What Do You Do with Your Anxiety? Let God Use It.
I can’t keep track of how many anxiety gurus and self-help books assume that anxiety is something you have to get rid of. That’s a natural response, so I don’t fault people for it. In fact, I had the same response for a while. But I do oppose it now as often as I can (check out my article, “How Should Christians Face an Anxiety Disorder?”). Why? Because what you do with your anxiety is critical. More specifically, what you do with your anxiety as a Christian is critical. For Christians, life is not about scissoring out every ounce of suffering from your daily experience. Life is not about comfort; it’s about conformity (Rom. 8:29). It’s not about slipping into ease; it’s about growing in eagerness to commune with the God who speaks.
Soon I’ll publish my book, Struck Down but Not Destroyed: Living Faithfully with Anxiety. One of the themes in that book is my constant answer to the question, What do you do with your anxiety? The simple answer is this: let God use it to shape you.
Now, I know that answer sounds fairly nebulous. How exactly does God “shape” us through anxiety? And why would we really want that in the first place? Let’s address one question at a time.
How Does God Shape Us through Anxiety?
Shaping is a personal process. God — three divine persons who share the same essence — is the shaper. He’ll work with any material: metal, wood, stone, clay. He seems to prefer the latter. We can be hard to his hands — our spirits cracked, dry, and rigid — but that doesn’t mean he won’t shape us. He has his tools — his word, our prayers and praise, our experience, our relationships. He uses them all. Our Father is a potter (Jer. 18:6). His hands are wet with grace, ever wielding the power of change, the power of his own good will. His Son is the template, the pattern after which we’re all crafted, the pattern to which we are called to conform (Rom. 8:29). And the Spirit? He’s the prodding pressure emerging from our Father’s fingertips, making us more “Sonly.”
Our Father is a potter (Jer. 18:6). His hands are wet with grace, ever wielding the power of change, the power of his own good will.
That sounds well and good to most of us, but what does it mean to be shaped to the Son of God? That’s the real question, isn’t it? Without a concrete answer, we’ll likely ignore the shaping process altogether, since we can’t see it. But all we need to do is break down the life of Christ bit by bit according to Scripture. The way in which Christ interacted with God, his word, and other people — that’s the way we are meant to interact. Here are a few application questions to consider from the Gospel of Luke (only the first 6 chapters!). Whenever you can answer “yes” to one of these questions on any given day, then you’re in the process of conforming to Christ’s image by the power of God’s Spirit. It doesn’t matter if you intended it or realized it or planned it. It’s still happening.
The way in which Christ interacted with God, his word, and other people — that’s the way we are meant to interact.
- Does your heart leap with joy at the thought of nearness to Christ, as John the Baptist leaped in his mother’s womb at the closeness of Christ? (Luke 1:44)
- Do you sit at the feet of God’s word, asking for questions and begging for answers? Do you do that above all else? (Luke 2:46)
- Do you stretch your hand out for God’s word before you stretch it out to grasp your breakfast? (Luke 4:1–4)
- Do you hold your tongue (even the one inside your head) when tempted to make a deal with God, to put his grace and love to the test? (Luke 4:12)
- Do you reach out to someone who’s shunned by a larger group of people? (Luke 5:13)
- Do you give people second chances? (Luke 5:27)
- Do you give others Christ as the reason to exclude, revile, and spurn you? (Luke 5:22)
- Do you turn your other cheek to a clenched fist, even a fist made of words? (Luke 6:29)
- Do you do selfless things for those who don’t like you? (Luke 6:35)
- Do you withhold judgment in light of how you’ve been judged? (Luke 6:37)
Our shaping happens in tiny ways, with off-the-cuff decisions, during the morning rush hour. Conforming to Christ’s image isn’t always a grand event showcased in the center of your life. It’s often in the back corners, in the quiet places. But if you really want to know when it’s happening, the only thing you can do is read Scripture and take note of every movement and word from the hands and mouth of Christ. Our conformity is always to him.
Conforming to Christ’s image isn’t always a grand event showcased in the center of your life. It’s often in the back corners, in the quiet places.
When I say that we need to let our anxiety be a part of that shaping endeavor, I mean that we can’t seek every opportunity to eliminate it. You can’t learn from what isn’t there. You can’t be shaped by something that you excise from your life. If you want to learn from and be shaped by your anxiety, you have to let it stay. You have surrender yourself. You have to pry open your chattering teeth and say, “Okay, God. Okay. Please use this. Teach me.” And he will. Every. Single. Time.
Why Would We Want To Be Shaped?
