For some reason that is a question that we are very good at asking, but not always good at answering. Unfortunately in our personal lives many of our "What if"s cannot be solved by dialling the insurance hotline. While our housing insurance, legal insurance, life insurance, medical aid schemes and security companies provide some peace of mind we may still be left with more than enough fears to keep us awake at night.
The problem with anxiety is that the thing that you are worrying about is most often something that you have very little control over. And in my experience, the harder I try to convince myself not to worry, the more anxious I become. The more I focus on the issue the more I realise that I cannot control the future and therefore have no guarantee that it will not happen, and it becomes a vicious cycle where a single "What if" can snowball into a fear that overrules all other thoughts of peace and joy. It is like a seat belt that got stuck - the harder you pull, the less you accomplish.
So the question is, how do we battle anxiety effectively? How do you work hard at fighting fear without achieving the opposite result? Something that has been a great help to me is a part of Paul's letter to the Philippians, which almost provides a recipe, a list of things to do when experiencing anxiety:
"Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, 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 minds through Christ Jesus.Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you." Philippians 4:4-9
1. Rejoice in the Lord
"Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!"
The problem with worry is that it keeps our focus mainly on our situation and on ourselves. One of the main symptoms of worry is a lack of joy. When we try to find joy in our circumstances we will be disappointed. However, while circumstances are constantly changing, the Christian has something more secure to find his joy in: God. I recently stuck a note on my desk which says: "Rejoice in [who] the Lord [is no matter where you are]" which is what I think this verse means. If you choose to look away from your circumstances and find your joy in the Lord you will not be disappointed, because God never changes.
2. Give your requests to God
"Be anxious for nothing, 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 minds through Christ Jesus."
The reason why a Christian does not need to be anxious is because everything that is not under his control is fully under God's control. We fret because we want something but we are not sure that it will happen. We will never be sure of the future, but we can be sure that the One who holds the future is committed to looking after His children. All we need to do is to ask what we want and trust that God will provide in such a way that whatever happens will be for our good (Romans 8:28). It is only possible to get to the point of thanksgiving when we truly give the issue over to God. We must be willing to trust the Lord to take care of the issue and not try to figure it out in our minds anymore. Note that it does not say that bad things will never happen, but rather that we will be able to have peace and joy in any circumstances because we trust in God to work it out for good.
After this the wonderful promise comes, that God will give us a peace that is so deep and so effective that it cannot be explained or fully understood, because it is a supernatural peace. Please note that having peace is not given as a command. It is God who gives us peace, we cannot stir it up in our own hearts. This is where the crux of the matter lies, because if we try to force ourselves into having peace it will fail, but when we look away from the issue and focus on the Lord, He will give us the peace that we need. And then we need not worry about falling into anxiety again, for as long as our focus is on Him, He will guard our hearts and minds from fear.
3. Meditate on these things
"Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things."
As soon as we free our minds from worry they become empty, and need to be filled with something else. I actually had an experience today where I tried to get rid of worry, but during the moment that I forgot about my fears I did not know what else to think about. If you have been spending most of your time thinking about something that is bothering you and you give it over to God, you will suddenly have a lot of free thinking time, and if you do not fill that with something positive the worry will come back.
The advice Paul gives is very practical - fill your mind with thoughts about things that are good and beautiful. This is more effective than the positive thinking that the world offers because Paul talks about a mind that is not only focused on the positive things in life, but on God who is the source of all good things. So when you have looked to God for your joy, and when you have told Him everything that you want, and when you have trusted Him to look after you, then use your free time thinking about things that are beautiful. Thank God for your blessings but also look at things that are outside of yourself, such as nature or the timeless truths of God's Word, and focus on these.
The conclusion is that if we follow the commands given to us in God's Word, then the God of peace will be with us, which reminds me of the following song. The second verse says:
Not a shadow can rise, not a cloud in the skies,
But His smile quickly drives it away;
Not a doubt or a fear, not a sigh or a tear,
Can abide while we trust and obey.
Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.