What Does the Bible Say About Fear and Worry?
Everyone faces occasional worries about the future. “What will happen when…?” or “What if…?” questions roll through every mind now and again. However, someone who experiences overwhelming anxiety on a persistent basis may have an anxiety disorder.Anxiety disorders can get in the way of performing everyday activities. The feelings of panic will be disproportionate to the actual danger posed by the upsetting incident (which may not be dangerous at all). While most of us have been told not to worry – perhaps even on a daily basis – those with anxiety disorders experience worry and fear with such intensity that their feelings get out of control.
You will want to consult with your doctor and therapist if your feelings of anxiety become problematic. Symptoms of anxiety may include nervousness, restlessness, and avoiding triggering situations. They may also include physical symptoms such as sweating, trembling, fatigue, and trouble sleeping.
When your anxiety interferes with your work, your relationships, or your ability to perform necessary tasks, or if you notice yourself consistently turning to numbing behaviors such as zoning out for hours in front of the TV, mindlessly scrolling on social media, or overindulging in alcohol, please seek help.
Whether you face garden-variety worries, like whether you’ll hit traffic on your home-bound commute or whether your son remembered to turn in the essay he spent the weekend writing for his high school English class, or you’re dealing with a more significant anxiety issue, the Bible has much to say about anxiety. Since anxiety can also feel like fear or worry, let’s look at what the Bible says about fear, worry, and anxiety.
What does the Bible say about fear?
First, let’s clear up a misconception: when the Bible talks about the “fear of God” it is not addressing anxiety. The Psalmist writes “The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever” (Psalm 19:9) or “You who fear the Lord, praise him!” (Psalm 22:23). Rather than sweaty palms and racing heart, the author instead points to a biblical fear of God that indicates the awe and respect God’s people ought to demonstrate for our righteous and holy God.
God is God and we are not. Throughout Scripture, we see examples of people recognizing their unworthiness when they came into God’s presence. When Moses encountered God in the burning bush, God instructed him to take off his shoes because he was standing on holy ground (Exodus 3).
When Isaiah had a vision of himself before God’s throne and cried out “Woe to me!” bemoaning his unclean lips and his eyes that had seen the Lord, an angel touched his mouth with a coal from the altar to atone for his sin and cleanse his mouth to speak God’s truth (Isaiah 6).
Luke 5 tells the story of Jesus directing the not-yet disciples to cast their fishing nets on the other side of their boats after a long night of not catching anything. When following Jesus’ directions resulted in a catch so large their nets began to tear, Peter was so moved that he fell at Jesus’ feet confessing his sinfulness. We ought to feel awestruck when we recognize God’s holiness, goodness, provision, and love.
However, when angels appeared to people their first words were often, “Do not be afraid!” For example, the Lord appeared to Abram in a vision saying, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward” (Genesis 15:1).
Later the Lord appeared to Joshua with similar encouragement: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9). When the archangel Gabriel appeared to Mary to announce that God had chosen her to bear His Son, his first words were, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God” (Luke 1:30).
When the Lord and his representatives exhort “Do not be afraid,” they recognize that human beings are prone to fear. Fear is a normal human response to situations we don’t expect or that may pose some threat, especially when circumstances may be largely beyond our control. The good news is that, though fear is normal, God is with us in every situation. We can choose courage over fear because God is in control, even when we can’t be.
What does the Bible say about worry?
The gospel of Matthew records Jesus encouraging people that we don’t need to worry, especially about all the details of daily life:
Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?… Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?… But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. – Matthew 6:25, 27, 33-34
Just as God feeds the birds and clothes the flowers in beauty, God will take care of you. Instead of worrying, Jesus directs us to seek God’s kingdom and righteousness. Jesus asks us to act. He replaces one fruitless attitude, worry, with a fruitful action: seeking God. Instead of pacing the floors, we can perform the tasks God has given us to do today, whether our work takes place in an office building, our community, or our homes.
We can also ask God what He would like righteousness to look like in our day, like reaching out to a friend who has been struggling, taking a welcome gift of homemade pumpkin muffins to your new neighbors, or volunteering in the after-school reading enrichment program at a nearby under-resourced school.
Trying to serve someone else turns your attention outward, off your worries. Besides, as Jesus pointed out, worrying doesn’t add hours to your life; to the contrary, medical sciences have shown us the detrimental physical effects of too much stress on the body. Worrying can make your life shorter.
What does the Bible say about anxiety?
The Bible recognizes that we will feel fear and worry at times; it’s a fact of life on this planet populated by hurting people operating within broken systems. Things are not the way God originally intended them to be, simply because people choose to trust themselves instead of God’s good plans. People sinned and still sin and will sin, and sin makes a mess which causes us to worry.
Yet the Bible offers both comfort and action steps. Proverbs 12:25 speaks to our common experience: “Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up.” We’ve all felt that heavy-hearted sadness that comes with anxiety, and surely, we’ve all been encouraged by a kind word from someone who was able to cheer us up.
You can choose to surround yourself with good company, safe people who will listen, people who add sunshine to your life on your dark days. Likely you’ve also spoken a kind word of cheer, maybe even while you’ve been feeling down-hearted, and noticed how speaking kindness to someone else also made you feel better.
The Psalmist shares his own experience: “When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy” (Psalm 94:19). Sometimes anxiety feels truly overwhelming, “great” in the Psalmist’s word, even though it feels terrible. God invites you to bring those heavy, negative emotions to Him and exchange them for the comfort of His love.Sometimes you may not even be aware of exactly what is causing you to feel anxious, and so you can follow the Psalmist’s example and ask: “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24).
God can help you understand exactly what is causing your anxiety; He can root out the offending thoughts and behaviors and lead you to greater joy as you walk with Him.
Prayer can often seem mysterious, yet prayer is simply engaging in conversation with God. You tell God whatever is on your heart and listen for what God wants to say in response. You listen for what God wants to say to you, often through the reading of His Word, and then you tell God what you’ve heard and how you might move forward to put God’s truth into practice.
The Apostle Paul offers hope:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:6-7
In every situation, in any moment of any ordinary day, you can tell God about your anxiety, along with anything else you’re feeling. Remember to say thanks because God is always good even when your experience doesn’t feel good. And God will give you peace.
Peter sums it all up in one short sentence: “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). God cares for you, and His love is the bottom line. He knows that sometimes your heart feels heavy, and He wants to carry the load for you.
Christian counseling for anxiety
If you’re looking for additional support for your anxiety, feel free to contact me or one of the other counselors in the online counselor directory. We would be happy to meet with you to discuss practical techniques for anxiety management from a Christian perspective.
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