But why would you want to be shaped in the first place? Why not set elimination as the goal, and then schedule a hundred visits with a counselor, psychologist, and local pastor to get rid of it? Why not see a doctor and get put on a regiment of antidepressants to dull the symptoms? These tools can be good resources for those of us who battle anxiety. And good biblical counsel from a pastor is more than an advantage; it’s a necessity. I’ve experienced all of these tools over the years, and some of them I’m still experiencing. But even with these tools, elimination of anxiety is never the end game. We have to think about the goal of our experiences, anxiety included. And we can bring that goal to the surface with questions. At the end of the day, we often ask one of the following: (1) how do I get rid of this? Or (2) How can I be shaped by this?
And here’s the tough follow-up: If you choose the first question, then you’ll be even more anxious when the anxiety doesn’t go away. It’s a vicious cycle, isn’t it? Maybe it’s so vicious that it’s . . . not what God wants for us. God wants us to be shaped, not simply left alone.
In other words, if God wants us to be conformed to the image of his Son, then he doesn’t want a life of luxury for us. Sure, he loves to bless us, in more ways than we can count and with more generosity than we can fathom. But we can’t mistake God’s blessings for God’s calling on our lives. Those are two very different things. Blessings are given; callings are required. God gives us blessings, but he calls us to conform to the image of his Son.
If you don’t like that, I get it. I really do. But you won’t be satisfied with whatever other approach you take up. I know that not because I’m smart or because I have the gift of divine prescience. I can’t see into anyone’s future. But I can see what God has revealed about himself and about who we are. And so can you. It’s all in his word: the great black book.
You and I — we’re never going to be satisfied or fulfilled if we aren’t conformed to Christ. Why not? Because we were made to commune with God. We were made that way. And conformity to Christ is the path to that reality. It’s the only path.
So, even if you don’t really want to be shaped to Christ’s image, you still ultimately “want” that. It’s your highest and deepest desire. You and I are made for communion with the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
Don’t Waste Your Anxiety
I guess all I’m saying is, “Don’t waste your anxiety.” And wasting it can mean making every effort to get rid of it. It’s not here because God has lost his grip on the world. It’s here precisely because his grip cannot ever be loosened. He is waiting and ready to use it in your life . . . if you let him. You just have to pray that God himself would give you the will to surrender yourself to him so that he can use it. That’s the point of everything we experience in life, after all.
Stay tuned. Struck Down but Not Destroyed will be out soon! Here’s what people are saying about it already:
“I’ve known Pierce Hibbs and his work for some years and have greatly appreciated his theological analysis and understanding of human problems. His Struck Down but Not Destroyed has been helpful to me. I have had similar problems (though I’d describe them as agoraphobia or introversion rather than anxiety disorder), and I’m grateful to be able to read Pierce’s testimony of how Jesus is sufficient to meet such needs. He is right to argue from Scripture than such difficulties can be means of spiritual growth and blessing, as he leads us to respond to them in a godly way. I hope this book gets wide distribution.”
– John M. Frame, author of Systematic Theology and the Theology of Lordship series
“This is the book I have been waiting for to share with loved ones who suffer with anxiety disorders. Struck Down but Not Destroyed is the best I’ve read on the topic so far, taking a holistic approach that will minister to body, mind, and soul, offering personal testimony, digestible and helpful theology, practical follow-up actions, and beautiful prayers. Anxiety can be incredibly scary and paralyzing. Pierce helps sufferers to know what to do with that fear, truly accomplishing his subtitle to faithfully live with anxiety.”
– Aimee Byrd, author of No Little Women and Why Can’t We Be Friends?
“I have read scores of books about anxiety. None comes close to this thorough, biblical and most practical study. Most of us, if we are honest, will admit to being captured by worry somewhere in our lives. This book is as good or better than dozens of therapy sessions. I was particularly helped by the emphasis on prayer: most needful, most difficult. And God’s grace is woven into the warp and woof. Everyone needs to read it.”
– William Edgar, author of Reasons of the Heart and Created and Creating
“Pierce Taylor Hibbs has given the church a gift with this insightful and compassionate book on anxiety. Placing his own struggle with anxiety in the light, he invites the reader to do the same and to experience the liberty that accompanies such honesty. Hibbs carefully grounds our thinking and experiences in Scripture and offers a wealth of practical counsel. This is a book to read and then read again. I will be commending this wonderful book to all of my fellow strugglers.”
– Todd Pruitt, Lead Pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Harrisonburg,
“Anxiety often shows up unannounced at the door of the soul, lingering beyond the bounds of our abilities. Through experience and prayer, Pierce Taylor Hibbs describes the battle of living faithfully with this “long-term guest.” Rooted firmly in Scripture, this work is filled with theology that is accessible, practical, and personal — with the gospel woven throughout its pages. Hibbs writes with heart, soul, and most of all, biblical truth. Whether you are worried, weary, or whittled down, Hibbs shows how God stewards your anxiety in order to conform you to Christ for His glory and your good.”
– Nathaniel Schill, Administrator, Book Store Director, and Elder at Calvary