A lot of people do not realize anxiety is a very natural biological mechanism which has been hard wired into your bodily systems to help you thrive and survive. It’s a design feature. It’s pretty cool, actually. Anxiety is a response to external threats your senses sense, to keep you alive.
It Can Be Physical
Here’s just a few of the physiological effects the fear response has.
- Fear triggers quick energy hormones, like adrenaline, to get pumped into the blood stream, blood drains from the skins surface which is what produces the paleness of fear, and gets diverted to large muscles, to prepare for a quick getaway.
- Your heart pounds, your pulse races to get your body into overdrive.
- The eyes widen and pupils expand to take in the maximum amount of information.
- Reproduction, digestion and other systems virtually shut down to divert all available energy to RUN or to FIGHT.
Which explains why some afraid people say, “Man I just get sweaty palms.” And other people say, “Whenever I think about this thing my mouth gets dry.” If these two types of people experience fear together, I have an idea. One could suggest they lick the other’s palms! Both problems solved. There is a little pre-COVID humor, I apologize.
Anxiety Has a Point
The point is anxiety, as a fear response to threat is actually a very useful thing indeed. We SHOULD feel this thing we call anxiety when:
- You fear you left your baby unattended in a crowded shopping mall
- Fear grips you about touching the fire while roasting marshmallows.
- You fear answering your girlfriend when she asks, “do these make me look fat?”
But there’s the thing: the fear response is designed by God strictly as a short term remedy to an immediate physical problem. Feel stress, prepare for action, avoid threat, stress be gone. Self-correcting response. Cool.
However, when we live in a semi-permanent state of psychic fear, it’s a disaster!!! When the fight or flight mechanism kicks in, but does not ever switch off again, which is unbelievably bad. Some live in this semi-permanent state.
Good Fear Vs. Toxic Fear
This is when we could say the natural and good fear response gives way to a toxic kind of fear, we call anxiety. Worry is fear which is unpacked its bags and signed a long-term lease. Some of you think this is just normal. Live with it, you tell yourself, I’m just wired this way. Maybe you’re even addicted to it – because worry makes you think you’re actually doing something!
Sorry, you’re not doing anything, and it’s not normal. Don’t misunderstand me. It may be common, but it’s not OK. It’s not how God intended for you to live. Instead, God would want you to live fearlessly, because if you fear God you need fear nothing else.
Jesus was so clear about the poison of worry, he forbade it! Matt 6:25: “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life.”
Why would Jesus forbid it? I could go into the bad health outcomes of chronic worry, but you can ask your doctor about it. I’ll list three spiritual impacts of anxiety.
Spiritual Impact of Worry
Living in fear cripples your self-worth and motivation. It expects the worst, so why try? And then a self-reinforcing cycle happens, you feared you couldn’t do it, you didn’t do it, so you weren’t brave, and now you have a new reason to be afraid in the future.
Living in fear will cost you your joy. Because worriers are living life in the future (“what will I eat?”) Jesus said they are never really living. They live in a reality which isn’t here yet, as if it’s already here – what if people reject me? What if they think I’m weird? Or what if it hurts? What if I die?
Living in fear will cost you a close walk with God. Chronic fear denies the most fundamental reality for a believer in Jesus: God is with you. At the moment of the midnight storm on the Sea of Galilee described in Matthew 14, the disciples are terrified. Much of this fear we would rightly put in the “good fear” camp. Natural forces are threatening their lives in the present moment, and the bible says, “They were terrified.”
But out on the water, what do they see? A dark figure of a man, walking toward them. 10X Terror! But this is when they hear these words echo out into the night: “Have courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Matt 14:27. It’s Jesus. He’s with them in the storm.
What happens next, we all know: Peter jumps over the edge of the boat in faith and confidence and trust. He left his fear in the boat and clung to the reality of what was before him, defying common sense and all the laws of nature, believing, God was with him.
The Game Changer
So, what if you really believed, God was with you? How would your life change, right now? Today.
We all have two players in the drama of fear which currently grips our world. As I type this, we are in the middle of a worldwide pandemic which has claimed the lives of 100,000 Americans, and a budding race war which has riots on the streets of every city. People in suburbia are buying security systems for their homes, terrified protests will turn violent in their neighborhood. People are terrified of getting COVID 19, the “boomer doomer.”
So where do we put these threats? Seems like on one level, these are what the fear response was designed for… natural threat assessed, action processed, threat avoided, peace restored. But it’s not working this way, is it? No, it’s not.
Why not? Because you have no control over these fear producing agents. You can’t stop COVID. None of us can calm the streets, or fix racism, or the justice system or the planet. You are so small and there’s little you can do to change the situation. So the message from the fear mongers is, be afraid, be very, very afraid, and oh, by the way, you’re powerless. But keep listening to my channel anyway, because this will work you up into a lather which is doing exactly nothing, but it FEELS like you’re doing something.
You were not meant to live at the mercy of fear mongers. What is a monger? It’s a person who deals in, or trades in a specific commodity or product. You can be a fish monger, because you make your money in the fish business. Well, you can be a fear monger, and this means you make your living making other people afraid.
AC3, who is making money, off your anxiety? Answer this for yourself. Once you have an answer, cut this person (or news source) off from your life, they are an instrument of the Enemy sent to cripple you by crippling your faith.
The Threat is Real, But?
But you say, Rick, the threats are real, I’m not going to stick my head in the sand. I would never ask you to. I am asking you if Jesus imagines a life for you where the rehearsal of your powerlessness (and this is what anxiety is) defines you. The early martyrs, Polycarp, Felicity, Perpetua – did they have power over their lives? No they did not. Were they afraid? No they were not. Was the joy stolen? No it was not. Was their close walk with Jesus ruined? No it was not.
In fact, their own powerlessness leads them deep into the mystery of Christ’s abiding Spirit, who helped them realize they had a power no persecution, no threat of violence, no disease could take away. And you have this power to: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”. “Take courage. I am with you…”
God is Really With Us
If we lived as if God is really with us, here’s what we would do with threats to our future: we would take reasonable precautions, live boldly in Jesus. Period. Do what is right, tomorrow be damned. Don’t be careless with your life, of course, it’s a precious gift. Living recklessly is not faith, it’s a form of ingratitude. However, once you’ve “looked after your interests” (Phil 2:3), you’re done looking after your life. In fact, you are strictly forbidden by the Master from taking more care than this. After this, it’s trust.
“What if I die? There are millions of “What if” questions we can pose. I’m waiting for a group of Christians in this current crisis to stop asking the anxiety laden questions, and start a new mantra from Paul, “If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.”
Friend, all they can do is kill you, after which they can’t touch you. (Matt 10:28)
You can find more information on the physical effects of worry can be found on WebMD