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How to Deal with Anxiety

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
February 11, 2022 12:01 am

How to Deal with Anxiety

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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February 11, 2022 12:01 am

Nothing dispels our fears like a renewed understanding of the promises and presence of God. Today, R.C. Sproul gives insight into our anxiety and presents the Bible's means of acquiring peace.

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Today on Renewing Your Mind, What Causes You to Worry? Jesus said, Why are you worried, ye of little faith? Our worries and anxieties really do come from a lack of trust in the promises of God. Jesus said, Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. We find it hard to relate to that in this day and age.

Most of us have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to food and clothing. We think we have much bigger worries, yet Jesus' exhortation still applies. Do not be anxious. If we look at the New Testament and the record of the life of Jesus and we ask this question, what negative prohibition did Jesus utter more frequently than any other negative prohibition? The answer is simple because this particular commandment was uttered so many times by Jesus that it was way ahead of whatever is in second place.

And if you're thinking now in your mind, wracking your brain, trying to figure it out, let me help you by putting it on the board here. It was two words, fear not. In fact, Jesus says it so often that at times we miss the significance of it because it seems as if every time He encounters His disciples, the first thing He says to them is, Fear not, or don't be afraid. He says it so often it becomes almost like a greeting instead of hello or shalom. He's saying, Don't be afraid. And I've wondered many times why Jesus did that so often, why He used those words so frequently.

And I suspect that it has something to do with His knowledge, His intimate knowledge and understanding of the frailty of our human makeup because we as a people tend to be fearful. We tend to struggle with anxiety. Now there's a word that is often misused in our vocabulary. You'll hear somebody say, Oh, I'm so anxious for Christmas to come. And what they are saying really is that they are that they are eager.

They're joyfully anticipating this coming event. But what they've actually said when they said they're anxious is that they have some kind of fear about the arrival of Christmas. And so the term anxiety is often used as a substitute for the word eager when in reality the term anxiety refers to a spirit of fearfulness or worry or apprehension about something that lies in the future. Everyone in the world has fear. We don't always fear the same things as other people fear, but we all experience anxieties and we all experience fears. Anxieties can become intense and paralyzing, that the fear level in our personalities can rise to the status of a phobia, and a phobia tends to be a kind of fear that paralyzes us in one way or another. But again, we have all these different kinds of anxieties, and these do relate to our relationship with God.

Let me turn your attention to a portion of the Sermon on the Mount where I think everybody has heard at one point or another, but we don't spend much time talking about it where we find in Matthew chapter 6, beginning in verse 25, these words from Jesus. Therefore, I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink or about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.

Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow, they neither toil nor spin, and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. And now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is and tomorrow is thrown in the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore, do not worry, saying, What shall we eat or what shall we drink or what shall we wear? For after all these things that Gentiles seek, for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.

But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you. Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things, and sufficient for the day is its own troubles." I think that Jesus gave this sermon to a mixed audience of men and women, but it has particular relevance to the men who heard it. In our own culture, again I saw a report from psychologists that said one of the most gripping anxieties for the average American man, an anxiety that he rarely articulates, and when men gather together they never speak of. They talk about sports, they talk about business, they talk about all of these things, but they don't open up and reveal the fears that they have thinking that it's basically unmanly or something of that sort. And this gripping anxiety that the psychologists have uncovered for the American man is the fear of failure to provide for his own household. That is, this is a problem specifically to married men and those who have children.

Here's the moment a man says, I do, in front of a minister or a justice of the peace. He has now taken upon himself, at least in our cultural understanding, the burden of caring not only for himself, but also for his wife and for the family. And even though we've now changed so much of the cultural structures where many women are in the workplace and so on, still that age-old expectation of the male to be the one who is to be the provider and the protector of the family is still deeply rooted in the male psyche in our nation and I suspect in many other nations as well. Another phenomenon that's reported to us from the secular world of medicine is the strange ratio of the experience of nightmares, that men have twice as many nightmares as women. We wonder why that men would have more nightmares than women.

And again, the consensus is that it's rooted in this particular fear or anxiety that the man carries around with him. I'm sure women have their own distinctive sets of anxieties and worries that they have to be concerned about and also related to the care of their offspring, of their homes, and all of the rest. But when Jesus focuses His attention on this problem of anxiety, He's talking about the basic necessities of human life and the concerns and anxieties that we bring to bear on these provisions. Will I be able to feed my family tomorrow? Will I be able to clothe my family tomorrow?

