I spend a lot of time sitting with suffering people. As a mental health counselor, I frequently hear about painful experiences pertaining to clinical anxiety, which often have their root in traumatic events. The affected person is marked by a chronic sense of feeling unsafe in their own bodies because of the danger inflicted upon them. Some weeks, the anxiety of my clients becomes my own, and I find myself with increased levels of weariness and irritability and doubt, all residual effects of chronic anxiety. When we encounter anxious people, we look into the face of someone who does not feel safe. And the reality is, in this strange land outside of Eden, danger really does lurk about. No longer nestled in a garden of safety, we are exposed to the elements of evil and fallenness. But the good news is that God has come down and offered a safe refuge of steady faithfulness and provision for scared, trembling sheep. And, as he often works in the world, he calls his church to be a refuge of safety for people who are lost, stranded, and unsure whether their need for safety will be met.

In the book of Job, we read of a man whom God loved and was pleased with. But Job was still living in an unsafe, fallen world, and disaster came knocking at his door. After Job suffered loss and tragedy, we are introduced to three of his friends. Though these friends are often criticized for their insensitive explanations for why God allowed such suffering to befall Job, they actually did one thing right. When they heard of Job’s losses, “they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great” (Job 2:13). Job’s friends enter into folly when they attempt to explain away his suffering, but their initial instincts were right. They sat in faithful silence with their friend who must have been wracked with anxiety after experiencing such devastating loss. This is what our anxious friends need from us when they are deep in the pit of despair.

One way to define anxiety is to relate it to loss. Anxiety can be a result of past loss, such as a loss of control or safety in a traumatic experience. It can also be an emotional response to an anticipated loss of control or safety in the future. In both cases, our friends need physical reassurance that they are safe and are not alone in the present moment.

When a grieving person experiences a loss, they are often showered with care from friends and family for the first few weeks following the loss. Unfortunately, sinful human beings have a propensity toward folly, and after a couple of weeks we grow tired of being patient with the wounded and move on to our own cares. It may take grieving people months or years to heal from their loss, and the same is true for healing from anxiety. Our impatience with the suffering reveals our sinful preference for folly over faithfulness.

As Christians, we would do well to treat anxiety as an issue under the umbrella of sanctification that requires both discipline and patience. We often set anxiety aside as a special type of sin and struggle, heaping shame upon those plagued by this particular affliction. No anxious person desires to be endlessly anxious, and the Scriptures make it clear that because God is gracious and desires to bestow goodness upon humanity, neither does he want anxiety to be our lot. As with any other issue, healing from anxiety takes time. Sanctification is a slow and grueling process. We ought to applaud our brothers and sisters when they make even the smallest stride toward endurance and hope in the midst of anxiety. Human beings do not change overnight, and patterns of sin and struggle and unbelief often take repeated practice and discipline to change. We must remember that holiness and belief are commanded, but they take time. We do not reflect God’s heart when we demand that anxious believers instantaneously halt all anxious feelings by sheer willpower. We want our brothers and sisters to believe in the gracious care of our God, but we must be willing to care for them as they heal and grow toward greater belief, dependence and trust.

For people to grow out of anxiety, they need to grow into a sense of tangible, felt safety. This happens through consistent, safe, reliable relationship, one of the gracious designs God has ingrained into human beings. A child cannot recover from horrific abuse inflicted upon her by adults who were supposed to care for and protect her unless she receives the opportunity to re-experience reliable care from safe, consistent adults. So too, anxious Christians cannot grow out of anxiety until they experience the safe, consistent, provisional care of their Holy Father in heaven, and he often demonstrates his love for us through the hands and feet of other believers.

In the Old Testament, Israel was meant to be a light for the nations precisely because humankind wanders through a dark, scary forest outside of Eden. The Christian church is still God’s place of solace and safety in a dark and unsafe world, a haven where he cares for his flock and uses his children to bind up one another’s wounds and redirect their attention to the healing, life-giving glory of God. His glory shines into dark places through his church who demonstrates visibly that God has not forgotten us in this dark pit but will come back soon in glorious triumph to bring us into his marvelous light where fear and death and unsafety will be no more (1 Peter 2:9, Revelation 21:4).

