There are several bible verses that get the most attention in the form of fancy artwork to hang on your wall, or as an inspirational desk calendar. These are the ones that often become shared images on social media with a picture of a mountain in the background.
There is one such verse that always bothered me… until today.
Telling someone do not be “something” or do not do “something”, without presenting a viable alternative can leave you thinking to yourself, “Easy for you to say. It’s not that easy.” Telling someone not to have a particular feeling is typically ineffective. They’ll tell you they’d rather not have the feeling in the first place.
So this verse is troubling. Of course no one wants to be anxious. But the verse isn’t the problem. We’re the ones that make it troubling because we only picked the part that makes a good piece of hangable artwork. We only picked the part that fits in a tweet, that is easy to memorize. Did you notice the dot dot dot… it means there is more to the story and it was cut off. We’re missing something.
And when we do that do you know what we miss? We miss HOW to be less anxious. Seems like a pretty important bit of information.
Turns out God has a formula. It’s a daily practice. And when practiced daily it reduces and may even prevent the anxious feelings. This is not a “How to Lose 10 pounds in 10 days” quick fix magic potion. If you spend any time reading the Bible cover to cover you’ll notice a lot of patterns, one of them is time. And it’s rarely quick. God’s timing is slower than we would like. Which seems to be harder for us with each passing decade and piece of technology. We want instant gratification, instant results, instant wealth, instant change, instant fixes.
But God is about lasting change (which doesn’t happen when you cram for an exam). And God is about lasting relationships. With him and with each other. And good deep real relationships take time and attention and care and feeding. They take time to stick and be rooted to be able to handle storms, like trees with deep roots can handle Illinois thunderstorms better than newly planted trees that aren’t so firm yet.
Daily practices root us. They make us stronger. And God gave us a formula in a verse I was avoiding.
Because I failed to read the entire verse.
Seeking out context is one of the most important and responsible things you can do for yourself and others. Do not assume one sentence, one word, one photo, one post, is the entire story. Hunt for context.
Let’s walk through the context together, and get past the successories mountain imagery into something a little more substantial…
Do not be anxious but…
But. Rather. Instead.
This is the beginning of the HOW. This is the alternative. This is the intro to the manual. How do we not be anxious? Or be anxious less often???
Keep reading. That is where the context reveals itself. When you stop scrolling and you keep reading.
in every situation….
This is key. EVERY situation. Do you just go to God with the anxious moments? Or with every moment? The good, the bad, the ugly, the fun, the silly, the mundane…
If we only bring anxiety to God we’re apparently missing something. Part of the formula is that we need to bring everything to God. That sounds like a lot. It means in order to bring everything, a 30 second prayer before dinner, or once a week on Sunday won’t cut it. I need to show up more often than that to bring things more often to even get somewhat close to bringing everything. That means daily. And more than once a day.
I used to get tripped up with prayer. Does it have to be formal? Are there specific words? Can I only do this in a church? With a priest or a pastor? Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope. Prayer is a conversation with God. It’s just a special word for conversation that is reserved for you with God. I needed to stop overthinking it.
Getting in the habit of talking to God is less complicated than crafting a TikTok, editing a tweet or texting a friend about whatever is going on in our lives. It doesn’t need to be filtered, edited, cropped or spell checked. It doesn’t need to be in a blog (talking to myself there…).
Ok let’s keep going on the context train. What else do we need to consider?
I’m sorry… supplication???
… yeah so that’s a word we don’t use very often at all in every day speech. Truth: No one uses this word in every day speech. (We’re more likely to say synergy and operationalize.) So what does supplication even mean? Other times it’s translated as petition. Ok that’s a more familiar word. Not the noun kind that requires 10,000 signatures to be on the ballot for mayor. But the verb kind that means “to petition”… to ask.
So you’re asking. You’re not demanding. Think of this like you’re asking someone, who is in charge, for something only they can give. It’s a recognition that the person you’re talking to has more authority and resources than you do. This is a humble word. You’re not entering into a conversation with an attitude of entitlement, or with the feeling that someone owes you something, or that you’ve earned it, or that you deserve to be paid. It’s the opposite of that. You know you don’t deserve it but you ask anyway… hoping.
