Anxious People Need Shepherds Who Point Them to the Chief Shepherd
In 2018, the YouVersion Bible App reported that the most shared, bookmarked, and highlighted verse in the world was Isaiah 41:10: “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you; I will help you; I will hold on to you with my righteous right hand.”
Two other verses that topped the list in countries like Mexico and Argentina also focused on fear and discouragement:
- “Haven’t I commanded you: be strong and courageous? Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).
- “. . . casting all your cares on him, because he cares about you” (1 Peter 5:7).
These statistics tell us that there are lots of anxious people in the world, and lots of them look for help in the Bible. Why is that? It’s because, deep down, we have a sense that however big our anxiety is, God is bigger. Therefore, the more we know of God in our lives, the less we will know of anxiety in our lives. Big anxiety can be defeated by bigger theology.
Before we look at this big theology, it’s important to recognize that while all anxious people need more theology, some may also need specialist counseling, medical help, and other practical remedies. Anxiety is often a multidimensional problem requiring a multidimensional approach. Physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, vocational, social, and relational factors may all contribute to anxiety.
Pastors, anxiety is probably running rampant in your church. So how do you shepherd your people to respond to anxiety rightly? You teach them about God’s character, God’s promises, and God’s songs.
Our big God is bigger than our biggest anxiety. Consider these anxiety-defeating Bible verses that reveal the character of God:
- When we feel out of control, we remember God is in control of everything (Job 42:2).
- When we feel weak, we remember God is all-powerful (Psalm 147:4–5).
- When we feel helpless, we remember God is our helper (Hebrews 13:6).
- When we feel vulnerable, we remember God is our protection (2 Thessalonians 3:3).
- When we feel uncared for, we remember God cares for us and therefore we can cast all our cares upon him (1 Peter 5:6–8).
- When we don’t know what’s going on, we remember God knows everything (Psalm 139:1–4).
Whatever we lack, God has something to fit us and fill us. God’s character should shrink our anxiety.
Instead of listening to our anxieties, we need to talk to them with truth. That’s because anxieties grow when allowed to talk, but they shrink when they have to listen, especially when they hear God’s big promises.
- When feeling lonely, we remember God’s promise never to leave us nor abandon us (Hebrews 13:5).
- When inner turmoil rages, we remember God has promised his peace to guard our heart and mind (Philippians 4:6–7).
- When worried about money, we remember God’s promise to supply all our needs (Philippians 4:19).
- When stressed about problems in our life and our world, we remember God’s promise to work all things together for the good of his people (Romans 8:28).
- When drowning, we remember God’s promise that he will not let the waters overflow us (Isaiah 43:2).
- When pessimistic, we remember God is optimistic about the future (Revelation 21:3–4).
Use these promises to weaken and wither anxiety. And if we don’t find it easy to remember the truths of God’s big character and big promises, God has graciously provided us with big songs about himself—the Psalms.
Many modern cultures teach and learn using logic, systematic analysis, and so on, But older cultures, especially Middle Eastern ones, often taught using songs. There’s a reason for that, of course—songs stick. They’re easier to learn and stay with us longer than ordinary didactic teaching.
So when we come to the Psalms, we come not just to read a sing-song that will make us feel better, but to learn theology in celebratory worship.
- The Psalms celebrate God as Trinity: as Father (68:5; 103:13), as Son (2:7; 110), and as Holy Spirit (51:11; 104:30; 139:7; 143:10).
- They celebrate God in his works: as the Creator (Psalms 8; 19; 104), as the Director of history (105; 106), as the Protector (91), as the Provider (50), as the Covenanter (89), as the King (93; 97) as the Judge (50; 94; 96), as the Forgiver (51; 130), as Shepherd (23), and as Savior (3:8; 40:1-5; 49:7-15; 103:10-12; 130).
- They celebrate God in his attributes: as eternal (Psalm 90:2), as patient (145:8), as faithful (89:1), as holy (99:9), as just (145:17), as good (145:9), as powerful (29), as wise (139), and so on.
- They celebrate God’s glory. All the psalmists unite in saying, “Not to us, Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness” (Psalm 115:1). Salvation is by grace alone, by faith alone, in Christ alone, to the glory of God alone.
- They celebrate God’s healing of anxiety. Many Psalms describe how the most fear-filled believers moved from anxiety to confidence (Psalms 27, 55, 56) and from depression to joy (Psalms 42, 73, 77).
The Israelite psalm singers were brilliant theologians. We will be, too, if we imbibe the psalms and they become part-and-parcel of our being.
When our anxiety feels bigger than we can handle, let’s take it to the Lord. His character, his promises, and his songs will sustain us and shrink our anxieties so that we can receive God’s peace.