Growing up, my soccer coaches often lauded my play and understanding of the game – but only during practices.
When game time came, my efforts and skills became less than noteworthy. My game was often undermined by the plethora of internal conflicts abounding within my mind.
I would over-think my next move, over-analyze the next play, and have a voice in the back of my mind saying that something bad was going to happen at any given moment. The more I tried to control the game and how I played, the more I became emotionally frustrated, mentally fatigued, and completely flummoxed by my inability to execute the basics.
In real game settings I was high-strung. I was easily nervous and distracted by the anticipation of defeat or making a poor decision. Anxiety owned me, and is still a struggle for me today. Only with the awareness provided by Scripture, and the peace that comes from God can I be free from the enslaving grip of anxiety.
A Huffington Post article not too long ago described anxiety as the following: “It is like your mind being on fire – overthinking and overanalyzing everything with no shut off switch.” I’ve often mistaken anxiety for fear, and focused more on not trying to be afraid than on dealing with anxiety. Fear is the emotional response to a specific known or definite threat, whereas anxiety is a diffuse, unpleasant, vague sense of apprehension to an imprecise or unknown threat.
In other words:
- I can be anxious about something that I vaguely imagine could possibly go wrong in a situation, relationship, or role I’ve never been in without any definite facts to substantiate my apprehension.
- Whereas fear is based on a specific fact, real threat, or disappointing outcome from the past I’ve seen or experienced that I do not want to repeat.
Why am I so high-strung? For me, anxiety is rooted in my unbelief. I become more prone to this when I’m disconnected from God and lacking a genuine faith in his protection over my life. Although I may feel the emotion of fear on any given day, the Scriptures make it clear that I do not have to live in constant anticipation of a future threat; I can choose to live by faith in God, free of anxiety.
This begins with facing the truth about my spiritual condition and need for God. Truth is the key to being set free (John 8:31-32), and to overcome the exhausting grip of anxiety, we must first identify the signs of how it’s owning us.
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[Not in your own strength] for it is God Who is all the while effectually at work in you [energizing and creating in you the power and desire], both to will and to work for His good pleasure and satisfaction and delight.Philippians 2:13 AMP
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Has your motivation and desire to make a personal change, deepen your relationships, or pursue God’s purpose been exhausted by anxiety?
- Do you find yourself emotionally exhausted, trying to control the circumstances and outcomes in your life?
When I’m anxious, my first response has often been to rely on human strength, human intellect, and human effort to find a solution or way to control unwanted outcomes or circumstances. In these moments, I’ve found myself burnt out, stressed out, leading to isolation and apathy, because I lacked the internal strength and faith to overcome my apprehensions.
In this state, I no longer want to engage or give to others emotionally, because my anxiety has worn me out, leaving no room to care about God, let alone others in my life. This cycle is not only exhausting, but counter to how God envisions us to live our lives and experience his destiny for us.
“Anxiety is like being on a treadmill. You exhaust yourself without getting anywhere. You are always busy, but very rarely productive.”Jozie Jennings
We will also find that our human efforts are futile, because there are many circumstances in our lives that are outside our control. Only God provides the energy, spiritual desire, and strength we need (Psalm 138:3 TLB) to conquer the challenges we face in life. When we believe that God is willing and working inside us, we can find spiritual energy to keep us progressing forward, even when our physical energy runs low and when our apprehensions run high.
We must choose to live by faith in God, praying more than strategizing to bring about his purpose for our lives.
