3 Ways to Fight Anxiety (Part 1)

If you have never seen the movie “What About Bob?” then you need to go home, turn on Netflix, and watch it.  It is about a patient—Bob Wiley—who has an acute anxiety disorder.  It is crippling to him.  He goes to see his new psychiatrist—Leo Marvin—who has just written a book called, “Baby Steps.”  Through a whole series of antics Bob Wiley becomes what we would be considered normal, while Leo Marvin ends up in the psychiatry ward.

The movie puts a very humorous spin on what many people deal with, and that is anxiety.  It’s something that we all deal with from time to time.  For most people it doesn’t seem to be crippling, but for others it is.  They can’t get out of bed.  They can’t think straight.  They pass out, vomit, and go through a full-blown panic attack.  Louis Menand, wrote an article in the New Yorker titled, The Prisoner of Stress, in which he deals with the history of what we call anxiety and mental stress.  In this article, Menand gives various theories as to why stress exists. He goes from Freud’s theory to Kierkegaard’s theory to theological reasoning and social theories, and the list goes on and on.  At the end he chucks it all to biology:

As a species, we lucked out: natural selection gave us minds, and that freed us from the prison of biological determinism. We can put our genetic assets to positive account if and as we choose, and sometimes we have to try to do the same thing with our genetic deficits.

Anxiety is a real problem for people.  For some it is such a real problem that they seek counseling and psychiatric help, others need medicine to help them cope with life.  Menand gave just a few examples: Thorazine, Nardil, Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, Wellbutrin, Valium, Librium, Xanax, Klonopin, and still there are dozens more.

I don’t claim to know all the reasons behind anxiety.  There are at times chemical imbalances that lead to anxiety, but it would seem that much of anxiety simply comes from being uncertain about the future.  Some of the fears and concerns may be valid. Will I have enough money to live on when I retire?  What if my spouse or child who is in the military is deployed into combat and returns maimed or doesn’t return at all?  These are real issues.

There are issues that people worry about that aren’t so valid, at least not to most of society, but are very real concerns to the one who suffer.  Menand tells of a man by the name of Scott Stossel who has a fear of germs and cheese.  To take a fear from Bob Wiley, “What if I’m looking for a bathroom, I can’t find one, and my bladder explodes?”  We would look at this and think silliness, but there are people who deal with these forms of anxiety.

Is there a cure?  Putting chemical imbalances aside, for most of us, I think there is.  Whereas Menand points the finger at theological reasoning as one of guilt and sin, I think he missed the point of what Scripture says about anxiety of that which it really is: uncertainty.  That uncertainty of circumstances has to be combatted with the certainty of God’s sovereignty.

Over the next few weeks, as we look at 1 Peter 5.5-14 (specifically dealing with 1 Peter 5.5-11), it is my hope that we will see grace for the anxious.  But to receive such grace we must 1) abase ourselves and 2) attack our enemy, and in the end we will be able to 3) acclaim our God.

In the battle against anxiety, one of the key ways to gain victory is to abase ourselves.  To abase oneself is to lower one’s rank.  While Peter was writing to the elders, he transitions into anxiety through the idea of abasement, or in this case humbling.  “Likewise you who are younger, be subject to the elders.  Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble,” (1 Peter 5.5, ESV).

There is a pesky word  in that verse: “subject.”  To subject is that military word that means to put yourself under the authority of someone else.  It is not to cast out value, but to put up a structure.  It is to have rank.  And we who voluntarily subject ourselves, allow others to be ranked above us, so that we follow their leadership.  We abase ourselves.

But Peter told us that we are not just to subject ourselves to the elders, but also to each other.  We are to clothe ourselves with humility.  Humility has been said to be not thinking less of yourself, but rather to think of yourself less.  It is to treat people as more important than yourself.  As Paul wrote to the Philippians, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also the interests of other,” (Philippians 2.3-4, ESV).

Understand that Peter is writing to a group of people who are being persecuted severely for their faith.  So he wrote that the elders were to be an example to the congregation; show them how to suffer well.  Congregants, listen to the elders and follow their lead.  Be there for one another.  Everyone has issues; everyone has problems; everyone needs everyone.  The church is not place for pettiness, division, bitterness, or selfishness.

The reason that the humble are given grace from God and not the proud is because the humble are giving grace to others.  The proud withhold grace and so they receive no grace.  It’s like praying the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive those who are indebted to us.”  Forgiveness is a humble act of grace.  We pray that God would forgive us as we forgive others.  But if we withhold grace, grace is withheld from us.

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you,” (1 Peter 5.6, ESV).  Not only are we to humble ourselves to the elders, following their lead.  Not only are to humble ourselves to each other, putting their interests and needs on at minimum equal footing with ours.  But we are to humble ourselves toward God.  In what way?  By realizing He outranks us…by far!  “Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you,” (1 Peter 5.7, ESV).

Many people, Christian people, have a hard time believing that God cares about them and their lives.  They have a hard time believing that God is concerned about their concerns.  They don’t realize that God cares if they are afraid of cheese or germs or exploding bladders, or about finances, government, etc.  They have a hard time believing it so they have a hard time praying about it.

In reality, this is a pride issue. There are two types of pride.  There is the power pride—I’m great, I’m wonderful, I’m strong and only I can do something about this situation.  There is the pity pride.  I’m so weird and nobody understands, and only I will do anything about this.  And so the focus is again on I.  In one sense it is “only I can” and the other is “only I will.”  In both cases we are seeking to outrank God.  We want to either outrank Him in power or outrank Him in concern.  And in neither case do we pray.  Therefore, I reiterate, we must abase ourselves.  We must humble ourselves to our elders, our fellow-believers, and most especially to God.

[1] http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/01/27/the-prisoner-of-stress (8/13/15)

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