I live with the ugly reality of anxiety. As I have been reflecting on this daily struggle, I have concluded that the primary cause of my anxiety is the desire for control.
Anxiety and Control
I have an unhealthy desire to maintain a firm grip on the steering wheel of my life. This manifests itself in excessive attention to detail when managing finances, or in my daily routine of examining the house to ensure there are no issues that need ‘immediate attention.’ These fastidious behaviors make me believe—falsely I might add—that I have unabated control over every detail of my life.
Such behaviors are an attempt to gain sovereign control over my world. But why? One possible answer is that they are driven by fear. I fear loss (e.g., physical loss, financial loss, ambiguous loss, loss of comfort). But I think there is a deeper more theological reason why I desire control. My desire for dominance derives from a quest to grasp at God’s sovereignty.
Jesus’ Answer to Anxiety
In Matthew 6:24-34, Jesus brings clarity to the confusing reality of anxiety. In Matthew 6:24, Jesus says, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (ESV). At first glance, this doesn’t appear to have anything to do with anxiety. But in the next verse, he says, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing” (Matt 6:25 ESV)? The word, “therefore” (dia touto), means that these two verses are connected. In other words, Jesus seems to be connecting anxiety with an inordinate focus on money and possessions—the primary ways I seek to gain control over my life. To pay homage to these ‘gods’ will only produce the fruit of anxiety in my life. And these idols can never deliver on their promises.
In contrast, Jesus teaches how to overcome anxiety by weaving together three important theological themes-
(Matt 6:25-34): God’s nearness, God’s goodness, and God’s sovereignty.
Jesus says that just as God cares for the smallest songbird, or superfluous flower, how much more does he care about the smallest details of my life. Anxiety so often makes me feel alone—that no one else has similar struggles. But Jesus reminds me that I am not alone. I don’t worship a God who is far off and distant, I worship a God who is intimately near (Matt 6:26-38).
But it is not enough to know that God is close. I have learned that I also need to reflect on God’s goodness. In verse 32, Jesus says that “your heavenly Father knows” what you need (ESV). I have become so familiar with the idea of God as Father that I am afraid that in some ways it has lost its theological punch. It is a radical concept that Jesus should refer to God as my “heavenly Father.” No matter my circumstances, God is a good Father who knows what I need (Matt 6:32; Luke 11:11-12).
Lastly, Jesus reminds me that God is sovereign. In Matthew 6:33, Jesus says to seek “the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (ESV). As King, God has all authority and control.
In those moments when I am paralyzed by anxiety, I have learned that it is helpful to get a bigger perspective on life—to remind myself of God’s nearness, goodness, and sovereignty. When I am tempted to control my life by turning to the idols and their empty promises, I remind myself of God’s attributes. I serve a God who is close. He is nearer to me than I could ever comprehend. I serve a God who is good. He cares for me more than I could ever know. Finally, I serve a God who is sovereign. There is nothing that takes him by surprise.
For more on this topic, check out Calvary’s podcast episode, “Anxiety 101,” for a more in-depth discussion.
I am not a licensed therapist. This is a personal reflection on my own experience with anxiety.
Tucker Anderson has served at Calvary Church since 2015. He is a graduate of Bethel Seminary and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His passion is helping people develop a biblical worldview by understanding the relationship between the Old Testament and New Testament.