I was born in 1993, which means I belong to the Millennial Generation. Many social psychologists have commented on the “anxiety epidemic” that is sweepingly disproportionate among Millennials in comparison to other age populations.
Why are we so anxious? Some point to the aspect that we’re the first generation to be raised on the Internet. Others attribute the issue to our rampant use of social media, which has turned us into overstimulated, disconnected people with poor social skills. We have too many options and too little direction.
We’re fearful over the economy, the election, student loans — the list goes on.
As I think about these contributing factors and the current cultural climate in the United States, I understand why this anxiety epidemic has swept the nation. The panic plague isn’t limited to Millennials; fear pervades our society, and its effects are unbound by age, class, and race.
I’ve struggled with fear and anxiety for years. I know the sinking, helpless feeling of watching crime and conflict flash on news channels. When I analyze these horrific events through the lens of my limited human perceptions, the world seems like a chaotic, wretched place.
“We’ve Gradually Drifted Away”
The rise in anxiety among Millennials has increased alongside the rise of young adults who identify as “religiously unaffiliated.” Greg Smith, associate director at the Pew Research Center, commented on the decrease in church attendance among Millennials. Rather than a singular factor stimulating this shift, most Millennials describe a slow process of losing their faith: “the No. 1 reason people cited? ‘I just gradually drifted away,’” said Smith. “It’s not even a conscious decision. It’s not as if there is some single precipitating event. It’s a process of drifting away, driven presumably by lack of connection, relevance or roots.”
There’s no proof that the “anxiety epidemic” and a decrease in church attendance are correlating factors, but I can’t help but note the connection between the two. Like Smith notes, “we’ve gradually drifted away” by abandoning the truth of scripture that holds our lives together. Rather than accepting Christ as the foundation of our lives, we’ve uprooted and taken residency in a shoddy building with unsteady foundations and cracked walls.
I’d like to state outright that I’m not above reproach. Like so many other college students, spent my years of study with a shaky foundation, doubting my faith, and attempting to navigate through life on my own. My sense of displacement led me to search for wholeness outside of my relationship with God. I was too blind to see that the reason I felt so lost was because the home I was searching for, outside of Christ, didn’t exist.
Without building our lives on the foundation of Christ, the cornerstone, we construct our own realities with flimsy materials that inevitably falls apart.
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22)
Pride and Fear
Recently, I’ve been convicted of a hard truth: that my fear was connected to my pride. I’d always associated fear with feeling diminished, and pride didn’t seem to fit in with that — so why would they be related?
Pride calls us to lean on our own understanding, control our own futures, and rely on our own strength. When we become anxious over the obstacles that thwart our own agendas, we make a silent statement that we don’t trust God to take care of us. We pridefully want control and thus we fearfully live out our lives, attempting to control every circumstance, despairing when things don’t work out the way we think they should.
The very first instance of pride occurred when the serpent tempted Eve in the garden to eat the forbidden fruit. In Genesis chapter 3, the scripture states that the serpent was “more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made” (Genesis 3:1). What was the first question the serpent asked Eve? “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1b).
The serpent made Eve doubt the truth of God’s word — the same tactic he uses to make us wonder if God is really who He says He is — if God is really taking care of us. The serpent tempted Eve to be her own god.
When we doubt the character of God and the word of God, we stop trusting and we start seeking control. We start to build our lives upon shoddy foundations. Fear starts to slip through our cracks and it threatens to tear us apart.
After my Junior year of college, I was searching for a place to live in a limited amount of time. I made a rash decision to put down a cheap deposit on a duplex near campus. I’d only looked at the place one time (obviously not very carefully), and I was desperate to find a place before my lease ran out.
I moved boxes of my belongings on a humid afternoon. As I started to get settled and the sun began to fall, I saw the reality of the place — a reality that wasn’t clear in the light of day. I wasn’t alone: there were roaches. Lots of them. The place was completely infested.
After weeks of back-and-forth contact with the landlord and multiple visits from the exterminator, I was able to break the lease with the rental company. The infestation was so rampant that they couldn’t be rid by an exterminator — there was an issue with the foundation of the house that made it easy for the bugs to hide in the cracks and crevices.
The Infestation of Fear
Just as the foundational cracks of the duplex made it easier for the roaches to overwhelm the place, a flimsy spiritual foundation allows for fear to enter our hearts. If we build a life apart from Christ, we may not even realize the extent of the foundational issue, especially when everything is going okay. We detect little wrong with our lives when the sun is out and we feel like we’ve got it all together.
But when life gets heavy, and daylight begins to fade, fear begins to slip in through the cracks. Like the roaches, fear covers the walls of our hearts, infesting and overwhelming the very structure of our lives.
Freedom from Fear
No matter how wrecked and ravaged your life is, God’s grace is more. I’d like to think that — just as flipping a light on causes roaches to quickly scatter — so do our fears dissipate in the light of a loving God.
Through scripture, the Father makes it known that fear is not from Him. His Love is so perfect that it casts out fear.
Paul writes in 1 Timothy that God gives us “not a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, love, and self-control” (1 Timothy 4:12). The Lord doesn’t give us a “spirit of slavery to fall back into fear,” but a “Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15).
When you’re rooted in a spirit of fear, you’re enslaved to it. Fear is a tactic of satan to keep us locked up in chains, bound to despair, and rendered ineffective to living out bold, courageous lives that glorify God.
