How Jesus Handled Anxiety
When you mesh the Digital Age with a workaholic culture and a polarizing political climate you create an anxious people.
Social media has made it possible, and likely, to compare yourself with your neighbor, who no longer lives a few feet away. They live in your pocket 24/7. And they’re no longer the few people in your neighborhood, school, or church. They are the few people you share an apartment with and the millions you’ll never meet, living on the other side of the world.
This pocket-sized comparison trap mixed with a generation that believes work should provide a sense of personal transcendence creates a culture where climbing the corporate ladder can be the most celebrated activity one can invest in, which is why it’s usually filmed and posted along the way for the world to see.
And since we are quick to celebrate the corporate warriors for the money they make that affords them luxuries from their food to their fashion and virtually share these experiences with the vast following they have, we are quicker to climb the corporate ladder and build resumes, experiences, and social media feeds than we are to cultivate our character. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that some of our most influential leaders fall from not having a character fit to be a foundation to their demanding work.
Then you add a political climate driven by debates (recently more centered on character) and invite the world to digitally fuel the fire with endless opinions rather than conversation, and you begin to scratch the surface of the anxious air we breathe day by day.
We were made for rhythms of work, play, and rest that cultivate a life of harmonious depth, but we have settled for a hurried life of scrolling, working, and debating, drowning for answers in shallow waters and only coming up to inhale an air of anxiety.
According to a recent American Psychiatric Association poll, nearly 40 million Americans have an anxiety disorder, and the numbers are only climbing. Anxiety is nothing new to mankind, but it is seemingly becoming the normal air of American culture. Many of us are operating out of anxiety as if it’s the ambiance for our hurried lives. We’ve all most likely felt the pains of anxiety and know it is not compatible with the full life Jesus said we would experience while following Him. There has to be a better way to experience the peace expressed and offered by Jesus.
If we look at the life of Jesus we will see a man pressed, yet at peace. How was he able to combat anxiety in the midst of the most demanding call to ministry known to mankind?
The Sermon on the Mount is a timeless teaching from Jesus that reveals to us more than rules to follow; they are expressions that reveal how a man after God’s own heart will express his life when pressed upon by the world. Therefore, Jesus’ teachings on the mount are more than lessons; they are a model of who we are becoming as we pursue him.
In this model, he shows us how he prays to his Father and welcomes us to join in this conversation as new children in the Kingdom. He then teaches us how to fast in order to see and experience more of said Kingdom, which leads him to empower us to invest in this Kingdom. After welcoming us into his Father’s wide-open Kingdom, he shares with us how to handle mankind’s timeless struggle with anxiety:
“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? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”- Matthew 6:25-26
Could Jesus’ help for us in an anxious climate really be as simple as “look at the birds”?
As I write this article from a window-facing seat in a coffee shop, I look out and see a line of birds perched on a telephone pole and know Jesus was sharing with us a timeless practice of peace.
The call to look at the birds of the air is an invitation to practice two disciplines.
1. Slow down
Many of us are living too hurried of lives to slow down and actually look at the birds of the air.
Dallas Willard said, “Hurry is the great enemy of our souls in our day. You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.”
John Ortberg expands on this thought by saying, “Being busy is mostly a condition of our outer world; it is having many things to do. Being hurried is a problem of the soul. It’s being so preoccupied with myself and what myself has to do that I am no longer able to be fully present with God and fully present with you. There is no way a soul can thrive when it is hurried.”
Even Carl Jung went on to say, “Hurry is not of the devil; hurry is the devil.”
Hurried and anxious are two sides of the same coin. Think of creative ways to slow your soul down and learn the rhythms of rest. Sabbath is a great start. What would a restful, non-working 24 hours of being present with Jesus look like for you? Then begin to tackle phone, sleeping, and calendar habits. We must learn to bury the badge of busy if we are to grow the fruit of peace. If you are too busy to look at the birds, then you are too busy to experience peace.
2. Look Beyond Yourself
After Jesus invites us to look at the birds of the air, He invites us to look at the lilies of the field.
“And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?”- Matthew 6:28-30
Nature is an invitation to see, touch, smell, hear, and taste the provision of God.
C.S. Lewis points to this truth in his Letters to Malcolm by saying, “We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade, the presence of God. The world is crowded with Him. He walks everywhere incognito.” Someone was adapting a God principle when advising us to “stop and smell the roses.” Anxiety usually stems from locking our hearts and minds on ourselves in the midst of pressing circumstances. But when we are able to look beyond ourselves, in nature and our neighbor, our senses clear and we experience the reality of God’s provision in our lives.
Once we slow down enough to see the birds, we will begin to see ourselves, our neighbor, and God’s provision much more than our hurried, anxious lives would ever allow us to see.
May we be a people who turn an anxious climate right side up, offering others the oxygen of Heaven we experience from being with the Prince of Peace. This invitation is available, right now. Look at the birds, leader.