By Nathan Anenson
In 2019, two out of three Americans said they were anxious or extremely anxious. And that was before the world got crazy! If you struggle with anxiety, you are not alone.
However, some Christians will tell you that you shouldn’t feel anxious. It says it right there in Philippians 4:6: “Do not be anxious about anything….” Unfortunately, this can lead many of us to feel guilty about our anxiety and thus we don’t feel like we have a safe place in church to be real about our struggle, which then only increases the anxiety.
When the Apostle Paul wrote this letter to the Philippians, he used a Greek verb that indicates continuing action or an ongoing state. So a better translation might be, “Do not ruminate…” or “Stop perpetually worrying….” We all will face anxiety; the key is to see it as a warning light.
When a warning light pops up on your car’s dashboard, it’s a signal something is wrong and needs to be addressed. Anxiety isn’t a sin; it’s a signal. Anxiety is a signal to do something and that something is to pray. Paul goes on to say, “Do not ruminate on your worries, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6).
Prayer can change our brains. Dr. Caroline Leaf, a well-respected cognitive neuroscientist, wrote: “It has been found that 12 minutes of daily focused prayer over an 8-week period can change the brain to such an extent that it can be measured on a brain scan.”
God made our brains to change. It’s called neuroplasticity. The more we think a thought, the easier it becomes to think that thought again. By ruminating on our worries, we can train our brains to be anxious. Or, by praying and meditating on God’s faithfulness, we can train our brains to trust God and be at peace.
When we pray, God leads us. God leads us to let go of the things we can’t control and trust Him. And God leads us to act on what we can control. We can control how much time we spend on social media, if we make that counseling appointment, if we find healthy people to hang out with, if we worship and read God’s Word, and if we exercise and eat well.
There’s not always a quick fix for anxiety, but God provides people and resources to help us experience more of His peace. As you see anxiety as a signal to pray, take action as God leads you, and trust His timing, “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).