Empirical evidence indicates that most people experience some degree of anxiety, at least occasionally, and that a considerable number of people experience anxiety frequently. These people include many Christians. It is our hope that this article will be beneficial to Christians by providing them with a biblical perspective about anxiety (or worry).
Before we consider what the Bible says in this regard, it is important to define the term anxiety. According to Webster’s Dictionary, anxiety is “a state of being uneasy, apprehensive, or worried about what may happen.” (Note that anxiety pertains to concerns about what may happen; it does not pertain to what has already happened.)
We will first consider anxiety with regard to concerns involving basic needs and then we will consider all types of concerns, not just those that pertain to basic needs.
Anxiety Regarding Concerns Involving Basic Needs
Evidently, a number of Christians who experience anxiety have difficulty trusting God to provide for their basic needs, such as food and clothing. In this regard, Jesus Christ states in Matthew 6:25-34,
“[D]o not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?
“So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
[Note: When we quote Scripture in this article, we use the wording in the New King James Version of the Bible.]
In specific regard to verse 25, John Calvin’s Commentary on the Bible declares,
Throughout the whole of this discourse, Christ reproves that excessive anxiety, with which men torment themselves, about food and clothing, and, at the same time, applies a remedy for curing this disease. When he forbids them to be anxious, this is not to be taken literally, as if he intended to take away from his people all care. . . . But immoderate care is condemned for two reasons: either because in so doing men tease and vex themselves to no purpose, by carrying their anxiety farther than is proper or than their calling demands; or because they claim more for themselves than they have a right to do, and place such a reliance on their own industry, that they neglect to call upon God.
Likewise, in reference to verse 25, Adam Clarke Commentary states,
Take no thought – Be not anxiously careful. . . . Prudent care is never forbidden by our Lord, but only that anxious distracting solicitude, which, by dividing the mind, and drawing it different ways, renders it utterly incapable of attending to any solemn or important concern. To be anxiously careful concerning the means of subsistence is to lose all satisfaction and comfort in the things which God gives, and to act as a mere infidel. On the other hand, to rely so much upon providence as not to use the very powers and faculties with which the Divine Being has endowed us, is to tempt God.
Barnes’ Notes on the Whole Bible says with specific reference to verse 34 in Matthew 6:25-34,
Take therefore no thought … – That is, no anxiety. Commit your way to God. The evil, the trouble, the anxiety of each day as it comes, is sufficient without perplexing the mind with restless cares about another day. It is wholly uncertain whether you live to see another day. If you do, it will bring its own trouble, and it will also bring the proper supply of your needs. God will be the same Father then as today, and will make then, as he does now, proper provision for your wants.
In their remarks on Matthew 6:25-34, the preceding Bible commentaries differ somewhat as to the degree of anxiety that we should – or should not – have in regard to getting our basic needs met. However, they agree on the importance of trusting God to help us to meet those needs.
Anxiety Regarding All Types of Concerns, Not Just Those that Pertain to Basic Needs
Many Christians who experience anxiety are unsure how to deal with situations that pertain to matters other than, or in addition to, concerns about their basic needs. Such situations can range from relatively insignificant matters to much more important matters.
In regard to all types of anxieties, Philippians 4:6-7 declares,
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Barnes explains these two verses of scripture, as follows:
Be careful for nothing – That is, be not anxious or solicitous about the things of the present life. The word used here . . . does not mean that we are to exercise no care about worldly matters . . ., but that there is to be such confidence in God as to free the mind from anxiety. . . .
But in everything – Everything in reference to the supply of your wants, and the wants of your families. . . . There is nothing which pertains to body, mind, estate, friends, conflicts, losses, trials, hopes, fears, in reference to which we may not go and spread it all out before the Lord.
By prayer and supplication – The word rendered “supplication” is . . . the mode of prayer which especially arises from the sense of “need,” or “want.” . . .
With thanksgiving – Thanksgiving connected with prayer. We can always find something to be thankful for, no matter what may be the burden of our wants, or the special subject of our petitions.
Let your request be made known unto God – God needs not to be informed of our necessities, but he requires that we come and express them to him. . . .
And the peace of God – The peace here particularly referred to is that which is felt when we have no anxious care about the supply of our needs, and when we go confidently and commit everything into the hands of God.
Which passeth all understanding – That is, which surpasses all that people had conceived or imagined. The expression is one that denotes that the peace imparted is of the highest possible kind.
Shall keep your hearts and minds – That is, shall keep them from anxiety and agitation. The idea is, that by thus making our requests known to God, and going to him in view of all our trials and wants, the mind would be preserved from distressing anxiety.
Through Christ Jesus – By his agency, or intervention. It is only in him that the mind can be preserved in peace. It is not by mere confidence in God, or by mere prayer, but it is by confidence in God as he is revealed through the Redeemer, and by faith in him.
Also, in regard to Philippians 4:6-7, John Gill’s Exposition of the Whole Bible states.
