Overcoming Anxiety: The Spiritual Gift of Faith
Anxiety: Both a Physical and Spiritual Problem
I’ve written before about the power of a healthy, anti-inflammatory diet and how it was a powerful force in overcoming my anxiety, but I think it’s time to talk about the spiritual gift of faith. Because, let’s be honest, can we really overcome any battle in our lives without Jesus by our side?
When I first began struggling with anxiety, I so deeply felt that if I could just have more faith it would get better. Yet, I felt like I was in some terrible struggle, destined to fail, because try as I may, I just couldn’t shake off the anxiety no matter how much I told myself that I trusted Jesus with my life.
I cringed inside if someone told me I needed to pray more. I cried if someone insinuated that my faith was not strong enough. Yet, deep down, I really did feel like there was a piece of those comments that was true—I really didn’t trust Jesus with all of my being. My faith truly was weak.
Now, I don’t believe that my lack of true faith was the only cause of my anxiety. I mean, in our world, chemical imbalances and inflammation in our brains is real, very real. Mental illness, in my opinion, is very much an illness. However, that doesn’t negate our need for deep, intense, genuine FAITH.
But, sadly, we have swung too far the other way on this pendulum between anxiety as a spiritual issue and anxiety as a mental illness. Many deny that it’s an “illness.” Many deny that it has any spiritual component. But I propose it is “both.”
We are both humans with very real physical bodies and problems and spiritual beings with the Holy Spirit desiring to lead each of us into Truth. So combating anxiety from just one side won’t truly solve the problem. We may combat the symptoms, but are we really getting to the root of the fear if we aren’t confronting the lack of faith?
Now, I don’t mean to say you have a lack of faith if you have anxiety. Only you and Jesus know that. But when you think about it—consider these things:
Do you really, I mean REALLY trust that God is control of your life? That he wants the best for you? That he is working behind the scenes despite your feelings?
Are you actually willing to hand over the reigns? It’s one thing to say with our mouths that we believe and trust, but when we really search our heart, is that truly the case?
Faith in who God is and faith in his SOVEREIGNTY are two different things. The first allows us to know and trust that he is real, but the latter involves a type of faith that relinquishes control.
In my experience—my faith in God was genuine, real, and unwavering. But my faith in his care for me—now that was lacking. My faith in his presence throughout the details of my life—that’s where I struggled. And I often wonder if that’s where so many of my amazing, Christian friends are caught up too?
Healing from Anxiety
See, when we are dealing with anxiety, the devil knows. He knows our weakest spots and our deepest fears. He wants nothing more than to see us crippled by our “illness” and our witness for God’s Kingdom to be thwarted.
Can we just dive into Ephesians 6 for a second? Here is the section I want to look at from the ESV Bible.
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (vs. 10-12)
Do you see that? There is in fact a battle, an intense battle, going on behind the scenes of our lives. It’s a battle we cannot physically see, but we can be certain is raging.
About six months ago I took a spiritual gifts test and Faith was pretty low on the list. I wasn’t going to argue it. I knew, deep down, I struggled with real faith. Remember my explanation earlier?
Well, what’s AWESOME is that God didn’t leave me hanging. I started praying for faith to trust Him. And slowly, He answered that prayer without me even realizing it. Here’s what it looks like now—when I’m prone to anxiety or feeling stressed about a situation, I literally say to God “this is too much for me, I need you to take it.”
And then, by the grace of God and the power of His Holy Spirit, I just let it go. I take a deep breath and I trust, with everything in me that God is going to work it out. My heart doesn’t race after I pray (it does before if I don’t pass the anxiety off to God), the tears don’t fall (usually), and I genuinely feel peace, real, comforting PEACE in my heart—even before I know what the outcome will be.
This is because I know, and now, I really TRUST the Word of God when he says “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap no gather into barns and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not more value than they?” (Matthew 6: 26 ESV) I used to read that and know it was true, but deep down I didn’t really believe in my heart that it was true. If I did, then the worry would have been eased.
Now, I shared this with a friend one day—this newfound ability to pray and somehow miraculously let go of my fear and anxiety. I told her how I was trying to coach my husband out of his anxiety by just telling him to trust Jesus with his full heart.
