It is time for midterms over here, which means that my average blood pressure goes up a little. Even if you are not a student, anxiety can be a heavy weight that can bring you to a grinding halt if you try to carry it for too long. If you clicked on this article, you probably know that unsettled emotions can prevent you from sleeping, make you edgy or irritable, or simply unpleasant to be around. When I begin to realize that I am experiencing anxiety, fear, or large amounts of stress, I like to review these five verses from the Bible. They may not be the most “obvious” anti-anxiety verses you see in inspirational posts, but digging deeper into these less-known verses helps me to put my situation back into the right context:
Psalm 22 – “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Isn’t that a cheery opening line? (Wait for it; it does get better!) This psalm is most famous for Jesus quoting part of the opening verse while he was on the cross, but he quoted it to communicate what would happen after he died. That is exactly why I find strength in this chapter. It starts very dark, gloomy, and even angry with God about the author’s circumstances. This may not sound like a desirable trait in an encouraging verse, but it helps when I can identify with the feelings the writer is expressing in the beginning. The Bible isn’t just warm-fuzzy stories; it’s got real, raw emotions in it! I find myself going on the emotional journey with the author through the chapter. After a dark intro, the psalm gradually shifts to praising God for his faithfulness and proclaiming his power and authority over life in the last few verses.
Sure, he started out depressed and anxious, but he remembers who God is and that “God does what He says.”
Psalm 23 – “I’m not afraid when you walk at my side.”
This passage is a more traditional passage for addressing stress and anxiety. It has calming imagery of being in green fields next to still water, and it communicates that God cares for His people, protects them, and treats them well. It is even more encouraging if you grab a good commentary and read a little about what all the imagery is trying to communicate from an ancient Israelite perspective.
Job 38-42 – “Stand tall! I have some questions for you, and I want some straight answers.”
Normally the book of Job is not the first place a person might turn for encouragement, but hear me out. Job has just lost everything near and dear to him, and his friends just spent the past 30 chapters accusing him of wrongdoing to try to explain why he deserved to have all this happened to him. However, Job was totally innocent, and he asks God why He’s messing with his life. Sometimes I am like Job and I question God’s plan and goodness in the midst of trouble. Chapter 38 is when God Himself steps into the discussion, and, honestly, what He has to say always humbles me. This is what we might call some “tough love” conversation! In context, this is a terrifying moment for all those present, but from my perspective as the reader I also take comfort in how God describes Himself as the one who laid the foundations of the earth, told the waters of the sea come here and no further, makes the sun rise and set every day, and hung the stars in the sky… This is the God that gave His only son to pay a debt that I could not pay myself… He uses such power, might, and authority to influence my circumstances as His disciple… If I am following His direction for my life, why should I ever be afraid or concerned about anything again?
It reminds me that God is way smarter and stronger than me and I can trust what He’s doing in my life, even if it doesn’t make sense right now.
Keep this in mind as we talk about the next passage.
Romans 8:18-30 – “…in all things God works for the good of those who love him.”
In case you haven’t noticed yet, I prefer using longer threads of text as opposed to just a couple verses so we can get a better sense of what is really going on instead of cherry-picking a verse out of context. This section of Romans 8 (reading the whole chapter can help this section make more sense, too) is all about the believer’s future glory in the afterlife. It has some kind of strange examples, like comparing being a Christian to being pregnant to communicate the idea of waiting for something exciting. However, verses 25-30 speak to present realities with eternal implications. The one I want to focus on is verse 28. If “all things work together for the good of those that love [God],” it helps me trudge through difficult and unpleasant circumstances that I may be in right now knowing that God can recycle something awful into something purposeful. There is truth in the adage “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Like a woman that is expecting a child, waiting isn’t bad; waiting is a healthy, necessary part of the process, and the excitement just grows as the due date approaches. In the same way, we’re getting more and more hopeful while we wait for Jesus to come back. Though there may be discomfort and pain along the way while we wait, they don’t even remotely compare to the joy we’ll have soon!
Habakkuk 1-3 – yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.”
When you start to read this one you will probably realize that I am suggesting that you read the entire book, but it is one of the shortest books in the Bible and I believe in you. Habakkuk (the author) was a prophet in a very dark time of Israel’s history directly before the second exile when the Israelites were conquered and shipped out of their country. (Scholars think that his writing happens at the same time as the story in 2nd Chronicles 34-35 and 2nd Kings 22-23; you can check those out for more context.) Chapter one is Habakkuk’s initial prayer to God. Chapter two is God’s response, and chapter three is the prophet’s new perspective after his encounter with God. The book starts with the prophet Habakkuk crying out to God because he sees so much violence and injustice around him, and he questions how God can allow such things to happen among his chosen people (basically the question, “Why are these people that call themselves religious doing such stupid crap?”). Primarily, he is foreseeing the coming of an army that fights dirty and is coming from a nation that is several times more evil than he sees his own people, and he angrily wonders how God can use a more wicked people to judge a less wicked one (essentially the “but at least we’re not as bad as those guys” argument). In the end, Habakkuk expresses the deep trust he has in God, even if it means that he and his people must undergo hardship. He knows that God, like a good father, sometimes has to correct us, but he doesn’t punish us to break us. He corrects and trains us to make us better, stronger people. And the best part of God’s correction?
God’s correction isn’t abuse; it’s like the sergeant yelling at you during training. He is pointing out the flaws that will really hurt you if you don’t correct them now. It may be obnoxious and grating in the moment, but it’s purposeful and makes you capable to face what is coming in the future.
Sometimes my stress has, admittedly, come from my own mistakes and choices. I’ve procrastinated, I’ve postponed, I’ve been disorganized. While God may not necessarily be “punishing” me for this, He does sometimes use my stress and anxiety to remind me I need to shore up some areas of my life and do better, and He helps me do just that.
I hope these verses help you the same way they help me.
When I have time to read or recall their messages all together it is like a small puzzle that when put together reveals God’s character. He is both terrifyingly just, consistent, and powerful while also being comfortingly loving, patient, and caring. This helps me put my stress and fears into perspective because this is the God that, by grace, is in my corner. In the grand scheme of things, the only thing I really need to worry about is following His lead. If I do that, He will always have my back. That isn’t to say that life will always be easy and enjoyable, but when it comes time to embrace the suck I know God will use the suck to form me mentally, spiritually, and physically in ways that only that circumstance can. If we allow Him, God can take the suck and make it purposeful training for greater things ahead.
Were some of these verses new to you? What are some verses that help you combat anxiety?