Matthew 6:25-34 is an oft-cited passage on anxiety, and many believers avoid it for fear of shame. Unfortunately, this passage has been used to heap burdens upon already suffering sheep. What we often miss in Matthew’s discussion on anxiety is that the main focus of chapter 6 is not on the command to not be anxious (though it is commanded), but rather focuses on God’s provisional care for his people as they “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” Matthew 6 hinges on the command to seek first the kingdom of God, and all the benefits previously promised to us in the beatitudes will be ours. The focus is not on shaming the weak in faith, but on re-directing our attention to the provisional nature of God. In effect, Jesus says to us, “Do not be anxious, because I will provide all these things for you as you walk with me and seek my righteousness and build my kingdom.” The reason to not be anxious is simply because God is merciful to his core and loves to provide for the needs of his flock! We do not have to twist his arm to get him to care for us. He loves to do it.

What he said to Israel, he said in the gospel of Matthew, and he says to us now: “Fear not, for I am with you” (Isaiah 41:10). He is a near God who is personally involved in the pains of his people. And because he is merciful and provisional, we need not fear if we will have what we need. Even if we feel we lack something, in the end we will lack nothing, for no one and nothing can separate us from the love of God and the future he has secured for us, not death, not anxiety, not our own failure or unbelief or even Satan himself (Romans 8:31-39, Colossians 2:15).

Anxious and traumatized people need to re-learn safety through relationship, and you are their first line of hope to demonstrate the consistent and unwavering care God has for them. As they learn safety through relationship with you, they become calm enough to re-learn the great truths about the great reality our Lord Jesus is ushering us into. A word of caution: In order to express tender care for struggling saints, we need to engage in disciplines that remind us of our own feebleness, sin and personal need for our gracious God. We must not forget our own weaknesses and sin, for when we do, we slip into the folly of Job’s friends who grew impatient with sitting in the sorrow of their friend.

When dealing with Christians who are struggling with anxiety, remember the admonishment of Jude: “Have mercy on those who doubt” (Jude 1:22). It seems that Satan’s main strategy in dismantling the image of God is to instill doubt about God’s good character. Have mercy on the one who gets ensnared in fear that God isn’t who he says he is and won’t do what he said he will do. Take them by the hand to bring them back to the kind face of their Father. Sit with them in their sorrow, and gently walk them toward the reason for the great hope that lives in you: that Jesus Christ is gentle and lowly in heart, a friend of sinners and sufferers, a brother, a friend, an advocate, a Savior, a deliverer who is coming back for those who are weak and heavy-laden and weary in faith (Matthew 11:29, Luke 7:34, Hebrews 2:11, 1 John 2:1, Revelation 22:20). And as you take them by the hand in mercy, slowly but surely, your own hope may become theirs and so revive their weary souls. Your Father in heaven will be well-pleased with his children who share in one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2).

I often have to hope on behalf of my clients who feel small and powerless that there is healing and safety on the other side of anxiety and feeling unsafe. And indeed there is. Jesus will come back soon with a shout to judge both the living and the dead (1 Thessalonians 4:16, 2 Timothy 4:1). He will return in great power and judgement to punish all wrong-doing and deliver his precious people from peril. In the meantime, he calls his sheep to walk just as he walked (1 John 2:6), in all gentleness and lowliness and tenderness of heart, for this shared burden-bearing is what he uses to transform scared and scarred hearts. He uses his church to demonstrate his tender, loving and provisional care. As you encounter anxious Christians, know these wonderful realities for yourself and arm yourself with these great truths so you can enter into the trenches and sit faithfully beside the mourning, the wounded and the weak in faith. As you do, they receive the opportunity to experience and re-learn the safety found in their Holy God. And for you who are anxious, know your deliverer is coming soon and walks with you the whole way until his return, even as anxiety looms.

Our Savior has promised to personally wipe every tear from our eyes (Revelation 21:4). This promise communicates one of the most wonderful realities in the universe: God is a Holy, healing God who is also deeply relational. He calls himself Immanuel, God with us, who comes personally to sit with us in the trenches of sin and suffering, and who takes us by the hand into a restored Eden where he takes the time to wipe each of our tears from our face. He is fiercely relational, and intimately concerned with his children. May we be like our Savior as we await his return.

How does God's Word impact our prayers?

God invites His children to talk with Him, yet our prayers often become repetitive and stale. How do we have a real conversation with God? How do we come to know Him so that we may pray for His will as our own?

In the Bible, God speaks to us as His children and gives us words for prayer—to praise Him, confess our sins, and request His help in our lives.

We’re giving away a free eBook copy of Praying the Bible, where Donald S. Whitney offers practical insight to help Christians talk to God with the words of Scripture.