Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Is Anxiety Sinful?

This post is based on a session given at the 2015 CCEF National Conference. This particular session was titled “Six Ways to Help and Anxious Person” and was presented by David Powlison. For more information please visit

The reality is that in this fallen, uncertain world we have good reason to be afraid. We should not be surprised of the abundant reasons we have to be concerned. However, there are better reasons to not be afraid, the main one being that we have a God who is in control of the world and every detail of our lives. But despite this hope-giving truth, I for one have struggled with anxiety. There was a time where my body and mind were both working against me to overwhelm me with feelings of stress and anxiety. At times I didn’t even have a good reason to feel anxious, but I still was. Sometimes I couldn’t even explain how I was feeling or why I was feeling that way. How is one to understand these feelings? Are those feelings of anxiety, as some preachers and writers have said, sinful in and of themselves? Do I need to repent of what I feel?

The answer, I would argue, is no. Feelings of anxiety are not sinful. Feelings and thoughts of worry are not sin and one should not feel guilt concerning them. Feelings cannot be sinful in and of themselves, for they are just indicators of what is going on in our mind, body and heart. Feelings and thoughts are not sinful, but they may be a temptation, and it is the response that can be sinful. This is a very important distinction; those who are anxious are not necessarily sinning! There are bodily weakness that can contribute, or it may be the result of other suffering. Those struggling need others to ask questions and understand their struggle. They need help to respond well to this temptation. There is usually much more going on below the surface that even they realize.

As we seek to help those who struggle with anxiety David Powlison gives us four questions we can ask. First we should help them ask “What’s going on with me?” We need to help them understand what they are feeling. This was such a great point because when you’re feeling anxious often you are not really sure what you are actually feeling. Also, they need to get to the root of their feelings – what is underneath their anxiety. Often there is fear, and they need to realize and face that fear. Second, “Who’s here with me?” They need to be reminded that God is with them and they can trust Him. Often in times of suffering it is hard to feel loved by God and they may need to be reassured of this truth. During my own personal struggle with anxiety and depression something that helped so much was people reminding me over and over that God loved me - because my circumstances and feelings were telling me otherwise. Third, “What’s pressing in on me?” Anxiety reveals what’s important to us, what we can’t control. We need to face those things and bring them to God. This leads to the fourth question which is “What’s hijacking my heart?” We easily forget who God is and fear man or circumstances more; we need to realize what is ruling our heart.

Then there are two action steps we can present to those who are struggling with anxiety. First, we need to help them have an honest conversation and be transparent about their struggles. Their feelings are not just going to disappear, they need to deal with them! We cannot hide, we need to be open. I love how he talked about how our prayers are worries, but they are God-oriented. We take our concerns to God in prayer, and to others to help us. Secondly, we need to help them focus on doing what needs doing today. God has things for them to do now; He has a mission and a purpose right now, even though life seems really overwhelming. Often we just need to focus on taking small steps of obedience and not on the bigger, distant things that we have no control over anyway! Repentance indeed may be needed. We may need to repent of our desire to control or of our self-centeredness. These are the actual sins that need to be dealt with; feelings of anxiety are simply the overflow.

For some anxiety may be a long-term struggle. This is a trial and a suffering that God has allowed in your life but He is in the one in control and will carry you through. But also remember that in it He also calls you to seek to persevere through it in faith. Throughout Scripture we meet men and women who were beset by circumstances that left them overwhelmed, anxious and weary. But they also give examples of how we should respond -David wrote the words on the picture below as he sought to bring his anxieties to the Lord. By all means seek medical counsel and remember that just because you feel anxiety doesn't mean you are sinning. But you do need to pay attention to how you are responding to those feelings. The beautiful thing is that anxiety can be a door to faith; it’s an opportunity to trust God. In fact, you have a responsibility to seek to trust God no matter what you feel. You are not a victim of your feelings, they do not have to control you; they do not define who you are. Also, this is an opportunity for the church community to love and pray for others. We need to be open and honest about our struggles, and we need to seek to know how people are really doing. As we learn to really get to know others and what’s going on in their heart we can better minister and love them. That is what the Church is supposed to be all about. 

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