How am I going to accomplish all of these things? And Jesus says, take no thought for tomorrow. Now He's not saying don't be provident. He's not saying don't be prudent, for elsewhere in the Scriptures we are told that the man who fails to provide for his household is worse than an infidel and that we are supposed to be wise and prudent and disciplined in making provisions for our family. So Jesus is not giving a prohibition here against careful planning and against provisions.

He's making a prohibition against a prohibition against our spiritual attitudes with respect to these endeavors and these responsibilities. He's not saying don't take any thought for tomorrow in terms of being diligent to provide for tomorrow. He's saying don't worry about tomorrow.

You do what you have to do, but at the same time tomorrow is in the hands of God. And it really is our fear of the future more than anything else that drives anxieties and fears and worries. We don't worry ever about what happened yesterday. We don't have to worry about what happened yesterday because yesterday is over. We may worry about the consequences of what happened yesterday and how they will work out today or tomorrow. But once the moment has passed, our anxiety about it passes with it. And so we can understand at this point that the focal point of our worries and the focal point of anxiety is always the future. It's always about what has not yet taken place. Now when Jesus says to those who are gathered not to be anxious, not to worry, and He says you can't add any size to your body by worrying about it, worry doesn't solve any problem. And then He rebukes them for being of little faith.

Now why does He do that? When it is our nature to be concerned about things that could happen to us and that many things that can happen to us and will happen to us are worthy of fear. There were times when I went to the dentist's office where I didn't anticipate a whole lot of pain, where the pain was worse than I had anticipated. We've all been through that. But most of the time when we worry about things and when they happen, they're really not as bad as we thought they would be. And I think part of that is because God gives His grace to us in our hour of need in a way we don't really anticipate. So what this comes down to, theologically and spiritually, is a question of the relationship between the future, our fears of the future, and faith. Jesus said, why are you worried, ye of little faith? Our worries and anxieties really do come from a lack of trust in the promises of God.

And we all have that. We all have faith, but our faith is limited, and sometimes our faith does not get us past the anxiety of what will happen because we're afraid that God will not do what He promises He will do. Or on the other hand, we may be afraid that He will do what He promises you. That's what scares me about God is that because God calls us to live in a world that is filled with trouble, and He says in the world we will have tribulation and we will have affliction and we will have suffering.

That's what scares me is that His Word will come to pass. But I have to hear, as we've already looked at in the problem of suffering, the other side of it where God promises His presence and His grace to sustain us in the most difficult of human enterprises. And Jesus is saying, you don't have very much faith if you're gripped in anxiety and your lack of faith is a lack of faith in the promises of God. Where God says, trust me for tomorrow. Where God says, trust me for tomorrow.

Trust me with your life. And that's what it means to be a Christian is to trust God for your entire life. I have to trust God not only for what I eat and drink and what I put on, but I have to trust God for how I will die, when I will die, where I will die, and what will happen to my family and all the rest when I die. I have to trust God for the future.

And I think that the greatest cure there is, the simple cure, but it's not as simple as it seems. It's simple to understand, but it's difficult to apply, is that we need to immerse ourselves in the Word of God because nothing dispels fear more quickly than the reinforcement in our understanding of the promises of God and the knowledge of the presence of God. But we're afraid that He won't be there when we need Him or that He won't do what He said that He would do. Now, as I said a few moments ago, they're all different kinds of anxiety, and they're related, as I said, to the future. And I'm going to distinguish among three types of fear or worry or anxiety that afflict us. The first is an objective, specific fear, as I've already mentioned, such as a phobia where we're afraid of small places, or we're afraid of speaking, or we're afraid of dying, or we're afraid of pain, or afraid of the dentist, afraid of cats, afraid of snakes, afraid of spiders. Those are specific fears and anxieties that we have, and there are specific ways to deal with them, as we all know. But in distinction from that kind of fear, there's another kind of fear that can be extremely debilitating. And this is what the existential philosophers spoke about frequently when they talked about the experience of angst, where they defined angst, or anxiety, as being a nameless fear. It's a condition that I think we've all experienced to one degree or another, where you're pacing around, your stomach is flip-flopping, your hands are shaking a little bit, you know that you're scared, you may be having an anxiety attack, and you have no idea why. This has to do with being frightened in general. And again, when the philosophers analyze that, they speak about this kind of fright, which can be so terrifying and paralyzing to us as unspecific.

We don't know why. That's why psychiatrists make money. Somebody will go to them and say, I'm suffering from anxiety, but I don't know what I'm afraid of. And the psychiatrist will have to probe and dig and try to sort out what it is that is troubling the person.

