Lately, I’ve been waking up in a panic. It’s about 5:30 in the morning and there’s a pit in my stomach that feels a lot like fear. I don’t want to go to work. I don’t want to face the day. I don’t even want my morning cup of coffee. I lie in bed trying to diagnose the problem: What is it I’m afraid of? There’s nothing out of the ordinary on my schedule. I think for a while and realize that my fears are way deep down, under layers of busyness and clutter.
I don’t want my children to grow up and leave me. I don’t want to get old. I don’t want to run out of money. I don’t want anything bad to happen, ever. The lovely moments of my life are passing by at warp speed, and I can’t hold on to them. I’m becoming so afraid of losing what I have that I can’t enjoy it while I have it. The anxiety in my heart bubbles to the surface at night when there’s no longer noise around me to suppress it. And it’s there waiting for me when I wake.
There are numerous scriptures about worry and uncertainty, but I like Paul’s exhortation to the Philippians in particular: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7).
When we think about fear, it’s easy to focus on issues of physical insecurity, suffering, and material need. But the despair of those of us considered to be “well off” is no less real. Although esoteric, it can be equally as powerful and debilitating, particularly because its source is hard to identify. The only thing that can slay this stealthy monster is prayer. Fear lives in our hearts and minds, so the battle has to be fought there. We can’t take physical measures to remedy this situation. Working harder, planning more, controlling others—none of these things will help.
When I suggest prayer as an antidote to this type of fear, I am not talking about simple invocations uttered in the heat of the moment, and Paul wasn’t either. What he’s offering is the peace of mind that comes from a prayerful life—ongoing dialogue and communion with God that doesn’t ever stop. When we genuinely reorient ourselves heavenward, we reestablish patterns in our thinking that, in time, begin to seek God first, instead of resorting to worst-case scenarios and dread.
Our thought life is like a tributary of water whose course grows deeper the longer despair persists. Changing their direction isn’t easy; it requires determination, diligence, and time. But I am confident that when prayer becomes deeply ingrained in my mind, my anxiety will turn into dependence on God and His promises. Then, when I sleep and the monsters begin to harass me, I will take up my sword and slay them before I wake.
Dr. Stanley talks about the root causes of fear and anxiety in our lives in his message, “When We Are Fearful”, airing today on radio.