Our world definitely has its trials, but perhaps the trial that hurts most is anxiety itself. Anxiety can take a heavy toll on our minds and bodies. As the Psalms show, anxiety can drain the joy from our lives and make us more vulnerable to disease and destructive habits too. Our world definitely has plenty of fodder for anxiety, but perhaps the toughest thing about this feeling is its slipperiness. As William Backus and Maria Chapian note in their book, Telling Yourself the Truth, sometimes people can feel nervous without pinpointing the specific cause. And even when the object of our fear is plain, we sometimes have trouble discerning between half-true fears of the future and actually likely events. If a person hears the alarming stats about the deadly car crashes that often happen in late summer on the interstate, then they may feel unable to emotionally handle that family trip they had been looking forward to. The anxiety can poison their joy.
Even in a case like COVID-19, where it’s wise to take extra precautions, we can also sabotage our lives by being overly fearful. When I think of a Bible writer who put down his anxiety on paper, I can look to Asaph.
Asaph isn’t as famous of a Psalmist as Solomon or David, but he records many comforting promises of God’s care and sharp insights about human nature. But in Psalm 73:1-3, 21-16, he’s definitely frustrated: “Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you. Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
Even though Asaph was feeling anger instead of anxiety, his psalm does show us how feelings can trick us. In the first part of this Psalm, Asaph gripes angrily about the apparent prosperity of the wicked oppressors. He paints his earlier feelings of distress vividly, but then reaches an “ah-ha” moment when he looks back at what God has done for His people. He realizes that despite appearances, his charge that God doesn’t care simply isn’t true. His feelings don’t match reality. Farther along in the book, Backus and Chapian point out that looking at the big picture of reality rather than getting boxed into the narrow view of our worries will help us overcome anxiety (Backus and Chapian 74-77). Too often our fears are based on imagining in vivid detail how awful the worst-case scenario would be. I myself have felt fear rising in my stomach when I think how awful it would be if myself or a family member caught COVID-19. But when these fearful thoughts pop up now, I’m able to stop them with a Bible promise, get a reality check on my present situation—“We’re taking every precaution possible and we can trust in God, our great Physician. He doesn’t want us to live in fear. The Bible itself says, ‘Perfect love casteth out fear.’ I choose to keep my mind on the positive.” This attitude of focusing on God’s perspective, while reciting His promises will help us weather life’s storm. Praise God! He knows how to handle our anxiety. When we feel tossed by the waves of uncertainty, we can find a firm foothold in realizing that He’s in control.