Be careful for nothing. [T]he carefulness the apostle speaks of, is an anxious solicitude for worldly things, an immoderate concern for the things of life . . . :saints should not be anxiously, or in a distressing manner concerned for the things of this world, but be content, whether they have less or more; nor be over much pressed with what befalls them, but should cast their care upon the Lord, and carry every case to him, and leave it there:
but in everything. [I]t is best to understand it of every thing, or case, which should be brought to God; whether it be of a temporal or spiritual kind, relating to body or soul, to ourselves or others, to our families, relations, and acquaintance, the church, or the world:
by prayer and supplication: which may include all sorts of prayer, mental or vocal, private or public, ordinary or extraordinary, and every part of prayer: prayer may design petition, or asking for good things that are wanted; and “supplication”, a deprecating of evils that are feared. . . .
with thanksgiving: for mercies received. . . .
let your requests be made known to God; not to men. . . .
And the peace of God which passeth all understanding. [E]ither that peace which is made with God by the blood of Christ, and is published in the Gospel of peace, which passes and surprises all understanding of men and angels, . . . or else that peace of conscience, which arises from a view of peace made by Christ; of justification by his righteousness, and atonement by his sacrifice. . . .
shall keep your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ, or “in Christ Jesus”: . . . keeps them through Christ as in a garrison, from being overset with the troubles of the world, or the temptations of Satan. . . .
Matthew Henry’s Complete Commentary on the Bible provides the following commentary on the same two scripture verses:
1. We must not only keep up stated times for prayer, but we must pray upon every particular emergency: In every thing by prayer.When any thing burdens our spirits, we must ease our minds by prayer when our affairs are perplexed or distressed, we must seek direction and support. 2. We must join thanksgiving with our prayers and supplications. . . . 3. Prayer is the offering up of our desires to God, or making them known to him: Let your requests be made known to God.. . . 4. The effect of this will be the peace of God keeping our hearts.
Again, with reference to Philippians 4:6-7, Peter Pett’s Commentary on the Bible declares,
Worship and gratitude were not to be forgotten or sidelined, and would aid their supplication and increase their rejoicing. And the implication was that as they made their requests known to God, and worshipped and expressed their gratitude, they could be sure that He would hear them and respond.
Thus the emphasis here is on the fact that we do not have to be anxious about anything, because we know that having committed everything to Him [God], we can leave it all in the hands of our heavenly Father.
By continually rejoicing in the Lord and His nearness to them, by living rightly before the world, and by making their requests known to God with all prayer, supplication and thanksgiving, they could avoid anxiety and let the peace of God possess their lives.
‘The peace of God’ is that peace which is in the heart of God. In God there is no anxiety or worry, for He is over all and all things are under His total control. So the thought is that His peace should become our peace as we rest content in the fact that He has full control and all things will finally work according to His will.
Just as the Bible commentaries that we cited agree about trusting God with regard to concerns about basic needs, the aforementioned Bible commentaries that address Philippians 4:6-7 likewise agree that it is important to trust God to help us in dealing with all other types of concerns also.
The Bible not only states that God will provide for the basic needs of those who trust in Him, but in addition it asserts that those who trust in God should be anxious about nothing or, stated another way, they should not be anxious about anything. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that when we experience anxiety, we do so because we do not sufficiently trust God to provide for our basic needs and/or to help us in dealing with our concerns that pertain to other matters.
This raises the question as to why people who supposedly believe in God do not trust Him as the Bible indicates we should with regard to every matter. There are a number of reasons why people do not trust God with regard to every matter, but it is probable the basic reason is that there is a lack of faith that God will answer their prayers as they want.
In addressing this basic reason, is important to understand is that there are times when prayer requests for God’s help are not granted because of what God wants to accomplish in the lives of the people who are making those requests and/or in the lives of other people who will be affected by what God does – or does not – do with regard to these matters. In other words, God may want to accomplish things that He regards as more important than what we are requesting.
Philippians 4:6-7 makes it clear that God will give us peace if we pray and make supplication, with thanksgiving, to Him, but the scripture does not state that He will answer our requests exactly as we request.
Furthermore, when we pray about a matter having an uncertain outcome that is making us anxious, we should ask God to help us not only to be able to satisfactorily resolve the matter, but also to help us to be free of anxiety while we are still dealing with the matter. And, when it is necessary for us to deal with a matter for a lengthy period of time rather than having the matter resolved relatively quickly, we should keep in mind that the ultimate result may be greater spiritual growth for us and/or for people who are encouraged in their own circumstances by how we are dealing with our circumstances.
It is important to add that although God wants us to have freedom from anxiety in dealing with matters about which we are concerned, this does not mean that He wants us to be passive and not try to do what we can – with His help – to achieve a satisfactory outcome for such matters. Just as God has on many situations throughout the centuries used people who were willing to do what He wanted them to do to accomplish objectives that proved to be favorable for them, He is likely to want us to be proactive in achieving freedom from anxiety in our life.