Attacking Anxiety

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  – Philippians 4:6-7

What’s keeping you awake at night? A recent study listed the top 10 things we all worry about. Check out their list below and see if any of them resonate with you:

  1. Career
  2. Money
  3. Terrorism
  4. Body Image
  5. Relationships
  6. Social Status
  7. Health
  8. Sex Life
  9. Family
  10. Fertility

Most likely you could identify with at least three of the ten worries listed above. If so, you’re not alone. Anxiety is the most common form of mental illness in the United States, affecting 40 million adults age 18 or older, or 18.1% of the population every year. And it’s something that affects the lives of millions of Christians every day.

When it comes to worry and anxiety, our biggest mistake is playing defense – we wait for it to attack us before we start to deal with it. Instead of waiting for anxiety to attack us, we need to go on the offensive. We need to attack anxiety. But first we have to know what anxiety is and how it affects us.

What Does it Mean to Be Anxious?

Anxiety can best be described by closely examining a similar word – worry. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, the word worry is derived from the Old English wyrgan, which means “to strangle.” And isn’t that exactly what anxiety does to us? Anxiety has a way of strangling us spiritually, emotionally, mentally, socially, and even physically. In fact, many people who suffer from anxiety attacks report feeling as if they’re physically choking or struggling for air. No wonder wealthy banker and scientist John Lubbock said, “A day of worry is more exhausting than a week of work.” 

The Middle English variant, worien, kept this sense but with an enhanced definition, “to grasp by the throat with the teeth and lacerate,” or “to kill or injure by biting and shaking.” This word was used to describe the way wolves or dogs would attack and kill sheep. In fact, “sheep worrying” as it came to be known, is still considered a criminal offense in the United Kingdom today.

When I first learned this, I found it fascinating that the Middle English definition for worry had to do with wolves and dogs attacking sheep. During my teenage years, I lived on two sheep farms in Scotland, and while living there I learned a lot about sheep and how they’re wired. One of the things that struck me most is that worried sheep are never at rest.


“Worry has a way of strangling us spiritually, emotionally, mentally, socially, and even physically.”


You see, sheep aren’t the brightest animals, but they know when they’re vulnerable. And when they don’t feel secure and safe from predators, they will remain standing, constantly on the look out in case they need to make a run for it. Depending on the severity of their predicament, they may not even drop their heads to eat or sleep. As their worry consumes them, they become unstable – mentally, emotionally, and physically – and it doesn’t take long for them to become completely exhausted.

And that’s exactly what worry does to us.

Like sheep we struggle with worry and anxiety when we feel vulnerable and unprotected – making us afraid that something bad might happen to us or someone we care about. As a result, we remain on the alert, constantly on the look out in case our worst fears come true. We lose sleep, we don’t eat right or exercise, we become unstable – mentally, emotionally, and physically – and in no time we find ourselves completely exhausted, worn down by the worry that strangles and consumes us. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

How to Attack Anxiety

One of my favorite things about the Bible is that it’s so practical. Our loving Father wouldn’t say “Be anxious for nothing…” without also giving us an alternative to being anxious. And we can find God’s alternative to anxiety in the rest of the verse:


“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” – Philippians 4:6


First, remember who is in control. When we’re worried, it’s because we’re realizing just how little control we have over the circumstances of our lives, and that makes us feel vulnerable and afraid – as if things are spiraling out of control.

And that’s why it’s important to remember who is in control of all things. It’s not fate, chance, karma, or some cosmic killjoy. The God of Angel Armies – who loves you and will not allow one thing to happen to you apart from His sovereign plan for your life – is fully in control of your life. This means that the things in our lives that seem out of control are never really out of control because God is in control. Attacking anxiety begins with resting in that truth. 

Second, make your requests known to God.  God is so practical. Why does He tell us to make our requests known to Him? Because every time we’re worried, we have a prayer request. The problem is that we often treat prayer as a last resort, rather than a first response. We get so busy talking to other people about what we’re going through that we often forget to talk to God all together.

But it’s time to change how we prioritize prayer. Resolve to make God the first person you talk to about your worries and fears – before your spouse, pastor, best friend, or counselor. Resolve to make Him the One you lean on and turn to for strength above all others. Resolve to attack anxiety by cultivating intimacy with God in prayer even when you’re not struggling. Resolve to follow the advice of Mary C. Crowley, who said, “Every evening I turn my worries over to God. He’s going to be up all night anyway.”