And bless her heart for opening my eyes—she said “Sydney, THAT is the spiritual gift of FAITH. That doesn’t sound like you at all.”
I was like “I knoooooow right?! I’m so anxious all the time, I literally don’t know how I do it but it just happens! Fearful thoughts just leave my mind when I hand them to God!”
Then, friends, it hit me—we can’t work our way towards greater faith. We can’t just force ourselves to believe more, trust more, or relax more. It is not a natural part of who we are—it’s a gift from Christ himself!
That’s why it ground my gears so much when someone told me “you just need to pray more, trust Jesus more, relax more, etc.” Because it made me feel really terrible about myself, like on top of struggling so badly with anxiety, I was clearly “failing” at being a good, faithful Christian.
But now; now I’m piecing it all together—the faith that helps us overcome our anxiety doesn’t come from ourselves, it comes from the Holy Spirit dwelling in our hearts.
Praying for and Developing the Spiritual Gift of Faith
Let me reiterate something really quickly, because I want to make this very clear—my faith, and my newfound ability to cast off my fears quickly and easily—that does NOT come from my own strength. Not at all. In fact, if I don’t pray right away and ask God for help—ask my mom, mother-in-law, husband, or best friends—I’m an anxious mess.
I just want that to be clear. I don’t need anyone clicking away thinking “wow, that stuck-up girl thinks she’s hot-stuff. She doesn’t know in the slightest how hard my situation is.” Because you’re right—I don’t know how hard it is for you.
All I know is that for years, it’s been so hard for me that at times I wanted to end my life. Letting God take control did not come naturally. Trusting Jesus took prayer, and lots of it. You think you can never get there?
Well let me just share some Scripture with you:
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gits to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him?” (Matthew 7:7-11 ESV)
ASK, my friends. ASK FOR FAITH.
Ephesians 6:16, in talking about putting on the Armor of God, calls Faith our “Shield.” It says “In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one.”
That is the kind of faith we want to pray for and develop. That’s literally how I feel in those moments of casting off my fear that I mentioned earlier—like I experience a moment of panic as I see this terrible flaming arrow being shot my way and then I’m like “God, HELP!” and I let it go. Because I know now that He’s involved, that arrow won’t penetrate and hurt me.
If you had told me a year ago I’d have faith like this, I would have laughed at you. A year ago I was pretty angry at God, doubting his care, and pretty certain he wasn’t helping me at all.
And that is why I believe you too can experience this same power of Faith and the freedom it brings. If you ask Jesus for that gift, he will give it. His Word is full of promises of peace, rest, comfort, and joy. And he wouldn’t tell us to take up a shield of faith if he wasn’t more than willing to give us that shield in the first place.
When you struggle, pray like the father in Mark chapter 9 who desperately wanted a demon cast out of his son but struggled to believe Jesus would actually have compassion on him and perform the miracle. Jesus called him out for his unbelief, and you know what his prayer was?— “I believe; help my unbelief!”
I can’t tell you how often I used to pray that. Over and over and over again— “Jesus, I believe. Help my unbelief.”
You can do that too when you feel weak. When it’s hard to trust Jesus with your full heart, even though you know you should—pray.
Pray. Pray. Pray. That’s the key.
Healing from Anxiety
So, next time someone tells you that you need to pray more because of your anxiety. Maybe take them seriously? But not for the reasons they think you need to pray?
I mean, we all could probably benefit from praying more. So, ask God to give you faith. Don’t listen to the people who make you feel guilty for not “believing hard enough.” It’s ok. As we see in Scripture, the strength to believe comes from Jesus himself.
So you just pray. Pray for belief. Pray for strength. Pray for FAITH. Then watch and see how God will work.
God doesn’t wish for you to be bound by anxiety. And maybe part of his healing will come through physical processes, diet changes, counseling, medicine, or exercise.
But, the true power of healing comes when we get to the root of our fears, when we face them and put our shield up. Against the shield of faith, those fears cannot penetrate.
So arm yourself—
“Take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints.” (Ephesians 6:13-18 ESV)