Rejoice in the Lord always [delight, gladden yourselves in Him]; again I say, Rejoice!  Let all men know and perceive and recognize your unselfishness (your considerateness, your forbearing spirit). The Lord is near [He is coming soon]. Do not fret or have any anxiety about anything, but in every circumstance and in everything, by prayer and petition ( definite requests), with thanksgiving, continue to make your wants known to God. And God’s peace [shall be yours, that tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ, and so fearing nothing from God and being content with its earthly lot of whatever sort that is, that peace] which transcends all understanding shall garrison and mount guard over your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.Philippians 4:4-7 AMPC
Another sign of anxiety’s grip on my life is excessive worrying. This is when no one, let alone God, can get through to me, because I’m more in tune with my worried thoughts and a rigid mindset, rather than the voice of reason and truth from scriptures. I might appear to be calm and functional on the outside, but inside I’m filled with worst case scenarios absent of God.
When we’re more consumed with anxious “what if’s” rather than the possibilities of all God can do, we’ll never experience peace or genuine happiness. This inner peace and “tranquil state of a soul” only comes from God, starting with identifying and giving up all these worries and frets to him in prayer. In short, being high-strung reveals being prayer-deficient.
The more specific and vulnerable we are in asking God for help, the more he provides the power and peace to overcome our anxieties.
Grace to you and peace [inner calm and spiritual well-being] from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.Philippians 1:2 AMP
When we’re living with constant low-level stress rather than walking with God, giving up everything to him, even minor problems or annoyances have the power to frazzle us. When I’m easily irritated and stressed, it’s a sure sign I’ve drifted away from God, who’s the source of “inner calm” and spiritual well-being.
Obsessed with perfectionism
12 Not that I have already obtained it [this goal of being Christlike] or have already been made perfect, but I actively press on so that I may take hold of that [perfection] for which Christ Jesus took hold of me and made me His own.
13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider that I have made it my own yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the [heavenly] prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.Philippians 3:12-14 AMP
I’ve often secretly prided myself in thinking I want things to be “excellent” or “perfect,” while ignoring that my motive was singularly rooted in wanting the approval and respect of people. The constant preoccupation with achieving the desired “perfect” appearance, attention or acknowledgement has often been at the root of my anxious striving (Ecclesiastes 2:22).
The “perfection” I anxiously strive for is far from the person who God is calling me to become. We learn from the life of Paul that the goal is not perfection in the sense of trying to arrive at place that garners people’s admiration or approval, but to learn from the past so we can keep changing and pursuing the perfect destiny of God has envisioned for us.
By choosing to become a learner rather than a performer, we’ll find ourselves inspired about changing and discovering the next stages in life God is leading us into, rather than obsessed with not trying to falter or fail in our own eyes or in the eyes of people.
Prone to avoidance
Finally, my brothers and sisters, always think about what is true. Think about what is noble, right and pure. Think about what is lovely and worthy of respect. If anything is excellent or worthy of praise, think about those kinds of things. 9 Do what you have learned or received or heard from me. Follow my example. The God who gives peace will be with you.Philippians 4:8-9 NIRV
When I’m filled with negative self-talk, often replaying past mistakes in my mind, I tend to avoid new challenges or making the most of new opportunities, because I’m anxiously expecting the worst to happen.
In moments like these we can shrink our world into trying to prevent being overwhelmed, and rigidly stick to routines to avoid intense emotional experiences, engaging in relationships, social events, conflict, or anything else that might trigger anxiety.
This Scripture teaches us that we can what our minds are focused on instead of letting anxiety enslave us with negativity. When we want to avoid things, we also have an opportunity to make a spiritual: Will we think about the possibilities of God, the Scriptures, to focus our minds on what God and his power can do, or will we choose to allow our anxiety to keep us trapped in a lifestyle of avoidance?
God met me more than halfway, he freed me from my anxious fears.Psalm 34:4 MSG
Here are some steps you can take to begin changing:
- Ask yourself: Which one of these 5 signs reveal the grip anxiety has had on your life?
- Decide: to take on the ones most dominant in your life, rather than denying them. Then by turning to God and the Scriptures you can develop the faith and spiritual strength to break free of anxiety.
- Pass it on: Who else can you help do the same?
This devotional is part of a collection of studies about turning to God with our anxiety and worry. View the entire selection for a deeper dive.