Sweaty palms, shallow breathing, uncontrollable trembling – all are classic signs of a panic attack. Maybe you know what triggers them, or perhaps this is a brand-new experience for you. Regardless, something has occurred to make it hard for you to function.Perhaps your anxiety is more subtle. The long list of fears that accompany daily decisions, the weight that comes from making choices about what to eat or wear. Maybe you manage small daily decisions fine through good habits built over time, but you don’t know if you can make the larger decisions like buying a house, managing doctor appointments, etc.
The future is uncertain for everyone regardless of how sound your plan is. That may cause deep-rooted anxiety for some people that is hard to shake. Despite the words of Christ, “Don’t worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothing?” You worry about all those things.
The words of Christ about worry are a caveat to the previous verses. In many Bibles, Matthew 6:24 is placed in a section about storing up treasure, while verse 25 (quoted above) is the passage beginning the section on anxiety.
If you read them together here is what you would find:
No one can serve two masters, since either he will hate one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. Therefore, I tell you: do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothing. – Matthew 6:24
As you continue to read the passage you come to this, “But seek first the kingdoms of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you.” Anxiety is centered around the future, all the unknowns and elements beyond your control. You feel the weight of what might happen, and maybe you tend to want to prepare for the worst.
In Jesus’s oft-quoted Sermon on the Mount, he encourages weary, oppressed people to focus on living a faithful life rather than one in pursuit of worldly acclaim. He says you should trust God to care for you, although seeking His righteousness seems like rather a vague way to handle the mountain of anxiety that you may be trying to surmount.
Battling Anxiety with the Armor of God
Thankfully, the Scriptures contain multitudes, and you can find some other forms of combating anxiety in the Epistles (letters from the apostles to groups of people or individuals). One such passage is known as the full armor of God. You can view these to combat the forces of anxiety that seek to steal your faith on a daily basis.
Paul loves to use metaphorical language to describe the Christian life, and this is one of the most elaborate. You can use the language of armor as an aid to you in battling anxiety.
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
Therefore, take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.
In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel. – Ephesians 6:10-19
The belt of truth
When confronted by a panic attack or anxiety regarding a certain situation, take a deep breath and focus on true things. You could make a list as simple as the truth of your senses. What do you see, hear, smell, or feel? Let the truth of your environment ground you in an anxious moment.
Breastplate of righteousness
When anxiety occurs because you have a choice to make you should consider the implications. Is it a choice between right and wrong? Is there a choice that leans in favor of justice and mercy? Maybe the choice requires you to set aside your pride. Or maybe you simply need to make the healthiest food choice available, or the choice that will bring you the most joy.
Sandals of peace
Anxiety is a threat to your peace and makes it harder for you to bring peace to others. What is it about a situation that steals your peace? Sometimes though you know a choice will bring about external conflict but might bring you peace of soul. Consider if you are sacrificing the peace of God simply to avoid a difficult conversation with someone else. Often you create trouble for yourself by avoiding the hard thing, rather than confronting it.
Shield of faith
The enemy who will hurl doubt at you from every quarter, keeping you in a puddle of anxious indecision about your destiny. Determine where your doubts are coming from. Is it other people, online or in-person? Does the anxiety come from deep-seated trauma you have not had a chance to deal with?Learn to surround yourself with people who will be encouragers rather than doubters. Seek out healing from trauma to combat anxiety attacks that come from external pressures. God gives you good gifts and you do not have to live in fear of the heartache or trauma you have experienced.
Helmet of salvation
If you are a Christian, you have been chosen as a beloved child of God. He has forgiven your failures and sins even before you have thought of them. Anxiety about the future often finds its root in rejection, so you can remind yourself of the work of salvation that God accomplished on the cross. You are chosen and nothing you can do will change that.
The sword of the Spirit
In Paul’s day, the Word of God would have largely consisted of the Old Testament, the stories and lessons of God’s faithfulness to past generations, the psalms of praise and lament, and prophecies about the future of God’s people and the coming of the Messiah.
All of these are rooted in hope of a future where there is a restored relationship with God. Anxiety is often fear for the future, so seek to fill yourself with words of hope, God’s promises, and His character of faithful lovingkindness. Psalm 136 is a good passage to memorize for battling anxiety.
Pray at all times, pray for others
Speak to God. He is listening to your fears and worries. He knows the aches of your soul and the questions of your mind. Also, if your anxiety is focused on others then you should be praying for them. Paul asked for prayers for himself, and he needed others to pray for him to be bold.
Anxiety is a battle for many, an internal war that requires spiritual armor. So, use the image provided by Paul in Ephesians to help you through battling anxiety.
“Open Bible”, Courtesy of Jessica Delp, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Resting”, Courtesy of Hannah Busing, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Hands of Praise”, Courtesy of Jon Tyson, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Please, Lord”, Courtesy of Diana Simumpande, Unsplash.com, CC0 License