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Overwhelmed by Anxiety?

Thursday, November 01, 2012 | Comments (10)

by John MacArthur

Anxiety, fear, worry, and stress are familiar words in our day, and familiar experiences to many. More and more we’re hearing of an extreme form of anxiety referred to as a “panic attack.”

What was once a rare and extreme example of anxiety has become frighteningly common in our society. Panic attacks are usually related to an unfounded fear—one so overwhelming and so overpowering that it clutches a person’s heart, makes it beat faster, produces chills or perspiration, and the person feels completely unable to cope with the moment.

Anxiety is, at its core, an inappropriate response in light of the circumstances. It’s very different from the cares and concerns in life that cause people to attend to business in a responsible way. Stress and pressure are not the enemies. In fact, often they’re good things, strengthening us to accomplish the challenges God sets before us in life.

The apostle Paul wrote that apart from the unrelenting external pressure he had to face, such as persecution, hardship, and imprisonment, he also had the daily internal pressure “of concern for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:28). In spite of that, he had room in his heart to feel the anxiety of others, for he went on to write, “Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern?” (v. 29). He wouldn’t have had it any other way, though.

In fact, that kind of response to pressure is what Paul looked for in those who would serve with him. Note how he commended Timothy to the Philippian church: “I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare” (Philippians 2:20; cf. 1 Corinthians 4:17). Anyone who knows and loves Jesus Christ is capable of handling pressure like that.

The wrong way to handle the stresses of life is to worry about them. Jesus Himself said three times, “Do not be anxious” (Matthew 6:25, 31, 34). Paul later reiterated, “Be anxious for nothing” (Philippians 4:6). Worry at any time is a sin because it violates the clear commands of Scripture.

We allow our daily concerns to turn into worry—and therefore sin—when our thoughts become focused on changing the future instead of doing our best to handle our present circumstances.

Such thoughts are unproductive. They end up controlling us—though it should be the other way around—and cause us to neglect other responsibilities and relationships. That brings on legitimate feelings of guilt. If we don’t deal with those feelings in a productive manner by getting back on track with our duties in life, we’ll lose hope instead of finding answers. Anxiety, left unresolved, can debilitate one’s mind and body—and even lead to panic attacks.

I am particularly concerned about the solutions some Christians offer to the problem of anxiety. A survey of the books put out on the topic by evangelical publishing houses is telling. Most are formulaic, anecdotal, or psychological in orientation. They contain a lot of nice stories, but not many references to Scripture. And when Scripture is employed, it is often incidental and without regard for its context. That kind of lip service to God’s Word turns rich, biblical truth into shallow incantations. “If you do this and this, then God must do that.”

To tackle anxiety in a biblical fashion, first we need to know the primary Scripture passages on the topic. Then we need to consider those passages in their context—not merely cite and recite them unthinkingly or use them as props for a nice story or a suggested behavior-modifying technique. As a person “thinks within himself, so he is” (Proverbs 23:7).

We need to shatter modern misconceptions and realign our thinking on anxiety with what God says about it in His Word, and why. Only then will we be able to apply His precious Word to our hearts. We won’t just know we’re not to worry; we’ll have confidence and success in doing something about it.

And we can be aggressive in our approach. I’m calling this series Attacking Anxiety because I want you to know you can attack this crippling foe and win. Even if you’ve struggled with anxiety for years, I want to give you the encouragement you need to get back into battle.

(Adapted from Anxious for Nothing.)


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#1  Posted by Keith Belcher  |  Thursday, November 01, 2012at 5:46 AM

The Word of God and Grace to You.....timely and encouraging as usual. Thanks!

#2  Posted by Brad Kennedy  |  Thursday, November 01, 2012at 7:40 AM

What a blessing it is in this present age, to have the ability to be ministered to from half a nation away in real time! Oh the depths of wisdom and healing that flow from God's word and chosen, faithful ministers of Christ! I fear my heart is about to explode, I am overwhelmed with joy!

#3  Posted by Amanda Cross  |  Thursday, November 01, 2012at 11:55 AM

I have dealt with panic attacks for a good portion of my life. It wasn't until the beginning of this year that I have been able to find freedom. I was introduced to the Steps to Freedom in Christ by Neil T. Anderson. I've been a believer for several years, but have realized that I lost some freedom through disobedience after coming to know the Lord. Also, since April, I have been consistently in God's Word everyday. I've noticed that I don't sit around worrying and thinking about things like I used to. I had a strong fear of dying which I think was due to fear of judgment. Also, I wasn't trusting God with my very life. I gave up that to God because I wasn't in control of those things anyway. If I had any advice for people dealing with panic attacks and anxiety, it would be to take stock of their relationship with God and if they have one. I would also say they need to stay in God's Word consistently EVERY day. God isn't going to punish someone if they skip a day, but if you want to live in freedom, it is to your advantage not to. God's Word is living and active. It is also important to not only read and hear what God says, but do it. I appreciate your blog post on this topic.

