Anxiety and fear are inextricably linked in life. What is the difference between these two negative emotions? Anxiety is thinking that something bad might happen to you. Fear is the belief that something bad will happen to you. When chronic anxiety persists, it inevitably leads to fear.
That is why this book focuses on anxiety instead of fear. It is my belief that if you eliminate anxiety, fear will follow. If you change the root, you’ll affect the fruit. If you cut off the head of the snake, it will die.
Also, I will use the terms anxiety and worry interchangeably. The Bible seems to do the same. It also throws in the synonym fret as well: “Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him; do not fret” (Psalm 37:7-8 nasb).
Anxiety, worry, and fretting are all bad for you.
But let’s be clear from the beginning: Anxiety is not a sin. It’s an emotion. Yet it is an emotion that, when left unattended, can lead to sin. To terribly destructive behavior. From overeating to overindulging in alcohol or to regularly lashing out at others, anxiety can hurt your life.
But anxiety is not a sin in and of itself.
Anxious feelings are real. That feeling of dread can create an iciness of the soul. It’s a biting wind within that won’t stop screaming. And if a break does come, like the sun bursting forth in your soul after weeks of foreboding clouds, you’re soon snapped back into reality. You are convinced your joy is only momentary.
Rest becomes impossible. Your energy is drained. Your peace is stolen. Your hope evaporates. You don’t have energy to do daily work.
Those who attend church are not immune to the pain of anxiety. In a recent survey of 2,400 churchgoers, about 80 percent expressed that they lived with moderate to significant levels of fear.1
How does this fact square with the Bible’s frequent commands to not succumb to fear? To be anxious for nothing?
How can you win the war with worry?
Where the Battle Rages
The battle is in your mind. It begins with how you think.
Human behavior begins with thoughts. Thoughts then produce feelings. And feelings cause behavior. To focus on feelings in an attempt to change behavior seldom has long-term success. If you do that, you will not have addressed the real reason for the undesired behavior. It’s like cutting off a weed on the surface of the ground yet leaving the root untouched. The noxious weed will return.
First, you think. Then you feel. Finally, you act on your feelings.
Therefore, to change your behavior, you must focus on your thought life—not your feelings. Win the battle for your thought life and you will win the battle over anxiety.
Cognitive therapists preach this truth. They know that the way to change your reality is to move your mind toward rational thinking.
Reflective listening experts try first to find the patient’s “feeling” words. The therapist then repeats these words to the patient and asks, “Is that what you are feeling?”If the patient says yes, the therapist then begins to help the patient discern the thoughts behind the feelings. He or she knows that a bad thought life produces bad feelings.
Alcoholics Anonymous refers to this bad thought life as “stinking thinking.” Experts who deal with alcoholism know that alcoholic behavior is rooted in wrong thinking.
What the Bible Says
But long before psychotherapists arrived at this conclusion, the Bible taught it. Solomon wrote, “As he thinks in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7 nkjv). Solomon suggests that a person’s life is the result of his thoughts.
The author of Job wrote, “The thing that I fear comes upon me, and what I dread befalls me” ( Job 3:25). The writer concluded that much fear and dread falls upon the person whose thoughts are chronically filled with fear and dread.
Read through the following verses from Paul:
“Do not be conformed to the world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2). Paul believed that life transformation comes from mind information. Belief causes behavior.
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8). Paul exhorted his readers to focus their thoughts on things that would produce healthy behaviors.
“We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Co–rinthians 10:5). Paul recognized that spiritual enemies are besieging your mind. To defeat them, you must take every thought captive. You cannot afford even one contrary thought against God to enter your mind. Not even one. It will eventually fester and become a toxic feeling that will lead to destructive behavior.
“Set your minds on things that are above” (Colossians 3:2). Paul knew that Christians are eternal creatures. This world and all its worries are not going to exist in heaven. Therefore, you must make sure that every thought in your mind is rooted in an eternal perspective. When you look at life’s issues from God’s view, they become increasingly small. That’s what faith is—seeing life through his eyes.
Jesus taught this same truth.
He said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:20-23). Evil thoughts come from within. Then follows destructive human behavior.
Jesus said that murder begins with an angry thought (Matthew 5:21-22). Adultery begins with a lustful thought (Matthew 5:27-28). Jesus clearly taught that your thoughts affect what you do.
This perspective should empower your prayer life. How you think motivates how you pray. Positive thinking encourages faith-filled prayers. Negative thinking stimulates doubt and unbelief.
Jesus connected thinking with prayer. He said, “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer” (Matthew 21:22 niv). In this verse, Jesus noted that the power of prayer begins with your thought life. Whatever you believe in your mind is what you ask the Father for, and this will eventually determine how you pray.
If you want victory over anxiety,the fight begins in the mind.
This truth is not limited to Jesus and his followers. Even the Enlightenment thinker René Descartes understood the power of our thought life. “I think, therefore I am” was a phrase that guided his understanding of how to accrue human knowledge, which in turn would change for the better the way people lived.
If you want victory over anxiety, the fight begins in the mind. That is the battlefield. Thoughts determine feelings. And feelings lead to behavior.
The enemy of your soul, the devil, knows how life works. He understands how human behavior works. And he does not want you to live in God’s love and peace. He realizes that if he attacks your mind, and you believe his lies, then you’ll behave in a godless, destructive way.
The enemy’s strategy is to plant worrisome thoughts within your mind. Everyone knows those moments when a random, negative, fearful, or evil thought seems to come from nowhere. You ask, “Where did that come from?” It’s from the enemy. It’s how he operates. This is his strategy for luring you to disobedient behavior.
You must be aware of how the enemy works. He wants you to fret over your out-of-control circumstances. They surround you. They seem insurmountable. He whispers to your mind that you need to walk by sight, and not by faith (contrary to what 2 Corinthians 5:7 says). He wants to convince you that the mountains in your life can never be scaled.
The enemy earnestly throws distorted thoughts into your mind. He knows that if you chronically fix your eyes on your problems, you’ll become anxious. Faith will flee, and hope won’t sustain you.
Jesus called the enemy the ruler of this world ( John 12:31; 14:30). Paul referred to him as the god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4). He is a powerful foe. He has enormous wiles and superlative schemes. He doesn’t take a day off. He is forever tempting you. He furiously attacks the minds of people to kill, steal, and destroy them all ( John 10:10).
Satan is the father of lies ( John 8:44). He has no power without his lies. He constructs situations and circumstances shrouded in half-truths and falsehoods. He encourages unbelief. If he can plant anxious thoughts in your mind, then he can move you away from faith in the Father and his truth.