God isn’t just being nice when He says “do not fear.” He commands it:
Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. (Proverbs 3:5)
You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the LORD will give you, Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the LORD will be with you. (2 Chronicles 20:17)
So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:1)
Obeying this command isn’t always easy. I know this firsthand: fear was the compass I relied on to guide my next steps. I’m confident I would have never been able to let go of my anxieties on my own. It’s only through the transformative power of the gospel that I was able to surrender my anxieties and trust in Him.
God has given me great comfort and an indescribable peace through His word. At the same time, He’s replaced my fears with boldness to glorify Him with my life.
We live in an imperfect world, however, and my disposition to fear still emerges from time to time, and tempting me to despair.
How can we resist our disposition to fear and doubt? We must persistently remind ourselves of the truth of His Word by turning to scripture.
Reading the Word
Often we consume the knowledge that the world gives us (news headlines, the words of politicians, social media posts) without first grounding ourselves in truth. When we aren’t rooted in the word, we leave it up to the enemy to tell us a narrative that is fearful, paralyzing, and downright false.
But when we look to the Word for the truth, we’re able to combat fear and anxiety with the powerful truth of the gospel.
In Luke chapter 8, Jesus tells his disciples the Parable of the Sower:
A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown. (Luke 8:5-8)
Jesus goes on to explain that the seed represents the word of God. Some people receive the seed but do not believe, because the devil comes and takes it away. Others have no root, so in times of trial, they fall away. Some hear the word but are “choked by life’s worries, riches, and pleasures, and they do not mature” (Luke 8:14).
Jesus says the seed that falls on good soil are those who not only hear the word but retain it. This seed perseveres through trials, and by doing so, it produces a crop (Luke 8:15).
1. Hear the Word
To prepare for the battles of fear, we must go into these battles having knowledge of what God’s promises are. We’ve got to set aside time each and every day to open the Word and become rooted in the truth. If you don’t know where to start, a great place to begin is in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Ask God to not just permeate your mind with the knowledge of His word, but to pierce your heart.
2. Retain the Word
Like the seed that falls away in times of trial, we often fall back into old habits of fear and doubt when life gets stressful. We start to fade and lose sight of the truth. When I fall away from the Word, my mind begins to focus on my fears and anxieties rather than His promises. I start to shrink back into a silenced, enslaved house with cracked walls. Fear begins to seep in. I forget the wonderful news of my salvation that trumps any anxiety or worry.
Memorizing scripture is a great tool to retain His word. In times of tension, you can let His words resonate in your mind, rather than letting fear take over.
3. Persevere with the Word and Prayer
His work on this earth isn’t finished yet, and the Bible says we must continue to take up the armor of God on a daily basis: “For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).
Until God’s work is complete, we must persevere with the word. We must continue to resist moving back into lives that operate out of fear, and instead, repeatedly choose to obey His command to not fear.
God’s command to give our anxieties to Him isn’t given without the means for us to do so. In Philippians 4:6, Paul instructs to “not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
Paul instructs to replace our anxious thoughts with prayer. Rather than internalizing and agonizing over your fears, talk to the Father who cares for you (1 Peter 5:7).
A Prayer for Anxiety and Fear
Sometimes it can be difficult to find the words to pray when your mind is racing. On his blog Season of Peace, Russ Pond shares a prayer he would read to God in times of anxiety and panic.
Father, who lives and rules in Heaven, let your Kingdom come to earth and be established through me (Matthew 6:10). There is no fear, no anxiety, and no panic in Heaven. Establish your Kingdom in my heart, that I may walk in peace, in confidence and in strength. Open the eyes of my heart (Luke 24:31) to see all that you have for me. Show me how I have already been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Ephesians 1:3). Help me to receive all that you have for me.
Angels are all around me, ministering to me (Hebrews 1:14). They will guard me according to your word and your command (Psalms 103:20-21). You will not let my foot stumble (Proverbs 3:23).I trust in you, Father, and in you alone. I am your child, and you are my Father (Matthew 23:9). I am seated with Christ in the heavenly places (Ephesians 2:6). I am at rest in your arms.
Father, I look to you as my Source of hope and of peace. You cover me with your wings (Psalm 91:4) and you are constantly fighting for me (2 Chronicles 20:17). Show me that I need not fight, but that I can just rest in you and rest in the promises of your protection (Exodus 14:13). There is no need for me to stress or worry. You will provide everything I need for life, for peace and for protection (Matthew 6:33).
Today, I will not be anxious about anything (Philippians 4:6), but I will pray to you about everything, casting my cares upon you because you care for me (1 Peter 5:7). You will guide me along the best pathway for me life. You will advise me and counsel me (Psalm 32:8). You will never leave me alone (Hebrews 13:5). You are always with me. Always. Sin cannot separate us (Romans 8:38-39), because in Christ, you remember our sins no more (Romans 10:17).
Thank you, Father, that you have begun a good work in me and that you’ll be faithful to complete it (Philippians 1:6). I will listen with my heart for you are constantly speaking peace over me (Psalm 85:8). You have the word of life! Father, live in me and through me. I put all my trust in you.
No matter the chaos, no matter the storm, no matter the economy, no matter the political conflict, the Lord is in control, and He is King. We can put our trust in His power. Root yourself in His word, and ask God to replace your fearful heart with a bold, courageous spirit that glorifies Him.