#4  Posted by Greg Tegman  |  Thursday, November 01, 2012at 1:29 PM

Amanda, I just read your story regarding your anxiety. The first time I had a panic attack, It came out of nowhere. I was driving,I was calm and in one second it hit me. No thoughts provoked it. It was simply there all of a sudden over nothing. These continued on and off for over twenty five years. What can I call it then?. Fear had been something I had since birth according to my mother. Is it a spiritual or sinful condition?. This has effected my attempts in growth spiritually. I do understand what is important, It is that I must be far more diligent in regular daily study of His word both in the morning and evening. My prayer to Christ is that He will grant me that ability as I cooperate. I am crying writing this because it has been a plague that has made it difficult to press forward. Yet, press on I will do with the hope that God will grant me ability to carry it out. My assurance has always been weak if not absent. I cannot run from God. My faith is that strong,yet, I find myself behind in my growth.

#5  Posted by Michael Vick  |  Thursday, November 01, 2012at 1:36 PM

Thank you for this post, Dr. MacArthur. I have dealt with panic attacks very infrequently during my life, but since a health issue started about a year ago, I started getting them fairly regularly with very little prompting. I haven't had a full-blown panic attack in a while, but I get anxiety attacks, which are less pronounced but longer-lasting. Sometimes my heart races but usually it's just tightness in my chest. I've been to see a Christian counselor, which has helped. But I am very much looking forward to reading the rest of your series.

#6  Posted by Mae Ella Jones  |  Thursday, November 01, 2012at 2:31 PM

I too have been dealing with fear griping me. Usually it starts with some issue, and grows into a log" feeling in my stomach. Then I am consumed with the thoughts of the issue, the people or how it could turn out. usually I cant't stop thinking or dreaming about it. It is exhausting! But lately with increased bible study, Grace To You sermons , other Biblical resources, and prayer, I have been able to bear it. Also the scripture, 2 Cor. 10:3-6 has helped me see that my weapons are not carnal but spiritual. I just need to know how to use them! I am looking forward to learning more, thank you for your love and concern for us.

#7  Posted by Amanda Cross  |  Thursday, November 01, 2012at 3:23 PM

Greg, I think for some people it is a spiritual condition. Most of the time when you go to the doctor, they do an exam and get your history and if nothing is off, they give you medication. There is a spiritual part of us too that most doctors or counselors consider. Some people do have a physical condition that mimics panic. I have also had some low blood sugar. I guess the best thing would be to rule out health conditions and also evaluate your relationship with God. Have you taken part in pornography, reading horoscopes, etc. Are there any sins that you have not confessed to the Lord? There are often layers to this. There are often wrong beliefs and thoughts that need to be held up to the truth of God's Word. What is the truth? What does God say about this? He says not to worry about our life. The Bible says that the Lord will guide believers into all truth and that the Lord is the Spirit of truth. You could pray a simple prayer: Holy Spirit of truth, guide me into all truth. Show me anything that I am overlooking and show me anything that was against you that I may be able to agree with you that it is sin. Maybe there was something from your childhood that brought about some fear. I don't know. God does. He knows exactly why and what. Don't be afraid to ask Him. He is all wise and He is more than able to help those who are dealing with panic and anxiety. There is an attitude in this time that counselors and physicians have more knowledge than God in these issues. Hello! God made us. There are lots of answers in His Word. I was taught that when Adam and Eve sinned, they made coverings for themselves (excuses), then they blamed each other and the devil, then they hid in fear. You can pretty much bank on if you are making excuses, blaming, or hiding there is some sin involved. For them, fear was the result of their sin. Do you see that? The fear was just a symptom and a consequence. It probably isn't sin that causes all panic attacks, but if you have them, it's always a good idea to just see. It would only benefit your relationship with God.

#9  Posted by Sandy Judy  |  Friday, November 02, 2012at 3:53 AM

The first panic attack I had was when I was 18 and just walking into a room and out of no where, for no known reason, I had one. Several people in my family have had them. I was not a Christian then. Now since I have been a Christian I would say they have been triggered by worry and maybe disobedience and the Lord using them to chasten me. I went thru a several month period where I had them basically all day long everyday. A former pastors wife had went thru a similar situation and felt the Lord was showing her she wasn't spending enough time in His word. My attacks could have been from all the worry and fear of moving across the country and my affection/attention wasn't on the Lord as much as the "new" house and all the details.

1 Cor. 7:32 a But I would have you without carefulness (anxiety).

1 Peter 5:7. Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.

#12  Posted by Daniel Wilson  |  Sunday, November 04, 2012at 5:42 PM

Anxiety ages us quickly... and ills us faster than someone gives us ills or colds..

#13  Posted by Lysandra Figueroa  |  Monday, November 05, 2012at 7:10 AM

Greg and Amanda and to all here in Christ,

I pray that God's Grace and Peace fill your hearts and mind. I just recovered from panic attacks, agoraphobia and deep depression that eventually lead me to alcoholism because my doctor prescribed and over medicated me with so many drugs. I had no idea that I was going to have the rare reaction of becoming an alcoholic from anti depressants and barbiturates . I was not with the Lord while suffering this and so turning for medical and psychological answers only compounded my problem. I almost did not make it out alive. But by God's grace and saving power He delivered me when I finally realized all had abandoned me except for His love. His Word and His Grace have sustained me. Daily intake of scripture and prayer and total reliance upon His strenghth is what saved my life. A passage that comes to mind that I recall often is:

Philippians 3:12-16

Pressing Toward the Goal

12 Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. 13 Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, 14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

15 Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you. 16 Nevertheless, to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind.

We are all here by God's grace and He has a plan for our lives , now it is up to us to press towards that plan through The working power of His Spirit as we breathed in His Word and breathe out His love and what He is manifesting in our hearts to the world and utimately give Him the maximum glory.