Well, there can be all kinds of hidden things that are involved in this. I've told the story of the anxiety that I experience when I'm waiting for a friend or for my wife to arrive home, and she's late. And she doesn't have to be an hour late for me to start getting nervous. If she's five minutes late, I start thinking, I start wondering, I start worrying. Where is she? What happened to her?

Has she been in a traffic accident? You know, I start imagining all these things that could be so terrible, and I get more and more anxious. But this nameless anxiety is rooted in even a deeper fear. Again, it's the fear of the future.

The existential philosophers have no optimism about what tomorrow will bring. They're saying that what's provoking this anxiety, according to Martin Heidegger, is the experience of what he calls Gewurfenheit, where he says modern man feels as if he's been hurled or thrown into a chaotic world. He has no meaningful beginning. He's emerged from the slime.

He's a grown-up germ, and he is moving as the clock takes every moment to his annihilation. And so we're sort of suspended between birth and death in the context of a vortex of meaninglessness, and that's always eating away at us, according to these pessimistic existentialists. I would look at it a little differently from a Christian perspective, that this nameless anxiety may be more deeply rooted to what I'm going to call the third kind of anxiety, which is what we call simply restlessness.

And this was addressed by St. Augustine. If you recall his prayer in his book of the Confessions when he wrote, O Lord, thou hast made us for thyself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee. Now, restlessness is a kind of fear. Restlessness is the manifestation of a particular type of anxiety.

It's nameless, according to the existentialists who talk about this amorphous type of angst or anxiety. Augustine names the child, he said, that anxiety, that restlessness is rooted in our basic estrangement and alienation from God because our lives are out of whack if we are estranged from God. And being outside fellowship with God is an intense and powerful provocation to fear. We fear not only the Creator, but we fear His creation. We begin to fear life itself because we're not really in fellowship with the author of life and the Lord of all life. And the only way I know of to get over this is what Augustine said, our hearts are going to stay restless until they find rest in you.

This is what Jesus gave to His people. He said, Let not your heart be troubled. You believe in God, believe also in Me.

In My Father's house are many mansions. I am going to go and prepare a place for you, so that where I am you will be also. So don't be afraid of the future. Don't be afraid of tomorrow because I'm taking care of tomorrow, that God is the God of tomorrow. Now I'm leaving now, and they're going to get frightened. He says, But I'm going to leave something behind. I'm going to give you a legacy, an inheritance.

Now what was it? Peace I leave with you. My peace I give unto you.

Not as the world gives, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled. In other words, the peace that Jesus is talking about here is the opposite of restlessness. It is a calmness of spirit that comes when you are in fellowship with God, and you can trust Him for tomorrow.

He is the one who conquers fear. Now at the same time as we have this negative prohibition, don't be afraid, we are also called to encourage one another as Christians. And what does it mean to encourage one another? It is helping another person to find courage.

Now let me just finish by saying this. What is the one indispensable necessary ingredient to have courage? What do you have to have absolutely before you can have courage? It's a sine qua non of courage, a necessary precondition for courage. You have to have it or you can't possibly have courage. You can have it not to have courage, but you can't have courage without having this. Here's what it is folks, fear.

Why do I say that? Because it doesn't take any courage to do what you're not afraid to do. Courage exists for those who have fear. To have courage is to do what you're anxious about, to do what you're afraid to do. And that's why we need to encourage one another, to help each other overcome the anxieties, the fears, the apprehensions that keep us from living for God. Fear and anxiety, normal responses to the unknown, but the solution to our fears is universal. We must trust God.

Dr. R.C. Sproul has helped us deal with anxiety today here on Renewing Your Mind. As we wrap up the week, we're also wrapping up our highlights of his series, Dealing with Difficult Problems. We've seen how to deal with suffering, how to know the will of God, how to deal with guilt and other pressing issues. We'd like to send you the entire series, Six Lessons on One DVD. With your donation of any amount to Ligonier Ministries, make your request online at or call us at 800-435-4343. Anxiety can be crippling, and Dr. Sproul's message today provides practical biblical counsel for this common problem. If you or someone you know is walking through difficult circumstances, I hope you'll contact us and request this series. Today's the last day we're making it available, so again, call us at 800-435-4343 or go online to With your donation of any amount, we'll be glad to send it your way. I'm Lee Webb, and thank you for joining us today. We hope you have a wonderful weekend, and we do hope you'll make plans to join us again Monday for another edition of Renewing Your Mind with R.C. Sproul. Thank you.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-06-06 13:20:07 / 2023-06-06 13:28:11 / 8

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