An Unexpected Prescription for Panic
Twice in the past two days I’ve teetered on the edge of full-fledged panic. I felt like I was standing on an invisible cliff. My heart raced, my palms were sweaty, my chest constricted. I wish I was always cool as a cucumber, but the reality is that sometimes life makes me anxious.
Have you ever felt that way? Worried . . . uneasy . . . panicky? (Who hasn’t?)
Maybe you feel freaked every time you have to take a big test.
Or you worry that God will say “no” to a big dream of yours.
Or you are constantly fearful that the people you love will die or be taken from you.
Maybe anxiety smacks you in the face when you think about an unknown future.
Or when work gets stressful.
Or when someone in your world gets angry.
What should we do when anxiety hits? The Bible offers a surprising prescription.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God (Phil. 4:6).
“Do not be anxious about anything.” File that in the “easier said than done column” of life. But the Bible doesn’t just give us clichés and warm, fuzzy sentiments. God wasn’t suggesting the impossible here. He must really think that avoiding anxiety is attainable. But how? How can we push back the panic?
Read that verse again. The answer is surprisingly simple.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
Instead of working yourself up into an anxious tizzy, pray.
Prayer doesn’t work like a cosmic “easy button.” It doesn’t magically zap the things that make us anxious, but it does remind us who is in charge around here. Even if all you can manage to say is “I’m anxious, God,” you are still acknowledging God can handle what you cannot. There is nothing that makes us fidgety that He does not rule over.
The One-Two Punch
I don’t know about you, but when I feel anxious, prayer isn’t usually my first response. I want to talk it out with a friend, numb my feelings with social media, or throw a hissy fit. (Or do all three at once.) But God’s Word doesn’t promise that any of these plans of attack will stave off my anxiety. But God can! I want to learn to pray as a first response to worry, don’t you?
What kinds of prayers should we pray when we feel panicked?
Luckily, Paul (the writer of this passage in Philippians) gets very specific.
With thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
When anxiety hits us like a heavyweight boxer, we need to force ourselves to pray thankful prayers.
Sure, it’s not our natural impulse to gush gratitude when our palms are sweaty and our heart is racing. Maybe that’s part of why God asks us to do it. Instead of giving in to our very human response of panic, God asks us to choose the very Christlike response of gratitude.
When you are anxious about school, start rattling off all of the things you are thankful for there. Do you have a teacher you love? A subject you excel in? Friends who you can’t wait to see in the halls every morning? Thank God for all of that.
When you are uptight about what’s happening at home, tell Jesus what good gifts He’s given you through your family, your house, your dog, and your siblings.
Is work a pressure cooker? Thank God that He’s given you a job and that He never leaves you to do tough stuff on your own. Thank Him for the money in your account, even if isn’t much.
Are you fearful about the future? Thank God for all the gifts He’s given you in the past and present. Surely a God who has carried you this far won’t abandon you in the next week or month or year, right?
Go on, ask God to help you out of your anxious situation (I sure have been!), but jam-pack every prayer with loads of thanksgiving. Thanksgiving has a way of flipping an internal switch in our hearts. It reminds us that every good gift comes from God ( James 1:17). It resets our focus away from our fears that God isn’t really good and reminds us that He has already showered us with ridiculous grace and good gifts. Prayer and thanksgiving work like a one-two punch to knock the wind out of our anxiety. Because of these tools God has given us, panic doesn’t have to keep us up against the ropes.
Practice Makes Perfect
Still not sure that thankful prayers can help you when you’re feeling anxious? Let’s take it for a test run.