Recently, a group of friends and I were faced with a decision that would significantly affect each of us. I met with two of my friends to discuss the issue. One of us thought we should do it, one thought we shouldn’t do it, and one thought that great pain would come either way, if we did it or if we didn’t.
While the three of us disagreed on what should happen, we realized that we shared three things: each of us felt we knew what should happen; each of us felt strongly we knew what should happen; and each of us felt a bit of anxiety that the “right” decision might not happen. Even the friend who didn’t know what should happen knew either decision would be harmful, he felt strongly either decision would be harmful; and he was a bit anxious that one or the other decision would happen.
We realized our minds had begun to be engrossed with the most persuasive words to express our opinion, and we began to fixate on whom to talk with about what steps needed to take place. And our thought life had become consumed by the decision. We were preoccupied with what the future would like look if the decision was made or what it would look like if it wasn’t made.
We were in the grip of anxiety.
As I was praying about my own anxiety, I felt God remind me of a definition of anxiety I once heard: Anxiety is believing you know what should happen and fearing that God won’t get it right.
And that was me. I was fairly certain I knew the best solution, and I was fearful that it might not happen. I was anxious.
But isn’t it silly for me (or anyone) to believe we really know what should happen? Aren’t God’s ways always beyond our ways? Isn’t he always looking at a far bigger picture than we can even imagine? I’ve heard Isaiah 55:8-9 dozens of times, yet I forget:
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts
God always knows what he is about, and I do not have the capacity to begin to understand all that he is doing. Elizabeth Elliot once wrote:
God is God, and since He is God He is worthy of my worship and my service. I will find rest nowhere else but in His will, and that will is necessarily, infinitely, immeasurably, and unspeakably beyond my largest notions of what He is up to.
Our chief priests and rulers delivered Jesus up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. (Luke 24:20-21)
The irony was that the only way Jesus could redeem Israel was to be condemned to death and crucified; the very thing they thought was a disaster. The disciples were looking at the greatest victory the world could ever imagine, and they only saw a tragic failure.
So what can we learn to overcome our anxieties?
- It’s okay to hold strong convictions about what should happen, but let’s hold onto those convictions lightly. The only thing we know is that we cannot know all that God is up to.
- It’s okay not to have strong convictions about what should happen, but let’s not fear that God won’t get it right. The only thing we know is that God always brings about a greater good than we can imagine.
- When we are tempted to obsess on what the future may bring, it’s often difficult to will our minds to stop thinking about it. Can we perhaps repent of our belief that we know what needs to happen? The only thing we know is God is on the throne always bringing about the best decisions.
- When we disagree with brothers and sisters, it is common to begin to mistrust them or even villainize them. As we think of those we disagree with, can we bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, and endure all things? Because the only thing we know is that Christ bore all things for us, believed all things for us, hoped all things for us, and endured all things … for us.
While we do not know all that God is up to; what we do know is that God declares,
I know the plans I have for you … plans for welfare and not for harm, to give you a future and a hope. (Jer. 29:11)