Written by Norm Henry
From his column A Sound Mind
When announcing the birth of Jesus, the angel’s first words to the shepherds were “Fear not.” Probably, like us, the shepherds needed to overcome being afraid before they could hear the rest of the good news. Being startled often results in an immediate response of fear, which is normal. Fear can be healthy if it motivates us to avoid something harmful, but sometimes, fear can immobilize us, so we freeze rather than flee. Or, we may choose to flee, rather than deal with an uncomfortable issue.
God did not give us a “spirit of fear; but… of a “sound mind” (2 Tim. 1:7 KJV). So what do we do with our fear?
When fears become more persistent and intense, we experience anxiety. Some situations normally provoke anxious thoughts, such as waiting for the doctor’s report, or Interstate traffic! So what do we do with our anxious thoughts? Paul encourages us to “not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition… present your requests to God” (Phil. 4:6 NIV). I admit that sometimes I have presented my fears to God, told Him about the problem and shared my concerns, only to remain anxious. Staying focused upon the problem can do that.
Allowing one’s mind to dwell upon trouble can create worry. Jesus has told us; “do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body what you will wear” (Matt. 6:25 NIV). So, Do Not Worry! I hope and pray you hear these words coming from a gracious, loving, sovereign God. He is really trying to tell us we do not need to worry. He can handle anything and everything. When we are afraid or anxious or worried, God wants us to know we can trust Him.
How should we handle anxiety and worry? First, we take a deep, slow breath. You may not have been expecting that, so let me say it again. Take a deep, slow breath, maybe even counting to six or seven as you breathe in. Then hold it, counting to three or four. Then let your breath out slowly. Repeat. Go ahead do that now before you read on. Slow and deep. You have just used one of the easiest calming techniques known for many years. As I do this, I am singing to myself, “This is the air I breathe…Your Holy presence, living in me.”
Sometimes we generate fear, anxiety, and worry by our thoughts. Thought cycles can become habits. We need to disrupt these and substitute healthy thoughts. The Psalmist said, “When I am afraid, I will trust in you” (Ps. 56:3 CSB). Paul encouraged us to set our minds “on things above, not on earthly things” (Col. 3:2 NIV). Focus upon God, not circumstances. You know that. I do too. Sometimes, I need to refocus. So I sing. “He never has failed me… yet.” At least so far, He never has failed me. I have followed Him for 53 years, and He has been faithful…so far. When I am afraid, I will trust in God. Try singing or listening to one of the great hymns of the church, like “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” or a contemporary song that reminds you God is forever with you, caring for you—and keeping His promises. One of my favorites is Steven Curtis Chapman’s “My Redeemer is Faithful and True.”
Most of you, noticed I left something out of Paul’s words to the Philippians. Here is the passage again. “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.” Expressing thanksgiving to God for all He has done is an expression of worship. Expressing our thanksgiving to God shifts our minds and hearts from focusing upon the problem, to focusing upon how trustworthy God has been. Being thankful helps us to see even more what God has done for us. More than just a technique to calm our anxiety, being grateful to God for all He has given us is a spiritual discipline that brings us into His presence. And in His presence, there is peace.
So “When I am afraid” I will “give thanks, with a grateful heart.”
Dr. Norm Henry has served the Church of the Nazarene in numerous capacities as both psychologist and minister.