Biblical Keys to Overcoming Anxiety
By Leslie Ludy
When Amy Carmichael set off for Japan on her first missionary venture as a young woman in her twenties, almost immediately she faced unexpected disaster. As her ship approached the shoreline, it was caught in the tail end of a typhoon — causing it to pitch back and forth sickeningly, making landing impossible. She had already said a heart-wrenching “forever goodbye” to her beloved friends and family in England. Now, she was completely alone on a foreign ship on the other side of the world, and caught in a deadly storm.
The only way for Amy and the other passengers to get out of the storm and onto land was to be placed one by one into a large net, dangled over the angrily rolling waves, and then let down into a small tug boat that would attempt to get them to safety. When it was Amy’s turn, the harsh wind bit at her face and the frothy ocean spray soaked her hair and clothes as she swung like a pendulum in the rain. She was lowered over the aft deck of the tug boat, swinging from side to side, and finally dumped out of the net. As the tug boat headed toward the shore, Amy prayed. It was a dangerous ride. As one of Amy’s biographies explains, “The little tug didn’t cut through the stormy seas like the larger ship had. Instead, it rode up and over the mountainous waves. At the crest of each wave, the tug tipped forward or rolled sideways so much that it seemed it would capsize for sure.”
Finally, the outline of the Japanese coast came into view, and Amy and the other passengers “all tumbled out together onto the shore,” as Amy later described it. In A Chance to Die: The Life and Legacy of Amy Carmichael by Elisabeth Elliot, we read about what happened immediately after this terrifying experience:
Amy was surrounded by a crowd of shouting, gesticulating people, not a [European] face anywhere. She did her best to explain her predicament. The crowd was friendly, [they were] certainly interested … but [they were] helpless. As she told the story later, she said she laughed till she was positively aching at the absurdity of the whole affair. A foreign port. Nobody to meet her. Not a word of any language she could understand. The girl from the Irish village on the North Sea, standing in the pouring rain beside her pile of luggage on the shore of Japan, laughing.
Amy later wrote, “All this was part of the going forth unto a land I knew not … and if things went wrong it was so much more the fun. I knew they would come right in the end. And they always did … I sat down tranquilly on the mats and waited to see what the angels would do.”
This amazing true story about Amy Carmichael often comes to mind when I’m facing any kind of scary situation. To laugh — and then wait expectantly to see how God will come through for me — is certainly not my natural response … but it should be.
In the book of Philippians Paul tells us, “Do not be anxious about anything…” (Phil. 4:6 NIV). That verse has baffled me many times. Is it really possible not to be anxious about anything? Certainly it is, or God would not have put it in the Bible as a pattern for us. We must always remember that whatever God calls us to He equips us for — including this calling to walk in total victory over anxiety.
Many of our Christian heroes walked in the reality of Philippians 4:6. They faced extreme danger, impossible odds, and even devastating losses — but they had a calm and trusting perspective through it all, just as Amy demonstrated that first day she landed in Japan.
Hudson Taylor, known as “the father of faith missions,” was one of the first to bring the Gospel to China. He and his family and fellow missionaries faced constant threats, extreme persecution, violence, and tragic death. He was responsible for hundreds of lives and every day was filled with uncertainty and potential disaster. And yet his attitude was one of perfect peace. He wrote…
I am no longer anxious about anything, as I realize this; for He, I know, is able to carry out His will and His will is mine. It does not matter where He places me, or how. That is rather for Him to consider than for me; for in the easiest positions He must give me His grace, and in the most difficult [ones] His grace is sufficient.
Hudson Taylor, Amy Carmichael, and countless other Christians throughout history learned the secret to walking in Paul’s baffling statement in Philippians 4:6. They trusted God with a childlike faith and laid all their cares at His feet, knowing — not just hoping — that He would be faithful.
Amy Carmichael once commented on the amazing promise of Psalm 34:4–6 and beautifully expressed the childlike faith that helped her walk in victory over fear:
“I sought the Lord, and He heard me, and delivered me from all my fears. They looked to Him and were radiant, and their faces were not ashamed. This poor man cried out, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles.”
From all my fears … Out of all his troubles… My fear is not yours, but nearly everyone has, somewhere inside, a weary little fear which keeps cropping up. But every time the fear pushes out its head, there, waiting to end it, is that glorious word “delivered from all my fears.” (Not from some, or from most, but from all.) Out of all his troubles: We may have to pass through the waters, but we shall be delivered out of them. They will not overflow us. “This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles.” There again, it is not out of some, or out of most, but out of all.
