After Moses died, the task of leading the Hebrew people into the Promised Land fell to Joshua. It was an enormous responsibility, one that likely caused Joshua more than a little anxiety. Recognizing that, the Lord offered words of encouragement to reassure the rookie leader. In those words we find clues as to how God works in the lives of people who are struggling with anxiety.
God didn’t sugarcoat the situation Joshua faced. The Hebrews weren’t going to waltz into the Promised Land and set up housekeeping. Many battles against formidable opponents lay ahead of them. God didn’t promise to shield the Israelites from those battles.
Likewise, God doesn’t promise to shield us from situations that make us anxious. He doesn’t promise to make worrisome circumstances go away. What He does promise is that He will accompany us through every anxiety-ridden situation we face. He will give us the courage, strength and endurance we need to overcome our anxiety, one battle at a time.
In his letter to the Philippian church, the apostle Paul lays out the battle strategy. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7). Prayer is the most effective weapon we have. No anxiety is too severe for God to handle. No worry is too insignificant for Him to care about. If something affects us or robs us of our joy, God wants us to share it with Him. He wants to counteract it with His peace.
The apostle Peter echoes Paul’s advice—and offers a helpful image. “Cast all your care upon Him, for He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). Anxiety is baggage. The more we struggle with it, the heavier it becomes. Trying to carry it alone is exhausting. We may be able to handle it for a while. We may even be able to convince others that we’re not overly exerting ourselves. Eventually, though, the effort will wear us out.
Which brings us back to Peter’s advice.
Peter spoke from experience. He and the other disciples were no strangers to anxiety. Case in point: the night they tried to transport Jesus across the Sea of Galilee during a furious squall. Wave after wave threatened to swamp their boat. The panicked disciples struggled to bail water while Jesus slept in the stern. Soon, however, their fears and anxieties overtook them.
Seeing no other options, they woke Jesus and, in effect, cast their anxieties on Him. “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” was their worried prayer.
Jesus’ response gives hope to everyone who’s ever struggled with anxiety or spent a sleepless night worrying. “Quiet! Be still!” He said to the waves. Immediately the storm stopped and the sea became still.
The incident left the disciples stunned and a little shaken. To be in the presence of such power unnerved them. Two thousand years later, however, the incident offers Jesus’ followers extraordinary reassurance that whatever storms life throws at us, Jesus can calm.