The Brits take sheep worrying very seriously.

Third, recognize that being anxious is a choice. It may not always seem like it, but worrying is a choice that we make. Granted, for some of us this habit has become such a way of life that the choice seems automatic, almost like breathing. But it’s still something we can control. Look at what Paul writes two verses later in Philippians 4:8.


“Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.”  – Philippians 4:8


If you don’t attack anxiety by taking control of your thought life, anxiety will keep controlling you. That’s why Paul tells us to dwell on the things above (notice the choice implied in that command). At first, this may seem like a battle you can’t win, but because Christ defeated sin, death, Satan, hell, and the grave; it’s a battle that you don’t have to lose.


“Instead of waiting for anxiety to attack us, we need to go on the offensive. We need to attack anxiety.”


Fourth, choose to trust God. The battle for our minds is about more than not thinking wrong thoughts – it’s about overcoming wrong thoughts by replacing them with the right thoughts. We can attack anxiety by choosing to make trusting God our default perspective. Let me explain.

Some people are naturally pessimistic, glass half-empty kind of people. This means that their thinking begins with the thought that something is missing. Others are optimistic, glass half-full kind of people. Their thinking begins with the thought that something is present. Those who attack anxiety are trust-God first kind of people. They begin with the thought that God is not only in control – He is faithful and trustworthy. To attack anxiety, trusting God has to be our default perspective.

God’s Peace is our Guard


“And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:7


We wouldn’t do justice to this passage if we stopped here because when we choose to trust God and make our requests known to Him, something powerful happens. God’s peace literally safeguards our hearts and minds in Jesus Christ.

When you’re suffering from anxiety, the one thing you want most of all is peace. Peace of mind. Peace in your heart. The ability to sleep at night without nightmares or waking up in a cold sweat. The freedom to think about something – anything else and relax for a few moments. And in verse 7, Paul tells us that when we trust in God, His supernatural peace will guard our hearts and minds from anxiety and fear.


“Every time we’re worried, we have a prayer request.”


If you’re like me and you often highlight or underline key words in your Bible, take a moment to mark the phrase “will guard” in verse 7. The Greek wording literally means “to garrison or keep” and refers to how an army would keep watch over a castle or fortress to make sure it wasn’t raided by enemies in the night. As a result, the people inside the walls could rest and sleep in peace, knowing that although there were enemies to be feared outside, they were ultimately safe and protected because there was an army between them and the enemy. 

And that’s exactly what prayer does for us. Prayer reminds us that although life can be full of difficulty and hardship, our God is sovereign and He’s standing between us and the circumstances that cause us to worry. The things we fear will not get through to us unless they are a part of His sovereign plan. Because we are in His perfect care, we are ultimately protected, and there is no need to be anxious. We can rest in the fact that He is bigger than whatever used to keep us up at night, and when we do, the supernatural peace of God will literally guard our hearts and minds from the anxiety that used to strangle and consume us.

Ultimately, attacking anxiety is not about a four step process, it’s about the paradigm shift behind the process. It’s about taking our focus off our circumstances – and ourselves – and placing it where it should have been all along – on Christ. Only through Him can we live in the peace that surpasses all comprehension, and I’m praying that would be the reality in your life as you go on the offensive – and attack your anxiety.

Recommended Resources:

Anxious for Nothing: God’s Cure for the Cares of Your Soul – John MacArthur

8 replies
    • Ben Williams
      Ben Williams says:

      You’re absolutely right – there is so much to learn about the subject of anxiety and worry, and we’re only scratching the surface in this post. I plan to return to the subject again and again in the months to come. Thanks for taking the time to read the post and share your thoughts!

      Reply
  1. August Loftman
    August Loftman says:

    An interesting dialogue is value comment. I believe that it is best to write extra on this matter, it won’t be a taboo topic but usually individuals are not sufficient to speak on such topics. Cheers

    Reply
    • Ben Williams
      Ben Williams says:

      I agree that it would be helpful to write more about anxiety and worry in the future, and I plan to do that at some point. I do think that individuals armed with an understanding of truth are capable of speaking on topics such as these, which is why I was careful to share only what God by His grace has taught me, rather than just my thoughts and opinions. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts on the subject!

      Reply
    • Ben Williams
      Ben Williams says:

      To be honest, this post is still making me think, too. There’s so much to be said on the topic of worry and anxiety, and my prayer is that someone is truly helped by the words they find here. Thank you for stopping by and sharing your thoughts!

      Reply

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