October 19, 2008

A Prescription for Stress and Anxiety: 1 Peter 5:7

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7)


I googled "stress" on my computer this week and found there are 222 million web pages dealing with stress. As I scanned through the first few pages of results, it was apparent that the overwhelming majority of the web sites are about personal stress (as opposed to the engineering type of stress, such as in building bridges and buildings).

Stress is a big topic today, especially in the west, where people contend with job stress, financial stress, family stresses. Mental health counselors tend to group stress into four categories:

Environmental stressors: living in an unsafe neighborhood, pollution, noise, and other uncomfortable living conditions.

Relationship stressors: marital disagreements, dysfunctional relationships, rebellious teens, or caring for a chronically ill family member or a child with special needs.

Work stressors: job dissatisfaction, a heavy workload, low pay, office politics, and conflicts with co-workers or supervisor.

Social stressors: discrimination, poverty, financial pressures, unemployment, isolation, loneliness, and inadequate social services.

Did you know there is an "American Institute of Stress"? It's a nonprofit organization in New York. For $25, you can subscribe to its monthly newsletter. For $75 you can become an associate member; for $1,000, a sponsoring member. Informational packets, containing 15-20 pages of articles, start at $35, but for $25, you can order the basic information packet, which contains information on the birth and development of the stress concept, a list of 50 common signs and symptoms of stress, 10 crucial tips on how to deal with stress, 10 simple stress reduction exercises, tips on relieving tension headaches, job stress statistics, and a quiz to help you determine your level of stress.

But if you're stressed out and looking on the web for a little free advice, the Institute's web site has this disclaimer when I accessed the web site: "We are unable to provide free literature at the present time."

Then there is a company where you can buy a $300 electronic gismo. To get rid of stress, you put your finger in the sensor, and the machine gives you an LCD display of breathing and heart rates. It paces you in slowing your breathing, and that supposedly relieves stress.

Or, for $199.95, you can order a 120-day supply of pills that are the "only effective Swiss natural patented formula that cures depression, stress, fatigue, and anxiety, with a 100% immediate and long-term success guarantee."

I am trying to be a little humorous and, of course, just a bit sarcastic. Stress is a big business. And if I am surfing the net looking for help in dealing with stress, it seems that it only adds to my stress level to find I may need to buy an informational packet, a $300 stress meter, or pills "guaranteed" to cure stress.

Stress and anxiety are also big problems in our time and culture, even among Christians. And stress and anxiety were huge daily companions of the Christians to whom Peter first wrote his epistle; some had run for their lives and thousands sought to live in the rural areas to stay under the radar of the Roman government, which persecuted and killed Christians.

Some anxiety is helpful. For instance, in verse 8 Peter tells us to watch out for Satan, who is always looking for someone to devour. So to the extent that being on our guard is stress or anxiety, it can be helpful. So God gave us some capacity for anxiety for our own protection.

The Bible gives us a simple, one-sentence answer when we are facing difficult or worrisome stress and anxiety: "Cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you" (1 Peter 5:7). Peter is writing about not just taking a step of faith to feel better, but latching onto the assurance we know is ours: that God does take care of us.

Cast all your anxiety on Him

Verse 5 is most likely a reference to Psalm 55:22: “Cast all your cares on the Lord and He will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.” David wrote Psalm 55 during a time when a friend betrayed him. The reference of betrayal in the psalm is thought to have been the incident involving Ahithophel, and advisor who, it turned out, also was a traitor. You can read about it in 2 Samuel 15-17.

Ahithophel was regarded as almost a prophet by both David and his son Absalom, who opposed David and sought to overthrow him. While David regarded Ahithophel as a trusted advisor, he was actually loyal to Absalom. Psalm 55 is David's lament as he came to realize he had been betrayed. As he worked through his emotions, he reaffirmed the promise that, regardless of how awful circumstances could get, he knew his Lord would sustain him. The mood of the psalm goes from despair to complaint to confidence in God, a process that is common when we endure anxiety.

So just how do I cast my anxieties on the Lord? Through prayer. Philippians 4:6-7 tells us, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” This is not an act of blind or empty faith; it is an expression of trust and confidence in Him and His promises to care for me. We might say it’s God-sufficiency, not self-sufficiency.

Peter does not say cast our worst anxieties on Him, but “cast all your anxiety on Him.” Verse 7 actually is a phrase that completes verse 6 and would be most accurately translated something like this: “Humble yourselves . . . casting all your anxieties on Him.” So one of the ways we act with humility is to turn to God for solutions, not just when we've tried everything else, not just when our anxieties are at their worst, not just when we are at the end of our rope, but all our anxiety, every situation, all the time . . . God-sufficiency, not self-sufficiency.

Psalm 46:10 relates closely to this teaching. It tells us, "Be still and know that I am God"; the literal translation of "be still" is "stop striving" or "stop your efforts" or can mean even "put down your weapons" and know that He is God. In other words, stop trying to solve things on your own, but trust God and the fact that He will care for us. There it is again: God-sufficiency in place of self-sufficiency.

Peter is not referring to simple natural fears, like fearing heights, fearing water if you can't swim, or fearing fire. We know that some fears can become unusual phobias, but some fears and anxieties are healthy. If I am working up on a roof, a bit of fear helps me to be careful where I walk! And a little anxiety on the freeway in Chicago makes me a more alert driver!

Peter is writing about real anxieties: fears and insecurities about things we may not have any control over at all, such as anxiety over interviewing for a job, anxiety about wrong choices people in our family may make, insecurity about employment, and anxiety about any number of things we have limited or no control over. Once again, David gives us a promise to latch onto, in Psalm 56:3: “When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid.”

But, we might ask, does God really want all our cares? Does he care about the diagnosis I just received? My job? My checkbook? My vicious boss? My gossiping co-workers? The repair bill on my car? Why should we cast our cares on the Lord? Peter answers the question:

Because He cares for you

“Because” means “for the reason that,” and that means it’s reasonable for us to trust Him with our anxieties, because He cares for me.

I know He cares for me enough that while I was still a sinner, in rebellion from Him, He died for me.

I know He cares for me because He defeated death itself and offered the same benefit to me.

I know He cares because the Bible is full of assurances and history of His caring.

That phrase “He cares for you” appears many times in the Bible, and I think the Holy Spirit leaves it kind of ambiguous on purpose. Does it mean He cares about me? Yes; He loves me and died for me. Does it mean He takes care of me? Yes.

In Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus describes His care for us:

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

That’s quite a promise to us. He cares about us, and He takes care of us, and we can live our lives characterized by God-sufficiency, not self-sufficiency.

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