When I first started struggling with anxiety, I didn't tell people about it. I pushed it down and hoped it would go away. I also didn't talk with God about my anxiety. It was easy for me to think that God didn't understand what I was going through, so I didn't need to tell Him about it. I also felt like dealing with anxiety was shameful as a Christian, so I couldn't go to God with my struggle. However, I eventually discovered that my assumptions about sharing my struggle with anxiety with God and others were wrong.
When we open up the pages of Scripture, we see a God who is aware of everything that plagues His creation. As Creator of the universe, God intimately knows His creation. God wants us to come to Him with our anxieties because He understands our minds. He understands the mental battles we face. God also wants to enter into our struggle and help us through it.
In Philippians 4:6, Paul writes, "Don't worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God." The proper way to approach this verse is to not see it as saying, just pray your anxiety away! Anxiety is multifaceted and a difficult struggle for many people. If anxiety remains even after prayer, it does not mean God is powerless against anxiety, nor does it mean that you did anything wrong. Anxiety is a result of the Fall. For believers with anxiety, we can cling to the hope that God will one day eradicate anxiety forever. But for now, many believers with anxiety will struggle their whole lives. Even still, prayer is an invitation to allow God into the battle of anxiety. Paul's words in Philippians 4:6 encourage believers to not remain hopeless in their struggle with anxiety but to come to God in prayer. That said, what does it look like to fight anxiety with prayer?
Be Honest with God
In Philippians 4:6, Paul says instead of worrying, pray. While this is broad instruction, one particular way to pray is to pray honestly. We can find examples of honest prayer in Psalms. What I love about Psalms is David's complete vulnerability in front of the Lord. He doesn't hide anything he is feeling from God. In moments of anxiety, prayer is an opportunity to be vulnerable with God about what we are experiencing. God does not reject honest prayers. He will never say, "this is too much for me" or "I don't know why you're feeling that way." As a loving Father, God extends a close ear and open arms to those with anxiety. Knowing that we have a loving Father who cares for us encourages us to pray honestly to Him. Honest prayers in anxiety can be, "God, I'm struggling," "Lord, I'm so overwhelmed," or "God, I feel like I'm drowning." Coming before the Lord and being honest with Him about our anxiety keeps us from burying it all inside. One of my favorite items to help pray honest prayers is the Daily Grace Scripture for Anxiety Journal. It has a section to confess any anxiety or worries I am feeling at the moment. This allows me to identify what I am struggling with so I can speak honestly to the Lord.
Ask for God's Help
Paul also writes in Philippians 4:6 to give petitions and present requests to God. Petitions are prayers that ask God to fulfill a desire. In moments of anxiety, we desire help, and God is willing and ready to help combat our anxious thoughts. On our own, we can't handle anxiety. We need God's perfect power and strength. We can continue modeling the prayers of David, who, after expressing His feelings, asked for God to act. When you find yourself anxious, ask for God's help. Ask Him to remove the thoughts that are weighing you down. Ask Him to replace worrying thoughts with ones that bring peace. Ask Him to help calm your body and slow your heart down. The Daily Grace Prayers for Anxiety cards are great tools to help prompt and guide prayers to the Lord. The back of the card gives prompts such as "ask the Lord for freedom from fear" or "ask Him to transform your mind." When you are struggling to know what to say, these cards are helpful tools to help guide your words in prayer.
Call to Mind the Character of God
Paul also lists in Philippians 4:6 to pray with thanksgiving. This can be hard in times of anxiety, as it can be difficult to be thankful amid such a struggle. But thanksgiving allows us to praise the Lord for who He is. It enables us to recognize that He is the God of Peace and Comfort. When I am in a situation that I know can trigger my anxiety, I've learned to repeat the character of God to myself. For me, this looks like praying, "Because of who You are, I know I'm okay" or "Even if, You are still good." The last one is hard for me because I don't want my worst fears realized. But these words calm me, knowing that even if my fears come true, God's grace and faithfulness will help me through. In times of David's fear and grief, He regularly called to mind the character of God. His prayers of lament always began with expressing His grief and end with a true statement about the Lord. In times of anxiety, we can cling to the character of the Lord. He is a rock to cling to and a strong tower to run to (Psalm 18:2). He is a refuge to take shelter (Psalm 46:1). God is a shield to hide under (Psalm 28:7).
Again, God does not promise that He will take our anxiety away. However, prayer is a powerful weapon against anxiety. As believers, we don't have to remain helpless and hopeless in the battle with anxiety. When we pray, God's peace is a sword that slices through worrying thoughts. God's presence is a shield under which we can take refuge. Anxiety may be a fierce battle, but you have a God who walks with us in the valley. Come to Him in prayer, and invite Him to give you wisdom and walk with you in your anxiety.
Any diagnosis of clinical anxiety must come from a medical professional qualified to diagnose and treat such physiological symptoms. You should never attempt to self-diagnose. If you think you may be struggling with clinical anxiety, please seek the help of a qualified mental health professional. We hope this blog post encourages you regardless of the nature of your anxiety, as God and His Word speak to every condition, physical or spiritual. We can cling to His Word even as we partake of the physical blessings of professional help and means of care that He provides to meet our specific needs.