Matthew in Edmonton, Alberta, writes in to ask: “Pastor John, I was wondering how exactly to go about casting my anxieties on the Lord. For example, do I need to pray and explain every anxiety I have, or can I just trust him without signifying it with a prayer, much like conversion does not need to be signified with a prayer? Maybe I’m thinking too mechanically about it because I end up feeling more anxious about it, and I feel I’m not explaining the anxiety well enough, so I get anxious that I’m not casting every little anxiety on him.” What would you say to Matthew?
Overly introspective people can get so tangled up in the processes of sanctification that they are paralyzed. And Matthew seems to wrestle with that tendency. I am making a judgment call. He can decide if I am right or not. A lot of us are like that.
Look to Christ
It is good to be introspective. If I don’t know what I am feeling, I won’t know whether I should give thanks to God for his blessing or counter Satan’s assaults. If you are never introspective, if you don’t know what you are feeling, then you don’t know how to do anything spiritually. So we have to be aware of what is going on inside of us. So yes, amen, Matthew is doing the right thing in analyzing his own soul in that regard.
But there is an unhealthy preoccupation with ourselves that can produce no good fruit. So, for example, if you are feeling anxious and you ask God to give you peace, it won’t work to fix your gaze steadily on your soul and analyze whether the peace is happening or not. You will never have peace that way. Why not? It does not mean cast them and then stare at the soul to see if it feels unburdened or anxiety free. And the reason that won’t work and you can’t have peace that way is that our souls were made to be drawn out of themselves to Christ — made to be drawn out, our focus to be drawn out, our attention, our love, our admiration, our focus is to be drawn out to Christ.
This may be the most important thing I can say to Matthew that he needs to get a handle on. Introspection or looking at the state of our souls to see if they are peaceful, or if they are anxious, or if they are coveting, or if they are lustful, or if they are puffed up, or if they are ungrateful — the reason for that inward look to see if we are in the grip of any of those things — is to help us know what to look to Christ for. Let me say it again: the reason for the inward look is to know better what to look to Christ for — look to Christ for, look to Christ for. Christ is our peace. Christ is our safety. Christ is our righteousness. Christ is our satisfaction, which means that the key to experiencing peace and safety and holiness and satisfaction is to look steadily, steadfastly to him and not to whether our souls are having those experiences or not.
Trust God’s Promises
Now let me be a little more practical and more specific to what Matthew is asking. I think the answer specifically to his question about how to cast our anxieties on the Lord is made problematic because Christ is invisible. You can’t see him. And I am telling you, “Look at him. Look at him.” So what do I mean when I say look to him?
And what I mean is: Look to his promises. We see Christ through the word of Christ. First Samuel 3:21 says, “The Lord revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the Lord.” He revealed himself by the word of the Lord. That is how we fix our gaze on the Lord. It is how we go out of ourselves to the Lord. We see him through his word.
So practically speaking, we get outside ourselves and experience the peace of Christ by fixing our consciousness on a particular promise that God has for us because of Christ. All the promises of God are yes in Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20). We fix our gaze on one of those promises and we see Christ speaking to us through that promise. Oh, I did that so many times, Tony, as I stood up to preach. It was as though the Lord just looked me right in the face and said, “I will help you.” And that was a quotation from Isaiah 41:10. I didn’t make that up. He said that to me. And so that is what I mean by meeting the Lord in his word.
Rhythm of Life in the Spirit
So one last thing. You asked, “Do I need to pray and explain every anxiety I have, or can I just trust him without signifying it with a prayer?” I hear what he is saying, because it says in Philippians 4:6, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” And he is saying, “Do I have to do it with every anxiety all day long?” Well, it doesn’t say, Matthew. It doesn’t say, does it, how often to let your requests be made known. It just says, “Let them be made known.”
So here we are sitting together, Matthew, you and me in a counseling room. I am sending you out with this practical counsel. The way I would suggest that Matthew go forward is this. At the beginning of every day, call to mind from the word some promises, two or three or one, promises of God that relate to the typical anxieties that might crop up that day. Something is coming that day, and he finds a promise or two that relates to that. Then pray and ask God to help you believe that promise.
I would say, Matthew, write one of those down on a little piece of paper and stick it in your shirt pocket. And then head out into your day and periodically — don’t ask me how many times; just as you feel led — through the day, pull out that little piece of paper. Read that promise and say to God, “Help me trust this promise.” And then enjoy him saying the promise back to you. “I will help you. I will strengthen you.” And go back to the work that you are doing.
And don’t worry that over the next two hours you are not going to be saying to the Lord, “Help me,” because you are concentrating on your computer programming or whatever you are doing. In other words, you don’t have to be asking for help consciously all day long. There is a rhythm of life in the Holy Spirit, and he will guide you in what that rhythm is.