Anxiety & The Kingdom of God

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March 26, 2020

What does the kingdom of heaven have to do with our experience of anxiety? How does our relationship with God affect our sense of peace and calm in otherwise terrible circumstances?

It can be tempting to think religion and spirituality is simply about “saving our souls” or “going to heaven” after we die. While our eternal destiny is certainly significant, God is also in the business of bringing heaven to earth now, and helping us become whole people in this life. And living out God’s kingdom is living free from anxiety.

Early on in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus announces, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (4:17). In other words, Jesus says, heaven is coming to earth to undo the affects of sin. Through his ministry and ultimately through his resurrection from the grave, Jesus was breaking the power of sin and beginning to make it on earth as it is in heaven.

During his ministry Jesus taught much about the kingdom of heaven, especially what it looked like for his people to live out the heavenly kingdom on earth. In Matthew 6:25–34, He focuses in on the problem of anxiety, giving us three truths to reflect on.

🙇 Anxiety isn’t normal

The opening chapters of the Bible teach us God made our world beautiful and safe. Our hearts were meant to admire God’s beauty and to rest in his provision. However, sin has invaded our world and our hearts. Tragically, we’ve lost the peace and contentment we were meant to live with. And anxiety now has a painful grip on so many of our souls.

So anxiety, according to Scripture, is not normal. Rather, our anxiety is a sign something has gone terribly wrong in our world.

Jesus affirms the abnormal nature of anxiety by stating, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life…” (Matthew 6:25). It’s a statement he repeats two more times throughout this passage: “Therefore do not be anxious…” (6:31); “Therefore do not be anxious…” (6:34). In his ministry of restoring us from our brokenness due to sin, Jesus encourages us not to be anxious. We weren’t meant to be crippled by fear, panic, and terror. Instead, we were made to live before God with the confidence a child has in his father. We were made to live before God with the peace of knowing he will always provide for his children. We were made to live before God with the assurance that we are as free from death as Jesus is from the grave.

Many will say, “Anxiety is just a part of life. Just accept it. Just learn to cope.” But Jesus invites us to consider that anxiety is not normal, and we were meant for more.

👎🏼 Anxiety doesn’t work

Have you ever gotten the tires of your vehicle buried into the ground? Whether snow, mud, or some other byproduct of Michigan weather is to blame, it’s never a pleasant situation. In these moments, it’s tempting to slam on the gas in an effort to get yourself out. Very often, however, this just makes the situation worse, and you sink deeper and deeper.

Jesus makes a similar claim about anxiety. He asks us the question, “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” (Matthew 6:27) In life, when we get stuck, it can be easy to emotionally slam on the gas in order to move ourselves to action, anxiously running here and there trying to solve the problem. Jesus warns us, though, we may actually be sinking deeper and deeper into our problem. He urges us to reflect on how unhelpful it is to be emotionally frantic and anxious during difficult times.

In life, when we get stuck, it can be easy to emotionally slam on the gas in order to move ourselves to action, anxiously running here and there trying to solve the problem.

Just like when we’re stomping on the gas pedal of our stuck vehicle, we have to finally admit to ourselves, “OK, this is not working. I’m actually making it worse.” It takes getting out of the car, looking at the problem from a different perspective, and taking a whole new strategy. When we set aside our initial anxious reaction of slamming on the gas, we can then move to a place of calm and trust.

📆 Focus on today

Recently I listened to an interview with a former CIA operative where he told the story of an overseas mission that required him to be quarantined for an entire year. He was away from his family, away from his house, away even from his own country, on lockdown for a full trip around the sun. As he shared the story of this experience, he stated the best advice he could give to anyone being quarantined was to try as hard as possible to be productive. In other words, get something done. Accomplish something. Have a project and each day make some progress in moving it towards completion. For example, while this former CIA operative was in his year-long quarantine, he actually wrote a novel.

Not too different from this advice, Jesus ends his instruction on anxiety by saying, “Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:34). All we have is the present. The future is only hypothetical and imaginary. Therefore, Jesus says, harness your anxiety about the future and put it to work for yourself in the present. In other words, focus on today. Be productive today. Prayerfully and intentionally shift your mind towards the present.

This practice of living in the moment is not easy for us. The unknowns and fears about the future are real. They call out to us, trying to steal our attention from the present moment. So let’s remember, though the future is unknown to us, God is all-knowing. He is not surprised by any of the curveballs life throws. Through faith in Christ, God is our Father, so no matter how dark and anxiety-ridden life may be, he is for us and with us.