These inspiring words remind us that extraordinary courage is built within our souls when we allow God to bring us completely to the end of ourselves, place our lives entirely in His hands, and rely completely and wholly upon Him.
In today’s world, anxiety has not only become normal and accepted, in many cases it is even applauded as wisdom. But let’s never forget that the very same supernatural courage and placid calm that was available to our spiritual heroes is also available to us. There was nothing out of the ordinary about these men and women that gave them freedom from anxiety. It was a work of God’s grace within their souls. They simply made themselves available to it. We can do the same.
I would like to unpack four key principles to gaining freedom from anxiety and walking in the reality of Philippians 4:6. These principles have been life-changing for me. I pray they will be the same for you.
1. Remember His Faithfulness
I have kept a journal for most of my Christian life. In it, I not only write prayers and praise toward God, but also keep track of His fingerprints in my life — those obvious signs of His love, care, protection, and faithfulness.
Recently, I walked through some difficult struggles with two of my adopted children. When the enemy tried to bait me with anxiety over these situations, God prompted me to look back at His faithfulness in their adoption stories. As I meditated on His amazing grace, protections, and provision that were so evident when these children first came into our home, I was reminded of a simple but critical truth — if God was faithful to me then, He will be faithful to me now. As I focused on His faithfulness to me in the past, the anxiety that was seeking to grip my soul immediately disappeared. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. (See Hebrews 13:8.) So I knew I could be totally confident that the same God who met my every need then would meet my every need now.
Remembering God’s faithfulness is an amazing antidote for anxiety. When the disciples were traveling by boat with Jesus and began to panic because they realized that they hadn’t brought any food with them, Jesus asked them, “‘Do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of fragments did you take up?’ They said to Him, ‘Twelve.’ ‘Also, when I broke the seven for the four thousand, how many large baskets full of fragments did you take up?’ And they said, ‘Seven’” (Mark 8:17–20). He told them to remember His faithfulness, not in a general way but in very specific detail. He knew that this was the secret to overcoming anxiety over not having food — remembering Who was with them in that boat: the Bread of Life Himself.
When you are faced with a situation that tempts you toward anxiety, one of the best things you can do is what Jesus asked the disciples to do in the boat that day — remember His faithfulness to you in specific detail. Think of times when you faced uncertainty, danger, or difficulty and how, when you cried out to Him, He showed Himself faithful. Even if you can’t remember specific situations where you asked Him for help and were delivered, simply focusing on the many ways He has blessed you (with provision, family, friends, encouragement, etc.) will be a tremendous reminder of His unchanging faithfulness.
It’s a great idea to keep a record of God’s fingerprints in your life. Whether through a journal, setting reminders for special dates on a calendar, or even a “pile of stones” where you record answered prayers on stones and keep them in a jar or bowl — there are many creative ways to remember all that He has done in your life. Whenever you are tempted toward fear, you’ll have those reminders to shift your focus from anxiety toward thankfulness and faith.
2. Surrender Your Life
After spending a horrific season of her life in a German concentration camp, Corrie ten Boom reflected on how living on the threshold of eternity actually delivered her from anxiety and gave her greater courage:
When you are dying — when you stand at the gate of eternity — you see things from a different perspective than when you think you may live for a long time. I had been standing at that gate for many months, living in Barracks 28 in the shadow of the crematorium. Every time I saw the smoke pouring from the hideous smokestacks, I knew it was the last remains of some poor woman who had been with me in Ravensbrück. Often I asked myself, “When will it be my time to be killed or die?” But I was not afraid. Following Betsie’s death, God’s Presence was even more real. Even though I was looking into the valley of the shadow of death, I was not afraid. It is here that Jesus comes the closest, taking our hand and leading us through.
Many of us assume that clinging tightly to our lives and our own agenda will protect us from anxiety, but in reality, the opposite is true. Complete surrender to our God is an amazing cure for anxiety. Why? Because when we have nothing to lose, we have nothing to fear. Jesus said, ”For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8:35).
If you are struggling with anxiety, ask God to bring you to the place of willingness to surrender everything — every part of your life and future — to Him. Once we have truly laid our lives down at His feet and given Him the pen to write our story, we will find there really is nothing to fear.
Missionary Otto Koning spoke of this principle as well — that when you don’t own anything, you don’t have to worry about anything.* And this includes our very lives. When we come to Christ, we transfer ownership of our lives to Him. Our lives are no longer our own, they have been bought with a price — the price of Christ’s precious blood. And He can take far better care of us than we ever could.
