Fear…Anxiety…Worry. In the cursed world in which we live as fallen image bearers, this pattern can often be a part of the human experience. Many times, it is caused by sinful unbelief or idolatry. At other times, it is a physiological response, and at other times, it’s a mixture of both. Having spent years walking alongside many for whom anxiety is a reality, there are many lessons I have begun to glean. Here are five of those lessons learned from counseling those with anxiety.
1. Scripture Speaks to This Issue
The Word of God speaks to our anxieties and regularly seeks to call us out of it. In our day, however, the Scriptures are often not brought to bear in the face of our anxieties. Perhaps that is because many people believe anxiety is merely a clinical issue, far removed from the church or the Scriptures, or perhaps, more likely, because in the midst of very difficult anxieties, Christians have not learned the pattern of reaching for the truths of Scripture. I believe, and have seen countless times, that thinking, or cognitions, must be addressed in counseling. The way we perceive things, how we are conditioned through years of thinking patterns, and how we tend to accentuate certain thoughts above others, all must be addressed when we deal with anxiety. The Scriptures are the best filter for how we go ought to go about this task (i.e., Jesus’ teaching on anxiety—Matt 6:25-34, considering our thought life—2 Cor 10:5, Phil 4:8, Ps 56:3, as well as dwelling on God’s goodness—Ps 77:11-12).
The Scriptures also reveal deep truths regarding our tendency to create false gods and idols, which cause anxiety when elevated to an unholy or ungodly place. For instance, when our job, family, reputation, money, etc. become an idol, the Scriptures call us to repentance. A byproduct of idolatry is that we often feel anxious when our idol is not “worshiped” by others, when it fails us or when it is ultimately exposed as a false god. Here, the wisdom of Scripture can produce the fruit of peace when we filter our lives through its pages.
In addition to the application of specific texts and passages of Scripture, it is important to consider how Scripture as a whole speaks to certain issues. Specifically, we must be careful, in any situation, but particularly in our dealings with anxiety, to look at the patterns of Scripture, understanding how Scripture as a whole teaches a specific doctrine or speaks to a particular concern. And this is where historic confessions aid us. The Second London Baptist Confession of Faith provides a helpful framework, which arises from the pages of Scripture, through which we can understand how the various passages of Scripture we are using fit within the overall united message of the Scripture. This guides us from taking passages out of context, or placing emphases in places that are misguided. It also helps us to not treat the Bible simply as a pill box from which we gather various medication, but as an entire course of treatment in our moments of fear, worry and anxiety patterns.
2. A Right Understanding of the Doctrine of God Is Crucial
Every doctrine of the Bible is important and crucial for our growth in knowledge and godliness. However, in dealing with anxiety, one doctrine that is often abused, misinterpreted or flat out forgotten is an orthodox doctrine of God (theology proper). For the counselor, a thorough understanding of the doctrine of God is a necessary component to helping others with anxiety. To attribute finite qualities to God, to consider Him less than omniscient, to argue that he is mutable (even if only to try to make Him seem relatable to His creatures), to view Him as passible, or to misrepresent Trinitarian orthodoxy, are all to be avoided in our faith pilgrimage and particularly in our counseling. It would benefit every counselor to rightly and deeply understand an orthodox theology proper. Confessions help us in that regard. For instance, if a counselor is knowledgeable of the Doctrine of God from the pages of Scripture as faithfully confessed in the Second London Confession, he will more likely correctly represent God in his counseling. We live in a day when many churches are putting together smaller and more “succinct” statements of faith. Often, one of the shortest sections is the doctrine of God such that those crafting said statements seem content wherein a simple statement regarding the Trinity is given. But is this all that our God reveals to us about Himself—that He is Triune? Is there not immense value in a fuller understanding of this God? Take note: