomes nebulous or dream like. Thus, the attack on the spirit comes from two external directions, past and future, which produces anxiety in the present. Further, because anxiety is doggedly future oriented, it lives in the realm of possibility, potential and freedom. “Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.”― Søren Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard’s contention is that only a soul that is free, that has possibility, or freedom, can experience and struggle with anxiety. “In spiritlessness there is no anxiety. It is too happy for that, too content, and too spiritless.” – Kierkegaard. This entails that it is only those who are the most self-aware, fully awake, can experience true, deep, abiding anxiety. The choice then for the modern individual then is to become free, and thus deepen anxiety, or to become dumb, numb, spiritless and idiotically bound to our primordial ooze.
Now consider Jesus Christ, the most free of all people, on the night before his own death, expressing his soul as “sorrowful and grieved to the point of death”. The Son of God was perfect, still yet he was wrestling with a deathly anxiety over the future and his fate. This is on the surface quite odd since He knew, and prophesied, that the cross, and entering into the spiritual furnace, was in his future. This isn’t a matter of knowledge, or greater clarity of his mission and purpose. He has clarity (although perhaps in the garden there was a greater vision of how costly was the price to be paid, since nowhere else do we see him so agitated with anxiety). He is also the most free person of all, and therefore the most anxiety ridden person ever of the human race. That is, the closer to God we are, the walk that is in full concert with Him, will be a life that is in constant anxiety.
From this we can see that anxiety is not something that we can dispense with, or psychologize away by technique or meditation. If you wish to follow him, and be truly free, there must be anxiety, and the more free you are, the more forceful the anxious pressure.
The heart of our Christian walk with our anxious Christ, then, is not care free and unconcerned happiness in this world. This would be “spiritlessness” as Kierkegaard has instructed. When Jesus calls us by name, it is a summon into the unknown future, without promises of safety or direction, just to trust his voice through scripture. The armor of God is for the battle between your freedom and your anxiety. Stay close enough to Jesus and you will be anxious, but it’s how you address and battle the anxiety that is the root of our walk with him – through prayer (as Jesus did in the garden), petition and supplication (Phil. 4:6). This is how the Jesus follower engages in the struggle, and if not treated properly, the anxiety can devolve into serious spiritual sickness and darkness. Being anxious does not mean our faith is weak, only that it is being pushed and tested, and thus should prompt us to drop on our knees and abide in him as our true vine (John 15). This is not a reprieve from anxiety, but peace in the midst of it all (Psalm 46:1).
So, you have a fight on your hands, one that will last as long as we follow our King. Do not fret if your anxiety persists or even grows, because it most assuredly will if you are close to Christ! Rather, take hold of your spiritual armor (Eph. 6), ground your identity in Christ, hammer away with ardent prayer in the power of the Holy Spirit, and you will be a good servant of your crucified King. Remember who you are, remember whose you are, where your true worth lies, and what has been done for you on the cross. See His scars, which He still bears eternally for you, and are His forever tattoos of His love over you. And, in the end, with a soldier of faith like this, He may make some earthly good of us after all. We will be ministry providers instead of, solely, being ministry consumers.
2 Cor.3:7, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” Thank you Jesus for my anxiety.
-Further reading: Soren Kierkegaard, “The Sickness Unto Death”. Gerhard Forde, “On Being a Theologian of the Cross”. D. Martyn Lloyd Jones, “Spiritual Depression”. St. Augustine, “The Confessions”. Jordan Petersen, “12 Rules for Life”. Timothy Keller, “Making Sense of God”.