We’re not supposed to be anxious. (Phil. 4:6) Many Christians, however, live every day with an anxiety disorder or other mental illness that has anxiety as a symptom.
We’re not supposed to worry. (Matt. 6:25,31) But even Christians with no mental illness worry. Throw a defective brain into the mix and worry amps up to anxiety and panic.
So how do we reconcile being mentally ill with God’s commands to not be anxious and not worry?
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.
Yeah, well, Jesus didn’t have an anxiety disorder. Jesus was never anxious and He never worried. How can He empathize with my weakness?
Jesus’ brain was perfect. And God’s perfect design for the brain includes a limbic system. It was designed by God to alert us to danger. This non-conscious system operates automatically in everyone, including Jesus.
When Jesus’ brain detected a threat (for example, people around Him wanting to kill him) it reacted involuntarily just like mine would. The amygdala sent signals to the rest of His body, pumping adrenaline into His bloodstream. His heart beat faster, His blood pressure rose, and he perspired.
But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus. Aware of this, Jesus withdrew from that place.
Jesus’ brain did its job. It prepared Him for fight or flight, just as God designed it to. In this case, He chose flight.
But the brain is more complex than that. The hippocampus is where memory and experience come into play. In our brains, we have learned that when our hearts beat faster and we get a rush of adrenaline, it means there’s something to fear.
The difference is that Jesus’ memory and experience told Him that His Father loved Him and would protect Him. When he withdrew from the threat, He didn’t do so out of fear. He withdrew because it wasn’t His time to die. He was tempted to fear, just like we are, but He chose not to.
During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.
Jesus cried out to God. With tears. Our high priest can empathize with our weakness.
When my anxiety is raging and I’m crying out to God to make it stop, He not only hears my cries, but He feels my weakness. He knows my brain isn’t perfect. He knows I’m fighting a lifetime of fear and worry.
So what does Jesus do when I cry out to Him? He gives me His peace.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
I used to read this verse and think Jesus was disappointed in me for being troubled and afraid. But that’s not it at all. The context of this verse is He’s telling His disciples that He will send His Holy Spirit to be their counselor.
I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.
Jesus is comforting them, and us by extension. (John 17:20) He’s telling us that we don’t have to fear or worry, because He has given us His peace.
Why don’t I feel His peace? How can His peace be my peace?
Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Because we know that Jesus, our high priest, not only understands but also empathizes with our weaknesses; we can approach the Almighty God and ask for help. And we can be confident that He will help us.
Paul doesn’t just tell the Philippians not to be anxious, he tells them how to not be anxious. He tells them to take their worries to God, so that He can give them His peace.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
When my mind is racing with fear and worry, I don’t have to understand how God is going to fix all the things that are wrong. I simply have to take the whole mess to His feet and ask Him to give me His peace instead. And I can trust that He will.
What are you dealing with right now that’s making you anxious or fearful? Take it to the throne of grace and give it to God. And let Him give you His peace instead.
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