By Peter Amsterdam
November 17, 2015
I read an article the other day which said that the most popular verses in the Bible are Philippians 4:6–7. In those verses, the apostle Paul instructs the church:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, 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.1
Attaining freedom from anxiety, worry, stress, and pressure is a high priority for most people today. We live in a world with an increasingly rapid pace of change, and change brings uncertainty. Uncertainty tends to bring worry, stress, and a general feeling of being unsettled. A friend of mine expressed it like this, “When I feel unsettled, I feel uneasy, like something is going to go wrong, or like I’m missing something important. It often involves an unknown, a risk, and it brings in an overall unsettled, in-flux feeling.”
I have experienced this unsettled feeling at times, and it’s not pleasant. Sometimes you just wake up feeling unsettled, or you feel uneasy but you can’t pinpoint why. Other times you know or have an inkling why you’re feeling that way, what circumstance or decision it’s connected to. It could be that you’re putting off making an important but difficult decision. Perhaps you’re experiencing conflict in a relationship and amends need to be made. Maybe it’s time for a change in your life—of career, location, parenting, priorities, or within your circle of friends—and while you know the change is needed, it will cost you personally to make the change, so you feel reluctant or afraid, and as a result, you avoid taking the steps or doing whatever it is you feel you need to do. Or maybe you are taking steps toward a change in your life and you feel unsettled because you don’t know how things are going to play out.
Feeling unsettled, uneasy, and anxious tends to sap your joy and faith. Those feelings of dread or “not knowing” can throw a wet blanket on your outlook or hope for the future, and can inhibit you from following the Lord and making solid progress in your life. That gnawing feeling of too many loose ends, lingering decisions that need to be made, things you might be forgetting or just can’t get to can leave you feeling frazzled, nervous, distracted, and emotionally exhausted.
It’s no wonder people are trying all sorts of things to reclaim a sense of peace, hope, and centeredness. As Christians, we have the blessing of several wonderful promises on this topic which give both spiritual and practical advice. I’ll include some of my favorite verses below, followed by some general tips on how to rise above those “unsettled” feelings when they come.
Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.2
Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.3
You will keep him in perfect peace, Whose mind is stayed on You, Because he trusts in You.4
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.5
There are some common themes throughout those scriptures:
Learning to “cast all our cares on Him” and be “anxious about nothing” is easier said than applied, I have to admit, and learning to not give in to anxiety can be a process that requires practical steps on our part. We have to make a conscious effort to give our burdens to the Lord. We must commit to spending regular time with Jesus. We need to learn to surrender our fears and worries to Him. We need to meditate on God’s Word and become practiced in the art of focusing our thoughts on things that are praiseworthy, noble, good, true, honorable, and right.6 We have to replace bad habits with good ones that lead us to a healthy lifestyle.
Some people assume that once you become a Christian and put your trust in the Lord, that He automatically protects you from any and all bad things. That’s not how trust works. Trust doesn’t eliminate problems, stress, or difficulties that might arise, but it does provide us a firm foundation for our confidence: God. It gives us an outlet for our anxiety: God.
I find it helpful to review God’s promises to remind myself of His unconditional love for me. He loves me. He loves you. He cares. He wants to help us. He has promised to take care of us. When we put ourselves and our loved ones in His hands, we can know that they are in the best place possible.
Augustine said, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”7 I believe that aligning our spirits with God’s Spirit is the most important aspect when we are in dire need of peace, hope, faith, and trust. Following that, there are some helpful practical tips, and I’ll include a few below.
Write down your concerns and anxieties.
This is especially helpful if you have a lot on your mind. Get it out of your head and on paper; just listing it all can bring some relief. Research shows that writing about your worries can calm you and even increase performance. Designating “a time to worry,” so to speak, can be a helpful strategy. Write your worries down and give them to Jesus.
Once you have written down everything that is weighing on you, that list can become a list for both prayer and planning. Pray daily over your list. Find a promise to claim for each item, or for the list overall.
Look at your list to see what smaller items you can take care of. Perhaps there’s a phone call you need to make; pick up the phone and make the call. If you can take action on a few items, even if they’re smaller points, it will whittle down the list and give you a sense of progress.
Talk with someone—a good friend, spouse, counselor, mentor.
It can help to talk through your situation and options, and seek good advice.
Beware of the “god of options.”
This term represents the overwhelming number of choices available to us in this modern day. From the amount of information available on the Internet to the variety of cereal at the grocery store, too much information can result in decision paralysis. Not to mention a lot of wasted time.
Be mindful and disciplined; seek out the information you need to make a decision, without getting caught up in the never-ending flow of new information and options.
Take one step at a time.
If you are facing a number of issues that need resolving, don’t tackle them all at once. Pick one to think and pray through. Go for a walk as you consider the pros and cons, with the end goal being to make a decision.
Decide. Do. Trust. Repeat.
Once you make a prayerful decision, don’t keep doing comparison research or second-guessing your choice. Trust that you made a decision that is good enough. Trust that Jesus can bring good to you through any venue if you are seeking His will.(And in the event that you make a wrong decision or a better solution or opportunity presents itself later, trust that He will bring that to your attention and lead you as to how to proceed.)
I read a quote on the topic of open doors and the struggle that we, as Christians, often face when making life choices as we seek God’s will. The author wrote, “God can use even what looks like the ‘wrong door’ if I go through it with the right heart.”8 I believe that is true, and it is deeply comforting because we will never get every decision 100% right. That’s part of the life experience. That’s how we learn, and it is part of God’s design.
On this topic, Mark Batterson wrote the following:
I don't know a single Christ follower who hasn't gotten stressed out over trying to figure out the will of God. We want to solve the mystery of the will of God the way we solve a crossword puzzle. But in my experience, intellectual analysis usually results in spiritual paralysis.
We try to make God fit within the confines of our cerebral cortex. We try to reduce the will of God to the logical limits of our left brain. But the will of God is neither logical nor linear. It is downright confusing and complicated. A part of us feels as if something is spiritually wrong with us when we experience circumstantial uncertainty. But that is precisely what Jesus promised us when we are born of the Spirit and start following Him.
Most of us will have no idea where we are going most of the time. And I know that is unsettling. But circumstantial uncertainty also goes by another name: adventure.
Nothing is more unnerving or disorienting than passionately pursuing God. And the sooner we come to terms with that spiritual reality, the more we will enjoy the journey.9
If we can keep a more heavenly perspective, we’ll enjoy life’s journey more. Granted, the problems we face throughout life are not “easy.” But Jesus promises to give us strength to enable us to carry those problems. He says, “My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”10 When we draw on His strength, we can have peace in the midst of storm and deep joy even in trying circumstances.
Jesus is our source of peace. His name “is a strong tower,” which we can “run into and be safe.”11
2 Psalm 55:22 ESV.
3 1 Peter 5:7 NLT.
4 Isaiah 26:3 NKJ.
5 John 14:27 ESV.
6 Philippians 4:8.
7 Augustine of Hippo, Confessions, Book I, Chapter 1.
8 John Ortberg, All the Places to Go … How Will You Know? (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2015), 17.
9 Wild Goose Chase (Colorado Springs: Multnomah Books, 2008).
10 Matthew 11:30.
11 Proverbs 18:10.