The way to calm your anxious heart
My family and I rarely get to spend time at the lake, so we always jump at an invitation to spend time with friends on the water. Our kids love the thrill of riding on a boat and especially being pulled on a raft behind the boat.
One particular June day, the fun came to a crashing halt when our then 5-year-old fell into the lake and was stuck under the raft. It felt like an eternity before we found him and pulled him to safety. Our son was shocked but physically OK. My heart took much longer to heal.
We all feel anxious sometimes. Jesus said we will face trouble. But in those moments, we can find comfort and peace in knowing He has overcome the world (John 14:6).
Anxiety has played a major presence in my adult life, so much so that I eventually sought help from a professional counselor. Learning to cope with anxiety is no easy task. It involves several important steps, almost like ingredients in a recipe. So let’s find the recipe for peace designed by the Creator Himself.
Philippians 4:6-7 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Read that verse again. Notice that thanksgiving is a major ingredient in the recipe for peace. As we lay out our burdens, concerns, and fears to God, we only experience true peace after we add thanksgiving to our prayers.
Thanksgiving is simply “the expression of gratitude, especially to God.” The first few weeks after that horrible trip to the lake, I was crippled by anxiety. In ordinary moments of my day, the fear of what could have happened would wrap around my heart and crush me. I found that the only way I could overcome the anxiety was to speak out loud anything I could think of to be thankful for in that moment.
The peace of God is a gift from God.
Some days, all I could muster up was being thankful for the dirty dishes piled in my sink and the mountains of laundry to fold. But as I spoke my gratitude out loud, I became aware of God’s presence in my battle with anxiety. His presence was like a balm to my wounded heart.
Peace is the opposite of anxiety. Peace is something we all crave and need. It satisfies our fears, our worries, our doubts. True peace, the kind that Paul writes about in Philippians, isn’t based on our circumstances or our abilities. The peace of God is a gift from God.
So, how do we position our hearts to be thankful — to express gratitude to God, especially when we are feeling anxious?
1. Change your perspective.
When we feel anxious, we are often focused on all the things going wrong around us. When circumstances feel out of our control, fear blinds us to the truth.
The truth is that Jesus is right there with us in whatever situation we face. Jesus experienced anxiety, and He understands how we feel. We find the strength to keep going when we shift our focus from our circumstances onto Him.
That’s the message of Hebrews 12:2. “Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!” (Hebrews 12:1-3, MSG).
Remembering what Jesus has already done helps us trust what He is doing now so we can have faith for what He will do in the future.
2. Change the posture of your heart.
Open your heart to the truth of God’s Word and His promises. As long as we believe we can handle our fear ourselves, we will never find freedom from anxiety.
But as we humble ourselves to hear from God, our hearts become soft and teachable. We begin to realize the Bible isn’t just true for other people, it’s true for us, too. Psalm 46:1 tells us, “God is our refuge and strength; an ever-present help in trouble.”
God also often sends a kind friend my way to remind me I’m not alone. God doesn’t give up on us when we are struggling. He will complete the good work He has started in us, just like He promises in Philippians 1:6.
3. Express your thankfulness.
The apostle Peter tells us to give our burdens to Jesus because He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). Aren’t you glad God loves us so much that He wants to hear about all of our fears, worries, and anxieties?
Anxiety no longer holds me captive, but instead, it prompts me to share my burdens with a God who loves me. Anxiety has become a vehicle for me to turn my heartache over to Jesus. I don’t know why God allowed us to go through that almost tragic day on the lake, but I am so thankful that He saved our son and He has taught us to turn to Him in our anxiety.
Something powerful shifts inside us when we speak our prayers instead of keeping them in our hearts. Hearing ourselves pray helps us find the faith to believe the words we speak and to believe that God is truly listening. If you’re not sure how to express your gratitude to God, try saying this prayer out loud in your own words.
Thank you, God, for saving me from my sins through Jesus. Thank you that it didn’t stop with my salvation, but instead, we have a rich, close relationship that is real and active.
You’ve healed the brokenness in my life. You’ve blessed me more than I deserve. You are close to me when I feel so alone and hopeless. Please shine your light on the dark places in my heart and help me to feel your love. It is because of You that I no longer live in fear of death and fear of life.
You are enough. Your grace is enough. So in this moment when I feel so weighed down by fear of the unknown, I gratefully acknowledge what I do know: that You are good, You are faithful, and that apart from You I will never find peace.