Remember we’re supposed to be doing this all the time. And by this I mean having a conversation with God every day multiple times a day about everything. All the things. And yet we’re being told that part of the formula to remove and reduce the anxiety we feel is to approach God all the time, about all the things, with a humble approach and now thanksgiving?!
There will be moments when it’s hard to be thankful because in that moment things suck. Maybe even multiple moments in a row that seem to last for months. BUT, there are other moments beyond the one you’re currently in that you can recall. And they are worth being thankful for. And it is worth telling God you are thankful for them. There can be things God did that have nothing to do with you, that you can be thankful for. There are other people. Other moments. Their moments and you can be thankful for them.
- The tornado didn’t hit their house.
- The snowblower started.
- You got paid.
- Someone graduated, got the interview, got the job.
- He made the sunrise.
- Your friends had a baby.
- You got to hug someone.
- The lilacs bloomed.
- You have air in your lungs and a beating heart.
When it’s tough to be thankful for your specific moment in time, be thankful for your previous moments. For the moments of the people in your life. For the moments of the strangers you heard about. Focus OUT, not in. Remember that being self-less is thinking about yourself less (not thinking you are less).
Ok, let’s recap so far….
According to God’s Word, to reduce anxiety I should… every day multiple times a day be talking to God with a humble heart sharing what is going on, asking from a place of respect, telling him how I feel and most importantly telling him what I am thankful for.
I wonder how I would feel, what would happen if I spent more time telling God what I was thankful for?
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding…
Oh… that’s what happens. When you follow God’s word and his guidance and his formula and approach him daily with thankfulness , then… the peace of God… that’s what happens. That’s the next important part of the context. The opposite of anxiety is peace. Peace comes from time with God. I think I need to adjust my calendar.
Will guard your hearts and your minds…
The way to guard your heart and your mind from feelings like anxiety… the way to prevent these things from happening as often as they do… is to spend more time telling God what you’re thankful for.
The more you build a relationship with God, the more peace you’ll experience. Not because the circumstances have changed, but because you have changed your habits. And your new healthy habit of talking to God all day every day about everything from a perspective of gratitude, actually changes you from the inside out. The result is you are more focused on what you are thankful for and less focused on everything else.
In Christ Jesus.
When we tweet verses and cut them short we miss the most important parts. Jesus.
You are not doing this on your own. This is not about will power. This is NOT about speaking things into existence or, fake it til you make it nonsense. Jesus Christ knows exactly what it is like to be you. To deal with life. He knows loss and grief. He knows betrayal. He knows God. He is God.
The God of the universe created you. He created me. He knows we’re in a world that is nuts. There are a lot of things pulling for our attention and telling us that we should be could be doing more to be successful to get ahead… to be better moms sisters friends employees bosses…. and he knows we mess up and we will continue to do things and say things (or not do things and not say things we should).
He knew life would be hard and we would make mistakes. Mistakes that breakdown relationships. And when your mistakes break down your relationship with God, it’s called sin. Jesus sacrificed his life so we could be right with God. So we could approach God no matter what state we’re in.
Which brings us back to our passage. No matter the state we’re in, approach God. Open The Word and read His words. Read the entire section. Read to get the context. Pray (converse) with him about what we read. Keep trying to implement what we read.
The Bible is not a collection of headlines. It is not a book of pick and choose quotations. It is not a self-help book (though it is phenomenally helpful). It is the story of God. And when it comes to stories, you need the structure and the context for it to make sense.
Context means you read what was said before. You read what was said after. And you read and re-read the words between.
Line by line. Word by word. Don’t take my word for it. Read God’s words. Then talk to him about it.
Disclaimer: Anxiety is real. Some people suffer and struggle through it at a severity most others will never understand. This post is not meant to over simplify what others are going through. This post is about a passage I never took the time to read in detail and tried to understand for myself. I shared what I learned with you.
I believe with my whole heart that God can change anything and because he created us, he also knows what is best for us. I also believe he didn’t create us to do this life alone. Seek the help of others. I’m encouraging you if you are a Christian to include God’s Word in that, too.