3. Embrace His Refiner’s Fire
God often uses challenges to purify us and make us more like Himself. One of the best ways to overcome anxiety is to embrace the tests of faith and moments of refinement that He sends our way — rather than fighting against them. We can be sure that He will never bring us through something that we cannot handle through His strength, that His grace is sufficient for us in any situation, and that He refines us as an act of love and not harshness. (See Proverbs 3:12, 1 Corinthians 10:13, and 2 Corinthians 12:9.)
One of the most amazing demonstrations of willingness to embrace His refiner’s fire that I’ve encountered is from Darlene Deibler’s testimony of being captured by the Japanese during the Second World War and sentenced to death as an American spy. She was a young woman in her twenties who had already lost her husband to the harsh conditions of a concentration camp and suffered tremendously as a prisoner of war. And, on top of everything else, she was now being taken to the most terrifying prison on the island of Indonesia to be tortured and placed in solitary confinement to await her execution at the hands of cruel men.
As she was being led into the Kempeitai prison, Darlene said to God, “Lord, You took [my husband], must I now also go through this?” And immediately He spoke to her heart, “My child, it’s the ones that I love that I discipline and refine.” And her response to Him was, “Okay, Lord … I am available.”
Because of her willingness to surrender to her Lord even in the most difficult of circumstances, He worked mightily in her life. Her prison cell became a sanctuary where she dwelled in His presence day and night. He showed Himself faithful to her in tremendous ways. She impacted many lives for the Gospel. And He miraculously spared her life and delivered her from certain death.
When we embrace His refiner’s fire instead of resisting it, we can trust that He will strengthen us, not weaken us, through the hard things that we walk through. 1 Peter 1:6 says, “…now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold … may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ…”
This is the miracle that happens within us when we embrace His refiner’s fire. Our faith becomes more precious than pure gold that has been tested and purified by fire. Our lives bring glory to His name. So rather than pushing away difficulty, let’s allow Him to use it in our lives in a mighty way. Let’s yield to His loving refiner’s fire.
4. Remember the Hope of Heaven
When Stephen gave up his life for the cause of Christ, he was not despairing and fearful, but joyful and radiant. (See Acts 6:15.) That’s because his gaze wasn’t fixed on the hatred and violence all around Him — but upon Jesus Christ and the hope of Heaven. His desire was not for worldly praise or comfort, but for the applause of His Lord. And when He saw Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father, waiting to welcome him into His presence, it was everything he had ever hoped for. It didn’t matter that he was being violently stoned to death. It only mattered that he was going to be with the One he loved more than life itself.
When we live in light of the hope of Heaven, we have nothing to fear. Because even if we lose our lives, we know that we are headed to a much better place — eternity in the presence of our beloved Lord.
In October of 1931, a missionary named J.W. Vinson visited some believers 18 miles from his mission station in China. It was a dangerous time for missionaries in that part of the world. While he was traveling, the area was overwhelmed by a group of 600 bandits intent on killing any foreigners. The bandits asked Vinson as they menacingly waved a gun in front of him, “Are you afraid?” “No,” he replied with complete assurance. “If you shoot, I go straight to Heaven.”
When news of Vinson’s death reached his missionary friend E.H. Hamilton, he was so inspired by the way his friend had responded in the face of death that he wrote the following poem. It is a beautiful reminder that when we live in light of eternity, we truly have nothing to be afraid of.
Afraid? Of what?
To feel the spirit’s glad release?
To pass from pain to perfect peace,
The strife and strain of life to cease?
Afraid? Of that?
Afraid? Of what?
Afraid to see the Savior’s face,
To hear His welcome, and to trace,
The glory gleam from wounds of grace,
Afraid? Of that?
Afraid? Of what?
A flash – a crash – a pierced heart;
Brief darkness – Light – O Heaven’s art!
A wound of His a counterpart!
Afraid? Of that?
Afraid? Of what?
To enter into Heaven’s rest,
And yet to serve the Master blessed?
From service good to service best?
Afraid? Of that?
Afraid? Of what?
To do by death what life could not –
Baptize with blood a stony plot,
Till souls shall blossom from the spot?
Afraid? Of that?
Let’s never forget that this world is not our home — we are living for something far better. As Paul said,
I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. – Philippians 1:20–21 NIV, emphasis added
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No matter how strongly anxiety has tried to grip you, God’s desire for you is to be completely free from fear and filled with extraordinary courage. Allow Him to take your hand and lead you to a place of victory, faith, and triumph so that you are truly walking in the reality of Philippians 4:6 — being anxious for nothing. Remember, it is always safe to trust the One who gave everything for you. When we have Jesus, we have nothing to be afraid of.
This article was originally published in Issue 40.
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