Living in an Age of Anxiety
Stress, it seems, is everywhere – in the workplace, college, the classroom and even at home. Work related stress, according to one mental health charity, affects 58% of employees and results in the loss of nearly 13 million working days each year. The Health and Safety Executive defines stress as “the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressure or other types of demands placed upon them”. It occurs when pressure exceeds our perceived ability to cope.
The Christian is not immune to stress. Many pastors and missionaries as well as ‘in-the-pew’ Christians have all suffered times of stress and anxiety. In a recent survey of over 100 pastors, conducted by a Christian newspaper, stress and depression were the top two of seven common areas of ministerial difficulty. Someone once said that the epitaph, “Hurry, Worry, Bury”, would be appropriate on many tombstones today because it aptly describes the lives of so many in this age of anxiety. How are we to cope with the stress and anxieties that are so much part of living today?
Face Life As It Is
As long as we live in this world we will have problems. Jesus said: “In the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33). For many of us, the words found in Francis Harold Rawley’s hymn is our experience:
Days of darkness still may meet me;
Sorrow’s path I oft may tread.
We face sorrow and trouble, problems and difficulties. Eliphaz told Job: “For man is born of trouble, as sparks fly upwards”. These are the certainties of life. We cannot travel through life and avoid such experiences. True, some people seem to have more than their share of trouble. Many of the Lord’s people have known severe trials and afflictions. The Psalmist was often confronted with the relative ease and success of how the ungodly sailed through life. It seemed to be a fairly trouble free journey! We find Asaph in Psalm 73 challenged by the seemingly happy and carefree lives that the wicked were living. It got to him so much that he says: “My feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped”. His view of life was out of focus. His own trials were weighing in on him and his whole perspective was inward looking. Where could he turn to for help? To God and to the Bible. When faced with the perplexities of life we must turn to the same place. The message of Scripture enables us to understand life as it is.
Prove the Faithfulness of God
God expects us to overcome our problems because he has given us the means to do it. God has provided in Christ and in his Word wonderful solutions to the problems we face. The Psalmist realised this because we read, “when I went into the sanctuary, then I understood”. There he beheld God and in the midst of his perplexity and anxiety he began the road to recovery. His perspective changed, and he began to see things from God’s viewpoint. The apostle Paul says something similar in 2 Cor 4:17. He did not focus his mind on what was happening to him at present. In the light of the glory to come his present afflictions were “momentary and light”.
You will recall the words of our Lord in the Sermon on the Mount. He tells His disciples, “Be not anxious about your life” (Matt 6:25). Why not? Because the very life we have is a gift from God himself. While we reap and sow and gather into barns it is God who ultimately sustains and enables us in our daily living. “The Giver of the gift of life will see that the sustenance and support of that life will be provided” (D M Lloyd-Jones). God is faithful and that faithfulness is seen again and again throughout the pages of Scripture. Whatever the trial, whatever the anxiety, he is the One who never fails or forsakes His children.
Remember God’s Sovereignty
Paul tells us in Romans 8 that all things work together for good – the bad things as well as the good things. Often it is hard to understand why we face the situations that come our way. Thomas Watson, the Puritan reminds us that “the most dark cloudy providences of God have some sunshine in them”. God is in control of all things and his plans and purposes are being worked out in this world and consequently in our lives. When life gets tough and the problems seem insurmountable we need to remind ourselves of this great truth.
We do not always understand what God is doing but we know that in all things he is working for our supreme good. Joseph was able to say to his brothers: “You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good ... to save many people alive.” (Gen 50:20) God is working out his purposes in our lives and all our circumstances are known to him.
Anxiety, distress, sorrows and temptation come to all. How do we as Christians meet them? Do we stand out from the crowd of gloom and doom that marks the anxious age in which we live or do we blend in with the spirit of the world? The world looks to man and his remedies for an answer to the problems of life but the Christian is to look unto Jesus Christ because in him we are complete. (Col 2:10) Our lives are to be marked by a quiet confidence and trust in the Lord God of heaven.
The author of a recently published book sums it up so well when he writes: “Management of stress and the pressures of modern living may be relieved temporarily through drugs or transcendental meditation but, as the prophet Isaiah says, those who keep their minds focused on the living God will be kept in perfect peace” (Is 26:3).